A guide to the Grand Seiko “First” dial variations

Introduction

The Grand Seiko “First”, or “3180” as it is often referred to (due to its caliber reference) was introduced to the Japanese market on December 18th 1960.

Created by the Suwa Seikosha company – now Seiko Epson –  based in the Nagano prefecture in central Japan, it was born out of a desire to create a watch that was “as precise, durable, easy to wear and as beautiful as possible”. The Grand Seiko “First” was the start of what was to become a fascinating journey of continual development and innovation to create watches worthy of competing with – and indeed, beating – the very best that the Swiss had to offer.

The new calibre “3180” was designed to be accurate to +12/-3 seconds per day, and was the first Japanese watch to receive a rating of excellence from the Bureaux Officiels de Controle de la Marche des Montres. Whilst only on sale for three short years – with total production believed to be no more than 36,000 units – there is a quite remarkable diversity of dial variants available.

The purpose of this article is to provide some insight into the dial variations that exist – or at least, the ones that we are aware of at this present time that exist – as well as touch on some other notable differences in features of the watch. Where stock is available, we will provide links to watches that are for sale.

Dating a Grand Seiko “First”

We know from examples of the Grand Seiko “First” that still retain their original chronometry certificate, that there could be a considerable period of time that elapsed between the watch being manufactured and it being sold.

The “date of manufacture” can be established in two ways. Firstly, the case serial number on the inside of the case back tells us the year and month (from the first two digits of the serial number) of completion of the watch. In addition, the movement also has its own serial number, and from that number we can get a rough idea as to when the movement was created.

Grand Seiko “First” case serial number, as found on the inside of the case back –

Grand Seiko “First” movement serial number –

For the purpose of understanding the order in which the different dial configurations of the Grand Seiko “First” were produced, we will reference both case back and movement serial numbers of the watches we have available.

Print vs Carved vs Raised

The most obvious feature that people concentrate on when looking to collect this reference is the way that the “Grand Seiko” logo is created on the dial. There are three main variants here – printed, carved, and raised. But even within those three core categories, there are sub-variants, some of which have only come to light relatively recently, as interest in collecting vintage Grand Seiko grows substantially with the marketing of the modern brand gaining significant traction globally.

Grand Seiko “First” – Printed logo dial

Whilst it was originally believed that the printed logo dials were the first to be produced, then followed by the carved dials, and finally the raised dials, it is now clear from having examined multiple examples of the printed and carved logo dialed watches, that these first two methods for creating the Grand Seiko logo on the dial actually have overlapping production, as evidenced by the serial numbers of those that we currently have in stock.

Having said that, it would appear that the printed logo dials were only manufactured in the very early months of production. Whilst very few examples of the printed logo dialed watch have ever come to market, the three that we currently have in stock all have case serial numbers indicating production in the second quarter of 1960.

Grand Seiko “First” – Carved logo dial

Case serial numbers of carved logo dialed watches also would appear to indicated production starting in the second quarter of 1960, but then run all the way through until mid-1961. As we will document later on, there are no fewer than four different versions of the carved logo dial watch in existence.

At around mid-1961 when the carved logo dialed watches were being replaced with raised logo dials, we also discover that there are two different “transitional” dials. These are of particular interest because they share the same dial code, but are fundamentally different from one another.

Grand Seiko “First” – Raised logo dial

From mid-1961 onwards, production switched to raised logo dials, and given that the Grand Seiko “First” was in production right through until the end of 1963, it is these references that are by far the most commonly found on the second hand market.

Finally, we see examples of the extremely rare “AD”-dialed variant appearing in mid-1963.

All together, we believe that there are no fewer than eight different dial variants, and we will discuss each of them in turn, highlighting what to look out for in each reference.

1. Printed logo dial

3180 printed

Grand Seiko “First” with printed logo dial

As mentioned earlier, it would appear that overlapping the earliest production of the Grand Seiko “First” with a carved logo dial were a very few examples with printed logos. Why these exist is perhaps a bit of a mystery – there can be no doubting that aesthetically the carved logo is more attractive.

It has been suggested that due to low yields of the carved logo dials (due to how easy it would be to ruin the dial accidentally), production shortfalls were made up by simply printing the logo on the dial, but without any confirmation on the matter from Seiko themselves, this can only be conjecture.

What is obvious from having kept a close eye on the market for the last few years, is that printed logo dialed examples of the Grand Seiko “First” are very rare indeed. In fact, it has been suggested by a gentleman in Japan who has been dealing in vintage Grand Seikos for the best part of two decades, that carved logo dialed watches probably outnumber the print dial examples by a factor of 50:1. And it’s not as if the carved logo dialed watches are common.

