A History of Grand Seiko – 1975 to 1988

Introduction

3180 printed
The first Grand Seiko

Traditionally, we look at the history of Grand Seiko as covering two very distinct, and separate, eras. There is the “vintage” period that commenced with the introduction of the first Grand Seiko on December 18th 1960, and continued through until the mid 1970’s with the final appearance of Grand Seiko in volume 2 of the 1975 Seiko catalogue; and then there is the “modern” period, with the debut of the Grand Seiko quartz range in 1988 and continuing on through to today.

Seiko Catalogue 1975 volume 2

The image above shows that final appearance of vintage mechanical Grand Seikos in a Seiko catalogue. As can be seen, not only were there insufficient references remaining in the range to fill a whole page in the catalogue, but Grand Seiko was seemingly not even significant enough to warrant its own page, with King Seiko references filling up the remaining space.

Fast forward to the end of the 1980’s, and the new Grand Seiko range is introduced in the 1989 catalogue with four references taking pride of place on page 1, and a full page “hero” shot opposite (whilst Grand Seiko was “reborn” in 1988, there are no domestic catalogues from that year, so the new range’s first appearance in a catalogue was the following year, with the same layout featuring in both 1989 volumes) .

Seiko 1989 catalogue

One might be tempted to just leave it at that – the Grand Seiko story runs from 1960 through to 1975, and then there is a 13 year gap until we pick up again in 1988 with the launch of Grand Seiko quartz.

Your author though takes a different – no doubt rather contentious – view on the Grand Seiko story. Why contentious? Because in his mind, there was no significant gap at all. The vintage Grand Seiko era did not finish in 1975. In fact, it ran continuously from 1960 through until the mid 1980’s – right up until just before the “relaunch” of Grand Seiko in 1988.

And the evidence for this crazy rewriting of the Grand Seiko story? It’s staring us right in the face on the first page of the Seiko 1975 volume 2 catalogue – the very same catalogue that featured the last of the vintage mechanical Grand Seikos pictured earlier.

Seiko 1975 V2 catalogue

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. First, we need to take a step back to 1969, with the introduction of the most important wristwatch of the 20th century.

(The full story of the early years of Seiko quartz will be saved for a future article – for now, a brief overview will suffice to get us to 1975.)

A brief history of Seiko quartz, 1969-1975

Seiko Astron (c) Seiko

1969

On Christmas Day 1969, Seiko launched the world’s first quartz wristwatch – the Astron.

No watch, neither before nor since, has ever had such a significant impact on the watch industry, nor has one ever more clearly defined the beginning of the end of one horological epoch, and the start of another.

I write “the beginning of the end” for good reason, because whilst it is perhaps a commonly held perception that the introduction of the Astron created an overnight change in the watch landscape, it would in fact be many years before watches powered by quartz movements truly began to gain significant market share.

So much is clear from a study of the Seiko catalogues of the early 1970’s. The initial production run of Astrons for the launch of the watch was in November 1969, but so few were actually manufactured – just 100 units – that the first Astron never even made it into any of the Seiko catalogues.

In fact, a quick perusal of those early regular catalogues shows no quartz watches in any of the 1970 or 1971 issues – all of which lead with Grand Seiko.

1972

We start to see quartz watches in the 1971 Special Luxury Catalogue, with them making their first appearance in a regular catalogue in 1972. That publication features four references with quartz movements – compared to no fewer than 35 Grand Seikos. Even with steel cases and bracelets, those quartz watches (a pair of references with 35-series movements, and a pair with 38-series) were priced from 135,000 Yen up to 185,000 Yen – for comparison the Grand Seiko 6186-8000 VFA was just 100,000 Yen.

Seiko 1972 catalogue – 35SQ/C
Seiko 1972 catalogue – 38SQW

1972’s catalogues represented close to the peak of the width (if one can have just a thing) of the Grand Seiko range, with 42 different references featured. Over the course of the next three years, that number would rapidly decline, whist at the same time the number of high-end quartz watches increased at an exponential rate.

As mentioned above, it is not in the purview of this article to comprehensively cover the growth of the quartz range, but it is worth walking through some of the key branding and marketing messages that one can glean from the catalogues.

1973

Volume 1 of the 1973 catalogue (with the number of Grand Seikos more than halving to 19, and the number of quartz references going up six-fold to 25) debuts in a regular catalogue, quartz watches branded as “VFA”, or “Very Fine Adjusted” – a term of course “borrowed” from the Grand Seiko VFA’s that were still in production.

First introduced in the 1972 Special Luxury Catalogue, with these VFA’s we see Seiko start to differentiate references in their quartz range from a marketing perspective. Prior to this, with just a handful of models available, simply branding them as “Quartz” was sufficient. With the rapid expansion of the range – primarily through the introduction of more affordable references – it clearly became necessary to communicate just what it was about the higher-end pieces that justified their elevated pricing.

Not only do we see new references such as those driven by the 39SQW (3923) and 39SQ (3922) movements branded VFA, but interestingly, the existing 38SQW 010 and 014 models (3823 movement) that previously were branded simply “Quartz” were, in the second catalogue of 1973, additionally branded as VFA’s. Look carefully at the dials of the first two watches featured on the following two scans.

 

 

1974

By the end of 1974, based on what is listed in the Seiko catalogues, we are down to just ten Grand Seiko references, with no fewer than 82 quartz watches featured – 15 of which are branded as VFA.

In the second volume of the 1974 catalogue we are introduced to yet another branding level within the quartz range – this one above that of the VFA’s. Powered by the 3883 movement, which was accurate to an incredible +/- 2 seconds per month, are two variants of the 3883-7000 “Superior”.

1975

The “Superior” branding would remain at the pinnacle of the quartz range for many years to come. As will become clear, an appreciation of the Seiko quartz branding history is critical to an understanding of the rationale behind this entire article.

By the end of 1975, just 9 Grand Seikos remain in the range – their last catalogue appearance. And quartz? The second volume of the 1975 catalogue features no fewer than 165 quartz references powered by twenty seven different movements.

