Seiko is a company the likes of which are unparalleled in the watch world. In its 141 years of near constant operation (in a few different forms, admittedly), no other watch company has occupied such a wide variety of positions in the marketplace, nor transformed the very nature of the global watch industry itself in such an all-encompassing way. At the heart of Seiko’s deep history as a company, one core principle has always been a guiding influence: an unmitigated, insatiable ambition to create something better. Something which, in either technological sophistication, or in beauty, surpasses everything that came before it.
It is that ambition which led Seiko to develop the quartz movement. It was the same fiendish technology that brought the Swiss watch industry to the brink, as well as democratized access to wristwatches and revolutionized their accuracy. It is also that ambition which, in a desire to surpass the prestigious level of finishing seen by their competitors in Switzerland, led Seiko to create Grand Seiko in 1960. But while Grand Seiko is now well known, having become its own stand-alone brand in 2017, King Seiko remains more of a mystery to the majority of watch enthusiasts. Nevertheless, this recently resurrected collection offered a level of finishing and quality that sought to elevate Seiko’s position in the market.
A lesser-known dynamic in Seiko’s history is that, beginning in 1959 and continuing for a large portion of the remaining century, Seiko had two distinct manufacturing facilities: Daini Seikosha and Suwa Seikosha. Beginning with its formation in 1937, Daini Seikosha was established with a specific focus on all things timekeeping. As the 20th century marched on, Daini and Suwa would at times emphasize different aspects of manufacturing in an effort to promote symmetry, and at other times would be pitted against one another to encourage a healthy degree of competition.
Grand Seiko’s initial release in 1960 was born out of the Suwa factory, while King Seiko hailed from the Daini factory the following year in 1961. The specifics of this competition has been debated, with some claiming that the two factories were in an all-out rivalry for survival. The truth is likely far much less sensational, and in all likelihood saw a degree of collaboration at times, as different components were manufactured for the same series of watches by each factory.
While Grand Seiko was meant to be the peak of what Seiko was capable of in terms of finishing and detailing, King Seiko had a similar ambition to elevate the level of quality and finishing that Seiko customers could expect. Though King Seiko seemed to have aimed at a slightly different end consumer, it was no less dedicated to the creation of beautiful, innovative timepieces with distinct case designs. Indeed, many of the case shapes created in those early years of competition continue to cast a long shadow into the design language of Grand Seiko’s offerings to this day.
King Seiko Today
Despite Grand Seiko’s revival and meteoric rise in prominence over the past few years, King Seiko remained relegated to the annals of Seiko’s history books. That is, until 2021, the year that marked the 140th anniversary of Seiko founder Kinataro Hattori establishing K. Hattori & Co. (which would lead to the founding of the Seiko brand in 1924). In celebration of the 140th anniversary, Seiko, much to the surprise of the watch world, announced that the King Seiko would be returning with the release of the limited edition SJE083, a nearly identical re-release of the King Seiko KSK from 1965.
With meticulous finishing throughout, the SJE083 is an exceedingly elegant timepiece, with beautifully polished beveled edges, strong lugs, and a classically proportioned case. It is, by any measure, a very worthy timepiece with which to revive a collection that had a significant impact on the course of Seiko’s history. As it did nearly 60 years ago, King Seiko is poised to elevate Seiko’s offerings to an ever-more discerning clientele. If the course of Grand Seiko’s revival is any indicator of what is to come, we can only expect great things from subsequent King Seiko watches.