12 Best Grand Seiko Watches That Are A Better Value Than Rolex

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In 2017, Grand Seiko has announced its separation from Seiko, as an independent luxury watch brand focused on high-end watches.

Grand Seiko watches are becoming increasingly more popular among watch enthusiasts for their:

  • Detailed textured dial
  • Hand-finished zaratsu polishing
  • Spring Drive movement
  • Completely in-house build
  • Fantastic value

While the Swiss competition for the growing Japanese brand is plentiful, few watches offer as much detail and craftsmanship at their respective price.

Grand Seiko continues to innovate, both its movements and designs. They’ve released a number of well-regarded models, many given clever nicknames, like the ‘Snowflake’, ‘White Birch’, ‘Cherry Blossom’, and so on.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the best Grand Seiko watches currently on the market.

Grand Seiko Snowflake SBGA211

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The Grand Seiko Snowflake SBGA211 is based on the first-of-its-kind, defining model of the brand, the SBGA011. Released globally in 2010, the snowflake textured dial instantly become a fan favorite and is easily the most recognizable watch from the brand to this day.

The snowflake dial represents the freshly fallen snow nearby the Shinshu Watch Studio, which crafts Grand Seiko’s Spring Drive and quartz movements.

The 41mm high-intensity titanium case is hand-finished with a mirror-like polish that the brand calls “Zaratsu”. The Zaratsu process takes three years to master and is designed to help the watch catch and reflect light perfectly.

The icing on the cake, or perhaps even the main course of this watch is the movement inside. The Grand Seiko 9R65 Spring Drive movement uses mechanical, magnetic, and electrical energy, making it neither a mechanical nor quartz watch.

The result is the only watch with a truly sweeping second hand that doesn’t just beat multiple times per second like a mechanical watch, giving the impression that it’s sweeping. No, it truly glides. At under $6,000, the Grand Seiko Snowflake is one of the most innovative and beautiful watches in this price range, and perhaps all of watchmaking.

Grand Seiko SBGM221 GMT

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  • Diameter: 39.5mm
  • Movement: 9S66 Automatic
  • Price: $4,600

The SBGM221 is a GMT, the traveler’s watch. In true GS fashion, the SBGM221 has a case that is well designed and proportioned, with sharp, faceted lugs, and Grand Seiko’s notable Zaratsu finishing.

The juxtaposition of sharp, flat edges, against smooth, curved, polished surfaces creates a case that is not only extremely beautiful but also comfortable.

The dial is a beautiful, warm ivory, contrasting against the zaratsu-finished hour hands, hour markers, the navy 24-hour inner track, and heated blue hand.

The 9S66 automatic GMT movement housed inside has a 72-hour power reserve, is built in-house, and is well-decorated. Very few Swiss brands can say the same, with their watches at a similar price point.

The movement is a true GMT, with the ability to independently set the time hour hand without affecting the GMT hand. This is perfect for travelers. Just set the hour hand to the local time at your current location, and the GMT hand to the time at home.

The SBGM221 is a dressy watch, the kind that would typically be reserved for special occasions. But, it’s so detailed, you’ll likely want to wear it every day.

Its 30m water resistance is a bit lacking, so you’ll want to avoid getting it wet, and especially swimming with it on, so it may not be a true one-watch collection… But you’re inevitably going to find excuses to wear it, noticing subtle new details each and every time you look down at your wrist.

With that said, it’s a stunning piece that embodies the GS design philosophy, offering a level of sophistication that few other brands, at this price, can compete with.

Grand Seiko SBGV245

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  • Diameter: 40mm
  • Movement: Caliber 9F82 Quartz
  • Price: $3,000

While many Grand Seikos lean more dressr than sporty, the SBGV245 flips that on its head.

With the robustness of a tool watch, and the elegance of, well, a Grand Seiko, versatility is an understatement.

Built for an active lifestyle, the deep brushing across the case and bezel are meant to hide scratches, although the razor-sharp edges of the bezel tend to ding easily. When it comes to sports watches, the more beat up, the better, as each battle scar tells a story of a personal adventure.