Of those 165 references, one was a Superior, there were 21 VFA’s, and we see the introduction of no fewer than eight…

Seiko Grand Quartz

Seiko Grand Quartz QNK020

Seiko 1975 volume 2 catalogue

Pictured above is one of those first eight Seiko Grand Quartz – which was available with either white (QNK020 – as pictured) or blue (QNK021) textured dials.

By 1975 – more than half a decade after the introduction of the seminal Astron – quartz was really beginning to gain a significant share of the market, with the cheapest reference in the catalogue priced at just 32,000 Yen. Even at this price though, it is worth keeping a sense of proportion. Just a few examples for comparison – a 6139 automatic chronograph could be had for 19,000 Yen; the 6105 diver came in at 20,000 Yen; the 6117 world timer was priced at a relative bargain at just 15,500 Yen; and a basic day-date 5 Actus could be had for under 10,000 Yen.

Six of the eight introductory Seiko Grand Quartz were presented in solid 18K gold cases, with prices ranging from 460,000 to 1,350,000 Yen. Yup – 1.35 million Yen.

The launch of the range was clearly very significant for Seiko, with – as pictured earlier – Grand Quartz references featuring on the very first page of 1975’s volume 2 catalogue.

Launched alongside Grand Quartz were also King Quartz branded watches. It wasn’t just Grand Seiko that made their last appearance in 1975’s V2 catalogue, we say farewell to King Seiko as well. It is very clear that Seiko were making a strategic move to shift their existing loyal King and Grand Seiko customers onto the King and Grand Quartz lines.

But the year or so roughly covering the latter half of 1975 and the first half of 1976 was rather a confusing one from a sub-brand positioning viewpoint.

In the 1972 Special Luxury Catalogue, Seiko debuted the “VFA” branding to selected watches in the quartz range. As discussed earlier, it was no longer sufficient to simply brand everything as just “Quartz” – the range was expanding too quickly, and it made complete sense to introduce some stratification. 1974 saw the introduction of the Superiors.

With the Superiors and VFA’s sitting at the top of the range, one might expect the Grand Quartz to slip in directly underneath them. However, this isn’t actually how we see things presented in the catalogue.

The first couple of dozen pages of the 1975 V2 catalogue feature precious metal watches. Then comes one Superior and the quartz VFA’s, followed not by the Grand Quartz, but by watches powered by non-VFA 38-series movements. The pair of steel cased Grand Quartz are tucked away at the bottom of the second page of these watches.

This does seem to be rather odd – particularly given the prominence of the precious metal Grand Quartz appearing on the first page of the catalogue.

Many of the 38-series watches appearing immediately after the VFA’s were priced higher than the 80,000 Yen asking price of the newly introduced Grand Quartz, and one can only assume that this is the reason for them appearing first.

The three movements that feature in these watches (38- time only, 3802- time and date, and 3803- time and day-date) were rated to an accuracy of +/- 10 seconds per month, compared to the +/- 5 seconds per month of the 3823 powered VFA’s.

The 4843 caliber we find in this first generation of Seiko Grand Quartz was as accurate as the VFA’s – +/- 5 seconds per month.

Clearly the entire range was in flux at this point – we have to consider not only the fact that quartz was beginning to take over from mechanical, but also that within quartz itself, there were generational evolutions underway.

It is the overlap of – as we will soon discover – the phasing out of one generation of quartz calibers and the introduction of the next that is probably behind this confusing presentation in the catalogue.

Over the course of this article we will be presenting scans of all pages of the Seiko catalogues that feature Grand Quartz, detailing every single one of the 59 references that exist. So without further delay, let’s kick off by looking at those featured in this first catalogue.

The 1975 V2 catalogue didn’t just introduce the Seiko Grand Quartz range, it also introduced a brand new set of catalogue codes for the watches featured within – a six character code comprised of three letters and three numbers that, no doubt, possibly made some kind of sense to someone at the time, but it’s all gobbledegook to us!

One thing that is clearer when comparing the 1975 V1 and V2 catalogues is that the Grand Quartz range wasn’t just about filling the gap created by the impending departure of the mechanical Grand Seikos, but it was also going to take over from another range in the catalogues – the quartz VFA’s.

We can see three specific examples of this, as there are three 3823-based VFA references in the V1 catalogue that have exact counterparts as 4843-based Grand Quartz –

38SQW 026

 

38SQW 016

 

38SQW 016
HNK624

 

HNK604

 

HNK60G

This is about as clear evidence as you could hope to find for the fact that Seiko planned for the 4843 Grand Quartz references to directly take over from the 3823 VFA’s.

Interestingly, two of the Grand Quartz references were actually cheaper than the VFA’s that they replaced. The HNK604 was priced at 1,250,000 Yen compared to 1,350,000 for its 38SQW 026 predecessor; the HNK604 came in at 800,000 as opposed to 880,000 Yen for the VFA. The HNK60G an 38SQW 016 (on leather strap) were both priced at 580,000 Yen.

The remaining Grand Quartz watches in the catalogue were all new designs. We have a pair of 18K gold cased watches with integrated bracelets – one in yellow gold, and one in white –

HNK804
HNK018

White gold Seikos are typically priced a little higher than their yellow gold equivalents – here the yellow gold HNK804 was 1,250,000 Yen, with the white gold HNK 018 priced at 1,350,000.

HNK644 was a more conservatively styled yellow gold dress watch on a leather band, at a price of 460,000 –

HNK644

And finally, we have a pair of steel cased watches featuring textured cases, integrated bracelets, a decagonal bezel, and textured dial – one in white (QNK020) , and one in blue (QNK021) – priced at 80,000 Yen.

QNK020
QNK021

We led this section of the article with a live shot of QNK020. Here is a shot of the blue dialed QNK021 along with a couple of detail macros. Note that the bezel on this watch was not rotated correctly when we first acquired it and these photos were taken. This has since been corrected at a service.

Seiko 1975 Special Luxury Catalogue

Given the range had just been introduced in the second half of the year, it is perhaps unsurprising that for the Special Luxury Catalogue – published in time for the holiday season – there were no additional Grand Quartz references introduced.

The catalogue featured the same six 18K gold references that appeared in the regular V2 catalogue. Below are scans of the pages featuring those watches.

