A look at Japan's big 3

 

Welcome to our third watch buyer’s guide! Having already made one talking about Seiko watches, today I think it’ll be rather fitting if we looked at some of the best Japanese watches that money can buy. Specifically, we’ll be looking at watches from 3 brands and their sub-brands. These are: Seiko, with their Prospex, Premier, Presage and Seiko 5 lines; Citizen, with the Eco-Drive, Promaster, Premium and automatic line ups; and Casio with their Edifice and G-Shock lines.

 

 

These are the 3 largest and most well-known and established Japanese watchmakers, they each have their own unique and diverse histories as well as values that they follow and impart to their timepieces. Now, I know what you’re thinking; there can’t just be 3 brands to look to for Japanese watches, and you’re right! But if we were to look at all of them, from entry level brands like Orient (which is also under Seiko) to niche watchmakers like Hajime Asaoka, we’d be here all day. Japanese watches have been known to share similar qualities, similar to what we would come to expect from Swiss watchmaking as well. They’re incredibly well made, offer great value for money, and have a rich and interesting history as well. So without further ado, let’s get down to business.

 

Seiko

 

Seiko, as a brand, needs no introduction. It’s become a household name brand for affordable, reliable watches. What Seiko is to the affordable watch market is, dare I say, what Rolex is to the luxury watch market--it’s the Mercedes Benz syndrome, I guess. Looking for a posh luxury car? Get a Benz. An expensive luxury watch? Rolex. An affordable watch that will last you forever? Seiko. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, not even remotely. A reputation like this isn’t something that is built overnight, it’s earned through years of producing fantastic, reliable timepieces that offer incredible value for your money.

With all that said, there’s more to Seiko than just affordable timepieces. And if you’ve read our first buyer’s guide, you’ll have noted that we took a look at 2 incredibly high end and expensive offerings from Seiko: The Credor Eichi II and the Grand Seiko SBGY003. But having said enough about those 2 incredible timepieces, we’ll be taking a look at some of their more affordable and mass-market timepieces.

Seiko Presage

 

SEIKO PRESAGE SSA395J1 MEN'S WATCH

 

The Seiko Presage line has always been known fondly as the ‘Baby Grand Seiko’ and for good reason. Similar to what its big brother has done for the luxury watch market, the line provides unparalleled quality and finishing for a relatively reasonable price. The Seiko Presage line is the closest thing we can ever get to ‘affordable luxury’, a term that is an oxymoron in itself considering that what makes luxury is a certain level of inaccessibility, but this watch is an exception to the rule.

And this is the exception--the Seiko Presage SSA395J1 Zen Garden. The watch, keeping to its namesake, with its stark white textured dial set against satin-brushed and polished indexes gives it a minimalist and, well, Zen vibe to its overall design. The dial captures the magic of the bright light on a clear winter’s day, with its bright white and textured dial set against dark accents.

The watch is powered by Seiko’s in-house caliber 4R57a movement, featuring a centrally-mounted power reserve indicator (which can be read along the periphery of the dial), a date sub-dial and of course the time, together with a 42-hour power reserve and a smooth 21,600VPH (3Hz) frequency. But it is unquestionably the dial that is the watch’s party piece, with beautifully finished and applied diamond shaped hour markers set on the stark white snow-like dial with Grand Seiko-esque lance-shaped hands sweeping gracefully across, albeit not with the same execution (as the difference in price obliges).

For under a thousand dollars, this might easily be the best luxury watch you can get, and is probably the best representation of what the Seiko Presage line stands for.

 

Key features

Case size: 42mm

Case material: Polished stainless steel

Movement: 4r57Self-winding with manual winding capacity

Water resistance: 5Bar

MSRP: $678.15

 

Seiko Prospex

 

SEIKO PROSPEX SPB121J1 MEN'S WATCH

 

I bet you would’ve been expecting a diver when I mentioned the Seiko Prospex line, didn’t you? Well surprise, it isn’t. The best Prospex watch that money can buy (in our opinion of course) is the ever timeless and versatile Alpinist. The original Seiko Alpinist is a watch that ticks a lot of boxes for a vast majority of the watch-wearing public. It’s readily available, reliable, robust, attractive and affordable. It’s the perfect fit, and one could even call it the Goldilocks of watches. This, of course, made it hugely popular in its heyday. There were three released then, but one stood out in particular: the SARB017 with its sunburst green dial and gold markers.

But that range has gone out of production, driving resale prices sky high, and once the stocks on the second-hand market dry out, they’re gone forever. It wasn’t until recently, when Seiko announced a reissue of the Alpinist, with 3 new models that sit very nicely in the Prospex line, that we finally have a modern-day Alpinist. 

