The 10 Japanese Watches That Are Giving The Swiss a run for their money

 

 

It would be an understatement to say that the Swiss and Japanese watch industry have had a bit of a bitter rivalry with each other for decades. For those who find this information as news, here’s the crux of it. Back in 1927, American inventor Warren Marrison discovered that if you run an electrical current through a quartz crystal, the piezoelectrical properties of the crystal would cause it to beat at a highly precise frequency, allowing it to regulate an electronic oscillator to regulate time. And even more accurately so than mechanical watches. It was this piece of technology that allowed Seiko to beat the Swiss in the Swiss accuracy trials in 1969 and ultimately leading to the decimation of traditional mechanical watchmaking in the 1970s with quartz being the future. It’s safe to say that the quartz crisis triggered by Seiko’s Astron in 1969 nearly wiped-out mechanical watchmaking along with many Swiss watch brands that we know and love today. A s well as many others who were unfortunately relegated into the annals of history, never to be seen or heard from again.

 

 

Fortunately, the art and practice of traditional mechanical watchmaking survived this massacre, thanks largely to the iconic Audemars Piguet Royal Oak designed by one Gerald Genta, it was an angular industrially designed stainless-steel sports watch that at the time (and even now) cost more than a gold watch. What Genta did with the Royal Oak was turn the mechanical wristwatch into a luxury, a status symbol. And that, along with a few other bold releases sharing similar design styles such as the Patek Philippe Nautilus and Vacheron Constantin 222 (Now known as the Overseas) were the saving grace of traditional mechanical watchmaking.

 

 

Needless to say, the Swiss watch industry still has a bit of a chip on its shoulder from this near-death-experience triggered by the Japanese and the rivalry between these two horological giants still rage on till this day. Today, we’ll be taking a look at 10 Japanese timepieces that are still keeping the Swiss on their toes.

 

Credor Eichi II

 

 

Right off the bat, we do not carry Credor, Grand Seiko or any of Hajime Asaoka’s creations, unfortunately. But humor me today as we take a look at these 3 fantastic watchmakers and our favourites from their ranges.

We’ll be taking a look at Credor firstly, which was founded in 1974 and specifically made watches only in precious metals, it wasn’t meant to compete directly with Grand Seiko, but to stand on its own as a hallmark to the highest level of Japanese watchmaking.

It still is to this day, with ultra-high-end and complex pieces such as the Sonnerie to more refined, and simple (albeit equally high-end) time only pieces like the Eichi II, Credor is undisputedly one of the best that Japan has to offer in the world of watchmaking.

 

 

This unassuming three-hander might look as though it doesn’t have much to offer, but it packs one hell of a horological punch. The dial is a simple, minimalist affair but the process of making it is anything but. It’s an enamel dial (a process that often yields more failures than success) with hand-painted markers, paired with a Zaratsu polished case, and an impressive spring-drive caliber finished to the highest degree that is humanly possible, it is the epitome of high Japanese watchmaking at its finest.

But for those of you who would balk at the thought of spending five-figure sums on a Japanese-made watch, you’d probably want to know this first. The team behind the Eichi II; Seiko’s Shiojiri micro artistry studio. Is a studio of artisans and engineers established by one of the greatest names in Swiss watchmaking; Mr. Philippe Dufour himself. And if you’ve heard of the man, you would know how desirable and coveted his watches are in the industry. And if you haven’t, well take this from us, Dufour has an order list for his watches capable of spanning several lifetimes. So desirable is his craft that not even he can afford to wear his own watches. So, with the Credor Eichi II, you’re not just spending a high five-figure sum on an astronomically expensive Japanese-made watch, you’re spending it on the most affordable (and realistically attainable) Philippe Dufour.

 

 

Grand Seiko SBGY003

 

 

The SBGY003 is, in our humble opinion the perfect Grand Seiko. Perfect isn’t a term we use lightly and for the SBGY003 to be called perfect, in our opinion, is truly something special. The SBGY003 is part of Grand Seiko’s very expensive and exclusive 20th anniversary of Spring Drive collection.

Looking at the watch, it’s a relatively simple timepiece featuring only 3-hands with nothing to offset the symmetry of the dial, not even a date window. But, as seen previously with the Credor, it’s in this simplicity where Grand Seiko truly shines. With such a pure minimalism, there are no gimmicks or complications to hide behind.