Seiko 1976 volume 1 catalogue

The confusing presentational order of the 1975 V2 catalogue was fortunately short-lived. Following a brief few pages presenting a selection of precious metal dress watches, and early liquid crystal display digital watches, a more logical hierarchy ensues.

First up is the new 4883 caliber Superior, and then we have a page featuring a single 38- and eight 39-series VFA’s – the last time they would appear in the catalogues.

Grand Quartz comes next, followed by King Quartz. Some logic at last!

The six 18K gold references from the last two catalogues are dropped from the range presented here (although as we will show shortly, two of them do make one final catalogue appearance). From 1975’s V2 catalogue, only the two steel-cased watches survive the cull, and are joined by eight new references.

Let’s first take a look at the full catalogue pages featuring Grand Quartz.

The first thing to note is the layout – as will become a common theme for the next few years, we have a full-page “hero” shot, followed by a section devoted just to Grand Quartz to show the rest of the range.

Whereas when the range was launched, every model utilised the day-date 4843 movement, here we see that the customer was presented with more movement options, with references also powered by the 4842 date, and 4820 time-only calibers.

Intriguingly, the “hero” shot doesn’t actually feature the top-of-the-range models. Instead we see a pair of watches with the same case and dial design, but one gold capped on a leather strap, and one stainless steel on a bracelet.

QNK824
QNK040

Turning the page, and the first watch featured is the true range-topper, the HSS (Hardened Stainless Steel) cased QBK050, priced at 100,000 Yen.

QNK050

Next come the pair of decagonal bezeled white and blue dial watches that we are familiar with from 1975 V2 (where a watch has been pictured before in an earlier catalogue, we won’t repeat the image again), and then the final 4843 based reference in this catalogue, the 73,000 Yen QNK030 – a watch with a “TV” shaped case on a black leather strap.

QNK030

The middle row of the page features the two new references in the Grand Quartz range that are based on the date-only 4842 movement. QNJ604 is a gold plated steel cased reference priced at 75,000 Yen with the same case design as the QNK030 above; and at 63,000 Yen, QNJ020 is a date-only version of the QHK040, but on a leather strap not a stainless steel bracelet.

QNJ604
QNJ020

Rounding out the range are a pair of time-only 4840 caliber watches – the Gold Cap QNH800 priced at 74,000 Yen, and the stainless steel QNH010 that takes its place as the cheapest watch in the range at just 58,000 Yen. Both watches feature the same case and dial design of the QNJ020 and QHK040.

QNH800
QNH010

Crêt D’or 1976 catalogue

1975 was the last year that Seiko produced a “Special Luxury Catalogue” (“SLC”). These catalogues – starting in 1969 and published each holiday season – contained the top-tier watches in the Seiko range. We have covered all of the SLC’s featuring Grand Seikos in previous articles.

From 1974 onwards we start to see the gradual development of the Credor brand – a story very well covered in an article written by Anthony Kable that can be found on his website Plus9Time.

As per Anthony’s article, the first “Crêt D’or” catalogue actually dates from 1975, but it is not of interest to us for the purpose of this article as it didn’t feature any Grand Quartz – they appeared in that year’s Special Luxury Catalogue. As with the watches, Seiko’s catalogue production and content also has some confusing transitional periods!

The 1976 Crêt D’or catalogue however featured a pair of the 18K gold cased watches that debuted in the 1975V2 Seiko catalogue. The two references – HNK644, and HNK018 – appeared on page 13 of the Crêt D’or catalogue, and we present a scan of that page below.

Seiko 1977 volume 1 catalogue

Note for those paying attention – we haven’t skipped a catalogue – there is no 1976 volume 2 catalogue.

Very little changed within the Grand Quartz range from 1976 into the first half of 1977. In fact, this catalogue features almost the exact same offer as that of a year previously.

With the retirement of the 38- and 39-series VFA’s, the catalogue leads with the Superiors, and then immediately following those we get the Grand Quartz.

All references that appeared in the 1976 volume 1 catalogue make a repeat appearance in this one, and just one new reference is added to the range. First up, here are the scans of the two pages featuring the Grand Quartz – first up the “hero” shot, and then a page listing all eleven Grand Quartz watches.

The newly added reference should be relatively simple to spot – it’s a blue-dialed variant of the range-topping HSS cased QNK050 – the QNK061.

QNK061

Whilst it’s clear from the catalogue shot that this reference has a textured dial, it’s not easy to see exactly that the texture is.

Here’s a shot from an example of this reference from our collection, along with a detail shot of the dial that shows the patterned texture more clearly.

Seiko 1977 volume 2 catalogue

Whereas moving from the 1976 volume 1 catalogue to volume 1 of 1977 we see little change – with all references from 1976 appearing once again, and just one new model launched, there is a wholesale change between the content shown in the 1977 volume 1 and volume 2 catalogues.

Let’s take a look at the single page from each catalogue side by side (both catalogues introduce the Grand Quartz range with the same hero shot).

Even at this relatively low resolution we can spot what appears to have changed.

The pair of original steel cased watches with decagonal bezels with blue and white dials have been dropped, as has the blue dial HSS cased reference that was only introduced in the previous catalogue.

With regards additions, there are two new references in the first row – a gold metal variant of the HSS flagship, and a day-date variant of the tv-shape cased gold plated date model.

All other references would seem to carry over from the volume 1 catalogue to volume 2.

But in fact, not a single reference from volume 1 appears in volume 2 – all ten watches featured are brand new references, so it’s probably best to go through them all.

QNK904
QNK864

First up the two references that initially appeared to be the only new ones. QNK904 is an HGP (Hard Gold Plated) version of the QNK050 seen in the previous catalogue, priced at the same 100,000 Yen. Note however that the bracelet is a different model. QNK864 is a day-date version of the earlier QNJ604, with the addition of the day complication upping the price by 5,000 to 80,000 Yen.

Note that the catalogue photo doesn’t really capture the texture of the dial on QNK904. Although the example in our private collection doesn’t have the correct bracelet, we do feel it worth sharing photographs of it here to show just what that dial actually looks like.

