On the block – 16

A weekly series of posts highlighting interesting Grand Seiko watches on the market

“On the block” is the section of the website where I share some examples of vintage Grand Seikos currently available on the Japanese market.

I aim to publish a new post in this category each Friday, highlighting a vintage Grand Seiko of interest from each of the three main channels for acquiring these pieces from Japan – Yahoo auctions, Rakuten, and individual dealers’ websites. However, sometimes there just isn’t much new worth highlighting, so that may have an impact on what gets written up.

Generally, it is becoming clear that demand for vintage Grand Seikos is outstripping supply. The Grand Seiko “First” is a good indicator of this. Whereas just a few months ago, you would typically expect to find more than half a dozen examples available on Rakuten at any one time, as of today, there is just a single (terrible) example.

As to how to go about actually purchasing from overseas, check out my article on ZenMarket.

This week, I will be highlighting just two watches. One from a dealer’s website, and one from Yahoo – there is nothing new and noteworthy on Rakuten (although a few watches that I have featured in previous posts are still available).

I will also be making an exception this week and highlighting a watch that isn’t actually a Grand Seiko (although many people do list it as such!).

Seiko Astronomical Observatory Chronometer
Seiko Astronomical Observatory Chronometer

Japanese dealer

Just gone live this morning on Watch CTI’s website is a listing for a Seiko Astronomical Observatory Chronometer.

Now, for those familiar with the history of Seiko, this watch will need no introduction. I don’t intend to go into all the details of this watch here, but will provide some background to it.

The image above is of an Astronomical Observatory Chronometer (“AOC”) that I personally owned for a brief period last year. Unfortunately, after checking it out thoroughly, I noticed a few “issues” with the watch, and so returned it for a refund. To stress – this is NOT the watch for sale.

After that scary little episode, I thought long and hard about whether or not an example of this watch actually had a place in my collection, and came to the conclusion that since it wasn’t a Grand Seiko, it did not. If I stretched the boundaries of the collection to include the AOC, then that would open up a whole host of additional watches that could conceivably also be included, and I wanted to keep things nice and focused.

Fortunately, for me, that saves me from having to consider spending the best part of US$30,000 (money that I don’t have!) to acquire this example. If I was in the market for one of these, I’d be in the market for this one.

There are a couple of important things to clarify with regards the Seiko 4520-8020 Astronomical Observatory Chronometer. The first is that these are not observatory trial competition movements. The movements in the AOC’s (and 45GS VFA’s) are movements that were submitted for observatory chronometer certification.

The second important thing to point out, is that there are actually two different movements utilised in the AOC. The first 73 pieces used 4520 movements, and then there are a – to the best of my knowledge, unknown – number of watches with the 4580 movement.

In total 153 of the 4580 movements passed the chronometer testing and were used in the 45GS VFA’s and AOC’s. The split as to how many were used in each respective model however is not – to the best of my knowledge – in the public domain. If anyone from Seiko is reading this and can provide more information on this subject, please do get in touch.

Grand Seiko 4580-7010 VFA
Grand Seiko 4580-7010 VFA

Above is pictured the pride of my collection – the 4580-7010 VFA. This watch has the same 4580 movement that is used in the AOC currently available from Watch CTI.

Watch CTI always takes great care with their listings, and provides detailed photos of everything that you would need to check out before committing to purchase a watch. If you are brave enough to spend $30,000 on a watch without seeing it in person, then this is one of the very few dealers where you should feel confident in doing so.

The listing includes a good shot of the movement. For comparison (I’ve not looked at this in detail yet, but believe you will find no differences), here is a shot of the movement of my VFA.

Grand Seiko 4580-7010 VFA movement
Grand Seiko 4580-7010 VFA movement

What you will notice is that unlike most movements used in vintage Grand Seikos, there is no clear indication of the movement number on any of the bridges. You need to look really carefully to discover where it is – engraved underneath the balance wheel. In the above image you can just make out the “0” from 4580.

Here’s a closer shot.