We currently have three examples of the printed logo dial Grand Seiko “First” in stock.

The earliest reference has a case serial number indicating production in April 1960, with a movement number of 603862. It is believed that all movements originating from 1960 have serial numbers commencing “60”, and the final four digits are simply in numerical order of manufacture.

Grand Seiko “First” – printed logo dial from April 1960

The second reference’s serial number indicates production in May 1960, and its movement number is 603900 – less than 40 away from our earliest example, and is pictured at the top of this section. It is the most well preserved printed dial Grand Seiko “First” we have ever seen, and we don’t really want to sell it 🙂

Finally, our third example of a printed logo dialed Grand Seiko “First” has a serial number indicating production in June 1960, but interestingly this one has the earliest movement serial number of our printed dials of 602842.

Grand Seiko “First” – printed logo dial from June 1960

One thing to note on comparing the case serial numbers is that the numbers are 7 digits long. The first two digits indicate the year and month of production (0 indicates 1960, and the months are represented by the characters 1 through to 0 for January to October, and then N for November, and D for December). The next digit is always 1 – perhaps indicating the factory of production? – and the final 4 digits would appear to be contiguous production numbers ignoring the month of production that roll over when reaching 10,000.

The April 1960 serial number is 0411347, the May 1960 serial number is 0514445, and the June 1960 serial number is 0615020.

This case serial number structure would appear to hold true for the entire production run of the Grand Seiko “First”.

All examples of the Grand Seiko “First” with printed dials should share a few other characteristics.

The hour and minute hands should be of the “mountain” variety, the twelve o’clock index should be made from two separate pieces of metal placed together on the dial, the dial code should be GSJ14H156 (and almost impossible to actually see with the crystal in place), and the lion on the case back medallion should be of the early variety.

Mountain hands –

Grand Seiko “First” printed logo showing “mountain” hands

12 o’clock index made from two separate pieces of metal –

Grand Seiko “First” printed logo 12 o’clock index

Dial code GSJ14H156 (note – the crystal has been removed in order to show the dial code more clearly) –

Grand Seiko “First” printed logo dial code

Case back medallion early type –

Grand Seiko “First” – case back medallion, early type

For those looking to acquire an example of a printed dial Grand Seiko “First”, be extremely vigilant – we have seen several examples of faked or doctored dials on the market in the last year or two.

2. Carved logo dial – early carving method, split 12 index

Grand Seiko “First” early carved logo, split 12 index

There are no fewer than four different versions of the Grand Seiko “First” with carved dials, and this is the earliest of them all.

The example we have available has a case back serial number indicating production in April 1960 – 0412179. Note that the last four digits do fit the pattern discussed earlier where those digits run contiguously throughout 1960 production. The last 4 digits 2179 are higher than the last 4 of our print dial example from April 1960, but lower than the last 4 of our print dial example from May 1960. The movement number of this watch is 603303 – actually earlier than any of those in our print dial examples.

A close up view of the carved logo shows that it was clearly carved manually (this will become more obvious when you compare the carving to a later example) –

Grand Seiko “First” – early carved logo detail

At this high magnification we can see that there is some “flaking” of the dial surface around the carved area. Whether this happened at the time of carving and this watch just scraped through QC, or whether it happened later on its life is unknown. It does however provide a fascinating insight into just how problematic this method of carving could be, and why Seiko perhaps would have had relatively poor yields on dial manufacture. We will see a better executed (or perhaps better preserved) example of this carving method in the next watch.

What sets apart this earliest of carved logo dialed Grand Seiko “Firsts” however is that the index at 12 o’clock is the same as that found on the printed examples – it is comprised of two separate pieces of metal placed together.

Grand Seiko “First” earliest carved dial 12 o’clock index

The dial code of this variant (and indeed all carved dials excepting the transitional) is the same as that of the printed logo dial – GSJ14H156. Additionally, it should have the same mountain hands and the same case back medallion as pictured above for the printed logo dial.

3. Carved logo dial – early carving method, single piece 12 index

Grand Seiko “First” – early carved logo, single piece 12 o’clock index

The difference between this variant and the previous one is extremely subtle – the index at 12 o’clock is made from a single piece of metal, rather than two.

Grand Seiko “First” single piece 12 o’clock index, as found on later carved logo dials and all subsequent variants

The first example of this variant that we have in stock dates from October 1960, with a case back serial number of 0011784, and  movement number 605553.  Based on the case serial numbers of this watch and the previous four listed above, we are extremely confident in our interpretation of the case serial numbering system. With two watches from April numbered 0411347 and 0412179, one from May numbered 0514445, and one from June numbered 0615020, it would seem that case numbers were increasing at the rate of something between 1-2000 per month, so it would make perfect sense that probably by around late August or early September, the numbering would have rolled over.

