January 26, 2022
The meteoric rise of Seiko from regional player to global watchmaking powerhouse over the course of the ‘60s is well documented in enthusiast circles, from its role developing one of the first automatic chronograph movements to its rapid progression through the ranks of Swiss observatory chronometer trials. One of the most famous ‘60s Seiko stories of all, however, is the brand’s internal factory rivalry to develop a truly high-end luxury watch series. While Seiko’s Suwa division rose to this challenge by creating the enduring and revered Grand Seiko brand, at the other end of the brand’s corporate structure the Daini division developed its own world-class luxury subdivision – King Seiko. While Grand Seiko remains a cornerstone of Seiko’s larger corporate roster, the King Seiko nameplate gradually faded through the second half of the ‘70s before being discontinued entirely in the early ‘80s. Although limited edition revivals have briefly resurrected the King Seiko name, until now Seiko has never permanently revived this beloved part of its history. For its first major release of 2022, Seiko finally returns the King Seiko line as a permanent part of its stable. The new Seiko King Seiko Collection, including the Seiko SPB279, Seiko SPB281, Seiko SPB283, Seiko SPB285, and Seiko SPB287, faithfully revives the look of the classic 1965 King Seiko KSK with thoroughly modern movements and build quality for a truly refined and compelling new series of dress watches.
Each model in the Seiko King Seiko Collection uses a clean and compact 37mm case in stainless steel. Both the size and form of this case are faithfully preserved from the 1965 original, with the sharply faceted “Grammar of Design” case geometry that came to define King Seiko’s design philosophy. The wide lugs with their broad tapering polished chamfers are the clearest example of the philosophy at work here, cutting through the vertical brushing of the majority of the case to showcase the quality of the brand’s finishing. The original intent of this case philosophy was to allow King Seiko cases to sparkle like cut gemstones on display shelves, and in initial images the polish of both these chamfers and the separate smooth bezel looks to offer a clean and even sheen. The King Seiko Collection continues its old-school look with a tall box sapphire crystal rising well above the surrounding bezel. The solid caseback likewise follows the pattern of the classic King Seiko KSK, with an accurate engraving of the original King Seiko shield emblem. Although the original ‘60s model placed this engraving on a gold caseback medallion, here the caseback is one solid stainless steel part with an implied engraved border around its “medallion.” Although the overall look of this case may be straight out of the mid-’60s, its performance is decidedly modern, with a surprising 100 meters of water resistance and a robust magnetic resistance of 4,800 A/m.
Seiko offers each of the five King Seiko Collection watches with a distinctive dial finish to give each take on the shared design its own character. The basic dial layout is refined and handsomely minimal in images, with a set of brushed and polished chamfered rectangular indices alongside a pair of mirror polished faceted dauphine hands. With no date window and only a faithfully vintage printed “King Seiko” emblem at 6 o’clock to offset the traditional applied Seiko logo, the brand is free to focus on the fine details of this pared-back design. The double-wide 12 o’clock index is a prime example of this attention to detail in initial images, with a miniature knurled texture that recalls the 1965 original and should provide a dynamic series of highlights from changing viewing angles. All five models in the series take this basic layout in a unique direction. The SPB279 is the most traditional of the group, with a silver sunburst finish that mimics the look of the King Seiko KSK in images and gives the design a classically dressy look. For the SPB281, Seiko pairs this traditional colorway with a more contemporary finish, featuring a silver dial surface with deep, heavily grained vertical brushing that calls to mind the brand’s more adventurous modern dial finishes. The black sunburst finish of the SPB283 gives the basic design a slightly more sporting character than its silver dial counterparts, with just a hint of warmth in images to create a pleasing contrast. The SPB285 takes a more adventurous approach to the same concept, rendering the sunburst dial finish in a deep cocoa brown that introduces a sense of subtle aging and refinement in initial photos. By far the boldest of the group is the SPB287, however. The deep blood red sunburst finish gives this familiar design a more dramatic, bolder character, without completely sacrificing the restrained look of the whole.
Seiko powers all five models in the King Seiko Collection with its in-house 6R31 automatic movement. As a mainstay of Seiko’s more upscale mainline offerings, the 6R31 offers more refined construction than its 4R series counterparts with improved performance. The 6R31’s hefty 70-hour power reserve is a prime example of its reliable modern performance, but in one important area this modern powerplant is outstripped by its ‘60s forebears. One of the original King Seiko line’s most prominent selling points was its use of smooth high-beat movements, with several in-house movement designs of the period operating at frequencies of 28,800 bph and even 36,000 bph. This allowed for a smoother, more elegant sweep for King Seiko seconds hands, helping to reinforce the idea of King Seiko as a more luxurious counterpart to the main brand. By contrast, the 6R31’s beat rate of 21,600 bph should lead to a notably more choppy seconds hand sweep on the wrist.
To complete these faithful ‘60s designs, Seiko initially offers each model in the King Seiko Collection with a modern revival of the sharply angular ‘60s King Seiko stainless steel multi-link bracelet. With polished outer link chamfers complementing a strongly brushed overall design, this bracelet gives each model in the King Seiko Collection a versatile and faithfully vintage look. Seiko completes this bracelet design with a two-button butterfly clasp. Seiko will also add five handsomely distressed strap options to the series after the watch becomes available for sale, including calf leather options in concrete gray, classic black, caramel brown, and dark mahogany, as well as an artificial suede strap in pale gray.
With a charismatic clean-cut ‘60s look, robust modern build quality, and a sense of refinement that stays true to the King Seiko ethos, the new Seiko King Seiko Collection may well herald a new way forward for the brand’s dressier vintage-inspired designs. It’s also worth noting that this new series likely exists at a crossroads with the brand’s own Presage line, as Presage will likely move towards strictly contemporary dress designs in the wake of this distinctly vintage-inspired new nameplate. All five models in the Seiko King Seiko Collection will be available through select authorized dealers in February 2022. MSRP for each model in the series stands at $1,700 as of press time. For more details, please visit the Seiko Luxe website.