What Seiko has done essentially is taken everything that made the Alpinist great and made them better. The old Alpinist was powered by the Caliber 6R15. The new one is powered by the 6R35, giving it a whopping 70 hours of power reserve. The sapphire crystal has been given a cyclops lens (controversial to some, I know) and an anti-reflective coating on the inner surface. On top of that, there is an exhibition caseback for you to enjoy the 6R35 caliber in greater detail. However, not much has changed visually on the  , aside from the Seiko Prospex “X” branding on the dial. It’s a small touch that shows everyone that this watch is more than just a pretty face—It means serious business.

The watch hailed from a line originally intended for Japanese mountaineers back in 1961-1964 and was known as the Laurel Alpinist. It wasn’t until 2006 that Seiko unveiled the horological phenomenon which is the Alpinist, we all know and love today. And now they’re back once again, and the wait was certainly worth it.

The Alpinist was a watch that struck a chord with the watch community, even under the shadow of the divers like the Sumo, Turtle, Monster and Tuna, and for good reason. It’s a serious tool watch, with 200m water resistance, bright luminescence on the hands and 12 markers, as well as an internal rotating bezel which functions as a compass.

Yet with all of these features, the watch, thanks to its perfect size and proportions, is incredibly versatile. It can be worn under a windbreaker while hiking, to a gala dinner with a suit, or even just as an everyday beater and it would still sit comfortably at home on your wrist. And that, in my opinion probably makes it the best watch on the list, an uncompromised go anywhere do everything watch with the performance and visual appeal to match.

 

Key features

Case size: 39.5mm x 13.2mm

Case material: Polished stainless steel

Movement: 6r35 Self-winding with manual winding capacity

Water resistance: 20Bar

MSRP: $908.50

 

Seiko 5

SEIKO 5 SPORTS SRPE57K1 MEN'S WATCH

 

The 2019 Seiko 5 sports (known more fondly as the 5kx) line has been rather polarizing, to say the least. But then again, coming in as the modern replacement for the coveted and unfortunately discontinued affordable mechanical dive watch that is the SKX is a tough act to follow. It gives us things that enthusiasts want such as an updated modern movement with hacking and hand winding (which the SKX didn’t have) while doing away with the features that made the SKX so loved in the first place.

Though it comes with an ISO rated case and threaded crown that a true diver should have, the new 5kx isn’t so much a dive watch as it is a dive-style watch. And that is enough to divide enthusiasts in their opinions and feelings towards this timepiece. But all animosity aside, the new 5kx release with a fixed smooth steel bezel and smaller 40mm case might just be the best Seiko 5 release this year. With a 100m water resistance and no timing bezel, it is now a proper sports watch (not a dive or sports style watch) in its own right.

The design will instantly remind you of the Tudor black bay 36 and the Rolex explorer (or even the Omega Railmaster too) and to be honest, that’s not really such a bad thing. The one we’re looking at today, the SRPE57K1 is as classically correct in its design as a sports watch should be. It features a stainless-steel case and bracelet, comfortable 40mm case, bold hands and markers (that are of course coated generously in lume) and oh, some nice gold gilt too.

If you can’t already tell, I love golden gilt on sports watches, I think it gives them so much more personality, adding a refined elegant vintage touch to an otherwise serious no-nonsense tool watch. But the steel bezel 5kx is still a lot of fun to have on the wrist.

Powered by the tried and tested 4r36 caliber offering a useful day-date complication, 3Hz frequency and a modest 41 hours of power reserve, it unsurprisingly ticks a lot of boxes for what enthusiasts are looking for in a modern sports watch. All in all, if you’re looking for a budget-friendly vintage styled sports watch but aren’t looking to sink that much money into an Explorer yet, the SRPE57K1 is going to be the best place to put your money at.

 

Key features

Case size: 40mm

Case material: Polished stainless steel

Movement: 4r36Self-winding with manual winding capacity

Water resistance: 10Bar

MSRP: $334.65

 

Seiko Premier

 

SEIKO PREMIER KINETIC PERPETUAL SNP098P1 STAINLESS STEEL MEN'S SILVER WATCH

 

We can’t have a list of Seiko dress watches without at least one highly complicated timepiece, can we? And we’re starting off with the holy grail of all high-end watch complications, the Perpetual Calendar. Now before we get into the watch, I might need to explain what a perpetual calendar is and why it’s such a revered complication.

It’s a calendar that ‘knows’ what month it is and when the leap year is too, essentially not needing any adjustments whatsoever even if it runs for a hundred years. All of this is of course stored and displayed in such a compact and wearable package that, mechanical or not, is still incredibly impressive.