What does seem interesting is that the movement serial numbers do not appear to be increasing as rapidly as the case back serial numbers – presumably indicating that the case back numbering was not just being applied to the Grand Seiko “First”.

The carved logo on this example is somewhat better preserved than the earliest one, here’s a crop from the full frame photo –

Grand Seiko “First” early carved logo – second example detail

The second example of this variant that we have available has a case serial number indicating production in March 1961 – 1311357. With 5 or so months between our example from October 1960 and this one, again the case back numbering methodology would appear to hold true with another roll-over.

Grand Seiko “First” – early carved logo, third example

This second example of this variant has a close-to-perfectly carved and preserved logo –

Grand Seiko “First” early carved logo – third example detail

All other aspects of this variant – handset, dial code and case back medallion – are the same as the earlier carved logo with the split 12 o’clock index.

4. Carved logo dial – late carving method

Grand Seiko “First” – later carved logo

By the time we get to the middle of 1961, the method of carving the logo into the dial had clearly changed substantially. Looking at the difference between the early carved logos and the one found on this example that dates from July 1961, it is clear something radically altered in the manufacturing process, as can be seen from the following close-up shot –

Grand Seiko “First” – later carved logo

Whereas the earlier method of carving resulted in a very “organic” and manually executed look, this later method comes across as a lot more industrial. It is our suspicion that the early method was entirely manual, with the watchmaker carving away at the dial with a sharp pointed tool.

This later carving method though clearly has some sort of machinery involved as the depth of the carving is totally consistent across the entire logo, with a flat bottom to the “valley” of the carving and sheer (if not very high!) cliff face walls. Whilst at normal viewing distance it is quite hard to discern the two methods, once you get up close to the dial, the difference is obvious, and personally we have a strong preference for the earlier method (when executed well!).

The case serial number of this example is 1710566, with a movement serial number of 109298. Movements manufactured in 1961 would seem to be identified by the first digit in the serial number being “1”.

This carved dial variant with the later carving method used to apply the logo retains the same mountain hands, case back medallion and dial code as the earlier variants detailed above.

5. Carved logo dial – transitional dial

Dating from around the middle of 1961 are two very intriguing variants of the Grand Seiko “First” that at one time were suspected to be “franken” watches made up from parts from different variants.

However, further research and discussions with other collectors and experts has led to the conclusion that in fact these two variants are totally legitimate.

Unfortunately this is the one example of the Grand Seiko “First” that we do not have in stock, but we can direct the reader to the following Instagram post by @jerxeer who has an example of this variant in his collection.

How sharp is it exactly? You asked for it.

A post shared by j.ong 🇸🇬 (@jerxeer) on

The first thing to note about this, and the next, variant is that they share the same dial code of GSJ14H156E. All previous carved logo dial variants and the print logo dial do not have the “E” suffix on the dial code.

Secondly of interest is that this is the only genuine example of a carved dial Grand Seiko “First” that has the flat, rather than “mountain” hands (photos to come in the next section).

Finally, this variant retains the early design of the lion on the case back medallion.

All of these aspects must be included in order to determine whether one is looking at a genuine transitional Grand Seiko “First” with carved dial, or a “franken” watch. The “E” suffix dial code, flat hands, carved logo, and early case back medallion are all features that should align correctly. Additionally, we believe that the case back serial numbers for these pieces will be in a very tight range. There are a lot of “franken” and doctored “Firsts” out there, so be careful – if you come across one and want our perspective on whether or not it is genuine, don’t hesitate to drop us a line.

6. Raised logo dial – transitional dial

Grand Seiko “First” – raised logo transitional dial

The raised logo dial variant of the transitional dial is very similar to the carved logo transitional dial. All that differs between the two is the method of inscribing the logo on the dial.

The hands are flat, the case back medallion of the early type, and the dial code the same on both watches.

Our example of this variant was manufactured in June 1961, with case serial number 1612303 and movement serial number 113096.

Here’s a photo of the dial code – as with many of the Grand Seiko “First” variants, this dial code is almost impossible to see with the crystal in place (no caption on this image as the placement of the caption covers the all important “E” suffix!)

7. Raised logo dial – SD variant

Grand Seiko “First” – raised logo dial

This penultimate variant of the Grand Seiko “First” is by far the most common. In production from mid-1961 all the way through to the end of production in 1963, you will come across dozens and dozens of examples of this variant for each individual carved logo dial (of any variant) that you see.

