Other Watchy Bits: A Brief History of Seiko

In the world of watches, I have a deep, passionate love for all things Seiko. I will forever love and support the Japanese brand, whether Seiko 5, Presage, King Seiko, or Grand Seiko. Being a collector, I have owned a few Seiko watches, but my idea for this article sprouted when I received my 1979 Seiko Type II from the fantastic folks at Toronto Vintage Watches. This article is lengthy, so grab your favourite snack and beverage and find a nice spot to unwind as I take you through the history of Seiko.

A Brief History of Seiko Watches
Kintaro Hattori (Source)

Seiko is one of the most prolific brands in horology and has an extensive history dating back over 130 years. The brand started in 1881 when a 21-year-old entrepreneur, Kintaro Hattori, opened a shop in central Tokyo–Ginza to be specific–that specialized in repairing watches and clocks. Eleven years later, in 1892, Kintaro opened up his manufacturing facility, Seikosha, which primarily focused on producing wall clocks. Fun fact: Seikosha combines the word seiko (成功,) meaning “exquisite” or “success,” and sha, meaning “house” in Japanese. The translation of Seikosha is “exquisite or success house.”


A Brief History of Seiko Watches
The Timepkeeper (Source)

With the rapid development, growth, and success of his wall clocks, Kintaro looked to broaden his clock-making horizons and move into developing pocket watches. In 1895, the first Seiko pocket watch was born. The “Timekeeper” was pivotal for Seiko, as it would lead the brand to develop Japan’s first-ever wristwatch, only twenty years later.

At the beginning of the Taisho Era (the reign of Emporer Taisho from 1912-1926,) pocket watches were the most popular way of carrying around a timekeeper with very few foreign wristwatches imported to Japan. Kintaro was eager to stay ahead of the ball and began developing Japan’s first wristwatch. In 1913, he succeeded with his creation of “The Laurel.” While the company could only produce 30 to 50 watches a day, it would be the first time that Kintaro had established a lead on all the other Japanese clock manufacturers.

A Brief History of Seiko Watches
The Laurel (Source)

In 1923, a tragedy struck the company’s headquarters and the Seikosha factory when the Great Kanto earthquake caused both facilities to burn down. However, Kintaro’s resilience won out and the brand would rebuild themselves and develop a new watch, which went on sale less than a year later in December of 1924. It was the first Seiko branded watch. The new release would introduce the Seiko brand, which became synonymous with precision, accuracy, innovation, and refinement.

A Brief History of Seiko Watches
The first “Seiko” (Source)

As Japan’s railway system expanded, Japan National Railways appointed Seiko to create their railway watch and become their official supplier. Train drivers would often carve wooden cutouts on their consoles for the appropriate placement of the railway watch to ensure the watch was in their line of sight while driving. In 1932, Seiko created another Japanese design icon in the Wako clock tower in Ginza. The clock tower is known worldwide and represents Japan’s era of neo-renaissance design.

A Brief History of Seiko Watches
Waco Clock Tower (Source)


In 1959, the Seiko Gyro Marvel was unveiled to the world. The Gyro Marvel is the first self-winding watch equipped with Seiko’s “magic lever” system. The magic lever uses a claw and lever system to transmit consistent power to the oscillating weight in both directions, allowing for more accurate timekeeping. The magic lever system is still used in modern Seiko movements and decreased the cost of producing self-winding movements. In 1960, the first Grand Seiko was released. While it’s a big part of Seiko’s history, we have an article on the entire history of Grand Seiko, so feel free to check that out once you’re done reading this.

A Brief History of Seiko Watches
Gyro Marvel (Source)

The year 1964 was another big one for Seiko when they were asked to provide timekeeping instruments for the 18th Tokyo Olympiad and release Japan’s first wristwatch equipped with a stopwatch. On the opening day of the Tokyo Olympics, Seiko presented 1,278 timing devices. To ensure the timing devices were accurate, two stopwatches were tested for an hour and only showed a 1/10th difference between them.

A Brief History of Seiko Watches
Monopusher Chronograph (Source)

On top of the Olympics, Seiko released their first watch with a stopwatch complication, which has been recreated in the modern Presage SPB127J1. One year later, Seiko released Japan’s first dive watch. It was created to equip the 8th Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition and featured 150m of water resistance and a screw-down crown.

A Brief History of Seiko Watches
62MAS (Source)

But it was on Christmas day in 1969 that the watch industry would be flipped upside down. On that day Seiko released the world’s first quartz watch by way of the Seiko Astron. Accurate within 5 seconds per month, the new technology in the Astron would be the beginning of a wristwatch evolution, causing brands to focus on battery-powered tech instead of mechanical movements. The quartz movement means less maintenance and more accuracy, making it the more popular option due to its convenience.

A Brief History of Seiko Watches
Seiko Astron (Source)

From this point, Seiko would create the world’s first six-digit digital watch via the calibre 0614. The first six-digit liquid crystal display would continuously count the hours, minutes and seconds. The watch attracted everyone around the world when introduced in October 1973.

A Brief History of Seiko Watches
0614 (Source)

Two years later, the calibre 0634 is presented as the world’s first multi-function digital watch. To keep it simple, it was a digital watch with a chronograph. It featured a stop/start, lap reset, and built-in light, so the display was visible in poor lighting conditions.

A Brief History of Seiko Watches
0634 (Source)


This article will have plenty of “world’s first” watches and tech if you haven’t figured it out already.

In 1968, Seiko received a letter from a diver from Hiroshima Prefecture. In it, he lamented that while saturation diving to depths 350m, the stress and strain put on a watch was often too much. His complaint did not fall on deaf ears. After seven years of research and development, Seiko would release the world’s first dive watch with a titanium case capable of 600m in 1975. The new watch set a new standard for dive watches.