With the two new references out of the way, we’ll look at the remaining eight by comparing them with what came before. Hopefully by looking at them side by side we will be able to identify what has changed. (For those reading on a mobile device, it might make more sense to view this next section in landscape mode as then you should be able to see both watches on screen at the same time.)

For all these comparisons, we will be showing the reference from the 1977 V1 catalogue first (on the left if you are viewing on a desktop device, or a mobile device in landscape mode), and that from the 1977 V2 catalogue second (or on the right).

QNK050

QNK080

QNK080 is the replacement for QNK050 – the range topping reference with a hardened stainless steel case (“HSS”). At first sight, we might be led to think that there is a difference in the dial textures between the two watches, but this is actually not the case. At times, it is very difficult to discern dial details just from catalogue photos. Here, we know from examining actual watches in the metal that the two dials are actually the same – indeed, they even have the same dial code of 4843-8030.

Here is a live photo of an example of QNK080 from our private collection where the incredible texture of these dials can be truly appreciated.

At the bottom of the text in each photo is mentioned the movement number (4843) and then in brackets, the case and dial code. The case and dial codes mentioned miss off the last digit that we actually find on the dials and case-backs, which is – in most instances – a zero.

What we can learn from the codes shown here is that not only did this reference have a change of catalogue code, but also case code. For the watch appearing in the 1977 V1 catalogue, we would see stamped on the case-back the code 4843-8050, and for that appearing in the V2 catalogue, we would see 4843-8100.

Beyond these code changes, it would be extremely challenging to understand whether this is simply a code change, or whether in fact there are material differences between the two references.

Fortunately, we own an example of the blue-dialed 4843-8050, and a white dialed 4843-8100, and so can do an in-hand comparison.

From the front, there is appears to be no difference in construction between the two references, but when we turn them over…

4843-8050/8100 comparison

On the left is the earlier 4843-8050, and on the right, the later 4843-8100. We can see right away what has changed – the -8100 has a slimmer case-back,, and the size of the battery hatch is reduced.

Digging in to our library we were able to pull out some reference material that details these two movements – the earlier -8050 uses the 4843A movement, and the later -8100 the 4843B movement. You can see from the photos on the documents scanned below the different size of the battery in these two movements, with the 4843A using an SB-08 battery, and the 4843B an SB-A4

4843A and B

Here’s a close-up of the movement photos in the above documents. Whilst there are some differences in the parts used between the two movements – most notably the crystal oscillator itself – the dimensions are identical. It is the reduced profile of the smaller battery in the 4843B movement that allows a slimmer case-back to be fitted, reducing the depth of the watch from 10.9mm to 10.25mm.

It is this movement upgrade, from 484xA to 484xB that is behind the refresh of the watches in the 1977 V2 catalogue.

<<<Update April 13 2020.>>>

Following the publication of this article, Anthony Kable of Plus9Time contacted us to share a scan of an issue of Seiko Watch News from June 1977 that provides confirmation of the conclusions that we independently arrived at as detailed above.

The newsletter details the changeover from the 48xxA to 48xxB movements for the Grand Quartz, King Quartz, and Superior ranges.

We provide a detailed look at this information in a new article that you can find here.

<<<Update ends.>>>

For the remaining watches, we will simply provide side by side comparisons of the 484xA caliber watches with their 484xB caliber replacements with no commentary, apart from pointing out that the lug-width given for the updated models is listed as 18mm, a reduction from 19mm for the earlier ones, and a bracelet change moving from QNK040 to QNK090.

QNK030
QNK824
QNK040
QNJ604
QNJ020
QNH800
QNH010

QNK070
QNK884
QNK090
QNJ624
QNJ030
QNH820
QNH030

Below are the full scans of the two pages from the 1977 volume 2 catalogue featuring Grand Quartz.

Seiko 1978 volume 1 catalogue

Where it concerns the Grand Quartz range, this catalogue is identical in content and layout to the one preceding it. For what it’s worth, here are scans of the two pages from this catalogue featuring Grand Quartz.

Seiko 1978 volume 2 catalogue

Whereas the previous catalogue showed no changes to the range, 1978’s volume 2 marked a significant step forward for the Grand Quartz offer, with the introduction of the 9943 movement. Whilst the 4843 movement was accurate to +/- 5 seconds per month, the thermo-compensated 9943 movement was accurate to +/- 10 seconds per year.

Before taking a look in detail at the new references, here is a gallery of the three pages from this catalogue that feature Grand Quartz, starting with a new hero shot featuring the Gold Cap QGB824

Clearly space was not at a premium in this catalogue, with separate pages being given to the new 9943 based references and the older 4843 based ones, despite the fact they could have all fitted on the one page.

In this launch of the 994x series, only the day-date 9943 movement makes an appearance, so unsurprisingly two of the carry-overs from the 484x references provide a time only and time and date option to the offer.

The two 4843 caliber based references add tv-shaped case and cap gold on leather options, both of which are not covered by the new introductions.

As is often the case, the newly introduced references can be looked at in pairs, so that is what we will do…

QGB804
QGB824

It’s interesting that the offer included a pair of what on the face of it are two watches performing a very similar function.

What is also interesting to note is the prices of these two watches. QGB804 is clearly a direct replacement for the 4843 caliber QNK904. Both watches feature HGP (hard gold plated) cases, but the 9943 based watch adds a textured dial that perhaps was intended to visually differentiate the two models.

Certainly the 50% increase in price between the 4843 based watch and its 9483 replacement was substantial, but given the aforementioned 6-fold increase in accuracy, we rather doubt it would have been much of a challenge for the salesman of the time to convince his customer to make the upgrade!

Here’s a studio shot and macro detail of QGB804 from our private collection.

The inclusion of the Gold Cap QGB824 in the range is perhaps somewhat of a mystery. Functionally and aesthetically it does the same job as the QGB804 – perhaps it is there to prevent there being quite such a significant price gap between watches at the top of the range.

There’s no doubting though that it is a very desirable reference – as usual, live photos of an example from our collection show details that are simply not possible to appreciate from the catalogue shot alone –

QGB010
QGB011

From a price tier perspective, the above pair of watches can be viewed as replacing QNK050 and QNK061, reposted here for ease of reference –

QNK050
QNK061

All of the watches are priced at the same 100,000 Yen, and we have white and dark dial variants. The newer references have arguably more interesting dial architecture, with raised and cutaway hour markers, but the watches clearly perform the same job.

