i know It’s much easier to talk down on a watch and list all its flaws instead of looking at the upside of things. But, being in this business for a few years and having tons of watches on my hands, one quickly forms an impression. Sometimes we are proven wrong, sometimes we are proven right, and sometimes opinions change for various reasons. It happens to all of us, I’m sure. And while I wouldn’t normally say a watch is bad, I do have some issues with the return of the King Seiko as a permanent collection. For me, having handled each of them since making a comeback in early 2022, there’s something to be said for that.
Opinions are biased and it’s no different here. This is my personal opinion of what I have perceived with my own eyes and experienced with my own hands as a journalist, enthusiast and collector. So while I can’t resist the urge to vent, it’s perfectly fine if you disagree with me! Of course, I welcome you to share your thoughts in the comment section below this article, as I’m 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 that King Seiko was once a direct result of internal competition between Seiko’s Sua Seikosha and Daini Seikosha production facilities. By 1960, the Suwa Seikosha facility produced Grand Seiko watches, a high-end watch produced to rival the Swiss and European watch industry. A year later the Dainese Seikosha facility responded with its own take on the more sophisticated, precise and luxurious Seiko. It was named King Seiko and it marked the beginning of a fierce yet productive internal competition, pushing Japanese watchmaking to new heights.
Parallel to the first few years of the Grand Seiko and King Seiko, this led to some very impressive watches. In fact, high-beat watches made by both Grand Seiko and King Seiko performed brilliantly at the 1964 and 1967 Neuchâtel Observatory competitions. In the end, only one could move forward and a decision had to be made. King Seiko’s name stuck.
That is until 2021, when Seiko surprises us all with the beautiful King Seiko KSK SJE083, perhaps a re-edition of King Seiko’s best-known watch from the mid-1960s, the 1965 KSK 44-9990. This will be the beginning of a process that will lead to the return of the King Seiko name as a permanent collection. A collection, although very good for the body, inadvertently created some problems for me.
As one of the world’s largest and most relentless watchmaking companies, Seiko’s massive portfolio is as wide-reaching as it is deep. And this comes with its own challenges. For many, not as deep down the rabbit hole as we are, the whole range of watches is difficult to understand. You go from watches costing 200 to 300 euros, to hundreds of thousands for the most complicated ones, all under the same name. Sure, high-end watches are displayed under the Grand Seiko brand, but for most people it still reads “Seiko”. And now King Seiko is thrown into the mix.
And in part, that’s one of the things I struggle with about returning the King Seiko collection; its location. If you go back to the history of the King Seiko, along with the Grand Seiko, both were once direct competitors under the Seiko Corporation. The King Seiko is Daini Seikosha’s answer to the high-end Grand Seiko. Seiko himself communicates this original story with the reintroduction of King Seiko. I can totally understand that in this day and age you can’t put the King Seiko directly opposite the Grand Seiko, but the main complaint I have is that it dilutes the legacy of the King Seiko to a generic name. The new King Seiko collection retails for less EUR 2,000 And it faces some stiff competition from Seiko’s own portfolio as well. It further diluted the range of Seiko collections.
date or number-date
I am well aware of the fact that the date or lack of date on a watch almost always divides the public down the middle. You either want one, or you don’t. In the event that the King Seiko is back, and it’s based on the 1965 King Seiko KSK, the date doesn’t really make sense to me. At one end you have the allegedly faithful one-of-a-kind re-editions, the SJE083 (silver dial) and the SJE087 (champagne dial). Both of these limited editions have a date indication, where the 1965 King Seiko 44-9990 is based.
And to make matters worse, when Seiko launched the Perpetual King Seiko collection earlier this year, they left out the date again. So in reality, 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. 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 make a lot more sense if it really was the other way around. Display limited editions as close to the original as possible and allow yourself a little more creative freedom with a permanent collection. It’s that simple.
Let me once again refer to the origin story of King Seiko. In the past, it was a watch designed with precision in mind. After all, it was meant to rival the Grand Seiko, a more sophisticated, precise and luxurious alternative to the Seiko watches of the time. So why do we get +25 / -15 seconds movement per day with King Seiko’s long awaited return? Isn’t this directly against the nature of King Seiko’s clan? The Seiko 6R31 used in the King Seiko collection isn’t necessarily a bad movement, but it doesn’t cut it if you want to capture the true spirit of King Seiko. The 6L35 used in the SJE083 and SJE087 certainly isn’t very accurate, but at least it’s a step closer to what I want to see.
But is it all bad?
Frankly, it isn’t. Whether we are talking about the limited edition SJE083 or the models introduced in the permanent collection, they are very good! The design captures the spirit of the original 1965 KSK watch, and I can also say that I prefer the more funky colors to the dial that we’ve seen recently. The lavender-purple gradient dial SPB291 I covered is very nice. But it’s a detail that matters to me, and the issues I’ve discussed bother me every time King Psycho comes on.
Seiko could have easily avoided this before releasing it as a regularly available collection. Remember, we’re talking about a large corporation here, and everything is planned months or years in advance. Making exact one-to-one re-editions of the original King Seiko makes a lot more sense. Same design, no date function and a movement that does justice to the legacy. Present these as limited editions and play with colors only. Next to that, the timeless King Seiko range is perfect for a little more creative freedom. Instructions, colors, textures, etc. But again with a movement that properly renders King Seiko’s name.
I’m sure this leads to a slightly higher price for the regular models, but it immediately fixes the positions of the collection. It was halfway between Grand Seiko and Seiko (for the most part). This makes more sense from a historical perspective and is more appropriate for King Seiko’s name.
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