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Seiko Vs Citizen: Two Excellent Japanese Watchmakers Compared

September 27, 2021

Seiko vs Citizen, two Japanese powerhouses in watchmaking. Both with over 100 years of history and both with innovations that have changed the watch industry. In this review, I'll be comparing these two historic manufacturers.

It started out of necessity, my love of reasonably priced wristwatches. As a teenager, saving up for even an affordable timepiece such as most of the Seiko and Citizen ranges are, was still a mammoth task. And that’s where my respect for these two ground-breaking watchmakers began.

I used to count each dollar made from car washing, lawn mowing and hedge trimming. Until that magic day where I didn’t just have my nose pressed to the jewelry store window, but I could go inside and actually buy that beautiful shiny watch.

As I got older, I learned a little about these two historic companies and my respect deepened.

Are Citizen watches good quality? Are Seiko? Let's explore what makes these watchmakers great.

The Short Version

A review like this is always going to be an opinion not shared by everyone. Watch enthusiasts will always have different views on their favorite watch brands. But for me, the competition Seiko vs Citizen watches ends in a draw.

Seiko has the slighter longer history. And has secured its place as a watchmaking legend by inventing the quartz movement. But Citizen is still an old hand in the watch game, and it too has had historically important advances such as their Citizen Eco-Drive solar technology.

They both provide a wide spectrum of watches with options for everyone. Most of them at very competitive prices. They both strive for quality and produce almost all of the parts for themselves.

Seiko watches come with various movements. Whereas Citizen has mostly concentrated on their Eco-Drive quartz technology and has become synonymous with quartz watches. So if you're a big fan of mechanical movements, then Seiko has more of a selection.

seiko vs citizen watches

Movement

When Seiko introduced the world's first quartz movement in 1969, it changed timekeeping. Not only was it accurate to within 5 seconds a year, but it would run nonstop for an entire year with no winding. Manufacturers from all over the world soon adopted the quartz movement.

These days, Seiko offers various watch movements including kinetic, mechanical and quartz. But Citizen has very much focused on quartz. Their leading solar powered technology works best with quartz.

I think a fully integrated watch brand such as Citizen should have a wider selection of movements available. There are mechanical watches, just not very many. For some choosing between Seiko or Citizen, this can be an issue.

Technology

Both companies have been at the forefront of technological watch development. As we expect from the Japanese, Seiko and Citizen combine quality and affordability with innovation in order to stay relevant.

Here, I'll take a brief look at some of their major technologies.

Solar

Both Seiko and Citizen have solar powered watches. But when it comes to solar energy, Citizen has the edge. 

Citizen was one of the first manufacturers to produce solar powered timepieces. And they have continued to invest in solar technology. They had the first solar powered analog quartz watch, the Crystron, in the mid-70s. And today their Eco-Drive is a benchmark for solar power.

A modern Eco-Drive will charge in low light conditions, will operate for months in the dark and is available with bluetooth or radio-controlled functions.

The Eco-Drive solar power technology means a watch with this type of charging will not need a replacement battery for decades. And this is one of the reasons they have stuck with the quartz movements. It is hugely efficient and, as the name would suggest, environmentally friendly. 

While Seiko have their Seiko Solar branded pieces, this is available in a limited number of watches. Whereas the Eco-Drive system is found in most of the Citizen watches.

Atomic timekeeping

Another innovation that Citizen and Seiko have helped pioneer is the radio-controlled watch. These watches receive a radio signal from an atomic clock on a regular (usually daily) basis. Atomic clocks are accurate to within 1 sec every 100,000 years. So your watch is always precise.

These watches will usually correct the time automatically wherever you are in the world (as long as you're within signal of the radio transmitter, or you have a GPS version). They also include duel-time and world-time functions and often a chronograph.

Style

When comparing any wristwatch, style is always going to be a personal choice. And I know my tastes are not everybody’s. This is even more true for an entire manufacturer's range of watches.

Seiko and Citizen both offer an enormous selection of styles, from traditional to high tech and everything in between. While some would say a Citizen watch might have a more modern look and a Seiko watch more traditional, that is not necessarily true. Both have such a large selection of watches.

Personally, I think the Citizen Promaster Navihawk and Nighthawk models are some of the finest looking watches around. But I also know that the Grand Seiko brand is loved by enthusiasts for style and elegance.

Seiko vs Citizen: The range of watches

The best way to break down Seiko and Citizen watches is to look at the sub brands and ranges. Both manufacturers have a series of brands aimed at various segments of the watch market. From luxury to budget, via hi-tech, sport and fashion. When looking at Seiko vs Citizen, we need to take a run through the most popular ranges and highlight the differences and features of each.

It's worth mentioning that Citizen, as well as brands under their own name, also own companies such as Bulova and Miyota. But here, we're focusing on those watches that come under their own name.