Although you wouldn’t typically associate a high-end watch with a quartz movement, the Seiko 9F82 isn’t your run-of-the-mill quartz. It has the same level of innovation, and even finishing that you’d expect from Seiko’s Spring Drive and mechanical movements.

If you want a Grand Seiko as unique as it is durable, built to withstand any adventure, and finished to Grand Seiko’s standards, but with a worry-free, high-end quartz, the SBV245 has little competition.

Grand Seiko Cherry Blossom SBGA413

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The Grand Seiko SBGA413 is nicknamed the ‘Cherry Blossom’ for its subtle pink, textured dial.

Sibling of the Snowflake, and part of the GS heritage collection, the dial represents sakura blossom leaves fallen into the water during Japan’s fleeting sakura (spring equinox) season.

The pink dial is dynamic and changes hues depending on the lighting. Most often, it looks rather neutral, more silver than pink. In direct sunlight, however, the pink really starts to reveal itself, but never in a way that is oversaturated, or “frat bro”.

The dial is highlighted by the case’s unique bezel-less design. Speaking of which, the titanium case is finished impeccably with Grand Seiko’s Zaratsu. The deep, brushed surfaces contrast beautifully with the dial to constantly catch the light, and draw your attention.

Of course, housed inside is Seiko’s 9R65 Spring Drive movement, accurate to +/- 1 second per day, and decorated impeccably.

At a somewhat conservative 40mm, the watch still has plenty of wrist presence (its dial gives it more than enough) but is wearable on any wrist. And at just 3.5oz (99g), including the featherweight titanium bracelet, you’ll hardly notice you’re wearing it.

The Grand Seiko Cherry Blossom SBGA413 may not be as recognizable as the Snowflake, but it’s certainly the watch among Grand Seikoholics. If you ever find yourself at a GS meetup, this is likely the watch strapped to most of the wearer’s wrists.

Grand Seiko Elegance SBGW231

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  • Diameter: 37.3mm
  • Movement: Caliber 9S64 Mechanical
  • Price: $4,300

Nothing is perfect, but the SBG231 is as close to perfect as a classic three-handed dress watch can get.

At just over 37mm, its dimensions are classic and tasteful, a design philosophy clearly demonstrated across the entirety of the case and dial.

A simple ivory dial sets the tone, allowing the beautifully finished and angular case, handset, and hour markers to do all of the talking. In many ways, its perfection is what’s left out from this watch, rather than what’s included.

The Caliber 9S64 mechanical movement housed inside is said to be buttery smooth when hand-wound and is beautifully decorated. Viewable through the see-through display case back, one can easily see where GS puts their care. Not just the build quality or design or finish, rather, all of the above.

Grand Seiko White Birch SLGH005

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The SLGH005 ‘White Birch’ is nicknamed for the brilliantly deep-textured dial, inspired by the white birch trees near Grand Seiko’s Shizukuishi studio.

The Birch uses what GS calls the “Evolution 9” style – sporty and utilitarian, yet elegant and refined, designed to celebrate the 60th-anniversary of the first Grand Seiko ever.

The new hi-beat 9SA5 caliber is facilitated by a brand new escapement Grand Seiko has developed, utilizing a dial impulse that has much better efficiency than a Swiss lever, aiding in the watch’s increased 80-hour power reserve.

Although the silver indices don’t contrast highly against the silvery-white dial, the contrast of finishes, brushed and polish, and even the highly anti-reflective sapphire crystal, add some visual clarity that overcompensates in a way that many similarly priced Swiss watches don’t. The case is sporty and versatile, and together, with 100 meters of water resistance, makes this for everyday wear.

At just under $10,000, there are a wide variety of watches to choose from. The most obvious, similarly priced comparison is the Rolex Datejust, a fantastic watch in its own right… But side-by-side, the white birch dial is arguably much more dynamic and interesting.

