It has taken a while for Grand Seiko to achieve its status as a luxury watch brand, even in Japan. Maybe this is down to the fact that Seiko has created a huge portfolio of affordable watches since it established itself in 1881. Seiko watches span from the bottom end of the price spectrum with models that can be purchased for as little as a couple of hundred dollars, to prestigious models from the Grand Seiko collection – the latter of which can be compared more realistically to Rolex watches. Both companies have specialized in refining the art of mechanical movement manufacture. But which is the best watch company? Seiko or Rolex? We compared the heritage of both companies, as well as their most popular lines and a comparison guide to their respective prices to help you decide which watch is best for you.
The first Grand Seiko didn’t debut until 1960. The concept grew through Seiko’s sheer determination to excel in all areas of watchmaking. Seiko had already become a popular watch brand after the quartz crisis, specializing in quartz movements that brought affordability to the forefront of their designs. Seiko focussed on values of precision, durability and easy-to-wear designs when creating the Grand Seiko range. The caliber 3180 which equipped the first Grand Seiko watch was the first to be compliant with the standard of excellence of the Bureaux Officiels de Contrôle de la Marche des Montres. The brand’s ever-improving mechanical watchmaking skills went from strength to strength, winning awards in Geneva for their calibers that would become some of the best in the world.
Rolex was founded in 1905 by Hans Wilsdorf who, at the age of 24 had a vision for the company from its initial birth. He wanted to prove to the world that his wristwatches promised utmost reliability as well as an elegant style. He equipped his timepieces with innovative movements manufactured by a Bienne-based watchmaking company in Switzerland. It was 1910 when Rolex received the Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision, and just nine years later the company had moved to Geneva where the brand’s iconic crown logo began making an appearance on its dials. In 1926 Rolex created the first waterproof wristwatch called the Oyster, followed by the first watch to feature an automatic date on the dial.
Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36,000 Professional 600m Diver’s watch:
This Grand Seiko diver’s watch has bright indices for reading the time under great depths of water. You can explore down to 600 meters underwater with this tool, and considering that anything above 200-meter water resistance deems a watch suitable for diving - this is an exceptionally durable timepiece. The caliber at the heart of models like the SBGH255 is that of the 9S85, which performs in an environment that is protected from magnetic fields up to 200 Gauss – another example of Seiko’s technical prowess in fine watchmaking.
Seiko Grand Seiko SBGH255
Grand Seiko Snowflake:
With a dial reminiscent of freshly fallen snow, it’s easy to appreciate how models like the Grand Seiko ref: SBGA011 has become such an appealing timepiece to own. The Spring Drive caliber 9R65 features a date display and provides a 72-hour power reserve.
Gliding hands and a case crafted from titanium for a lightweight feel on the wrist, make this watch a go-anywhere, do-anything type of wristwatch.
Seiko Grand Seiko Heritage
Grand Seiko Black Ceramic Spring Drive Chronograph GMT
This Grand Seiko watch combines a sporty nature with a traditional-styled crocodile leather strap. Its classic yet elegant demeanor makes it a great watch to pair with professional attire as well as something more casual at the weekend. Made up of a titanium and black scratch-resistant ceramic case, this model which features a chronograph and a GMT function is also powered by the Spring Drive 9R65, which combines the efficiency of an automatic and quartz movement to provide better accuracy.
Seiko Grand Seiko Spring Drive Chronograph
The Rolex Daytona is one of the best investments within the watch sector. The collection was released in 2016, appealing to sporty individuals en masse. Never worn steel versions can sell for around 14,000 USD. The Daytona features the Oyster case and bracelet accompanied by a striking black Cerachrom ceramic bezel adorned with a tachymeter scale that can be used in conjunction with a trio of chronograph counters positioned around the dial. Originally developed for endurance racing drivers, the Daytona is loved for its sporty aesthetic and sapphire glass lens which replaces the Plexiglas lens that the original 1965 models fractured.
Compared to Grand Seiko’s Hi-Beat 36,000 Professional 600m Diver’s watch, the Submariner offers only half the Grand Seiko’s water resistance, yet its instantly recognizable design has made it a highly collectible wristwatch to own. Characterized by a black dial and matching black Cerachrom ceramic bezel, this diver’s watch is an example of Rolex’s water-resistant technology, featuring a screw-down crown with a Triplock triple waterproofness system and a monobloc steel case.
Characterized by its simple three-handed dial design and cyclops lens, models from Rolex’s Datejust collection can be compared with the classic look of some of Grand Seiko’s dress watches from their Elegance range. They also feature beautiful five-piece link bracelets and come in a myriad of different dial and case designs, including white, yellow, and Everose gold cases. The sizes vary from the Lady -Datejust’s discreet 28mm to the broader men’s 41mm Datejust model.
You can buy a Grand Seiko with automatic movement like the model ref: SBGR055 for as little as around $5300. The sporty watch with a screw-down crown protected from shocks by a crown protector, has a 100-meter water resistance making it great value for your money. The Grand Seiko Snowflake is priced mid-range and costs around $5000. Top-end models include the Grand Seiko Spring Drive watch ref: SBGC221, costing around $9300, and the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36,000 Professional 600m Diver’s watch ref: SBGH255, which will set you back around $12000.
Rolex watches are undeniably more expensive, many costing double or triple the top end of Grand Seiko’s price range, but this is expected since Rolex watches became a status symbol during the 60’s – an era when the Grand Seiko sub-line had only just been born. Lower end models like the Explorer (ref: 214270) and Air-King can be compared with the rugged aesthetics and durable cases of Grand Seiko’s Sport watch collection, yet cost considerably more. The Submariner costs similar to the top end Grand Seiko range, coming in at around $8000, whereas the most expensive Rolex watches retail at around $30,000 for the Datejust and the Day-Date (ref: 228238).
Rolex created the highly sought-after racing-inspired Daytona watch, built with a reliable in-house developed caliber – the 4130 which promises an accuracy of -2/+2 sec/day. On the other hand, Seiko created the Hi-Beat with a total of 36,600 vibrations per hour, making it a high-frequency watch for the avid diver. Depending on your preference for style over function or vice versa, both Seiko and Rolex have many advantages to offer the collector. Do you prefer Grand Seiko’s heritage in refining state-of-the-art movements? Or can you justify spending your money on a watch like the Rolex Paul Newman Daytona, likely to appreciate over time?