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Written By
Published Aug 21, 2022 9:49 AM

Japanese watch conglomerate Seiko is one of the most important, if not the most important, horology brands of the 20th century. Older than Rolex, it innovated timekeeping beyond simply making copies of European watches, and in many ways is responsible for the modern wristwatch. Seiko released the first mechanical chronograph with the 6139 “Pogue,” and since then, its watches have graced the wrists of James Bond, several Arnold Schwarznegger characters, U.S. troops in the jungles of Vietnam, astronauts, fictional heroes in deep space, and courageous mountaineers

It cannot be overstated how much Seiko has innovated and continues to innovate, and in spite of its recent turn to commemorative editions, themed watches, and limited runs, it still comfortably holds a place as one of the giants of watchmaking.

Seiko’s catalog stretches into the tens of thousands of watches, stretching well over 100 years back, and it’s produced some of the most iconic designs ever. Its offerings range from dirt-cheap Seiko 5 pieces to Grand Seikos that cost thousands of dollars and match, or beat, the specs of Europe’s finest watch companies. But what’s the best Seiko watch you can buy?

Considering Seiko’s massive range, that’s a hard question to answer. It was difficult to winnow this massive selection down to an easily-legible list, especially one that wouldn’t stretch to novel-length. Some classics like the legendary SKX007 dive watch couldn’t be included, because they’re no longer in production, and I don’t consider the new “5KX” Seiko 5 Sports models as worthy successors because they lack many of the specs that made the SKX a tried-and-true diving watch. Others, like the 6105, have been reissued, but their reissues are more luxury items than the classic tool watches and are somewhere approaching six times the original cost, adjusted for inflation. Despite all of this, we drew on our expertise and exquisite personal taste to find the best Seiko watches you can buy. 

These five watches represent the best Seiko watches that honor this long tradition of stellar watchmaking, and in every case, they stand above their peers in some way or another.

The “Turtle” is one of Seiko’s most long-lasting designs, timeless in spite of its design that has DNA stretching back to the 1970s. Unlike many watches that just look the part, this is a real dive watch, built to go deep under the waves. The cushion-shaped case not only nails the retro aesthetic, but also shortens the lug-to-lug length and improves the watch’s fitment. This watch also makes sustainability and environmental conservation a priority, being a special edition watch with an incredible dial, and which Seiko produces to raise money for organizations that study and preserve the ocean, such as PADI Aware and the National Institute for Polar Research. This is truly an eye-catching watch that can go wherever you go, and which sets itself above its peers to an incredible degree.

The dial on the Save The Ocean Turtle that we chose for this list is an amazing, deep turquoise, embossed with a design that’s reminiscent of the shell of a sea turtle. This is deliberate, owing to the charitable intentions of this watch’s product run. But it’s not just a good-looking watch, being a professional-grade stainless steel Seiko watch in every way, with an ISO Diver’s certification and fantastic lume that’s extremely hard to beat. This is elevated by the choice to include a ceramic bezel and sapphire crystal on this iteration, which not only enhances the durability of the watch, but also keeps it looking new for longer.

“Seiko” and “alignment” are not often words you hear said in a sentence together in a positive light in the watch sphere, and roughly one in 10 Seiko turtles that I’ve seen have had alignment issues. As with many Seikos, the bracelet is also nothing to write home about, being a single-link bracelet meant to look like a three-link—a cop-out in a world where you can get three-link bracelets with screw adjustments and solid steel clasps for less than $100 from many companies. Bear in mind, also, that while it’s surprisingly wearable at 47mm lug-to-lug, it’s still a big, heavy piece of kit. Finally, the 4R35 movement housed inside is hardly regarded as premium, and though it’s durable and reliable, it’s definitely not what you’re paying for with this watch.

Product Specs
  • Dimensions: 44.3 x 47 x 13 millimeters
  • Materials: Stainless steel, ceramic bezel, sapphire crystal
  • Movement: Seiko Instruments 4r35
Why It Made The Cut
  • Our best overall is also our best sustainable Seiko watch, a professional dive watch with a mission to save the ocean.
PROS

Incredible dial

Premium materials

Outstanding lume

CONS

Alignment issues

So-so bracelet

4r35 movement is somewhat below par at this price

Seiko knew its audience with the Seiko 5 line: people who wanted an automatic movement, a day/date window, a healthy water resistance, a crown at 4 o’clock, and durable case and band. These watches were budget-focused, punched well above their weight, and put mechanical watches on the wrists of the masses, making them some of the best starter watches to ever exist. With the Seiko SNXS73, you’re getting a lot of watch for very little money.

Cheap watches are dominated by knockoffs, overly large watches that demand attention, and watches with very little thought put into them. The Seiko SNXS73 is none of those things, featuring a completely original design that doesn’t try to be anything other than a Seiko. This is a mechanical watch for the price of many cheap quartz watches, and it’s one that features 100m of water resistance and a mineral crystal, in a price bracket where many watches make do with no water resistance to speak of and acrylic crystals. Best of all, it’s a handy 38mm, making it wearable for anyone.