Here’s a studio shot of an example of reference QGB011 from our collection –

So given we have seen earlier with the comparison between QGB804 and QGB824 there is a significant price premium for the upgrade to the 9943 movement, how did Seiko manage to do this? The answer – as so often is the case – is in the small print. The earlier 4843 based watches had HSS cases, whereas the newly introduced 9943 references are in regular stainless steel.

This was a pretty clever move on Seiko’s behalf, and perhaps at the time when looking at brand new watches in the shop, there wasn’t much aesthetically to choose between an HSS and regular SS case. But for those of us who collect these watches more than 40 years down the line, the difference between the two case materials is substantial. Personally we would take an HSS 4843 over a SS 9943 any day of the week!

The penultimate pair of twin-quartz watches are light and dark dialed replacements for an earlier 4843 reference –

QGB040
QGB041

QGB040 is the 9943-based replacement for QNK030, at a 20,000 Yen premium (the earlier watch was priced at 70,000 Yen). It is joined in the range by the dark blue (almost black)-dialed QGB041.

Wrapping up the Grand Quartz range in this catalogue, we have a pair of watches presented on leather straps.

QGB020
QGB038

Somewhat surprisingly, this is the first time we see a day-date watch in the Grand Quartz range with the classic Seiko Grammar of Design case on a leather strap.

Seiko 1979 volume 1 catalogue

As we move into 1979, the entire Grand Quartz range shifts to twin-quartz calibers, with no 484x based references remaining in the offer.

The introductory hero shot remains the same as that in the previous catalogue, followed by three pages showing a total of seventeen watches.

All eight of the 9943 day-date references that were launched in the previous catalogue remain in the offer, joined by nine new watches.

The new additions to the range can be broadly split into three categories.

With the phasing out of the remaining 484x caliber watches, we see the introduction of a number of twin-quartz powered date (9942 movement) and time only (9940 movement) references; there are three new 9943 day-date watches that fill in some gaps in the offer; and finally, two watches utilising the new 9256 twin-quartz day-date movement from Daini-Seikosha.

QGN804
QGN010

The time-only 9940 movement makes its debut in the two watches pictured above – one cased in HGP, priced at 90,000 Yen, and the second cased in stainless steel that becomes the cheapest watch in the Grand Quartz range, priced at 75,000 Yen. It’s interesting to note the use of the more expensive HGP (hardened gold plated) rather than the regular plating that we see on watches in lesser ranges.

QGC020
QGC010

Also making an appearance for the first time is the 9942 time and date movement. As with the 9940, this is available in two watches, this time both in stainless steel on bracelets, but with different case designs. As we will see momentarily, the QGC020 is joined by its day-date equivalent. The QGC010 is the date-only version of the QGB040 that first appeared in volume 2 of the previous year’s catalogue.

QGB604
QGB050

Two of the three new 9943 caliber references have the same case design seen earlier in QGC020. First up is the gold cap QGB604, presented on a brown leather strap, and second is the day-date version of the aforementioned QGC020, the QGB050. The price premium for the added day complication is 5,000 Yen.

The final new reference utilising the 9943 movement is the hardened stainless steel QGB060.

QGB060
QNK080

This watch restores a top of the line HSS cased watch to the range, something that had been missing since the 4843 caliber QNK080 (shown alongside it above for comparison) made its final appearance in the 1978 volume 1 catalogue.

As mentioned, also debuting in this catalogue are the first Grand Quartz from Daini-Seikosha, running off the day-date 9256 caliber, which, like its 9943 counterpart, was also accurate to +/- 10 seconds per year.

QGH010
QGH028

As is so often the case with vintage Seikos, the catalogue shots really don’t do these watches justice. Barely visible on the image of the QGH010 is an incredible lattice textured dial, and on the QGH028, a wonderful vertically brushed grey dial. Photographs of both watches from our private collection, along with macros to highlight the dial detail, are shown below.

 

 

Seiko 1979 volume 2 catalogue

Once again, we see all watches from the prior catalogue retained in the range, which is expanded by the introduction of a further eight new references.

The same “hero” shot continues to be used to introduce the Grand Quartz section of the catalogue, with, again, three pages detailing the watches themselves.

All of the references debuting in this catalogue are day-date models, with two new watches based on the Suwa 9943 movement, and the remaining six based on the 9256 movement from Daini.

Intriguingly, there does appear to be somewhat of an overlap here, with the pair of Suwa watches being remarkably similar to two from Daini, so let’s start with those.

QGB070
QGB071

First, the Suwa references. There is an undeniable “Genta-esque” feel to the QGB070/071, with their rounded octagonal bezels and bracelets bearing more than a passing resemblance to some of the famed designers more well known ouvres. Whether or not Gerald Genta had a hand in the design of these watches we don’t know, but it is interesting to note that 1979 was also the same year that the Credor Locomotive – a watch whose design most definitely was credited to Genta – was available.

Possibly these are Seiko in-house designs – surely there can be no doubt that Seiko’s own designers would have had visibility of the Locomotive design as it was coming to fruition, and could have been heavily influenced by it – but to the best of our knowledge there has never been any confirmation either way.

Whatever the truth of the matter is, there can be no denying that these (and indeed the Daini’s coming up next) are extremely attractive watches. Below is a photo of a blue-dialed QGB071 from our collection.

The first new pair of 9256 caliber watches from Daini are also presented with a choice of white or blue dials.

QGH050
QGH051

The similarity of these two references to the ones from Suwa is immediately obvious. What is not so clear from the catalogue photos is that QGH050 has a “snowflake” dial texture, with the blue dial QGH051 having a sunburst finish similar to that found on both QGB070 and 071. The Daini designs are also more complex than their Suwa “rivals” , with very interestingly sculpted case details – particularly around the crown, and opposite at 9 o’clock.

QGH030
QGH038

QGH030 and QGH038 are a pair of white dialed watches that, whilst not having the sporty rounded octagonal bezels of QGH050/051, nevertheless have wonderfully shaped cases and integrated bracelets (once again with clear Genta influences).

