King Seiko is a name that has long resonated high in the mind of collectors and enthusiasts of Japanese watches. The result of internal rivalry with Grand Seiko, the latter made it multiple steps further by becoming its own, stand-alone brand, while King Seiko somehow fell into oblivion. Up until 2020, when the Seiko Watch Corporation decided it was time to bring back this name under the spotlights. This has been done with two distinct collections; first high-end recreations released in limited numbers; then more accessible & modernized models with the taste of the past, but not the same mechanical panache. Today, Seiko expands the KSK-inspired collection with two slimmer, high-end and non-limited models, the SJE089 and SJE091.
Here is not the place to remake the entire history of King Seiko. This has been done already in this article, which we encourage you to read if you want to increase your Japanese watchmaking knowledge. What’s important to know about King Seiko, in addition to the internal rivalry with Grand Seiko back in the early 1960s, is what these watches were. It resulted from the decision to make a sub-brand capable of creating the most advanced, precise and luxurious watches of the brand. The Suwa Seikosha production site will propose Grand Seiko in 1960. The Daini Seikosha site reacted with its own vision of a high-end, ultra-precise watch, which was named King Seiko. The internal rivalry between the two wholly-owned subsidiaries had led to the race of becoming the company’s flagship brand, and Grand Seiko, knowing its current position, surely won the title.
Yet, back in the day, King Seiko’s watches were rather impressive, whether for their execution or the precision of their movements. They even competed in several chronometry tests, including the Neuchatel Observatory Competitions, both in 1964 and 1967, with seriously good results. The most notable of all watches produced by KS was the reference 44-9990, with its hand-wound calibre 44A. Also known as the KSK (KS meaning King Seiko and the K at the end being the acronym for Kisei-Tsuki, stop-seconds in Japanese), it will serve as an inspiration for the comeback of the name in late 2020.
The return of the name has been done in two distinct manners. First, a series of limited edition models with a faithful recreation of the design and higher-end calibres – seen in two iterations, either with a silver dial (SJE083) or a champagne dial (SJE087). All other King Seiko watches that we’ve covered (such as the 37mm no-date and the 39mm date) are not playing in the same league and are to be seen as evocations of the style, without the mechanical prestige.
Today, Seiko expands the higher-end collection with two non-limited models, continuations to the SJE083 and SJE087. Playing in the same price range, these are some of the most refined watches in the brand’s portfolio, even though you’ll need a trained eye and a close encounter to differentiate them from a more accessible version from the SPBxxx range. In fact, these could also be seen as bigger brothers to these aforementioned lower-end versions… It’s all a bit confusing, I know. Visually, they are indeed closer to the SPBxxx models and don’t try too hard to recreate the original KSK models, and at the same time, they share their specifications, movement and refinement with the two limited editions above.
What has Seiko done with these new King Seiko SJE089 and SJE091? First of all, the brand has reworked the case. If the look is unmistakably that of the original 1965 watch, with its signature faceted lugs and flat flanks, these two watches are both slightly larger than the 2020 and 2022 limited editions – now 38.6mm in diameter vs. 38.1mm before – and yet slightly slimmer – 10.7mm in height vs. 11.4mm before. This is due to a combination of slimmer lugs, which are still faceted, with large, flat planes and sharp angles, enhancements in the case construction and the boxed-shaped crystal whose height has been reduced. In fact, these are thinner then the original hand-wound 1965 watch.
The finishing of the case is fairly pleasant, with mostly distortion-free, mirror-polished surfaces (Zaratsu-like) and nicely executed hairlines on top areas. The back, screwed and in solid steel, is decorated with the King Seiko emblem, but gone is the nice golden medallion of the two limited editions. Water-resistance is still rated at 50m. For the first time in this higher-end range, these two watches are now offered on a steel bracelet. It does participate greatly in the appeal of these watches, with a combination of technicality and vintage charm. Composed of 7 links, the flat surfaces are brushed and all the links are deeply faceted for a nice depth effect on the wrist.
As for the dials, we can also see a streamlined take. Available in silver (SJE089) or black (SJE091), they now have more classic literature at 6 o’clock, with the Diashock mention replaced by a slightly too generic Automatic text. It’s not all negative though, as there’s a real sense of refinement on these dials. It’s all very discreetly executed, but surely, with a lot of care. The hands and markers have strong polished bevels on the sides and the dials have been reworked with a more understated and delicate sunray finishing technique that’s closer to the original watch. A small difference can be seen between the two dials; the silver edition has entirely polished hands and markers, while the black edition features a fine hairline finish on top of the hands and markers to heighten the level of contrast with the dial’s dark surface.
Under the hood is the calibre 6L35, a slimline in-house movement often reserved for the brand’s Presage limited edition. This calibre 6L35 was presented in 2018 as a thinner alternative (3.7mm in height), but also a movement with finer regulation than the other calibre of the brand. Beating at 4Hz and boasting 45 hours of power reserve, it is given for -10/+15 seconds/day.
But… Combined with the presence of a date window (which wasn’t part of the original watch), this generic, slightly disappointing accuracy range is the main complaint we’ve expressed and continue to express regarding these higher-end editions. After all, King Seiko was all about utmost accuracy. Why not push the envelope further and fine-tune this very capable calibre 6L35 to a higher, chronometer-like grade…? That would be a relevant tribute to King Seiko’s name, and in line with the asked price.
Availability & Price
Launched as part of the permanent collection, the King Seiko SJE089 and SJE091 are not limited and will be available in July 2023. They will be priced at EUR 3,400. More details at www.seikowatches.com.