Note: There is a newer White birch, the SLGA009, which uses a Spring Drive movement and is the first to display a power-reserve indicator not on the dial, but on the back of the movement itself.

Grand Seiko Diver SBGA463

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Few sports watches are more recognizable or coveted than the Rolex Submariner. But, even with cash on hand, and a burning desire for the legendary Swiss diver, a Rolex dealer will put you on a waitlist for who knows how long – perhaps indefinitely. If the idea of an artificially reduced supply doesn’t appeal to you, maybe a purpose-built diver that is refined, and has some key upgrades, will.

The SBGA463 is everything you could want from a dive watch and more.

Its ISO 6425:2018 specification is a testament to Grand Seiko’s desire to design and build a dive watch that is equally legible and robust. With 200 meters of water resistance, a screw-down crown, and resistance to magnetism.

The dial is extremely legible – with a brushed handset, and luminescent hour markers framed by mirror-polished facets. Though it manages to maintain a sense of elegance, just a little less utilitarian looking than its Swiss counterpart.

The case is finished with both brushed and zaratsu mirror finishing, which, initially may sound like an odd choice for a tool watch that is likely to see some battle scars.

But, the high-intensity titanium case is stated to be more scratch-resistant and 30% lighter than its stainless steel counterparts. A titanium dive-extension clasp that allows for easy bracelet size changes on-the-fly completes the package. The Spring Drive movement, now housed inside, is the cherry on top.

Grand Seiko Omiwatari SBGY007

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With a dial representing the snow-covered ice on top of Lake Suwa, the ‘Omiwatari’ is a flowy and sleek, time-only dress watch that embodies the purest of Grand Seiko design.

The dial is large, with plenty of room to breathe, embodying the majority of the watch’s 38.5mm diameter. This is one of the first and only Spring Drive watches that doesn’t have a power reserve complication on the dial, remaining an ultra-clean aesthetic.

The Omiwatari’s biggest strength might also be its greatest flaw. The case is almost all high-polished and distortion-free, thanks to the GS Zaratsu polishing technique. As a result, it might show scratches more easily than titanium Grand Seikos. Combined with its just 30 meters of water resistance, you might find yourself keeping this one in the watch box, reserved for special occasions.

Regardless, the curvature of the case is fluid, and transitions seamlessly from the dual-curved sapphire crystal, resulting in an elegant and ergonomic shape that easily conforms around the wrist.

Some collectors might struggle with the thought of paying over $8,000 for a time-only Grand Seiko, especially when there are others, some, with more complications, at a more affordable price point. Although, if this same watch were made by other, Swiss high-horology brands, the pricing would be par for the course, and even undervalued by their standards.

Grand Seiko Skyflake SBGA407

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The Grand Seiko ‘Skyflake’ SBGA407 takes the snowflake textured dial, this time in a sky blue inspired by the snow-covered mountains of Shinsu.

The dial uses Grand Seiko’s most typical Spring Drive layout – broad, dauphine hands, date wheel at 3:00, and power reserve indicator.

The case leans a bit less sporty, and a bit dressier, with thinner, twisted lugs, a mushroom crown, and a rounder case shape overall – though, it is still very sturdy and capable with 100 meters of water resistance.

Grand Seiko Sport GMT SBGN003

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The Grand Seiko SBN003 is a sporty GMT. This reference comes in a nearly perfect 39mm diameter and 12mm thickness kept a bit thinner than usual thanks to its quartz caliber 9F86. That’s right… Quartz.

The idea of a luxury quartz watch might confuse you, although the engine inside of the SBGN003 is not your typical quartz. In fact, Grand Seiko even goes as far to grow their own quartz crystals – cherry-picking only the best for their movements.

To make sure each movement is accurate, despite natural variations in their crystals, Grand Seiko regulates each and every circuit to match the variations in each specific quartz crystal. These are great lengths for a quartz movement, but this is just one reason why the 9F86 is accurate to +/- 10 seconds per year.

Further, you can see the refinement of the movement visually. There’s almost quite literally no back play when the second hand ticks from one second to the next, atypical of especially cheaper quartz.