The catalogue photo of the QGH030 just about conveys the dial texture of the watch, which, similarly to the QGH050, has a “snowflake” finish.

Rounding out the collection are a pair of watches with champagne and light blue sunburst dials.

QGH040
QGH041

Can we detect the slight hand of Gerald Genta in this pair of watches? Unlike the earlier examples, there are no signs of rounded octagonal cases, or integrated bracelets here. But what about those “ears” on the case at 9 and 3 – a possible subtle nod to the Nautilus?

Maybe that is stretching things a little too far, but there is no question that this catalogue introduces some exceptionally well – not to mention, intriguingly – designed watches!

Seiko 1980 volume 1 catalogue

The new decade kicks off with a catalogue featuring no fewer than thirty two Grand Quartz.

This catalogue is notable because it records the moment that the Grand Quartz range was at its largest. Once more, we find every reference from the catalogue immediately preceeding it still in the range, with this time a further seven watches making their debut. Of those seven, five only ever appear in this single catalogue.

Do we get a new hero shot to mark the milestone? Sadly not!

Whilst the range expands to thirty two references, it still manages to fit onto just three catalogue pages – this time the first two pages are actually full.

A quick glance at the final page will bring a sense of déjà vu – there are no further 9256 based references from Daini in this volume, and the page is identical to that from 1979’s volume 2.

All of the new references are from Suwa, with no fewer than five being built on the time-only 9940 calibre, and one each on the 9942 date, and 9943 day-date movements.

QGC030
QGB080

The two references with day and day-date complications are pictured above – QGC030 and QGB080. Both watches feature lightly textured cases and bracelets – the former featuring printed Roman numeral indices, and the latter raised and cutaway 3D applied indices.

Here is a photo of QGB080 from our collection with a wonderfully patinated dial. Note also the intricately textured finish to the case.

QGB080

QGN033
QGN048
QGN020

The first three of the 9940 time-only based references making their debut in this catalogue make a natural set together. All three have the same textured case and bracelet, but feature radically different dials.

QGN033 features a stone “Tiger eye” dial – every example of this reference will be unique, and they are very hard to come by indeed.

QGN048’s jet black dial is made from onyx, with a printed Roman numeral XII at 12.

QGN020 features a dial that, whilst not quite so dramatic as its two close relatives, nonetheless is beautiful, with a textured “kira-zuri” finish.

Once again, you really do have to see live photos of these references in order to truly appreciate just how stunning the are.

Below we present a gallery featuring examples of all three of these references from our private collection, including some macro shots that show off the incredible finishing on both the dials and cases.

The final two new 9940-caliber references in this catalogue – and indeed, the final two Seiko Grand Quartz references to be added to the range – are another pair of watches presented with a choice of white or dark coloured dials.

QGN050
QGN051

The cases on this pair of watches feature a curved octagonal bezel that is probably about as circular as you could get and extends to the very edge of the top side of the case. The dark dial on QGN051 is not black, but rather a very, very deep blue, with a sunburst finish. Here’s a “live” photo of an example of this reference from our private collection –

And with that final pair, we come to the end of the introduction of new Grand Quartz models in catalogues.

Whilst the range would continue to exist in the catalogues right up until 1985, no new references were introduced, and we see a steady ramping down of the number watches in the range.

For the remaining catalogues, we will present galleries of the pages featuring Grand Quartz, and list the references that were dropped from the range.

Seiko 1980 volume 2 catalogue

The references dropped from the range were as follows –

QGB050, QGN804, QGC020, QGH010, QGH028, QGB070, QGB071, QGH050, QGH051, QGH030, QGH038, QGN033, QGN048, QGC030, QGN050, QGN051.

Seiko 1981 volume 1 catalogue

Perhaps signaling the diminishing importance of the Grand Quartz range in the overall offer, Grand Quartz was relegated to pages 35 and 36 of the catalogue.

The references dropped from the range were as follows –

QGB011, QGB041, QGH40, QGH41.

Seiko 1981 volume 2 catalogue

The references dropped from the range were as follows –

QGB040, QGB604, QGC010, QGN020, QGB080.

Seiko 1982 volume 1 catalogue

Interestingly this catalogue saw QGN804 – whose last appearance was in 1980’s volume 1 catalogue – return to the range.

This was the last of the catalogues to feature an introductory hero shot of a Grand Quartz

Seiko 1983 volume 1 catalogue

(note – there was no 1982 volume 2 catalogue published)

The references dropped from the range were as follows –

QGB010, QGB038, QGB060.

These final five references would remain as the Grand Quartz range until it was retired from the Seiko offer following the 1985 V1 catalogue.

For completeness sake, although the remaining catalogues had the exact same offer as that shown above, we will include their scans here.

Seiko 1983 volume 2 catalogue

Seiko 1984 volume 1 catalogue

Seiko 1984 volume 2 catalogue

Note that Grand Quartz is no longer deserving of its own page in the catalogue, with the remaining King Quartz squeezed in.

Seiko 1984 volume 2 catalogue

Seiko 1985 volume 1 catalogue

What happened next?

We highlighted previously how the 1980 volume 2 catalogue was the last one to feature Grand Quartz near the beginning of the publication, immediately following the Superiors. By the time we get to 1983’s volume 1 catalogue, even the Superiors are usurped to deeper pages – appearing on page 25 – with the Grand Quartz on page 26.

The sub-brand establishing itself at the beginning pages of the catalogues was “Dolce”. Clearly back in the mid-1980’s for some reason accuracy no longer became particularly important at Seiko – the calibers powering the Dolce range were only accurate to +/- 15 seconds per month. In fact, almost every single analogue quartz watch in the collection had a movement inside that was running to the same level of accuracy.

Quite what was behind this decision to seemingly abandon pretty much every chronometric advance made during the previous decade and a half of quartz development is a mystery to us, Frankly speaking, it’s not just the technology in the analogue quartz watches in the 1985 volume 2 catalogue that leaves us cold – the “design” of the watches is so bland and monotonous that it would sully this article to include images of them.