Saying that there’s not very much premium about a watch that retails for less than $100 should be a no-brainer, but it merits repeating. The bracelet is, for lack of a better term, janky, with links made of rolled sheet metal to simulate the appearance of solid steel, and a cheaply stamped steel clasp. The bracelet is also 19mm, further limiting replacement strap options (most tend to be 18, 20, or 22mm), and all but eliminating the possibility of wearing it on a better bracelet. The movement is absolutely bare-bones, being an older 7S26 that lacks the ability to be wound by hand, requiring you to engage in the obscene-looking “Seiko shuffle,” where you shake the watch back and forth until the hand starts moving. This bare-bones finishing extends to the mineral crystal, which will scratch much easier than sapphire.

Product Specs
  • Dimensions: 38 x 43 x 13 millimeters
  • Materials: Stainless steel, mineral crystal
  • Movement: Seiko Instruments 7s26
Why It Made The Cut
  • There’s just something about the concept of the Seiko 5 Sports Watch, an entire phenomenon in horology, and the SNXS73 is the perfect embodiment of it.
PROS

Dress watch proportions for anyone

Sub-$100 mechanical watch

Original design

CONS

Bracelet is still wonky

Mineral crystal

Bare-bones finishing

Watches made famous in movies can get very expensive. To get the exact model of Rolex Submariner worn by James Bond in the film Dr. No, you’ll need to set aside over $100,000. To get the latest reissue of the Omega Speedmaster that Tom Hanks wore in Apollo 13, and which the astronauts on the actual mission wore, you’ll be north of $6,000. But for the watch that Arnold Schwarzenegger wore in the classic film Predator? Less than $500. This watch was loved by the action star and bodybuilder because of the fact that it could stand up to all of his action roles, and because its bold character matched his large frame and bulging muscles. Seiko then reissued it with increased water resistance, better accuracy, and solar timekeeping, proving that it’s still relevant in 2022. This is why it landed on our lists of the best solar watches, best dive watches under $500, and the best digital watches before finding its way onto the best Seiko watches lineup.

Seiko watches have been featured in several movies, but no Seiko movie watch is as famous as the Arnie. It’s a professional diver watch that snatched the best dive watch spot from the Turtle or 62MAS, simply because when accuracy counts in a professional environment, I turn to Seiko Quartz watches. I’ve used mine to make sure that artillery batteries are keeping their timelines on schedule to ensure that the shells don’t endanger coordinated close air support attacks, which requires the watch to keep time when set against a GPS clock. Best of all, this watch is surprisingly wearable, owing to a relatively compact 51.3mm lug-to-lug distance, that, while by no means small, is much more manageable than expected.

Arnold is a big dude, standing at roughly six feet two inches, and weighing well over 235 pounds at his competition weight, most of it muscle. I am not that big, and neither are most people. Despite the small lug-to-lug length of this watch, relative to the wide dial, it’s still a big watch, and smaller wearers may find themselves alienated. The rubber strap is also more comfortable when worn over a wetsuit or other garment, because rubber gives me and many other wearers rashes, especially in hot environments. Finally, the glass on this is ordinary mineral glass, even on a watch that’s approaching the price point of others that offer sapphire.

Product Specs
  • Dimensions: 47.8 x 51.3 x 14.4 millimeters
  • Materials: Stainless steel, plastic shroud, rubber strap, mineral glass
  • Movement: Seiko Instruments H851 Solar
Why It Made The Cut
  • The best Seiko dive watch is a solar-powered adaptation of a movie legend watch, all for a relatively affordable price.
PROS

The most famous Seiko movie watch

Undeniable durability and quality

Fits surprisingly well

CONS

Large size

Rubber strap can cause rashes

Mineral crystal

In 1965, Seiko released its first dive-rated watch, the Seiko 6217-8000, also called the 62MAS. This was a legendary watch that immediately set itself apart from other dive watches of the day, like the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and Rolex Submariner, by being relatively affordable. Seeing this, Seiko reissued this watch not once, but twice, and this latest reissue brings this stellar design into the 21st century.

The Seiko SBDC141 is a watch that carries the vintage era Seiko DNA in all but two characteristics: the dial and the dimensions. The hour indices and bezel have a vintage patina applied to them that, when combined with the strap, angled lugs, and domed crystal, oozes 1960s charm. Seiko didn’t simply reproduce the original with the same specs, and instead upgraded the acrylic crystal to sapphire, increased the water resistance, and included a vastly superior movement, taking this budget tool watch and making it a showpiece. The best part is that this is a dive watch that dresses up very well, so it’ll look as at home on your wrist as any Rolex.

The Seiko 6R35 movement is no joke, being vastly superior to its 4R sibling, but that doesn’t mean that Seiko has perfected it; some users have reported timekeeping that falls just within the overly-generous -25/+30 second per day allowed variance that Seiko guarantees. This watch is also much more expensive than the $500 and change that the original cost, adjusted for inflation, ranging anywhere from $800 to $1,400, depending on the model. Finally, and especially for a watch of this caliber, the fact that it lacks a color-matched date wheel is somewhat disappointing, even if it is more in keeping with the original.