Design-wise, the SBGN has an obvious Rolex Explorer-like vibe. It has a similar stainless steel 24-hour GMT bezel but differentiates enough with its distinct geometric hour markers and dauphine handset. The GMT hand uses jumping hour hand for setting the time, which can be mapped to another time zone.

Overall, a luxury quartz GMT might be the perfect one-watch collection for somebody who wants the refinement of a luxury watch, but without the hassles and costs of mechanical watches. While this might not be for everyone, those who know this is the right watch for them will know immediately.

Grand Seiko SBGE257 Sport GMT

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The SBGE257 is a sporty GMT that immediately distinguishes itself from Swiss GMT watches with its obvious Grand Seiko DNA. Most notably, the Spring Drive 9R66 movement used.

Its power reserve is displayed on the dial, adding some additional visual interest on the already rather complex and somewhat busy, but still intentional, design.

The hand-finished zaratsu hands, hour markers, and sides of the case are complimented by a bright yellow GMT hand, offsetting the rich emerald green of the dial and 24-hour ceramic bezel.

Speaking of which, the ceramic bezel adds some scratch resistance and extends barely past the width of the case to protect the highly polished sides. The top of the case is brushed, which, along with the luminescent hour markers, helps add a sporty touch to a somewhat refined watch.

The watch comes in at 40.5mm and, although has lots of wrist presence, fits more like a 40mm, a nearly ubiquitous size for all wrists – partially aided by the downward sloping GMT bezel.

The local time hour hand can be operated completely independently of the GMT hand which can be set to a second time zone. The 3-link stainless steel bracelet is both brushed and polished. 200 meters of water resistance completes the package.

The worst thing about the SBGE257 is that it’s packed with so many features, you might never look at similarly engineered Swiss watches the same, especially when they can cost ~80% more.

Note: Other notable GMTs in this family include the: SBGE255, SBGE257, SBGE275, SBG275, SBG283

Grand Seiko SBGX261

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Why not wrap up the list with one of the most affordable modern Grand Seikos currently on the market. On paper, the SBGX261 is as barebones as it gets. A simple, quartz, time-only sports watch.

At first glance, it’s very reminiscent of the much more affordable, discontinued Seiko SARB033. Although the materials, movement, finish, and overall refinement, are leaps and bounds apart. And pictures only exacerbate these similarities.

Only in-person can you get a sense of just how much of a difference the Grand Seiko zaratsu polishing makes in helping the watch catch light at any angle. The sapphire crystal is much more anti-reflective, and thus, the dial is more legible. And overall, each surface – each and every angle, is just that much more meticulous thanks to its hand-finish. 

Of course, the elephant in the room is this is still a quartz watch. But it’s not just a quartz watch. It’s a highly-engineered and extremely accurate quartz, developed entirely in-house.

Still, its simplicity is not only a welcome understatement and highlighting of the remarkable GS design elements but also a selling point. It keeps costs down, making the SBGX261 quite literally one of the most affordable Grand Seikos you can buy unless you’re willing to dig through the archive of older, vintage Grand Seiko models (but, hey, that’s for another article).

What Makes Grand Seiko Better than Swiss Watches?

Dials

While most modern Swiss watches have matte or sunburst dials, Grand Seiko’s watches often have unique textured dials that set them apart.

Their textured dials use a rigorous, multi-step process, from stamping to multiple, thin layers of coating. The indices are hand-cut with a rotary tool by Grand Seiko’s skilled technicians who use a mirror to ensure each and ever facet reflects light perfectly (source).

For under $10,000 (often much less) it’s nearly impossible to find comparable dials from Swiss watch brands. Watches like Grand Seiko’s Snowflake, Cherry Blossom, and White Birch have dials that are textured by skilled technicians and are seemingly impossible to find until you’re paying at least 5-figures.

Movements

Although Grand Seikos are partially known for their exceptional designs, textured dial, and meticulous, hand-finishing, there’s just as much going on under the hood in the movements that run these watches.