Fortunately, this period in the doldrums of insipid “style” and lackluster chronometric performance was short lived.

In 1988, Grand Seiko was reborn. Oddly, there appear to be no biannual Seiko catalogues from that year, and so we have to wait until 1989 volume 1 to see Grand Seiko returned to its rightful place on the first pages.

Seiko 1989 volume 1 catalogue

(Note – this is actually a scan from the volume 2 catalogue of 1989. Our library copy of the 1989 volume 1 catalogue has a lot of writing on it. The page layout and content of the two pages featuring Grand Seiko are identical in the two 1989 catalogues.)

The relaunch of Grand Seiko featured a quartet of watches powered by quartz movements.

Utilising the time-only 9581 movement were the SBGS002 in 18K gold, and SBGS001 in stainless steel, with both watches supplied on leather straps.

SBGS002
SBGS001

The 9587 movement, with its added date function, was used in SBGS004 and SBGS003. Both watches were presented on bracelets that really do have to be tried on to believe. They are amongst the most comfortable bracelets your author has ever had on his wrist.

SBGS004
SBGS003

SBGS004 had an 18K gold bezel and its bracelet was steel and 18K gold, whereas SBGS003 was all steel.

Both 9581 and 9587 movements picked up where the 994x series left off, with an accuracy of +/-10 seconds per year. The third digit in a Seiko movement is used to indicate the movement’s relative accuracy within the wider Seiko offer – this goes all the way back to the 1960’s where we see movements such as those in the Grand Seiko 61GS series numbered 6145 (regular), 6155 (Special) and 6185 (VFA) to differentiate their chronometric performance.

It is interesting to note that on the re-introduction of Grand Seiko, the 95-series movements are given an “8” accuracy designation – the same as that of the 3883, 4883, and 9983 Superiors of the 1970’s – and not the “4” of the older Grand Quartz.

Clearly the Grand Seiko range sat at the top of the wider Seiko offer, so perhaps this use of the ‘8’ accuracy designation in the movement numbers makes sense. But it would be remiss of us not to highlight that the accuracy of Grand Seiko quartz at its rebirth was no better than that of the Seiko Grand Quartz released a decade earlier.

Indeed, even today we see that, excepting a very few limited edition releases, the accuracy of the latest 9F85 quartz movements remains at that same +/-10 seconds per year.

With (at the last count) over 750 Grand Seiko references released during the “modern” era, it’s easy to lose sight of how the Grand Seiko story was “reborn” over 30 years ago, but the relaunch was very successful, and currently the four watches from that relaunch are still relatively accessible to collectors who recognise the significance of their release.

Below is a photograph of those four references laid out next to their catalogue pictures.

 

Grand Seiko, Seiko Grand Quartz, Grand Seiko Quartz

At the beginning of this article your author opined that – excepting that brief period between the second half of 1985, and the “relaunch” of the brand in 1988 – Grand Seiko never really went away.

Clearly the quartz revolution had a significant impact on mechanical watch making, but as discussed earlier, it took quite a few years for quartz to be able to build up a sufficient head of steam to force Grand Seiko mechanical watches into submission. During these early years, Seiko used the “VFA” label to differentiate the top chronometrically performing quartz models from the rest of the range.

But these early 38- and 39-series VFA references were eventually replaced by the same brand that replaced Grand Seiko, and that brand was Seiko Grand Quartz.

It is only with a close examination of the various offers presented in the Seiko catalogues over the course of time that we are able to see the “big picture” as to what happened through the 1970’s and into the 1980’s.

The graph below shows a count of the number of high-end watches in the Seiko range, by brand – Grand Seiko mechanical, the early references that were just branded “quartz”, then the VFA’s, Superior, and Grand Quartz offers. (Not included are the references running on the regular quartz movements from the 38-series onwards – we are only concerned with the top-of-the-range offer for the purpose of this argument.)

The figures graphed are a count of the number of references in the range by half year. For half 1, this is arrived at simply by counting up the number of references appearing in the V1 catalogue. For half 2, it is slightly more complicated as we also have to include watches appearing any supplements to the V2 catalogue, along with those references appearing in the Special Luxury and Credor/Crét D’or catalogues.

Again for the sake of clarity – we are only counting the top of the range offer, which is why you see a steady decline in those labeled “Quartz”, as they were rebranded in time to VFA.

The key messages to take from the graph are as follows –

  1. There is a rapid drop-off in the breadth of the Grand Seiko mechanical offer, that coincides directly with the growth of the quartz VFA range.
  2. Grand Seiko mechanical is dropped from the range at the exact same time that Seiko Grand Quartz is introduced.
  3. Seiko Grand Quartz, within the space of a year, takes over from quartz VFA, with the same level of accuracy.

From these observations, your author’s interpretation of this is clear. Quartz VFA killed off Grand Seiko mechanical, and Seiko Grand Quartz directly took over from both quartz GFA and Grand Seiko mechanical.

The fact that the word “Grand” is even in “Seiko Grand Quartz” should be a big enough clue that Grand Seiko never really went away. But additionally, it was clearly a wider strategic rebranding not just for Grand Seiko, but also for King Seiko (as mentioned earlier, exactly the same thing happened), and indeed Lord Marvel (which became “Lord Quartz”).

Seiko Grand Quartz, Seiko King Quartz, Seiko Lord Quartz – they are all continuations of the original mechanical brands, updated for the quartz age.

In our view, the rebranding in 1975 of Grand Seiko to Seiko Grand Quartz, and then the introduction of Grand Seiko Quartz in 1988 is little different – indeed, arguably less significant – to the rebranding of Grand Seiko in 2017 when “Seiko” was dropped from the dials.

Thus, it is out contention that Grand Seiko never actually went away. The Seiko Grand Quartz are Grand Seikos.

We of course recognise that this is a fairly contentious proposition to make, but the evidence is presented above, and we would very much welcome wider discussion on the matter. Please do feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.

It has been a pretty monumental task putting this article together – certainly it has taken a lot longer than we originally thought – and we hope that, even if you don’t agree with the overall premise, the detailed content on the history of Seiko Grand Quartz is of interest.

