Note quite sticking to my original planned schedule, I will continue to 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!
Developed from the 44 King Seiko Chronometer that used the earlier 4420A movement, the Grand Seiko 44 series were the first Grand Seikos from the Daini Seikosha company, and launched in 1966.
The Grand Seiko 44GS is notable for following the design rules established by Taro Tanaka, referred to as “The Grammar of Design”.
The early 44GS’s, as per the example in the above photo, had a dial that clearly evolved from design of the earlier – Suwa produced – 5722-9990 and -9991. It features the same four lines of text – “Seiko” at 12 o’clock; with the Grand Seiko logo, “GRAND SEIKO”, and “DIASHOCK” featuring on the lower half of the dial, but with slightly shorter baton markers for the hours, and a flat, rather than sunburst dial texture.
These are very subtle differences that could be easily overlooked at first glance, but of course there are more obvious differences that are noticable immediately.
Firstly, the 4420B is a no date movement. Omitting – or should that be “not adding” – a date complication seems to be a bit of a “Daini thing”. Whereas from the 57GS series onwards, all bar one movement coming from Suwa had at least a date, with Daini it is the other way around – all but one of the movements have no complication at all.
The second obvious difference between the 57GS and the 44GS is a result of the aforementioned “Grammar of Design”. Rather than a round case with attached lugs as found in the 57GS series, the 44GS has a case design with integrated lugs – it gives a much more solid and cohesive look to the watch. Additionally, there are different finishing treatments to different parts of the case. The flat section between the lugs is brushed, whereas the remainder of the case is highly polished.
Multiple write-ups providing a history of vintage Grand Seikos state that the 44GS was only ever available in a stainless steel case.
This is not correct.
The 44GS in steel is a rare enough watch – in fact out of all the vintage GS series, a 44GS example is the hardest one to track down. But they weren’t only available in stainless steel. There was also a very rare gold cap version.
What I find fascinating about the gold cap version of the 44GS is that – regardless of everything that is written about the 44’s following the “Grammar of Design” – the case of this watch is close to identical to that of the 57GS!
I don’t have a 57GS in gold cap (yet) to compare it to in great detail, but having looked carefully at images of one currently for sale with a Japanese dealer, they are very, very close indeed. The only significant discernible difference I can spot is that the lugs flow slightly further into the case on the 44 – there’s a distinct little “kick” in the edge of the lug-piece that on the 44 is between the 19 and 20 minute dial ticks, and on the 57 it looks to be at around the 21 minute mark.
BUT – compare the case of the 44GS in cap gold with the 57GS in stainless steel, and things get even stranger. The shape and placement of where the lug pieces are attached to the round case part is identical. The faceting of the case is slightly different – as is often the situation when comparing gold cap and stainless steel cases of the same base model, but that’s the limit of the differences.
One other significant thing that is shared between the two – the 44GS in cap gold has a coarse-knurled crown marked “W Seiko” – just like the early 57GS crown. Stainless steel 44GS watches feature the GS logo.
At least though we can find one thing unique to the 44GS in cap gold –
The second hand of the watch is a unique design and doesn’t feature on any other Grand Seiko watch.
I find the 4420-9990 to be a fascinating curiosity.
It is extremely rare – one example that I linked to recently in one of my “On the block” articles sold shortly after I’d featured it for around $4,000. Multiple English language write-ups of the history of Grand Seiko don’t even appear to be aware of its existence (probably due to using the same original source), and yet here we have a watch whose design totally ignores the most significant thing that the 44GS is lauded to have introduced – the “Grammar of Design”.
It’s worth mentioning the dates of my three 4420 movement samples – the early “Diashock dial” is from June 1967, the gold cap from September 1967, and the later “Daini logo dial” from November of the same year.
Quite why the gold cap 44GS seems to step backwards to the design (and even in the case of its crown, specific features) of the 57GS that came from another factory, is a mystery to me. I don’t doubt that somewhere – almost certainly in Japanese – there is a detailed explanation of this anomaly. If anyone has any insight into it, please do let me know!