Product Specs
  • Dimensions: 40.5 x 47.6 x 13.2 millimeters
  • Materials: Stainless steel, sapphire crystal, nylon strap
  • Movement: Seiko Instruments 6r35
Why It Made The Cut
  • The original Seiko Dive watch returns in a fancier, luxury reissue with improved materials, better durability, and better timekeeping, now as part of the professional quality Seiko Prospex watches.
PROS

Faithful retro watch

Modern water resistance standard

Adaptable dive watch

CONS

Questionable performance tolerance

High cost

No color-matched date wheel

Everyone knows Seiko, but fewer people know Grand Seiko, despite the fact that it’s one of the most luxurious brands of watches to ever come out of Japan—second only to Seiko’s ultra-luxury Credor brand. Blending high-technology titanium and a truly unique spring drive movement with luxurious lines and the most gorgeous dial you will ever see, this is truly a “grand” watch, if you’ll pardon the pun. Seiko’s spring drive movement is absurdly high-tech, using a constantly spinning gear called a “glide wheel” that is braked or accelerated in time by electromagnets, and controlled by quartz timekeeping. This system is so incredible, so singular, and so innovative, that in terms of accuracy, it outpaces anything other than pure quartz watches, or watches that are corrected by GPS time or radio signal.

The Grand Seiko SBGA415, also known as “The Deep Snows of Winter,” is a work of art; there’s no other way to put it. The dial is designed to resemble snowdrifts, glistening and sparkling in the changing light as you move your wrist. The spring drive movement gives this watch unbeatable accuracy, plus or minus one second per day, far outpacing any automatic movement on the market. The biggest reason to own something like this is that it’s the biggest innovation in watchmaking in the 20th or 21st century. The spring drive movement is the newest thing in watchmaking to date and breaks the binary of quartz versus mechanical watches.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how “grand” this Grand Seiko is, watch nerds will focus on the “Seiko” part. The fact is that you’ll be spending Rolex money on a watch that says “Seiko” on it, and some people cannot tolerate that. Another issue is that the dimensions of this watch may be elegant, but are a little large to be truly unisex. Adding to this, the clasp and bracelet on the Grand Seiko are not consummate with other watches of this quality, lacking the refinement and adjustment points that many people expect.

Product Specs
  • Dimensions: 40 x 47 x 12.8 millimeters
  • Materials: Titanium, sapphire crystal
  • Movement: Grand Seiko 9r65
Why It Made The Cut
  • Grand Seiko proves that luxury can come from Japan and put Switzerland on notice.
PROS

Amazing accuracy

Beautiful dial

Historic significance

CONS

Costly watch that still says “Seiko”

Less luxurious fit

Clasp is infamous

FAQs about Seiko watches

Q: Is Seiko a good brand?

A: Yes. Seiko is one of the most important brands of the 20th century, and it’s known for making some of the most iconic brands of that century. However, it’s also known for mass production, especially at the lower end of the cost scale, so quality can slip. Additionally, Seiko is moving upmarket, charging more money, and introducing limited-edition watches that tie in with various pieces of Japanese media like Gundam, Naruto, and Hayao Miyazaki’s films. These two factors combined mean that it can sometimes be difficult to find the low-cost screaming deals from yesteryear, but it doesn’t totally exempt Seiko from that market.

Q: Is Seiko a luxury brand?

A: Seiko itself is not—though many Seiko models can be far from cheap—but sub-brands can be. The Prospex line represents Seiko’s professional-quality tool watches, meant for hard workers. Presage is Seiko’s low-end dress watches. Grand Seiko is Seiko’s luxury brand, equivalent in innovation in quality to brands like Rolex and Omega. Finally, Credor is the unobtanium hand-crafted artistic brand that features things like hand-painted dials and hand-written lettering—for a price.

Q: Are Seiko watches made in China?

A: Seiko watches are made either in Japan or Malaysia, primarily. If the model number ends with K, it’s Malaysian; if it’s J, it’s made in Japan. J models are more highly sought after, and are regarded as having better quality control, although the standards and materials are the same. J models also have a higher price tag associated with being assembled by higher-paid Japanese workers.

Q: Are Seiko watches as good as Rolex?

A: It depends. Grand Seiko is at least on par in some cases, and Credor is considered by some to be far better, but if you’re trying to flip a watch and scalp some dude on Chrono24, maybe not. And, obviously, the more budget-minded Seikos are not on par with fancy Swiss watches.

Final thoughts

Seiko is one of my favorite brands, easily topping lists of the best watches of all time and being a constant feature of our watch-buying guides. Additionally, my dad’s first good watch was a Seiko 7548, which he got for $300 while aboard the USS Independence. I still have that watch. I am predisposed to love Seiko and to admire its place in 20th-century horology, and although I regret seeing them depart the extreme low end of the budget market, I respect that they’re continuing to find new ways to appeal to the modern buyer. Seiko is here to stay.

Methodology 

All of the watches selected for this list were chosen for their importance in Seiko history, the history of watchmaking, and their esteem among the most-exacting watch aficionados. Additionally, these watches were selected based on their ability to tackle a variety of capabilities, both for dress and for work. Finally, every single one of these watches is currently in production, and can easily be found at the links we provided.

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