We have three examples of the raised logo dial in stock at the time of writing this article, dating from February 1962, March 1962 and May 1963.

It’s well worth clicking through those links to see more details on these pieces. The February 1962 example is complete with original inner and outer boxes, chronometry certificate, swing tag, and manual – photos of all these rare accompanying accessories are provided. The March 1962 example is the most complete “full set” to come to the market in a long time, and on the listing for that watch is an unboxing video that details everything you should expect to find in a full set.

Grand Seiko “First” – raised logo dial

The raised dial variant gets an updated dial code with an “SD” suffix that can be seen in this next photo that was again taken with the crystal removed.

The “SD” suffix on Seiko dials is used to indicate that the indices are made from precious metal. This is also confirmed by the SD logo that appears under the “Diashock” text in the bottom half of the dial (more on this later).

As is clear from the lead photo, the hands on these watches are “flat”,

Grand Seiko “First” – raised logo dial with flat hands

and the case back medallion is the later type of lion design –

Grand Seiko “First” – second type of lion medallion case back

The easy way to differentiate between the two lion medallions is by looking at the lion’s mane. On the early example, the back of the mane roughly aligns with the front of the knee of the right hind leg, on the later example, it aligns much further back.

And finally…

8. Raised logo dial – AD variant

Grand Seiko “First” – Raised dial AD variant

The AD dial variant of the Grand Seiko “First” is a bit of a mystery, and extremely rare indeed.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that we have three of these in stock, with one dating from May 1963, and two from August 1963 that can be found listed here, and here. To the best of our knowledge, these are the only three examples of this variant that have come to the market in the last three years.

As should be immediately clear having seen many examples of all the other variants earlier in this article, the dial on this one is totally unique. It has a very pronounced “sunburst” brushed pattern similar to that which is found on the 57GS series. Indeed, we suspect that these pieces may well have been marketing tests for the sunburst finish dials that would be found on the second series of Grand Seikos, starting with the 43999. The logo is raised, as it is with the common SD dialed variant, and these watches also share the same flat hands and second version of the lion case back medallion.

With these – it’s all about the dial.

Once again, we removed the crystal in order to get a very clear shot of the dial code text, which can be hard to see with the crystal in place. The layout is totally different to that on all other Grand Seiko “Firsts”, with the “Japan” text to the left of the 6 o’clock marker, and the dial code “GSJ14H156 AD” to the right. It is interesting to note that this layout – with the text spaced either side of the marker on a single line, rather than on two lines directly below it – is the same layout that is used on the 57GS series 43999 (although there the text is above the minute markers rather than below them).

The other obvious difference is that the logo under the “Diashock” text is that reserved for “AD” dials –

Grand Seiko “First” – AD dial detail showing Diashock text and AD logo

If we compare it with the “Diashock” text and logo on all the other variants, we can spot two key differences (ignoring the obvious difference in the dial finishing) –

Firstly, the logos are different. The more common “compass” logo (or 8 pointed star) as seen in the second image indicates the dial is of the “SD” variety (regardless of whether or not the dial code has an “SD” suffix”) with precious metal indices. On the AD dial variant, the logo is totally different and takes the form of a stylised 6 pointed star.

The second thing to note is that the font used for the “Diashock 25 jewels” text is totally different. The font on the AD dial is slightly less italicised, and decidedly more ornate, as is exemplified most clearly by the “D” in Diashock.

One more photo of this incredible watch to close off (well, almost) this article…

Grand Seiko “First” – AD dial variant

Wrap up

So just to summarise then – despite being on sale for just three short years, with the Grand Seiko “First” in filled gold, there are no fewer than 8 different variants out there for the completist to collect. For a collector looking to add just a single example of this reference to their collection, there is a huge choice as to what to go for, and every single variant is in its own right highly collectible and of great interest historically.

Currently the market for collecting this reference is relatively immature, and we do not believe that at the moment, the relative values of the watches detailed above are correctly aligned with where they may well be heading, as more and more people start to look to collect vintage Grand Seiko’s.

As we have mentioned on listings for the individual pieces, it is sobering to think that the availability ratio of the most common of these variants to the rarest could well be in order of 500:1 – and it’s not as if good examples of the most common variant are easy to come by.

In closing, we should also make mention of the legendary platinum cased version of the Grand Seiko “First”. Incredibly, despite how rare any platinum Grand Seiko “First” is, there are three (that we know of) dial variants to be had – a carved logo dial; a raised logo SD dial; and a raised logo AD dial.

If any collector has a platinum Grand Seiko “First” that they are interested in selling, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with us as we have collectors queuing up for them at the moment!

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