No matter the type of watch you are looking for, Seiko and Citizen have a model to suit. Let's take a look.

Seiko

seiko watch with brown leather strap

Astron

The Astron is an advanced series from Seiko with GPS functionality. This is combined with solar charging to produce a highly accurate self adjusting timepiece that doesn't need winding or a battery change.

They have produced several limited editions to run alongside the standard models. One of my favorites of the Astron range is the SSH009J1. It has a distinctive black and blue dial with time zone markings. It’s made from titanium and has a ceramic bezel, so it’s not cheap. But it has a classy look that appeals to me.

Prospex

The Seiko Prospex is for the sporty and adventurous. Historically Seiko has had a deep involvement with diving watches and was the first Japanese manufacturer to make one.

These days, the Prospex collection of watches includes models for more than just divers. With sea, land and air models, Seiko has produced sporty watches for every adventurer.

I know the Seiko red and blue dive watch colors have become a bit of a classic look, but I quite like the SSC017. The Blue and black with a dash of blue on the second hand is distinctive. It’s a quality watch at a mid range price and it’s another solar charged device so you don’t need to worry about power.

Presage

The Presage range is a series that Seiko refers to as combing Japanese aesthetic influences with quality and precision. With both men’s and women’s models available, and at a range of price points, there is a watch for everyone with this series.

I love the classic looks of the hand-crafted SJE081J1. With the dial and index being hand-finished, each watch is ever so slightly different. But the workmanship comes with a hefty price tag.

If you’re looking for something more reasonable, what about the SSA407J1 . It has a skeleton window and back as an interesting detail. With a 41 hour reserve automatic mechanical movement.

Seiko 5 Sports

The Seiko 5 Sports range is a series of high-quality, reasonably priced pieces covering sport and fashion. Seiko has split the range into the 5 S’s—Sports, Suits, Specialist, Street and Sense. 

Their collection is full of individual styles with some very striking watches. If you’re on the look-out for a more unusual timepiece, what about the SRPD59K1. It has a bright orange dial with a date window and yellow numbered unidirectional bezel.

Lukia

Lukia is a women’s only collection of high-end fashion watches. They all come with as automatic mechanicals and each feature unique details such as jeweled indices.

Seiko Premier

The Seiko Premier collection are dress watches for men and women. They come with a range of movements and styles. 

For something that combines elegance with a unique signature, I like the SNP145P1. It has date, calendar and leap year functionality and the gold and silver alternating indices are a pleasant touch.

Grand Seiko

Seiko has separated Grand Seiko out from the main family. So, it is not really a brand any more, rather a separate entity. But since historically it’s been under the Seiko umbrella, I’ve called it a brand for the purposes of this article.

The Grand Seiko’s are all precision timepieces featuring the best of Seiko’s watchmaking expertise. They include the highest quality components and specialist manufacturing techniques. But the quality comes with a price tag, and you shouldn’t expect to find a Grand Seiko at less than $1500 dollars.

And, if you’ve won the lottery, how about the SBGD207. A limited edition of 15, with platinum case and garnet indices. It’s spring drive 56 jewel movement includes diamonds and other precious gems. If you can find it, rumor has it you’ll need at least $200,000 dollars to own it.

It is the Grand Seiko that people think of when they ask the question: is Seiko considered luxury? And in terms of quality of build, it certainly is up there with Rolex.

Citizen

citizen watch with three chronographs

Moving on to the Citizen watches. A Citizen watch often goes under the radar, and can sometimes be overlooked. That would be a mistake as they make some excellent, mainly quartz watches.

The Citizen Eco-Drive technology is world-renowned and sets the standard for solar power. Let's have a look at some of their lineup.

Eco-Drive One

The Eco-Drive one range takes Citizen's flagship technology further. These watches include the amazing solar technology, but Citizen has made it an astounding 1.0mm thick. To do this, they have combined material technology and parts innovation to build an 85 piece movement the thickness of a few sheets of paper.

My favorite in this range is the AR5025-08E. A two-tone case with black dial and leather strap. It is a stylish watch given something special by its thinness.

Promaster

The Citizen Promaster range is a series of rugged sport and adventure watches. Like Seiko’s Prospex range, they have versions for marine, land and sky. With the solar power system and technology including altimeters, GPS synchronisation and up to 1000m water resistance, they have a model for every adventure.

One of the standout watches in the Promaster collection is the CA0718-13E. A 200 meter water resistance chronograph with a striking orange bezel. 

Citizen L

Pushing Citizen's environmental ethic, the Citizen L range of fashion watches include sustainable materials and are aimed at women wanting to make a statement. All the watches in this range include the Eco-Drive, and all are mid-priced..

Satellite Wave

The Satellite wave are super hi tech, combing all of Citizen's technological wizardry to create a solar-powered GPS marvel. All manufactured in limited production runs, the Satellite Wave GPS selection is exclusive and oozes quality.

