In late 2020, Seiko announced something very special, at least to people with some knowledge of the brand’s history and evolution through the decades. While Seiko was founded in 1881 and through the years saw immense prosperity, it has many fascinating chapters in that long history. Today it is one of the biggest watch manufacturers in the world, with a vast collection housed under various sub-labels or even as separate brands. The introduction of the King Seiko KSK SJE083 towards the end of 2020 revived the fabled internal rivalry with Grand Seiko. That watch left us wondering whether Seiko would do more with the King Seiko legacy than just this one-time limited edition? Surely not! So with a resounding “Long live the King”, we formally welcome back the King Seiko collection and the introduction of five new references. And they are non-limited, more compact and more accessible.
Like various other brands, Seiko has often relied on a sub-branded range of watches to target new audiences or present a substantially different style. By now, we’re all very familiar with Seiko, Grand Seiko and probably, to a lesser extent, King Seiko. The fact that this name returns in the permanent collection is a testament to the importance of King Seiko to the Seiko Corporation. Without it, the brand simply wouldn’t be where it is today.
A fruitful internal rivalry
As we explained in the hands-on review of the King Seiko KSK SJE083, both the Grand Seiko and King Seiko sub-brands result from the internal rivalry between the Daini Seikosha and Suwa Seikosha factories. We’ve said it then, and we’ll say it again: competition leads to growth, evolution and ultimately change.
The first product following Seiko’s decision to put the Suwa Seikosha factory in charge of creating a luxurious, more precise type of wristwatch was labelled Grand Seiko. A year later, and not to be deterred by Seiko’s aforementioned decision, the Daini Seikosha factory would present their own under the King Seiko name.
Soon after, both would follow suit with design guidelines determined by Taro Tanaka. Mr Tanaka set apart Seiko from the traditional (read Swiss) style by defining a simple yet effective set of rules, the so-called “Grammar of Design”. In essence, this meant cases had to be shaped and finished free of distortion, bezels had to be simple, and hands had to be sharp and mainly flat. This is still very much part of Grand Seiko’s watchmaking language and philosophy today and applies to King Seiko as well.
The Return of The King
The King Seiko KSK SJE083 Limited Edition from late 2020 was modelled directly after the 1965 King Seiko 44-9990, albeit in a slightly more modern execution. While the shape of the case and the overall look and feel very much has that distinct 1960s style, Seiko has taken a few liberties with the SJE083. Liberties that are now more or less corrected with this King Seiko collection.
The new range comes in five references, all featuring a 37mm sized case very close to the original King Seiko 44-9990. The sharp and angular case, with a height of 12.1mm and brushed and polished finishings, looks very close to the original. The faceted lugs, for instance, are directly taken from the 1965 model. The boxed sapphire crystal gives it that quintessential style of the 1960s. Both the crown and the caseback are finished with the King Seiko emblem that was introduced with the original one.
The King Seiko comes in five different dial colours, each with its own flair. The most accurate one in relation to the 44-9990 is the silver dial with sunray brushing, which is reference SPB279. Next, there’s also a silver, or actually light-grey dial with straight brushing, the SBP281. And then, there are three darker dials: charcoal grey (SPB283), brown (SPB285) or burgundy red (SPB287). All dials are finished with applied, polished indices. Just like the 44-9990, the marker at 12 is double the width of the rest and given a fine pyramid-like pattern on the top surface. And like the original, it lacks a date indication, keeping the dial clean and balanced. In line with the “Grammar of Design”, the hour and minute hands are flat with a Zaratsu-polished, faceted finish (without the high-end bevels found on the limited SJE083, however) combined with a needle-thin seconds hand.
The King Seiko is outfitted with the in-house calibre 6R31, which is closely linked to the 6R35. Using the same mechanical architecture, the 6R31 has 24 jewels and runs at a frequency of 21,600vph. The only difference between this and the 6R35 variant is the absence of the date indication, and as a result, the number of jewels is reduced by two. The movement is accurate to run within +15/-25 seconds per day, just like its dated cousin, the 6R35.
Bracelet, availability & price
To complete the very retro-like appeal of the new King Seiko collection, it comes on a stainless steel multi-link bracelet, very much like the one on the original 1965 model. The faceted links, tapering from case to folding buckle, have a brushed finish with polished bevels. As an alternative option, each reference is also supplied with vintage-styled leather straps with a pin buckle bearing the King Seiko name.
Where the King Seiko SJE083 was a bit pricey, the new King Seiko collection retails for a more reasonable EUR 1,700. This puts it directly between the average top-end of Seiko and below Grand Seiko’s entry-level models.
Simply put, we love the fact Seiko has brought the King Seiko philosophy back from the past. And to do it in such a faithful and respectful way is all the more reason to be excited. Even on a wrist as big as our editor (Robin has a 19cm wrist circumference), the 37mm sized case looks well proportioned. The dials are fun and offer an appealing variety of colours. Go for the traditional silver one of the original, or a more daring burgundy red, and you will not be disappointed.
The only slight complaint we have regards the accuracy of the automatic movement. As King Seiko, much like Grand Seiko, stems from the idea to build the best and most precise watch possible, the precision of the calibre 6R31 is a bit of a let-down. Running within +25/-15 seconds per day means there’s a lot of room for improvement. Other than that, very well done, Seiko! Long live the King!
For more information, please visit SeikoWatches.com.