Spring Drive

The most recognizable modern movement by Grand Seiko is their flagship Spring Drive.

Combining the best of both mechanical and quartz movements, the Spring Drive is highly accurate, like a quartz, but has the endless energy generation of an automatic watch. This results in an accuracy of  +/- 1 second per day, and a gliding sweeping second hand that has the smoothest sweep in all of watchmaking.

From the outside, the Spring Drive is nearly indistinguishable from any automatic movement. But inside, Grand Seiko uses a tri-synchro regulator, which uses mechanical, electrical, and electro-magnetic energy, generated by the mainspring. 

This electrical current runs through the quartz crystal, which is sent back to the electromagnets, causing the glide-wheel to rotate completely frictionless, 8 times a second.

Hi-Beat Mechanical

Grand Seiko continues to push boundaries, consistently creating new, more efficient mechanical movements with higher beat rates and longer power reserves.

The most recent of the mechanical caliber 9S boasts an impressive, 36,000 hi-beat beat rate, and an 80-hour power reserve. Similarly priced Swiss watches often use movements with just a 28,800 beat rate, resulting in a second-hand sweep that is not quite as smooth and can’t be regulated as precisely.

Typically, the tradeoff of a higher beat rate is a reduced power reserve. Like a heart, the movement would need to work harder to beat faster. Grand Seiko innovates by developing more efficient movements, which are able to maintain longer power reserves as a result.

Quartz

If we can appreciate the innovations of somewhat archaic technology, such as mechanical movement, we can also appreciate high-end quartz movements. Keep in mind that Grand Seiko quartz movements are not the same as the nearly disposable quartz movements used in cheap department store watches.

In fact, Grand Seiko goes as far as growing their own quartz crystals, which are then hand-picked, and each movement is regulated to the exact efficiencies of that chosen quartz crystal for ultimate precision.

Finish

Grand Seiko uses a signature technique – Zaratsu polishing, to hand-finish their cases and indices to the finest precision. This results in a distortion-free, mirror-like finish that is typically only seen in Swiss watches that cost at least 5 figures. And in Grand Seiko, you can find zaratsu for half that.

The Grand Seiko technicians are trained for three years to be able to sufficiently polish their watches, as precision, and a keen sense of touch, are required to determine how much pressure and how much time is needed on the polishing machine to achieve the desired effect.

Built Entirely In-House

Every aspect of building a Grand Seiko: from design to manufacturing the dial, case, and even the movement, is done entirely by Grand Seiko.

While other brands take great efforts to find loopholes and roundabouts to claim this or that part of their watch is made in Switzerland, very few watch brands, and especially those in the sub $5,000 price range, can say their watch is built entirely in-house.

Pricing

Dollar-for-dollar, few watches offer more value at comparable price points than Grand Seiko.

Similar Swiss watches, with equal attention to design, details, finish, and movement, built entirely in-house, often cost thousands of dollars more than a Grand Seiko.

Maybe Swiss watches are overvalued for their historical significance in horology and hype, or maybe Grand Seiko is one of the greatest, most underappreciated watchmakers of our time.

Either way, since defining itself as a completely independent brand from that of the main Seiko branch in 2017, Grand Seiko has continued to spark the interest of watch collectors. It’s only a matter of time before the general public begins to follow suit.

Will Grand Seiko continue to release watches of such incredible value once the brand inevitably reaches new heights? I’m not sure. But for now, we know that’s the case. Hopefully, that continues to be so.

What’s the Price Range of Grand Seiko?

New, modern Grand Seikos range from $2,200 to $350,000, and everything in between. Most modern Grand Seikos sit between $5,000 – $10,000.

The most affordable Grand Seikos currently on the market are the quartz SBGX263 and SBGX265 at $2,200.

The most expensive Grand Seiko currently on the market is the Kodo Constant Force Tourbillion SLGT003, a boutique limited edition of just 20 pieces. The Kodo retails for $350,000.

