Between now and the end of the year I will be posting articles on my collection of vintage Grand Seikos.
Since there are over 40 pieces in the collection, it makes sense to break this write-up over several articles. Each post will cover a specific movement from the vintage Grand Seiko releases, and include photos of the watches I have that utilise that movement.
Whilst I don’t intend these articles to provide a comprehensive and thoroughly researched scholarly history of vintage Grand Seikos, I will share some knowledge on the pieces that I have picked up over the course of the last year. If I get anything wrong, please don’t hesitate to let me know!
This first post will – naturally – detail the first Grand Seiko, which uses the 3180 movement.
Above is pictured my 3180, which was manufactured in 1963. The first Grand Seiko was originally released in December 1960, and the watch above is pictured with the 3rd issue of the Seiko dealer news magazine which featured the launch of the watch.
It is interesting to note that there were several iterations of this watch over the course of its lifetime, with different dials, hands, logos and lion medallions.
The watch above has flat hands, a plain white dial, applied logo, and second iteration of the lion medallion on the case back. This is the most common version of the 3180 that you will come across.
Logos can be printed (see my steel version coming up later in this post for an example), carved, or applied.
Dials can be plain white or sunburst silver.
Hands can be flat, or three dimensional (often referred to as “mountain” hands).
The two different lion medallions have very subtle differences that can be hard to spot if you don’t know exactly what to look for.
Whilst the vast majority of 3180’s are gold filled, there were also officially released pieces in platinum. These platinum pieces are incredibly rare, and were one to come to the market, you would probably be looking at north of US$30,000 to secure one.
Gold filled 3180’s are plentiful and easy to come by, typically selling in the US$1,000 to US$2,000 range. It is however getting very challenging to find pieces in good condition, and that retain their original buckle. If you come across one in good condition with box and papers, well then you’re looking at US$4K and up.
There is one other metal that the original Grand Seiko can be found in, and it is stainless steel.
These pieces are a bit of a mystery, and their provenance is unknown. To date, no official contemporary documentation has surfaced to prove their existence. I am aware of four of these pieces, and I’m sure there must be more out there.
Whether these stainless steel 3180’s are fakes, franken-watches, prototypes, service watches, or something else is not known. What is evident from speaking with other owners is that they do seem to be made entirely from genuine Grand Seiko materials.
Interestingly, at least three of the four watches that I am aware of are different from one another.
My sample has a printed Grand Seiko logo, flat hands, and a silver sunburst dial.
One with another collector has an applied logo, flat hands, and a plain white dial.
And one that was sold in a Yahoo Japan auction in September of this year had a carved logo and mountain hands (the pictures were not clear as to what the dial was like).
The fourth piece that I am aware of, I only know has flat hands – I don’t know the details of the logo or dial.
To the best of my knowledge, these stainless steel 3180’s also have a unique lion medallion on the case back –
Regular 3180 lion medallions have the text “*GRAND*SEIKO*” above the lion. The stainless steel ones have the text “*Chronometer*” below it. To the best of my knowledge, this design of medallion does not feature on any other Seiko watch – Grand or otherwise.
The lion itself is very similar to that of the early 3180 pieces (typically found on the pieces with printed or carved dials), although not exactly the same. The only “tell” that I can spot is where the lion’s body meets the rear right leg. On this piece, the body has a gentle curve to it. On the early regular pieces, there is a pronounced upside-down “v” shape here that seems to serve to accentuate the thigh of the rear left leg.
It differs from the more common later lion in several places – the easiest of which to spot is the clear demarkation between the lion’s mane and body. The other relatively easy difference to spot is that the tail is high, almost at the same level as the lion’s back.
Apologies that I don’t have photos of the other two lions – I don’t have an early 3180 myself, and I haven’t got around to shooting the caseback of my regular piece.
As to the value of the stainless steel version?
Well, the last one that changed hands that I’m aware of was the Yahoo Japan auction in September 2016. That sold for its “buy it now” price of around US$8,500 almost as soon as it hit the site.
IF – and it is a big if – it ever became possible to prove that these pieces are genuine, quite frankly I think you could put another “0” on the end of that price.
I will return to update this article in future when I acquire further examples of the 3180 – I hope in time to be able to pick up both printed and carved dial regular pieces.