 

 

Everything is laid bare for you to see and everything, and I do mean everything, is finished perfectly; every bevel, curve and polish is executed to such a level of perfection you have to see it to believe it. The impossibly flawless sun-ray dial is as much a work of art as it is an engineering marvel, with the mirror polish on the hands and markers all finished completely by hand, right down to the cap set atop the second hands.

The watch is powered by Grand Seiko's 9r31 spring-drive caliber that, like the entirety of the watch, is immaculately finished with bevelled edges, blued screws and flawless brushing on the plate. The SBGY003 is the perfect representation of what Grand Seiko is all about, offering the best that modern watchmaking has to offer, it truly is as much a work of art as it is an engineering masterpiece.

 

 

Hajime Asaoka Tsunami

 

 

For our readers who aren’t too familiar with watches or even for those who are, Hajime Asaoka may seem like an incredibly foreign name to you. Just a quick introduction: Asaoka was a product designer with no formal horological training, and he learned the ropes from reading George Daniels’ Watchmaking and watching YouTube videos, as all of the greatest watchmakers do. He makes every component of his watches himself (apart from the mainspring and the balance spring) and each component of his watches are painstakingly finished to the highest degree that is humanly possible. This incredibly artisanal approach means that he takes about a month to finish one Tsunami; Which is what we’ll be looking at today. 

 

 

A single watch that takes an entire month to finish ought to be spectacularly complicated or immensely marvelous to look at right? Well, it’s not complicated, with only 3 hands telling the hours minutes and sub-seconds. So how is it in the looks department? Well, unconventional comes to mind, followed by industrial and well, immaculate once you take a closer look. For one, the dial isn’t flat, it’s actually a convex, giving it a much slimmer appearance than it actually is. The hands are a rather unorthodox choice too, in a semi-skeletonized syringe shape finished in a mirror polish no less. The finishing, as you would expect from a piece like this is immaculate. With the dial sectioned into 3 prominent sectors, the inner dial in a grey sandblasted finish, the outer dial in a polished inky black and the sub-dial with a Zen-garden esque circular graining. The movement too, is given the same treatment and is Asaoka’s own, with a massive balance wheel at 6 taking center stage beating at a laid-back 18,000 VPH (2.5Hz). The Tsunami may not be a watch for everyone, and to the untrained eye may not even look like much. But for those of us in the know, it is not just one of the finest examples of Japanese watchmaking. I'd even go so far as to say that it (and Mr. Asaoka himself) could very well be Japan’s own Roger Smith. And the praise doesn’t get higher than that.

 

Kurono Tokyo By Hajime Asaoka Chronograph 1

 

 

The second piece from Hajime Asaoka we’ll be looking at today, and one that is relatively more accessible (granted they only made 68 of these for the world) and less cost inhibitive than Asaoka’s bespoke creations. The Kurono brand was founded by Asaoka himself to create a line of watches that shared the same DNA of Hajime’s exclusive handmade atelier watches at a more affordable level. So, while the Tsunami would cost about $40,000 USD, the Kurono Tokyo Chronograph 1 comes in at just under $4,000 USD, about 10 times less than the Tsunami. But does that make it 10 times less of a watch? Well, functionally speaking, you’re certainly getting more from the Chronograph 1 than the Tsunami, which, as its name already implies features a bi-compax chronograph complication and a date window at 6 too.

 

 

The watch is powered by Seiko’s NE86A chronograph movement which features a column wheel along with a vertical clutch system too, the sort that you get in some of the finest Swiss made mechanical hand-wound chronographs. As for the design, its beautiful, to say the least. There’s a very distinct neo-retro vibe about the design language with the stark monochromes, uncluttered dial and busy tachymeter scale. It’s a beautiful watch without a doubt, and one that radiates distinctly as Asaoka’s own design. For 10 times less than the Tsunami, you’re getting a really rather intriguing alternative and step into Asaoka’s world, albeit without the in-house developed movement and the level of fit and finish as well. But, if you’ve been intrigued by the man’s creations (which if you’ve made it this far, you should be by now), then the Chronograph 1 is certainly a compelling watch for your consideration.

 

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

 

 

When I first saw the watches from the Kuroshio 64 line that rolled into our office, it was love at first sight. In fact, I liked them so much, I immediately bought one the following day; the cream dialed NK0001-17X. But today, we’ll be taking a look at the much scarcer limited edition NK0008-85L. The Kuroshio 64 line is named after a collaboration project between Citizen, the Japanese Maritime Defence 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 traditionally designed 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.

