If you’re in the market for Japanese watches, there are probably a few watch brands you will look to first. Seiko, Citizen, and Casio are likely on your radar, as they have a combined watchmaking history of more than two centuries. But these established brands are being challenged by some notable up-and-comers. So let’s take a look at the best Japanese watch brands and what they offer.
Founded in 1881, Seiko is Japan’s oldest watchmaker and generally one of the most respected. It’s well-earned respect, based on more than a century of fine quality at prices that are notably affordable in comparison to their Swiss counterparts. It’s hard to encapsulate all they have done through the decades, but we can look to a few benchmarks. They made Japan’s first dive watch in 1965, and Seiko Prospex divers remain incredibly popular to this day. They turned the watch world on its end in 1969 with the first mass-produced quartz watch. For quality and heritage, Seiko is the Japanese watchmaker to beat.
Each of these sub-brands of Seiko probably merits a lot more discussion than we have time for. Grand Seiko goes for luxury and can cost considerably more than their parent company’s offerings, but the quality shows. One of their most notable entries is the Snowflake, a titanium gem with Spring Drive movement.
Orient takes the Seiko tradition in a different direction. Unlike Grand Seiko, Orient watches are exceedingly affordable. But don’t worry that you’re getting a cheap watch with Orient. Rather, they perform well beyond their price tags. One of the most-popular Orients is the Bambino, a low-cost dress watch that can hold its own with some of the best Swiss offerings.
If we’re talking about tech with Japanese watches, Citizen is the go-to brand. They famously pioneered light-powered timepieces with their signature Eco-Drive. They’ve also been at the forefront of GPS technology, notably with models such as the Red Arrows World Time Chronograph. Are they affordable? Yes and no. Spanning a wide range of prices, you can pick up a Citizen for as low as $100 and as high as $2,000 and more.
Casio started out as something of a joke. Well, at least somebody probably laughed at you when you sported your first calculator watch back in the day. Today those same watches are brandished by hipsters for their retro charm (and cheap prices). But Casio grew in leaps from its humble start, and nobody is laughing at the G-Shock. Casio’s near-indestructible flagship watches have become a staple and nearly every serious watch collector in the world has one in their collection.
3 Japanese Watches You Probably Don’t Know (But Really Should!)
One of the hottest new brands out of Japan is Knot. Since its debut in 2014, the small Tokyo-based outfit has gotten an overload of media attention that should make the big brands a little nervous. Two aspects make these watches desirable alternatives to the more-established watchmakers: price and customization.
When it comes to cost, you can pick up a nice Knot for some unusually low prices given the high quality of the timepieces. A quartz movement watch will set you back about $200 while mechanical movement is in the $500 price range. From straps to movements and cases, all components are made in Japan and hand-assembled at Knot’s workshop in a bustling section of the capital city.
And every Knot watch is completely customizable. Choose from a sea of straps that honor Japanese crafts and culture, such as the braided Kyoto’s kumihimo, a Yamanashi’s umbrella strap or the tatami-beri band that mirrors the design of a traditional Japanese tatami floor mat.
Another recent brand that’s been upending the long-established watch world in Japan, Minase made its debut in 2005. But unlike urban Knot, Minase crafts its timepieces in a small factory in the company’s namesake village in the north of Japan. High-end quality has put Minase on the map. Prior to its foray into fine watches, the company produced precision tools and has since brought that fine metalwork expertise to each of the 500 watches Minase produces each year.
3: Frank Miura
Okay, so this is a weird one. Frank Miura is a parody brand that openly mimics Franck Muller watches (both names are pronounced nearly the same in Japanese). Of course, the latter Swiss luxury brand Franck Muller makes instantly recognizable watches under the audacious banner “Master of Complications.” We’ve seen their bold designs on the wrists of 50 Cent, Elton John and a slew of other celebrities, and prices for a nice Franck Muller can go north of ten grand.
Japan’s Frank Miura, on the other hand, offers similar designs at a fraction of the price. And although it’s a blatant rip-off of the Swiss watches, the Japanese quality is pretty good, and the designs are really cool. Franck Muller sued Frank Miura to stop making watches, but the legal action backfired. A Japanese court ruled that Frank Miura has the right to produce parodies and the publicity has made the low-end Japanese brand a cult hit.
So you can stick with the tried and trusted brands, it’s hard to go wrong with that kind of longevity and tradition. Or choose one of the upstarts and slip something a little more eclectic on your wrist. However you select, Japanese watches have a huge selection that’s waiting for you.