And that brings us to the SNP098J1, which combines both modern and traditional technologies with an immense and beautiful wristwatch that is not only good looking but technologically and mechanically impressive as well. Coming in at a neat 41.5mm in diameter with flared, mid-century inspired lugs, it’s certainly not your traditional run-of-the-mill dress watch.

With raised plots for the baton and Roman numeral indexes, striped polished grey dial, rose-gold trims and a big date window to finish it off, the dial is certainly a treat for the eyes. If a complicated timepiece is a must-have for you, then why not have one of the most coveted complications in your collection? The SNP098P1 is undeniably one of the most affordable and pragmatic ways of having a Perpetual Calendar in your collection, and that makes it one hell of a deal.

 

Key features

High polished stainless-steel case and bracelet

A modern dressy and unique design

Eye-catching black decorated dial with applied rose gold indexes

Scratch resistant sapphire crystal

Dependable and rugged quartz kinetic caliber

Complex and self-adjusting perpetual calendar complication

 

Citizen

 

It might not look like it, but Citizen has been making watches for a very long time. Founded as Shokosha Watchmaking in 1918, a mere 13 years after Rolex, the brand was incepted with the hope of making mechanical watchmaking affordable for the general public.

With such an amiable goal in mind, it was no surprise that the brand was rebranded as Citizen in 1930, to be the watch of choice for the citizens of Japan.  While Seiko was founded to celebrate and replicate the art of high Swiss watchmaking, Citizen was to bring watchmaking to the masses. And to this day, Citizen is still making affordable watches for the masses.

Granted they do have an array of higher-end timepieces with price tags ranging from a few thousands to several hundred thousand (from the Eco-drive One to the Y01 Tourbillon). Citizen watches are still best known for their affordable, reliable timepieces, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but does that make you want their watches? Well, actually yes, and we’ll be looking at what we think is the best watch from each category under their expansive selection of timepieces.

 

Citizen Eco-drive

 

CITIZEN ECO-DRIVE ONE AR5044-03E MEN'S WATCH

 

 

We’re starting off strong with this one. It is one of the most minimal yet technically impressive timepieces we have today—the Citizen Eco-Drive One. In terms of mass and size, it is certainly the most delicate here, but then again it should be, it is the thinnest light-powered watch in the world after all.

The quest of making the thinnest watch in the world is a trial that has been taken by many of the biggest names in the watchmaking industry, whether it’s the thinnest mechanical wristwatch—with the likes of Piaget, Bvlgari, Jaeger LeCoultre competing for the throne—or the thinnest quartz-powered watch (oftentimes the thinnest watches in the world) which is the Concord Delirium coming in at only 0.98mm thin.

The creation of the thinnest watches in the world mechanically has always been more of a test of material and technical extremism than to create a practical watch. With the Eco-drive One, however, Citizen has created an ultra-thin watch that is not only the peak of technical innovation and skill but a practical wristwatch that you can easily wear day in and day out.

Powering the watch is a solar caliber that comes in at an eye-watering 1mm thick, and as is often the case with ultra-thin watches, the case is as critical as the movement in shaving millimeters of the thickness (what little there is) of the watch.

The case is two-piece construction that is held in place by the 4 visible screws on the watch and it is made of Citizen’s proprietary ceramic-metal-composite (Cermet) treated with a Duratec (DLC) coating. On the wrist, at 2.98mm x 39mm wide, the Eco-drive One practically disappears, offering an incredibly unique and one of a kind wearing experience. It’s not one that is purely classical, but it is very close.

Being a watch that combines the best of fine traditional watchmaking and modern technological innovation, the Citizen Eco-drive One is a must-have for the avid watch collector, as it ties up the divide between modern and traditional watchmaking in a beautifully thin package. 

 

Key Features

  • It's the thinnest solar powered timepiece in the world
  • Highly precise, reliable and technically advanced eco-drive caliber
  • Protected by immensely durable sapphire crystal glass
  • Movement Type - Eco-drive
  • Materials - Ceramic-titanium (cermet) 
  • Water Resistance - 3 bars
  • Case Size - 37mm x 2.98mm

 

Premium Citizen

 

CITIZEN SATELLITE WAVE CC7005-16E MEN'S WATCH

 

The Satellite wave line is Citizen’s answer to Seiko’s Astron and though the price gap between the models may be significant, you’re not short-changing yourself with anything from the Satellite wave line of watches. That brings us to the CC7005-16E, a 1500-piece limited edition that houses Citizen’s proprietary Satellite wave technology in the Caliber F990, capable of a slew of features that we won’t go too in-depth with here (we’ll be here all day if we did).