The CC7500-16E is big on features and just plain big. At 48mm, this is a watch that you just can't ignore. But with limited numbers and packed full of tech, neither is the price tag.

The CITIZEN

The CITIZEN, is a series of exclusive timepieces including a rare mechanical model. With a price tag to match.

The new Caliber 0200 will be available from late 2021. It is a watch born from a collaboration with La Joux-Perret, the swiss watch company Citizen purchased in 2012. The combined forces of Citizen and Lan Joux-Perret have made what might become an instant classic.

Top selling watches

In terms of sales numbers, Seiko vs Citizen has a winner, but not by much. Both companies are selling around the 1.5-2 billion dollar mark each year. With Citizen slightly ahead.

Mostly, the two Japanese Giants sell in similar market spaces. For example, two of their best sellers are both dive watches. The classic Seiko SKX009K2 Diver's watch and the Citizen Eco-Drive Promaster Diver, BN0151-09L. And both watches have all the necessary functions to actually go diving.

But look closer and there are significant differences. The Seiko is an automatic movement, whereas the Citizen uses their Eco-Drive. The Citizen is bigger at 48mm compared to the Seiko's 42mm. And then there's the price. At around the $450 dollar mark the Seiko is more expensive than the approximately $250 dollar Citizen.

One of Seiko's most popular watches is the SNK809 Seiko 5 . This is another automatic with a simple and elegant dial. At just over $100 dollars, it's easy to see why this one is so popular. In the Citizen watches family, one of their most popular timepieces is the BM8180-03E. It's a similar price to the Seiko and of a similar design.

Both of these field watches look good on the wrist.

History

Seiko

The History of Seiko and their heritage starts in 1881 with a young Japanese man called Kintaro Hattori. He had been an apprentice clockmaker and decided to open his own watch sales and repair shop. Mr. Hattori developed relationships with watch wholesalers who imported timepieces into Japan (at the time, most watches were imported).

Through his contacts he acquired rare and exclusive pieces that were not being sold elsewhere. He soon developed a reputation as a quality seller and became a successful entrepreneur. In 1892 he took the next step and developed the Seikosha factory to manufacture his own timepieces.

Their first items were wall clocks (and successful) but in 1895 he developed the company's first pocket watch. And in 1913, Seikosha produced Japans’ first homemade wristwatch, the Laurel.

Seikosha continued to be successful but suffered a setback in 1923 when the factory burnt down in the aftermath of a large earthquake. They changed their name to Seiko soon after.

In 1960, Seiko introduced the first Grand Seiko as their answer to the swiss-made dominance of luxury watches. The 60s saw several innovations from Seiko and culminated in the world’s first quartz watch in 1969, the Seiko Quartz Astron. Almost 100 times more accurate than any other watch, the quartz movement revolutionized watchmaking.

Seiko continues to deliver technological improvements and design innovations and with 2021 being their 140th anniversary, who’s to say what’s coming next.

Citizen

Citizen is a little younger than Seiko. With roots dating to 1918. The name comes from a brand registered by the swiss watchmaker Rodolphe Schmid. The brand was to be Schmid’s line of watches sold in Japan. In 1930, several investors created The Citizen Watch Company, with the idea of making watches more affordable for the Japanese citizen.

Like Seiko, Citizen has delivered several technological advancements, including atomic time-keeping, and solar powered watches. They continue to innovate and produce quality timepieces, making almost all of their parts in-house.

Which is better Citizen or Seiko?

An impossible question to answer. But this is a Seiko vs Citizen article, so I'll do my best. And my answer is possibly annoying—both.

With Seiko vs Citizen, there are many similarities and a few interesting differences. Citizen's concentration on quartz movements is probably the biggest. But Citizen also doesn't have the full on luxury brand like the Grand Seiko.

And while Seiko has the Seiko Solar powered watches, Citizen has the technological advantage with their Eco-Drive. This movement type is definitely the industry standard.

But whether you want a Citizen watch or a Seiko watch, there is something for everyone in their ranges. And I, for one, hope they both continue to design and innovate for decades to come. The whole of horology is better for it.

So, I've covered some watches in both the Seiko and the Citizen ranges. Talked a little about the history of these two elite companies. And highlighted one or two of the technologies that make them different. Now it's time for you to look at their ranges and decide on your favorites. Good luck!

Author
Alastair Crombie
I’ve been collecting watches since I bought a ‘Rowex’ for a fiver from a mate when I was 10. He told me you pronounced it Rolex and that’s how it all started. I used to love that Rowex. These days I still tend to stick to the more affordable end of the market. Both my wallet and my wife are happier that way. My favorite watch changes with the seasons, and that’s what I love about watches. Each one doesn’t just tell the time, much more importantly, they tell a story.
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