A Brief History of Seiko Watches
The Tuna (Source)

The 1980s for Seiko was a decade of innovation and unique implementations of wristwatch design. Seiko would release a TV watch: a wristwatch that featured a tuner and headphone jack giving the wearer the ability to watch and listen to TV at any time. The TV watch also featured the various complications found on a Seiko digital watch: alarm, chronograph, calendar, etc.
Seiko would also release the wrist computer. The wrist computer could store data with enough memory to store 2000 characters, giving the wearer the ability to store phone numbers, addresses and even a schedule for up to one month. While Seiko pushed hard with digital, they also made waves in the mechanical side of watchmaking.

In 1986, Seiko would again blow the competition out of the water through innovation and unique materials. The Diver’s 1000m, now referred to as the Seiko Tuna, would feature the highest water resistance rating and implement a ceramic outer case for extra protection around the lightweight titanium inner case. The one-piece design and structure of the watch gave it a more excellent resistance rating.

A Brief History of Seiko Watches
Divers’ 1000m (Source)

Alongside these developments, Seiko mastered the art of electronic watchmaking and, in 1990, with their extensive experience in creating dive watches behind them, released a fully computerized divers watch. The Scubamaster used the calibre M726, which featured a dive table, depth meter, and other vital information essential for a diver’s safety. While most enthusiasts flock to the romance of mechanical divers, the Scubamaster catered to the professional diver

A Brief History of Seiko Watches
Scubamaster (Source)

As we begin to enter the new millennium, Seiko once again took the watch world by storm, introducing a new movement technology, Spring Drive. While Spring Drive is mainly featured in watches created for Grand Seiko, it did start its life in Seiko models. Spring Drive is a spring-driven mechanical watch movement with the same high accuracy as a quartz movement developed by Yoshikazu Akahane. Akahane dreamed of creating “the everlasting watch,” thus prompting him to invest twenty years into its research, and producing as many as 600 prototypes. The Spring Drive movement implements a mainspring and an entirely new regulator, allowing for a smooth motion of the second hand and accuracy within one second per day.

A Brief History of Seiko Watches

Spring Drive (Source)

During the last twenty years, Seiko have developed the Grand Seiko line further into a hyper-luxury brand, Credor. With the brand dabbling in mechanical, digital, quartz and every other aspect of watchmaking, Seiko continues to prove to the world that they’re one of the greatest, if not the most remarkable, contemporary watch brands. I know that might be a hot take, but seeing the risks Seiko made in its early life, and the heights of innovation to which those risks have taken them today, is indication of a watch brand that is forever evolving. Without Seiko, the watch world would be completely different and, in all honesty, much more stagnant and boring.

A Brief History of Seiko Watches
Seiko Innovation (Source)

About the Author

Born into a family obsessed with motorsport, Tyler Frederick became enamoured with speed and beautiful cars at a young age. His love of Formula 1–and all things mechanical–eventually lead him to horology. Tyler also writes for Montres Publiques. You can follow him on Instagram.

Other Watchy Bits include op-ed pieces and articles of general interest. We’d love to hear your opinion in the comments section below.

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4 thoughts on “Other Watchy Bits: A Brief History of Seiko

  1. Todd Seger

    Very nice shortened version of Seiko’s History… My love of watches was really spawned by Seiko and Grand Seiko… The story really kicks into overdrive when Seiko splits the brand watches into two different Seiko Corp. subsidiaries. One was Daini Seikosha Co, Ltd (Kameido,Koto-ku, Tokyo) and the other was Suwa Seikosha Co (Suwa-shi, Nagano). Two different companies produced one brand  in order to improve technology through severe competition and to hedge the risk. Challenging its workers to compete within its own walls to achieve greatness. What was produced was nothing short of a evolutionary horological genius.. From the King Seiko, Elnix, Astron, Grand Seiko, and the unparalleled chronometer specs that sent the European Astronomical Observatory Chronometer Concours to Halt the challenge in 1968 because for the first time ever the Japanese Brand had a good chance to Beat Omega and the Swiss at its own challenge. I geeked out a little here… But not many people know that I was and am still known as the Seikodelycdude 😎 My Insta is still up but I don’t post to it any longer… I still love Seiko and Grand Seiko but felt extremely let down by Seiko when they didn’t give a proper 50 year Anniversary Dedication to the one watch that changed Seiko’s destiny and the course of Horology for ever… The Astron turned 50 years old in 2019. How did Seiko honor the watch that made AFFORDABLE TIME for every working class guy out there to have a accurate worry free watch? They produced 50 in Gold and charged $40,000.00 USD and made it a Solar Version ‼️🥲 WHAT?…. I was so pissed 😡 I Sold almost my entire collection of close to 200 pieces and to this day have only purchased 1 other Grand Seiko, As you can imagine I lost a lot of friends over this move… but I am a man of principle and I was getting tired of every Watch Seiko and Grand Seiko produced being a special issue limited piece, special dial, special case, special backer, master this and master that… Enough Already🙌🏽🛑 STOP❗️
    Damn that felt good… Sorry Robi … but I needed to do that… I digress, yes I still have a love for the finish quality and I still own a few select pieces. Yes, even a working original Astron movement from 1970… It’s not the Gold issue but nonetheless it’s an original Astron that keeps uncanny accuracy. I don’t often go into all the knowledge I carry around in my head about model call numbers or how to find specific crystals or parts for different Seiko’s but I have drawers full of parts for very rare pieces and models… I’m guessing I should come forward and sell them at some point. If anyone is curious about the collection that once was, it can be found on Instagram @seikodelycdude

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Todd Seger

        Lol… I definitely had a moment 🙌🏽🤙🏽😎 Love ya brother… have a great Holiday Robi and enjoy the times with the kids‼️

        Liked by 1 person

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