Seiko Watches are still a value proposition even at higher prices
Seriously Awesome. From collaborations with Tic Tac, BAPE and now the three new “Black Series” Prospex dive watches, the Japanese watchmaker is hitting the right notes with watch enthusiasts
Search internet watch forums and you’ll notice that from mid 2019, a common question was whether Seiko watches were getting more expensive. The short answer is, yes, Seiko watches, spanning the cool Seiko 5, Presage, Cocktail, Starlight and Grand Seiko collections have been progressively getting more expensive. However, the more nuanced answer is that on the whole, Seiko watches were severely underpriced relative to the quality and finish of their timepieces. And now, recent designs and collaborations have shown that Seiko aesthetics are only just getting better and better.
For over 50 years, from the Grand Seiko right down to Seiko 5s, watch enthusiasts have had a pretty good run. It’s no coincidence that a machine produced and assembled Sistem 51 costs twice the retail price of an entry level machine produced, yet hand assembled Seiko 5. None of the decorative touches are there and the Seiko 5 is industrially finished but it is one robust tool watch.
Why Seiko Watches are still a value proposition even at higher prices
JDM or Japan Domestic Model Seiko watches have been an open secret among watch connoisseurs since awareness of their quiet geographical existence. The Seiko Presage models, notably the reference SARB and SARX series were among the initial collection of highly collectible, highly sought after, accessibly priced timepieces that had come to be emblematic of Seiko’s perfectionist watchmaking ethos. Eventually, the hi-beat, 300 metre diving, Seiko Prospex LE 1968 took home the Grands Prix d’Horlogerie Geneve Sports prize in 2018. That’s when everything began to change.
In September 2019, Seiko collaborated with TiCTAC on a special edition New Classics Seiko watch celebrating the retailer’s 35th anniversary. Bearing the Seiko Alpinist’s iconic “cathedral hands” (also found on Montblanc 1858 collection), the 41mm Seiko TiCTAC New Classics edition is a simple three-hander with date but the appeal lies in its tight retro-classical design complete with vintage “patina” lume indexes and rounded Arabic 6 and 12 o’clock numerals reminiscent of a certain Explorer.
With a brushed sunray dial which belies a timepiece of a mere ¥54,000 (US$500) price point, the same Seiko 35th anniversary TiCTAC edition can now be found on Chrono24 and eBay for around US$1500 (3x retail). We watched in amazement as the initial pre-orders, geographically constrained only to Japan were sold out and then days after their initial sale, scalpers were already lurking online already asking for US$800 to US900. It was telling but unlike what most watchmakers were wont to do – unilaterally raise prices, this was the general public appraising these timepieces according to their free-market values – a truly democratic, if overly enthusiastic appraisal of their worth.
Introducing Seiko Bathing Ape “Camouflage” Limited Edition 2020
With more exposure, more rabid fandom and eventually more sales, this sort of consumer activity has the side effect of driving demand side pressures, indirectly fuelling price hikes, especially for well designed, hype-worthy, cool limited editions like this new entry: Seiko and BAPE diver’s watch in black and grey camouflage.
It is not Seiko and BAPE’s first collaboration. Last year, the prolific watchmaker joined Japanese streetwear mavens on a forest camouflage edition of the 200 metres diver’s watch. For 2019, the Seiko Bathing Ape limited edition returns with the brand’s signature ABC Camo, this time rendered in grey and black as opposed to dark green and olive etched onto the face. The Seiko Bathing Ape limited edition is water-resistant up to 200 meters, powered by Seiko’s signature workhorse, self-winding 4R36 calibre and available from 25 January (right on Lunar New Year) at BAPE stores in Japan and online.
An updated Seiko Prospex Black Series Limited Edition
Painting a canvas of tropical seas and the many expressions of sun sets, the updated Seiko Prospex Black Series Limited Edition takes its muse from the changing colours of the ocean as night fall, from a cobalt-blue to jet-black. In not so many words, the Prospex series of all-black diver’s watches is just gosh-darned cool. Dramatic, the Seiko Prospex Black Series sees the stainless steel cases of the reference SLA021, the SPB, and SSC Solar, treated with a black ion finish and orange/red detailing.
Ion Plating is a form of PVD: Physical Vapour Deposition, a process deposits a microns thick coating material such as TiAlN: Titanium Aluminium Nitride, the most common black coating for “PVD” watches, and while DLC or Diamond Like Carbon is also applied with the PVD process, DLC is not much harder than TiAlN but tends to have a thicker coating depth, it also has a lower friction coefficient which makes it a bit more scratch resistant.
Rated for depths up to 300 metres, the new Seiko Prospex Black Series Limited Edition SLA035 (SLA021 case) sees a robust 44.3 mm case fitted with the Caliber 8L35 movement. The slightly larger 45mm SPB125 is the new Seiko Prospex “Black Series” Sumo, a “re-edition” of the last variant seen in 2018. In addition to black ion plating, the new Prospex Black Series Sumo also enjoys an updated Caliber 6R35 movement with a greatly increased power reserve of 70 hours, a new sapphire crystal, and rated for underwater operations up to 200 meters.
Finally, the Japan-exclusive (though we are sure like the Seiko TiCTAC, resourceful fans outside Japan are just going to be able to get their hands on one) – the Seiko Prospex SSC761 Black Series solar chronograph; Featuring the Seiko’s smaller Caliber V175 solar energy movement with independent 24-hour hand, and a 60-minute chronograph.
The SLA035, SPB125, and SSC761 will be limited to 600, 7,000, and 3,400 pieces, priced at $2,900, $850, and $725 USD, respectively. The updated Seiko Prospex “Black Series” will arrive in stores (online and bricks & mortar) from February to March 2020.
For those in the know, Seiko has been a prominent fixture on our cultural landscape for the last 50 years across key cinematic franchises like James Bond, Aliens and Predator. The social cachet for the observant and eagle-eyed engenders a kind of geekery often reserved for certain vintage brands. It’s not just social currency but also a kind of brand awareness which adds to the perception of the brand – a kind of cultural cool arguably adding demand to key models of the brand.
Ultimately, Seiko is just beginning to do what Swiss watchmakers have traditionally done: intermittent price increases but their most highly-sought models, which are made in limited editions in the few thousands, literally get snapped up the minute they hit the market; even the list prices of the top limited edition models (like the GPHG-winning Prospex LE 1968) are now ranging in the mid four figures. This is a new phenomenon, so ultimately, prices will stabilise at what is most equitable for the brand and the consumer.