A note on copyright

Whilst we of course own the copyright on the “live” images included in this article, we don’t own any copyright on the catalogue scans. Fair use of course applies here, and we wouldn’t expect any issues from Seiko for reproducing the catalogues so extensively, but we would respectfully ask that people refrain from “ripping off” the scans shared here and rehosting them elsewhere.

It is a huge task to scan the catalogues, edit the scans, and then host them to freely share for the benefit of the wider community. We chose in this instance not to add identifiable watermarks so that people can view the scans clearly. We would be grateful if those who in the past have brazenly swiped content from this site (and indeed others) for their own gain refrain from doing so.

Thank you.

 

Gerald Donovan/The Grand Seiko Guy

April 2020

Glossary

Catalogue and case-back numbers

Those familiar with our articles on the Seiko catalogues featuring vintage Grand Seiko mechanical references will be aware that in the past we have always led with the case-back model number (comprised of the movement code and case code), rather than the catalogue number.

Historically the reason for this is that we started acquiring the watches before we acquired the catalogues. Indeed, it has only been in very recent years that the old catalogues have been extensively scanned and shared, and so people only really had whatever was marked on the physical watches to identify them by.

For the purposes of this article, since the structure and content is based around a full set of catalogues from our library, it made more sense to use the catalogue numbers throughout.

However, we do realise that should collectors look to acquire these watches, it will be the case-back model numbers that they will find the watches listed by, so below we present a table that matches catalogue code to case-back model number, along with – for added interest – the catalogues in which each reference made an appearance. The movement number used in particular reference can be identified from the first four digits of the case-back code.

Catalogue CodeCase-back codeCatalogues that the reference appears in
HNK6244843-500075V2, 75SLC
HNK8044843-802075V2, 75SLC
HNK60G4843-800575V2, 75SLC
HNK6444843-803075V2, 75SLC, 76CD
HNK0184843-802075V2, 75SLC, 76CD
HNK6044843-800075V2, 75SLC
QNK0204843-700175V2, 76V1, 77V1
QNK0214843-700075V2, 76V1, 77V1
QNK8244843-804176V1, 77V1
QNK0404843-8040/176V1, 77V1
QNK0504843-805076V1, 77V1
QNK0304843-501076V1, 77V1
QNJ6044842-8050/176V1, 77V1
QNJ0204842-8040/176V1, 77V1
QNH8004840-8040/176V1, 77V1
QNH0104840-8040/176V1, 77V1
QNK0614843-805077V1
QNK9044843-810077V2, 78V1
QNK0804843-810077V2, 78V1
QNK8644843-510077V2, 78V1
QNK0704843-510077V2, 78V1, 78V2
QNK8844843-811077V2, 78V1, 78V2
QNK0904843-811077V2, 78V1
QNJ6244842-510077V2, 78V1
QNJ0304842-811077V2, 78V1, 78V2
QNH8204840-811077V2, 78V1, 78V2
QNH0304840-811077V2, 78V1
QGB8049943-802078V2, 79V1, 79V2, 80V1, 80V2, 81V1, 81V2, 82V1, 83V1, 83V2, 84V1, 84V2, 85V1
QGB8249943-800078V2, 79V1, 79V2, 80V1, 80V2, 81V1, 81V2, 82V1, 83V1, 83V2, 84V1, 84V2, 85V1
QGB0109943-800078V2, 79V1, 79V2, 80V1, 80V2, 81V1, 81V2, 82V1
QGB0119943-8000/A78V2, 79V1, 79V2, 80V1, 80V2
QGB0409943-803078V2, 79V1, 79V2, 80V1, 80V2, 81V1
QGB0419943-803078V2, 79V1, 79V2, 80V1, 80V2
QGB0209943-801078V2, 79V1, 79V2, 80V1, 80V2, 81V1, 81V2, 82V1, 83V1, 83V2, 84V1, 84V2, 85V1
QGB0389943-801078V2, 79V1, 79V2, 80V1, 80V2, 81V1, 81V2, 82V1
QGB0609943-802078V2, 79V1, 79V2, 80V1, 80V2, 81V1, 81V2, 82V1
QGB6049943-501079V1, 79V2, 80V1, 80V2, 81V1
QGB0509943-500079V1, 79V2, 80V1
QGN8049940-801079V1, 79V2, 80V1, 82V1, 83V1, 83V2, 84V1, 84V2, 85V1
QGC0209942-500079V1, 79V2, 80V1
QQC0109942-800079V1, 79V2, 80V1, 80V2, 81V1
QGN0109940-800079V1, 79V2, 80V1, 80V2, 81V1, 81V2, 82V1, 83V1, 83V2, 84V1, 84V2, 85V1
QGH0109256-501079V1, 79V2, 80V1
QGH0289256-500079V1, 79V2, 80V1
QGB0709943-502079V2, 80V1
QGB0719943-502079V2, 80V1
QGH0509256-502079V2, 80V1
QGH0519256-502079V2, 80V1
QGH0309256-800079V2, 80V1
QGH0389256-801079V2, 80V1
QGH0409256-700079V2, 80V1, 80V2
QGH0419256-700079V2, 80V1, 80V2
QGN0339940-701080V1
QGN0489940-701080V1
QGN0209940-700080V1, 80V2, 81V1
QGB0809943-700080V1, 80V2, 81V1
QGC0309942-700080V1
QGN0509940-702080V1
QGN0519940-702080V1

And finally…

As a bonus for making it all the way to the end of the article, here’s a matrix of scans including all 59 Seiko Grand Quartz for you to download (for personal use only!). The references are pictured in the order in which they made their first catalogue appearance.

3 replies on “A History of Grand Seiko – 1975 to 1988

  • Molle

    Thanks Gerald for taking the time to put this article together. I am fully in line with your conclusion as for me the Grand Quartz watches has always been the natural step from mechanical Grand Seikos to quartz powered ones.

    Reply
    • thegrandseikoguy

      Many thanks for the kind words Stefan – they mean a lot coming from you.
      You were well ahead of me in appreciating and collecting these gems!

      Reply
  • Albert

    Great reference grade material, thank you for putting this together.

    One question, any guess to why there were so many watches with hooded lugs from this period?

    Reply

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