 

SEIKO PROSPEX MARINEMASTER 300 SLA023J1 MEN'S WATCH

 

 

If the watch to have is a dive watch, then the dive watch to have would be a Rolex Submariner, but even if you had $11,000 or so to spend at your local AD, you can’t have one. A surge in demand over the years, resulting in massive price jumps, and ever-growing waiting lists have relegated this incredible timepiece to be nothing more than just a passing fancy across the jeweler's window.

But just because you can’t get the default doesn’t mean you can’t get something else that is as interesting, and maybe, just maybe a little more special. Introducing the Seiko Marinemaster SLA023J1, a commemorative limited edition to the first model from 1968, Seiko’s reference 6159. Powered by Seiko’s Caliber 8L35 and beating at 28,800VPH (4Hz), the Marinemaster pays proper tribute to the original 1968 hi-beat drive Ref. 6159-7001 and then some. Though not equipped with the high-beat 36,000VPH (5Hz) 8L55 caliber, the 8L35 is still a force to be reckoned with, with a respectably high frequency of 28,800VPH (4Hz).

 

 

The 8L35 is essentially an undecorated version of the Grand Seiko's 9S55 automatic caliber, with 26 jewels, 50 hours of power reserve and an accuracy of -10 to +15 seconds per day. It's a proper demonstration of Japanese watchmaking prowess. Coming with a 44.3mm mono-bloc case (missing the traditional case-back where the movement is installed from the front instead of the rear), it ensures rugged durability and water resistance of up to 300m. The case has also been hardened with a super-hard (DLC) coating making it more scratch-resistant and wear-resistant. It is certainly tougher than your run-off-the-mill diver. A sapphire crystal with a dual-sided anti-reflective protects the proud blue dial and it features a knurled crown at 4 O'clock (a common and recognizable staple in Seiko's divers). Granted at over $4,000 this is certainly big money for 'just' a Seiko. But then again, it offers fantastic history and craftsmanship from a brand renowned for making watches for over a century and is still properly brilliant at it today. 

 

 

SEIKO PROSPEX SPB121J1 MEN'S WATCH

 

 

No list of the best Japanese watches that money can buy these days can be complete without mentioning the Seiko green Alpinist. In fact, I’d like to think that most of you would probably cry foul if it didn’t appear on the list, so here it is. The original Seiko Alpinist is a Japanese 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 call it the Goldilocks of watches. Buy since all the previous Alpinist models have gone out of production, resale prices have been driven sky high, and once the stocks on the second-hand market dry out, they’ll be gone forever.

 

 

When Seiko announced a reissue of the Alpinist with 3 new models that sat nicely in the Prospex Line, 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 case-back for you to enjoy the 6R35 caliber in greater detail. However, not much has changed visually on the new Alpinist SPB121J1, 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 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, the watch is a serious tool watch, with 200m of water resistance, bright luminescent on the hands and 12 markers, as well as an internal rotating bezel which functions as a compass. Yet with all of this, the watch, thanks to its 39mm diameter and proportions, was incredibly versatile. It could be worn hiking, or 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.

 

CASIO G-SHOCK MUDMASTER GG-B100-1A3DR MEN'S WATCH

 

 

The G-Shock Mudmaster has always been one of the brand’s toughest watches. With the GG-B100 line, that toughness now comes with even more features and functions. It is available in 4 different colourways: Black, Green, Orange and Blackout (which if you couldn’t tell by the name, has almost every component of the watch in black, except for the silvered pushers). The one we’ll be looking at today is my favourite colourway out of the 4, the GG-B100-1A3DR. It should come as no surprise that I’m not the biggest fan of digital watches; in fact, my collection of only mechanical watches should speak of my tastes and preferences already. I do find myself liking the Mudmaster a lot though, and that’s really saying something. However, the only thing keeping me from pulling out my wallet for this otherwise rather affordable and incredible piece is whether I would actually wear it frequently compared to the ones that’re already in my collection.

 

 

But whether I’m ready to start going digital over mechanical doesn’t detract from the fact that the Mudmaster is a fantastic watch. The LCD screen may be small for some, but it is highly legible and offers snappy performance too. The hands are useful when needed, and are used to display certain features that we’ll get into later. However, they are usually performing their default time-telling functions most of the time. Casio’s cutting-edge screen and ultra-lightweight carbon means that there’s virtually no compromise between functionality and style. 

 

 

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

 

 

Lastly and certainly the least (in terms of mass at least) is 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 collector, as it ties up the divide between modern and traditional watchmaking in a beautifully thin package.