The first Grand Seiko was created in 1960 by the Suwa Seikosha company (now Seiko Epson) based in the Nagano prefecture in central Japan.
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 detailed features to be found on these watches.
Watch production was almost entirely with cases made with 14K “gold filled” – where the gold covering to the non-precious metal case is 80 microns thick, of the order of ten times thicker than more traditional gold plating – along with extremely limited quantities in platinum.
Concentrating on the 14K gold filled versions, there are variations in the dials, dial indices, hands, crowns and caseback medallions – examples of which you will see on the watches presented for sale here.
The most obvious feature that people concentrate on when looking to collect this model 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.
Based on movement and case serial numbers, it would appear that the printed and carved dial logo variants were actually produced in parallel. It is widely believed that the yields on the carved dials were not as high as needed to maintain production rates – which ultimately led to Seiko moving to the “raised” logo dial. Prior to this final transition however, it is clear that at least two different methods were used for carving the logo. From the look of the carved logos themselves, it would seem that the earlier examples used a process that was almost entirely manual, with the logo being engraved by hand with a pointed instrument, leading to a “V” shaped profile to the carving. The profile of the carving on later examples is characterised by a flattened-bottom “U” shape, which when examined in detail would appear to be achieved in a more mechanical manner.
The printed logo examples seem to have been created alongside the earlier carved dial process, but in significantly smaller numbers. It is possible – although this is just conjecture on the author’s part – that printed dials were created to fill any shortfall in production numbers caused by lower than expected yields of the carved dials.
Regardless of the background as to why the logo on the dial was produced in different ways over the course of the history of this model, there is no doubt that the printed example is extremely rare indeed – orders of magnitude rarer than either the carved or raised logo variants.
Just how rare? Well, in a recent discussion the author had with a Japanese dealer who has been buying and selling vintage Grand Seiko for over two decades, the dealer suggested that for every genuine (sadly, there are fakes out there) printed logo Grand Seiko “First” he came across, he would see something of the order of 3-500 examples of the raised logo variant.
Whilst it perhaps may not be realistic to extrapolate this to the overall production, if one did, it could imply that there were fewer than 100 examples of the printed logo variant of the first Grand Seiko manufactured. This extrapolation does however seem to tally when examining the market for rare Seikos from the 1960’s over a period of several years. Certainly when comparing to watches such as the Seiko Astronomical Observatory Chronometer; the original Seiko Astron; and even the almost mythical 5718 “Counter Chrono” that was only ever on sale at the Olympic Village at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, fewer examples of the printed dial 3180 have surfaced in recent years than any of those rarities.
In addition to the “regular” print, carved and raised logo Grand Seiko “Firsts”, there are at least two other dial variants that should be mentioned.
Firstly, there are “transitional” examples of dials with raised logos but with the same dial-code as the carved logo dials. These dials are extremely rare – almost certainly rarer than the carved dial variants.
Secondly, there are also very rare “AD” dial variants, with raised logos, but a sunburst finish to the dial rather than the regular matte finish. Currently it is not clear just how rare these AD dial Grand Seiko “Firsts” are – it is quite possible that some have been sold in the past without the seller (or indeed buyer) even realising what they were. However, what is certain is that no more than three examples have been positively identified on the market in the last five years – with most dealers and collectors not even aware of the model’s existence.
 “The release of the first Grand Seiko in 1960”; https://www.grand-seiko.com/about/history/
 “The History of Grand Sieko”; https://www.seiyajapan.com/pages/the-history-of-grand-seiko