I know, I know. It’s all too easy to talk down on a watch and list all its possible shortcomings instead of looking at the upside of things. But, being in this business for quite some years now and having a ton of watches go through my hands, one creates an opinion rather quickly. Sometimes we’re proven wrong, sometimes we’re proving right, and sometimes opinions will change for various reasons. It happens to all of us, I’m sure. And although I am not normally one to rant about a watch being bad, I have some issues with the return of King Seiko as a permanent collection. To me, having handled every single one of them since it made its comeback early in 2022, a few things need to be said about it.
Opinions are biased, and that’s no different here. It is my personal take as a journalist, enthusiast and collector on what I have perceived with my own eyes and felt with my own hands. So even though I couldn’t resist the urge of venting, if you don’t agree with me that is perfectly fine! In fact, I welcome you to share your thoughts in the comment section below this very article as I am curious how others feel about the King Seiko models we’ve seen so far.
A brief history of King Seiko
It is a well-documented fact King Seiko was once the direct result of an internal rivalry between Seiko’s Suwa Seikosha and Daini Seikosha production facilities. By 1960, the Suwa Seikosha facility was producing the Grand Seiko watches, a more high-end watch produced to rival the Swiss and European watch industry. A year later the Daini Seikosha facility responded with its own take on a more advanced, precise and luxurious Seiko. This was named King Seiko, and it marked the start of a fierce yet productive internal rivalry, pushing Japanese watchmaking to new heights.
Over the first few years of Grand Seiko and King Seiko existing in parallel, it lead to some very impressive watches. In fact, the high-beat watches made by both Grand Seiko and King Seiko performed admirably during the 1964 and 1967 Neuchatel Observatory Competitions. In the end though, only one could move forward and a decision had to be made. The King Seiko name was laid to rest.
That is until 2021 when Seiko surprised us all with the handsome King Seiko KSK SJE083, a re-edition of perhaps King Seiko’s best know watch from the mid-1960s, the 1965 KSK 44-9990. It would be the start of a process that lead to the return of the King Seiko name as a permanent collection. A collection that, although looks very good in the flesh, unintentionally produced some issues for me.
As one of the biggest and most relentless watchmaking companies in the world, Seiko’s massive portfolio is spread as wide as it is spread deep. And this comes with its own challenges. For most people, not as deep down into the rabbit hole as we are, it is hard to comprehend the entire range of watches. You go from watches that can cost as little as 200 to 300 euros, all the way to hundreds of thousands for the most complicated ones, all bearing the same name. Sure, the high-end watches are presented under the Grand Seiko brand but to the vast majority, it still reads “Seiko”. And now King Seiko is thrown into the mix.
And in part, that is one of the things I struggle with regarding the return of the King Seiko collection; its positioning. If you go back to the history of King Seiko, and with that Grand Seiko as well, the two were once direct competitors under the Seiko corporation. King Seiko was Daini Seikosha’s answer to the high-end Grand Seiko. Seiko themselves even communicate this original story with the relaunch of King Seiko. I can fully understand that you cannot pit King Seiko directly opposite to Grand Seiko in today’s day and age, but the main complaint I have is the fact that it reduces the King Seiko legacy down to a simple name. The new King Seiko collection retails just under EUR 2.000 and that puts it up against some stiff competition, even from Seiko’s own portfolio. That just dilutes Seiko’s range of collections even further.
Date or No-Date
I am well aware of the fact the date, or lack of a date, in a watch almost always splits the public down the middle. You either want one, or you don’t. In the case of the return of King Seiko, and the fact it is based on the 1965 King Seiko KSK, the date really makes no sense to me. On one end you have the alleged faithful one-one re-editions, the SJE083 (silver dial) and the SJE087 (champagne dial). Both of these limited editions include a date indication, where the 1965 King Seiko 44-9990 it is based on, did not.
And to make matters worse, when Seiko debuted the permanent King Seiko collection earlier this year, they left out the date again. So in fact, the “basic” King Seiko SPB279 (the one with the silver sunray-brushed dial) comes closer to the 1965 KSK than last year’s limited edition did. Admittedly, there are more differences between the standard models and the limited editions, such as the medallion that adorns the caseback, but the date indication is something you see every time you wear the watch. It would have made so much more sense if it would have been the other way around, really. Present the limited editions as close to the original as possible, and allow yourself a little more creative freedom with the permanent collection. Simple as that.
I once again refer to the origin story of King Seiko. Back in the day, it was a watch created with accuracy in mind. After all, it was meant to rival Grand Seiko, which in turn was a more advanced, precise and luxurious alternative to Seiko watches of that era. So why is it that with the much-awaited return of King Seiko we get a movement accurate to +25 / -15 seconds per day? Doesn’t that go directly against the very nature of King Seiko’s lineage? It’s not the fact the Seiko 6R31 used in the King Seiko collection is a bad movement, but if you are to capture the true spirit of King Seiko it simply doesn’t cut it. The 6L35 used in the SJE083 and SJE087 isn’t exactly the most precise one either, but at least it is a step closer to what I expected to see.
is it all bad though?
Frankly, no it isn’t. Whether we’re talking about the limited edition SJE083 or the models introduced into the permanent collection, they look rather good! The design captures the spirit of the original 1965 KSK watch, and I can even say I like the more funky colours for the dial we’ve seen recently. That lavender-purple gradient dial SPB291 I’ve covered is just cool. But it’s the details that matter to me, and the issues I discussed bother me every time King Seiko comes up.
Seiko could have easily avoided this way before even releasing it as a regularly available collection. Remember, we’re talking about a big corporation here and everything is planned months if not years ahead. What would have made a lot more sense is to create accurate one-to-one re-editions of the original King Seiko. Same design, no date function, and a movement that does justice to the legacy. Present these as limited editions, and play around with colour only. Next to that, the permanent King Seiko range would be perfectly suited for a bit more creative freedom. Indications, colours, textures, etc. But again with a movement that serves the King Seiko name right.
That would have resulted in a slightly higher price for the regular models I’m sure, but it would immediately resolve the positioning of the collection. It would have been right in the middle between Grand Seiko and Seiko (for the most part). It would make much more sense from a historical perspective and it would have done more right to the King Seiko name.
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