Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why I Love Seiko and Why You Could Like It Too

There was an interesting exchange of posts at PWC a couple of days back where I found myself involved in regarding Seiko.

GS GMT SBGM001
from YeomanSeiko
It all began when a member posted a picture of Grand Seiko (GS) GMT SBGM001 which he was hunting for. When  informed that that particular GS model had already been discontinued and that the current GS models cost somewhere in the range of PhP200k, he was shocked and mentioned that "no matter how accurate the watch, the watch "pedigree" wont justify that price". He also wrote a follow up post, after being told about Seiko's history, that "Seiko is definitely filled with history and accomplishment, but it's still just a Seiko for me po".

It's not that the member had anything against Seiko (in fact he was on the hunt for one, and still is - good choice!), but it's undeniable that the use of the phrase "it's just Seiko" usually comes from someone not familiar with the brand and I felt that it would be nice if I (along with a couple of other forum members) could make him understand why Seiko is in fact comparable to its more recognizable swiss cousins. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a shouting match marred by name calling or anything, it was a nice civil short exchange of posts between a couple of watch collectors. I actually think he's one of the nicest guys in PWC.

But let's stay away from the personalities as this post was not meant to discuss the messengers but the message: The prevailing Seiko stereotype of being cheap and below par compared to swiss brands. Of course everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and there is nothing wrong with voicing them out, just the same way that I am now sharing my opinion about Seiko through this post.

To anyone that hasn't taken the time to know the Seiko brand, the stereotype is really understandable. This is especially true for us Filipinos who mostly see Seiko as that cheap watch you can get at any mall and even in "bargain" areas like Avenida. This is, in fact, partly true. Seiko is one of the most affordable watches in the market today. Most Seikos we see in malls would probably cost less than fashion watches like Guess, Tommy Hilfiger, Boss and Lacoste among others. But I would like to correct this, while most Seiko watches are indeed affordable, they are far from being cheap.

Now what do I mean by this? Let us first define cheap. According to trusty old Merriam Webster, cheap can mean 1) charging or obtainable at a low price 2) gained or done with little effort 3) of inferior quality or worth and 4) contemptible because of lack of any fine, lofty, or redeeming qualities.

Definition 1 in most cases is true. Most Seiko watches can be had for about PhP4-7k. Of course in absolute terms, that's still a lot of money, but in the world of watches, especially mechanical watches, that amount is actually a pittance. My fiancee and I actually have 2 entry level Seikos (the beloved BFS) that cost me only 10k in total. There aren't a lot of mechanical watches that can be bought at that price, moreso two  mechanical watches!

Now definition 2 is where I start to get worked up. Anyone who says Seiko is cheap in this sense should start reading about the brand because clearly they have been misinformed. For one, Seiko is probably one of only a handful watchmakers, in fact the only one I currently know (but there might be others of course, please feel free to share), that manufactures everything in-house. From the movement, to the glass, to the lume, down to the lube oil they use on their movement is made in-house. This can't be said for a lot of swiss watches who use ETA or Valjoux movements, among others, in their watches. Not even one of the best German hand-crafted watch, A. Lange & Sohne, can claim they make their own lume (they use Super Luminova). Now I'm not saying that the Seiko is better than ALS (I absolutely love but cannot afford you!) or any brand for that matter, I'm merely saying that Seiko watches are made with  a lot of effort since everything has to be made by the company in-house. 

Kintaro Hattori
Secondly, any one who has read about the history of Seiko would know that it's got a long history of watch making too. Seiko was started in 1881 by Kintaro Hattori, even as the first watch that was produced with the name Seiko came out in 1924. Just for comparison, Rolex started its operation in 1905 but the brand was only registered the in 1908. Omega was founded at La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland in 1848. IWC, another famous swiss brand, was founded in 1868. I guess what I want to illustrate is that Seiko's place in watch making history is comparable with that of its European cousins. Of course there are really those old watch companies like Breguet, which was founded in 1775. But what Im saying is that Seiko has been here for a long time too, and you can't stay in the business that long if you don't put effort in the development and manufacturing of your products.

And lastly on definition number 2, anyone who thinks that Seiko does not put as much effort on the development of it's watches and brand compared to its european cousins should look up who produced the first quartz watch, the more recent the spring drive movement, and how big Seiko became that there was a time it (together with Casio and Citizen) threatened the whole swiss watch industry.

Seiko Quartz Astron
The first quartz watch, though whose prototypes were first made by the CEH research laboratory in Switzerlad in 1962, was produced by Seiko in 1969 with the release of the Astron. Seiko became so big because after this development that it grew to such a size that it almost bought SSIH and ASUAG (the precursors of the swiss watch giant Swatch Group). Thankfully, Nicolas Hayek was able to save the swiss watch industry (read about it here).