The watch, as the name suggests, is capable of setting itself based on whatever time-zone that you are at, or choosing by itself via GPS. The design of the watch is certainly one of the biggest factors of why this is such a likable piece too, with a box/domed sapphire crystal with printed indexes and numerals on it, giving a larger sense of depth to the already very 3-dimensional dial, together with a satellite antenna surrounding the periphery of the dial and a 2-piece super-titanium case as well.

The case is remarkably designed as well, with the main housing of the watch sitting on the case-back where a pair of lugs protrude from and curve towards the case of the watch but never actually reach it, making it hollow and giving it a futuristic, skeletal vibe which I love. And that same skeletonization can be found on the pushers as well, adding more points to the overall cool factor that the watch already has.

All in all, it’s an immensely impressive timepiece, and despite being an avid lover of mechanical watches (my collection of 8 with only 1 being quartz and the rest mechanical should speak for itself) I do find myself liking this one a lot. It may not be a mechanical purist’s dream watch, but it’s certainly the perfect modern-day alternative to a smartwatch.

 

Key Features

  • An intricate, and uniquely futuristic design
  • Offers an incredibly high level of fit and finish for the price
  • Protected by immensely durable sapphire crystal glass
  • Movement Type - Eco-drive
  • Materials - Super Titanium
  • Water Resistance - 10 bars
  • Case Size - 49mm

 

Citizen Promaster

 

CITIZEN PROMASTER FUGU LIMITED EDITION MEN'S DIVER AUTOMATIC NY0094-85EB MEN'S WATCH

 

The Citizen Fugu NY0094-85EB is no Seiko, but it certainly stands tall on its own stage. Up against the best that the industry has to offer for that price, it packs one hell of a punch as well. Though it might seem to be living in the shadow of Seiko, that only means that you’re less likely to stumble upon someone else with the same watch as you, and if that’s what you want, then you’re in luck with the Citizen Promaster Fugu NY009.

Dive watches are aplenty these days, and for good reason; they’re incredibly well built, very versatile and overall, are just really great watches to have. The Fugu NY009 harks back to an era long before us, with vintage design cues from the early history of diving and an added touch of idiosyncrasy unique to the NY line of Promasters.

The principal characteristics are the left-hand crown position at 8 which is meant to prevent inadvertent knocks as well as to provide more ergonomic comfort to the wearer. And the distinctive bezel as well, with alternating smooth and serrated edges allowing for better grip when being operated under water especially with gloved hands.

Power comes from a Miyota Cal. 8203 a proper workhorse movement with a 45-hour power reserve that beats at a respectable 21,600VPH (3Hz). It’s not the most ground-breaking performance, but it was never meant to be in the first place. What Citizen has done with the NY009 Fugu is bring about more interesting variety into the dive watch market and with some serious competition, performance and pedigree to boot as well.

 

Key Features

  • Sporty and timeless dive watch design
  • Reliable workhorse automatic caliber
  • Protected by immensely durable mineral crystal glass
  • Movement Type - Miyota automatic
  • Materials - Stainless- steel
  • Water Resistance - 20 bars
  • Case Size - 42mm

 

Citizen Automatic

 

CITIZEN KUROSHIO '64 NK0008-85L MEN'S LIMITED-EDITION WATCH

 

When I first saw the watches from the Kuroshio 64 line a month or so back, it was love at first sight. In fact I liked them so much, I immediately bought one the following day. The Kuroshio 64 line is named after a collaboration project between Citizen, the Japanese Maritime Defense Force, and the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology to study the flow of the currents along the sea surrounding Japan.

Citizen created Japan’s first water resistant watch, the Parawater, and saw this project as a great way to test as well as market their brand-new watch. It’s a rather endearing tale that I shan’t get too much into, but what we’ve ended up with in today’s reissue is a faithful representation of the original but with modern touches; such as a 41mm case, automatic caliber and of course a beautifully patterned dial meant to mimic the patterns of the sea.

But despite all of these updates, the Kuroshio 64 NK0008-85L is still a very nicely vintage styled timepiece, with applied arrow shaped indexes, dauphine hands, a box shaped crystal and a slim brushed case. It gives an incredibly traditional wearing experience of a three-handed dress watch. The stainless-steel bracelet certainly adds more versatility to the otherwise dressy piece, and the inclusion of lume pips along the markers and hands harks back nicely to the watch’s rather nautical origins.

Overall, if you’re looking for something with a little bit more history and heritage, with excellent finishing, attention to detail and pedigree, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something better than the Kuroshio 64, especially at this price point.