Older, vintage, second-hand Grand Seikos can be found much more affordably, often under $1,000. They still retain similar ‘grammars of design’, and many are great-looking, to this day. The Spring Drive movement was not released until 1999, however, so you’ll need to find a more recent Grand Seiko if that’s your cup of tea.

Grand Seiko vs Seiko

Released in 1960, Grand Seiko was originally built as a part of the Seiko brand. The idea was to embrace the future and become the luxury branch of the brand, in an effort to build the world’s ‘ideal’ watch in all precision, durability, and beauty.

In 2017, however, Grand Seiko announced that it would split off from Seiko completely to become an independent luxury brand focused on the high-end watch market. Since, they have released a staple collection including many of the already wildly popular, textured dial models seen on this list.

For those who just want a great, and often more affordable watch, Seiko is a fantastic choice. But for someone looking for a luxury watch at less-than-average luxury prices, Grand Seiko is the way to go.

Grand Seikos are often built using much better movements, and higher levels of finishing, and are typically much more expensive.

Although, Seiko seems to be interested in slightly bridging the gap, having recently released high-end Seiko models – the LX line – using the Spring Drive movement, at a much higher price point than your average Seiko.

Grand Seiko vs Rolex

When comparing Grand Seiko vs. Rolex, there are two main things that sets them apart: value and availability.

The heritage, success, and demand of Rolex are undeniable. They have a proven track record of developing many innovative purpose-built tool watches, pushing watchmaking forward, and becoming highly desirable in the process.

Grand Seiko has a similar track record, innovating throughout the years for many ‘world’s firsts’ and developing many modern horological marvels, such as the Spring Drive movement.

Pricing & Value

Where they start to diverge is dollar-for-dollar value. Grand Seiko’s watches are often finished impeccably, using the brand’s hand-finishing zaratsu polishing technique, using their own Spring-Drive technology, and continue to release new watches with unseen textures.

To find the same specifications, refinement, and levels of details of a Grand Seiko in a Rolex, you’d often have to pay thousands of dollars more. 

Availability

Best of all, many of the Grand Seiko watches on this list are readily available.

That’s not something that can currently be said about Rolex, with large wait times for just about any of their highly coveted watches (most of the good ones!).

In-House Build

Finally, the icing on the cake, Grand Seiko is built entirely in-house, through every step of the design and development process, something Rolex hasn’t always been able to say, having previously outsourced their movements.

“You buy a Rolex to impress others. You buy a Grand Seiko to impress yourself”

But, hey, if you really want to flex, there’s no doubt that Rolex is the more widely recognizable brand – and one of the most instantly recognizable luxury status symbols in the world. If that’s your prerogative, a Rolex is a no-brainer. 

Do Grand Seikos Hold their Value?

Grand Seiko watches tend to hold their value very well. Like most luxury watches, you might see a small depreciation, depending on the amount of wear and tear, compared to when you bought it, which may affect its resale value.

Like most watches, once you buy them, take them out of the packaging, and wear them to any extent, their value drops. By buying a second-hand Grand Seiko, you can minimize the cost impact if you were to sell it later, as you’ll almost always be able to recoup the majority of your spending.

But Grand Seiko also releases highly coveted limited-edition models that continue to hold their value after release, due to their exclusivity.

Summary

It’s no surprise Grand Seiko watches continue to rise in popularity. Their dials are textured beautifully, their cases hand-finished to perfection, and Spring Drive movements innovative. What’s more surprising is their affordability, compared to other luxury watch brands.

Compared to similarly priced luxury Swiss watches, the difference is night and day. While popular Swiss brands like Rolex may win in a downright popularity contest, it would be hard to argue that their watches, at a similar price point, offer more value.

Any of these Grand Seiko watches will serve you well. For the Grand Seiko collectors, you likely already know or own, the staples, like the Snowflake, and Cherry Blossom. For everybody else: pick the one that you find yourself immediately gravitating toward. Though, if you’re like me, that might be all of them…

Are there any Grand Seikos I missed? Let me know in the comments below. Thank you for reading!

– Anthony

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