Seiko Spring Drive
The Spring Drive is a recent invention of Seiko's creative powerhouse, the Seiko Epson team, that has brought mechanical watch making to another level by having unparalleled accuracy, extended power reserves, and a smooth continuous movement that is reflective of the true nature of time. With all these innovations and the effort Seiko puts into improving its product, Seiko might be well up there in number of patents develop by a watch company.

Now lets move on to definition 3 - contemptible because of lack of any fine, lofty, or redeeming qualities. Anyone who says Seiko is cheap and means it in this way is absolutely nuts. For one, Seiko only uses in-house movements, from its cheapest watch up to its luxury Credor line. I count use of in-house movement to be a redeeming quality in any watch. Also, anyone who has worn a Seiko would almost always say that they can't believe that the build and function of the Seiko could be had at such an affordable price. Of course, there are things you can always pick on for example, the inner surface of the BFS looks like it was scratched by a mother hen searching for worms. But remembering it only costs me PhP5k and thinking about its other redeeming qualities (water resistant up to 10bar, nice big solid case, beautiful hands and dial, day/date etc) surely they can't say that the entry level BFS is contemptible. 

Scratched Inside of the Lugs
from on OnTimeGabe of WUS

Seiko SNKF09K1 BFS
from on OnTimeGabe of WUS

Going up the price range is where Seiko really shows and flexes its "fine, lofty, and redeeming qualities"-muscles. The Grand Seiko is a mechanical watch phenom with reported accuracies of -3/+3s per day and some even say that Seiko is too conservative with these figures. With respect to build quality, take a look at the pictures from this post and you be the judge. Look at the finishing on this dial, it doesn't look as if anything was out of place and it looks very refined.

Quality finish on the GS 50th Anniversary LE
from Claude of TimeZone
Don't even get me started on the redeeming qualities of Seiko's Prospex series of dive watches. IMHO, this series has some of the best dive functional no-nonsense watches ever built. Just scan the web and you will find hundreds of reviews raving about Seiko diver's watches.

And of course, Credor. Seikos cream of the crop, cherry on top line of watches. I haven't seen one in the metal but based on the pictures I've seen over the web, the watches in this Seiko line is all-class and refinement. I especially like the SD moonphase. Wow, that one definitely is on my bucket list.

Now, let's take a side step and take a look at pricing. Pricing unfortunately is a double-edged sword. The same affordable pricing that makes Seiko one of the most desirable watch brands because you get more bang-for-the-buck, is probably also the main reason why it is stereotyped as being cheap. Yes, entry level Seikos are affordable, but if you have read my post, you will have notice by now that I always say most Seikos are affordable. I say this because some are actually not. The SBDX001 Marinemaster 300m is priced at around PhP100k while some modern Seiko Tuna can go as high as PhP180k. The Grand Seikos are priced at almost Rolex-like price range of PhP200k And the Credor can go for about half a million pesos (even more for some models). So the next time you see someone wearing a Seiko, have a good look at it as it might be worth a sedan on that person's wrist.

Seiko SNR017
from http://ablogtoread.com/
Credor GCLL997
from samklee of SCWF
Now that being said, all the reviews I've read of these high end Seikos always say the same thing. That the materials, build, and quality of the movement and finish are comparable to what you would expect from signicantly more expensive swiss watches. So, in that respect, it's still bang for the buck.

Going back to the guy from PWC, he is now in the hunt for a Seiko Starfish. He might not be going after the GS any more, but at least now he knows more about the brand and in the end that is what I believe all watch enthusiasts should aim for when  pulling the trigger on a watch purchase.

Anyway, this post is too long and I probably need to stop lest I be known as a Seiko zealot. I will end this post by saying that just like any other guy, I would love to have my favorite Rolexes, JLCs, IWCs etc of the famed and rightully recognized world of swiss watches. But I would like to have my favorite Seikos too. It's time we start appreciating Seiko for what it really is, and stop stereotyping the brand as "just a Seiko" for reasons which are unfortunately baseless, misinformed, and sometimes plain wrong.

These folks, are the reasons why I love my Seiko and why I think you could like it too.

6 comments:

  1. well, for me. Had I known BFS long time ago I would have not looked at any fashion watches! :) Great write up!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey Jared, thanks for visiting. Hindsight is a perfect 20/20 indeed. But I guess most watchaholics started out with interests in fashion watches. And having these watches actually make us better appreciate the mechanical ones even more.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi, great post. I am coming to Manila next week, do you know any where that sells vintage Seiko's? I really like the 6138/6139 chrono's. Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks.helped me a lot in my search for thr perfect watch to give for my father.

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