To say the steel cased variant of the Grand Seiko First is a controversial watch would be an understatement.
There is no provenance available from Grand Seiko themselves to indicate that the Firsts we see encased in steel are legitimate – certainly there is no record of such a watch ever been sold to the public.
However, physically exist they do, and back in September 2018, we wrote extensively on the then 10 examples that we had tracked sales of.
For those who have not yet read that article, we would encourage you to do so before reading on, since it is covers very important groundwork necessary to understand prior to us including the carved and raised logo steel Firsts in this current series of articles.
Since that article was written, two more seemingly legitimate examples of steel Firsts have surfaced – both with raised logo dials, one of which is in our possession and pictured above.
Additionally, it would appear that someone has set up anew in production of the fake watches, and of late, they have been coming to the market at the rate of almost one a week.
Whilst it is not possible to guarantee the complete authenticity of the three steel Firsts that we consider to be legitimate, there is one thing that is not disputable. The dials on all three watches are 100% legitimate. Having established this fact, and also that the movement serial numbers of the carved logo dial example and the two examples with raised logo dials are similar to that which we typically see for their gold-filled equivalents, one can only speculate as to why these watches exist.
For us, there are three theories that all make some degree of logical sense. The first two theories would support the contention the watches we know of today are completely legitimate, whilst the third is an intriguing alternative.
The first suggestion is that these steel watches were manufactured as retail “dummies”, to be used to show potential clients interested in placing an order for a platinum cased watch what the reference would look like in a white metal case. This makes a lot of sense, particularly if it were true that the platinum cased watch was indeed only available on special order, and not stocked as a regular item. It is also interesting to note that in the modern era, Grand Seiko actually did exactly this for the launch and promotion of the platinum cased SBGZ001. For both its launch at BaselWorld in 2019, and its subsequent promotion in, and tour of (at least) the USA, Grand Seiko used steel cased dummy watches to show to potential retail clients and actual collectors. Remarkably, many of those who were shown the dummy watches didn’t even realise that what they were being shown was a steel cased watch.
The second theory is that the steel cased watches were used as service watches, to be loaned to customers when they brought in their platinum Firsts for service. Of the three theories, this feels to be the least plausible, but it is not beyond the realms of possibility. Given how few examples of the platinum watch were sold (quite possibly not even reaching three figures), an order of magnitude fewer service watches would need to be manufactured in steel for this purpose.
The final idea is that, whilst there is no questioning that the dials, handsets, and movements of the three watches we are aware of are genuine, their cases are not. The suggestion is that at some point in the last 60-odd years, examples of the platinum cased watch may have been “disposed of” for their base-metal value. Quite literally, it is postulated that some platinum cased Grand Seiko Firsts would have been sold for scrap. In this scenario, the only thing of intrinsic value would be the case, which would have been separated from the rest of the watch, and melted down. Then, rather than simply discarding the movement, dial and handset, they would be re-cased in steel and subsequently sold.
Whether one of the above theories is correct, or whether the existence of these watches is explained by something else entirely, there is no way to currently know.
But what is certain, is that the three examples of “legitimate” steel cased Firsts occupy an almost mythical status in the assemblage of vintage Grand Seiko references, and the likelihood of any of them coming to the market in the near future is close to non-existant.