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 – or set of movements – 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!
Following on from the first Grand Seiko, based on the 3180 movement, were a series of watches now categorised as being in the 57GS family.
Three different movements were utilised over the period that the 57GS were on sale, and the three watches that I have representing these movements were made in 1963, 1965 and 1967.
In the photo above, in the middle of the shot is the 43999 – my example is a very early “SD dial” version from 1963; on the left, a 5722-9990 from 1965; and on the right, a 5722-9991 from 1967.
Whilst superficially they all look the same, they each have different movements, the dial evolves over time, as do the crowns and casebacks.
Starting with this series of watches, the traditional method of identifying vintage Grand Seikos is by the model number that is indicated on the case-back.
Above we can see the case-back removed from a 43999 revealing its movement. Note the lion logo medallion – this is something else that changes through the release of the 57GS series over time. What is not quite visible (sorry!) is that to the left of the lion is engraved the model number.
In the image above of the 5722-9990, taken sitting on its rating certificate, you can clearly see the model number engraving on the case-back.
From a purist point of view, one might expect to find the 430 movement in the 43999 model; the 5722A movement in the 5722-9990; and the 5722B in the 5722-9991. Additionally, one would think that the dials of each iteration in the series would also match up the model number.
But this is not always the case. In fact, it can be a right mess, and in addition to what one would expect, I have seen all of the following examples –
43999 case; 5722-9990 dial; 430 movement and 5722A movements.
5722-9990 case; 43999 dial; 430 and 5722A movements
5722-9990 case; 5722-9990 dial; all three movements (!)
5722-9990 case; 5722-9991 dial; 5722B movement
(Note – to the best of my knowledge, there are no 5722-9991 dials actually marked 5722-9991. They retain the 5722-9990 numbering. However, there are other fundamental differences that separate them from the true 5722-9990 dials, which I will go into later.)
As will be obvious from the above combinations, all the different parts are interchangeable. Personally, I find it a bit of a stretch to accept that Seiko had all these different combinations coming out of the factory. Certainly there is the possibility of some of these variants being “transitional” pieces, but surely it is more likely that parts have been swapped around between different iterations of these watches over time? After all – most of these pieces have been knocking around for close to, or even more than, 50 years.
Despite its age, the 57GS series is one of the most common of the vintage Grand Seiko series that you will find available. As at the time of writing, there are no less than 32 available on Yahoo Japan auctions, and 23 on Rakuten (see my post on ZenMarket for details as to how to find and buy these watches from Japan).
(Interesting bit of trivia. The 43999 is the only vintage Grand Seiko – in fact it may well be the only ever Grand Seiko in history – to have “Made in Japan” on the dial, rather than just “Japan”.)
My personal recommendation if you are looking to start collecting these pieces is to go for “matching set” watches where the dial, movement and case-back numbers all tally. Additionally, look for 43999 and 5722-9990’s to have coarse-knurled crowns as in the above photo (they should be marked “W Seiko”).
As mentioned at the top of this post, the idea behind these “SOTC” entries is not to provide scholarly and authoratitive articles on vintage Grand Seikos, rather just to give an insight into my collection and share some knowledge.
There are too many differences between the three interations to highlight here, but I will mention a couple more before signing off.
The earlier two pieces have lion medallions, whereas the -9991 crown was changed to “Seiko GS” as per the below two images.
When it comes to the dial, there are quite a few things to look out for.
Firstly, there are two variants to the 43999 dial. The first is the SD dial pictured above. The text at the bottom of the dial will read “Made in Japan” to the left of the 6 o’clock baton marker, and “GSS13H380-SD” to the right of it. Below the text “Diashock 35 jewels” will be a compass logo.
The other variant will read “Made in Japan” to the left, and “43999TD” to the right, and below the diashock text will be a logo that is made up from a triangle with three lines cutting through it. Initially and from a distance, the two logo variants may look the same, but they are very different once you know what to look for. See the final image in this article for what that second logo looks like.
In the picture below of the 5722-9990, you will note that it retains the text from the 43999 SD dial variant pictured earlier, but drops the compass logo that can be found on the earlier piece.
The text at the bottom of the dial will read “Japan” to the left, and “5722-9990T AD” to the right
And by the time we get to the 5722-9991…
… there are yet more changes.
Seiko were asked (told?!) by the Swiss to drop the word “Chronometer” from the dials of their watches. Despite Grand Seiko chronometry standards being higher than that demanded by the Swiss COSC, the Swiss were not happy for watches from other countries to use the term.
Note also that the -9991 introduces the applied “GS” logo, the Grand Seiko text is now plain, rather than gothic, and it just has the single word Diashock on the last line.
Compare the above two images to see the difference between the coarse knurled crown as used on the 43999 and 5722-9990, with the fine knurled one used on the 5722-9991.
As with the original Grand Seiko, there are different case metals available.
Model numbers 5722-9010 (with a lion medallion) and 5722-9011 (with a GS medallion) are “Cap Gold” cases utilising the 5722 movement. “Cap Gold” was used a lot by Seiko for Grand Seiko watches from here on in, and can best be described as a gold wrap of a steel case, rather than just a plating or filling. It is very thick, and I will show examples from later series in future SOTC articles.
Model numbers 5722-9000 (5722A movement) and – allegedly, although I have never personally seen an image of one – 5722-9001 (5722B movement) represent the first time Grand Seiko utilised solid 18K gold cases.
They are extremely rare. I have only seen two come to the market in the last year, and you can expect to pay considerably in excess of US$10,000 for one of these watches in good condition.
As should be clear by now, purchasing a 57GS watch can be a bit of a minefield. You really do need to know what you’re looking at, and whilst this write-up can be considered a bit of a high-level guide, it is not totally comprehensive.
There are a lot of these watches out there, in varying degrees of distress, and many of dubious provenance. My strong recommendation is to buy from a reputable dealer with a good history of selling vintage Grand Seikos. If you are going to buy from auction, keep your wits about you.
The good news is that because there are so many around, you can pick them up relatively cheaply. If you do make a mistake – like I have done – it hopefully won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
One mistake you should not make is the one that I made on more than one occasion. And that is to purchase one of these –
Looks amazing doesn’t it? The only problem is, there were never any black dial variants of any of the 57 series vintage Grand Seikos.
This is a custom re-dial.
There is one seller on Yahoo Japan who sells these pieces month in, month out. Without mentioning they are not genuine. Rather bad form if you ask me. I won’t name him, but you’ll find his listings easily enough.
In my very early days of collecting vintage Grand Seikos I got caught out more than once before it dawned on me that these almost always seemed to be coming from a single seller. And if you think about it, that’s a rather odd thing to be happening.
They are very attractive watches, and the custom re-dial work has been done really well. Movements appear to be totally genuine, and have been overhauled – so you can expect them to keep good time. Cases are typically well polished.
Nothing whatsoever wrong with picking one up if you like the look, but they’re not the real deal.
If you do fancy one, drop me a line first – I have three to shift!