 

Key Features

  • An elegant, vintage design for an affordable price
  • Reliable workhorse automatic caliber
  • Protected by immensely durable mineral crystal glass
  • Movement Type - Miyota automatic
  • Materials - Stainless- steel
  • Water Resistance - 5 bars
  • Case Size - 41mm

 

Casio

 

What Seiko is to affordable mechanical/analogue watches among enthusiasts, Casio shares a similar reputation and cred in the digital watch department. We’ll be taking a look at 2 specific line ups from the brand today, the immensely popular and respected G-Shock line and the lesser appreciated but equally great Edifice line.

The G-Shock line up is Casio’s take on what a tool watch should be, and well it’s now pretty much the dictionary definition of a tool watch; bold, tough and packing a ton of functions adding to its practicality. The modern G-shocks are available in a slew of different colours and models, and have pretty much become a fashion icon too. But that doesn’t mean that they’ve forgotten their roots, they’re still proper pieces of equipment that you can comfortably rely on in any situation.

The Edifice line doesn’t share as much glamour as the G-Shock line, but technologically, they are very similar, some even share the exact same movement, but Edifice cases their watches in a more refined package of course. The Edifice line are tough, precise and refined. They’re both serious sports watches but with very, very different appeals, and today we’re going to look at the best from these 2 sub-brands and find out what’s what.

 

Casio Edifice

 

CASIO EDIFICE SMARTPHONE LINK EQB-1000XD-1ADR MEN'S WATCH

 

The Edifice line is Casio’s line of sporty and advanced watches that, in my opinion, shares a lot of its design roots with modern motorsports. They’re very much like G-shocks in their functions and movements, but in a much more refined and sportier package.

The one we’re looking at today is in our opinion the best Edifice model that money can buy the EQB-1000XD-1ADR. It is one of Edifice’s more advanced timepieces, featuring the brand’s Bluetooth Smartphone link, a tough solar power system that keeps the device topped up via exposure to any form of light source, as well as a multi-hand multi-function chronograph and timekeeping system too.

All of this technology in a case that is only 8.9mm thin is truly a work of engineering brilliance that is hard to find anywhere else (aside from Citizen perhaps, but that’s at a very different price point). It’s a handsome watch too, the one we have today come with sporty red accents along the indexes and subdials, contrasting nicely against the otherwise stealthy black dial, and set in a neatly finished, slim stainless-steel case.

If you’re looking to get your hands on a functional, sporty timepiece that won’t break the bank and looks and feels like something much more expensive than it actually is, you’ll certainly find the EQB-1000XD-1ADR to fit your bill very nicely. 

 

Key Features

  • Sporty and modern racing watch design
  • Bluetooth smartphone link
  • Multi-function
  • Protected by immensely durable mineral crystal glass
  • Materials - Stainless- steel
  • Water Resistance - 10 bars
  • Case Size – 45.8mm

 

Casio G-Shock

 

G-SHOCK MUDMASTER DIGITAL QUARTZ BLACK STAINLESS-STEEL GG-1000-1A3DR GREEN RESIN STRAP MEN'S WATCH

 

Whether you intend to use it to its fullest extent or not, the G-Shock Mudmaster  is a fantastic everyday tool watch. Whether you’re out in the wild, with only your trusty tool watch to rely on, or just want to wear something tough and reliable out while doing sports, the G-shock Mudmaster (or in fact, any Casio G-shock for that matter) is perfect for these shocking situations (pun absolutely intended).

Be it an accidental bump against a wall or landing the perfect stroke on the tee-off, the G-shock Mudmaster will simply brush off these impacts as though they were merely tickles. Seriously, this watch is built the way tanks wish they could be built, and with its durability aside, the watch also has a slew of useful functions such as an alarm, stopwatch, timer, world timer and even a compass as well. Being a G-shock, the Mudmaster will be the perfect everyday beater for even the roughest of folks.

 

Key Features

  • Sporty and modern digital field watch design
  • Multi-function
  • Protected by immensely durable mineral crystal glass and carbon core guard case
  • Materials - Resin
  • Water Resistance - 20 bars
  • Case Size – 55.3mm

 

And that’s a wrap

 

And here it is, our complete buyer’s guide for Japanese watches. Whether it’s your first rodeo, or another addition to your collection, we’re more than willing to go out on a limb here and say you’re sure to find something that you’re going to love here. Whether it’s a classic, reliable diver, a stunning vintage reissue with rich history, or a serious, no-nonsense everyday beater tool watch, you’ll almost certainly find the right watch for you on this list today.