4580 movement mark macro
4580 movement mark macro

I’m hoping in the not too distant future to get hold of a movement from an Observatory Chronometer to do a photo feature on, so watch this space for more details at a later date.

OK, back to the watch at CTI.

Whilst the split of 4580 movements between the AOC and the VFA’s is unknown, it is probable that the 4580 movement AOC is rarer than the original 4520. Whether that makes a realistic difference with regards to marketplace value is hard to call. These watches surface so rarely that collectors will possibly not worry too much about which one they get for their collection.

What I believe is important with AOC’s however is condition and paperwork.

As far as I am aware, this is only the third 4520-8020 to appear on the market in the last couple of years. There was the one that I bought and returned, one that has been listed for many months now on Rakuten and Yahoo Japan for 4,050,000 Yen, and this one that just went live this morning.

This particular example looks to be in fabulous condition. But that’s not all. Additionally it comes not only with its original – matching numbers – guarantee, but also what are tantalisingly described (by Google Translate) as “some of the postcards that can be issued by the original chronometer certificate remain as they are”.

Presumably those “postcards” are in the envelope pictured underneath the certificate. I’m surprised that the dealer hasn’t shared images of what’s in there – I’d for one love to see!

One thing that should be pointed out regarding the watch for sale is that the box is most definitely not the original box used for the AOC’s. The dealer is honest about this and Google translates what he describes as “I think that it is not a genuine accessory box”. So place no value on the box (separately it would be worth probably in the region of $50-$100) when considering this for purchase.

Personally, I believe that if you were able to find an original box to match up with what is offered here, you could add at least $10,000 to the value.

OK, I seem to have got a bit carried away and written way too much on this.

Bottom line – if you’re looking out for a Seiko 4520-8020 Astronomical Observatory Chronometer to add to your collection? Buy this one.

Yahoo Japan auctions

As mentioned regarding the 4520-8020 available with Watch CTI, condition and the accessories that come with the watch can make a huge difference to the value of the entire package.

A great example of this can be seen in the sale earlier this year of a 6185-8000 VFA on Yahoo auctions that went for a staggering 2.5 million Yen. It sold for that much after a serious bidding war for one reason, and one reason only – it had its original bracelet. Without that bracelet, it probably would have struggled to break the 1 million Yen mark.

Would the bracelet on its own have sold for 1.5 million? Highly unlikely. But if you have the original set, or are able to put the package together from separate items, then value-wise, 1+1 most definitely does not equal 2. It can equal a lot more.

There is one particular seller on Yahoo Japan auctions – arcadia1911 – who consistently turns up top quality “new old stock” – or near NOS – watches with “full set” accessories (i.e. every individual item you would expect to come with the watch when it was originally purchased).

Their listings always attract competitive bidding, and close at very impressive prices.

This week’s pick from Yahoo Japan auctions is from arcadia1911 for a Grand Seiko 5646-7011, and can be found listed here.

Closing – as is usually the case – on Sunday evening in Japan, the auction is already the most viewed in the Grand Seiko category, and has attracted 54 bids so far, reaching 139,000 Yen.

A few things to point out regarding this listing.

This is not the first time that this seller has listed a late model 56GS with a faceted crystal as being a “Wako Limited” edition. Whilst of course in the modern era, the Wako store in Ginza is well known for its – typically, very – limited edition pieces, I have not seen any other source make this claim for vintage Grand Seiko pieces. That’s not to say it’s not true, just that I haven’t seen any provenance to support the claim.

The seller also mentions the difference between the 5646-7010 and 5646-7011 variants as being “special White Silver Sands dial (7010-type side is Silver radial)”. I do not believe this is the case. Firstly, despite the “silver sands dial” translation, do not expect this watch to have a textured dial finish. For that, you want to look out for the 5646-7030.

I own examples of both the 5645-7010 and 5645-7011; and a 5646-7011. The dials of the -7010 and -7011 are identical. This is not where the difference between the watches lies.

The difference – as far as I can ascertain – is that the -7011 watches, that replaced the -7010 watches sometime in 1973, have different text on the case backs. -7010’s state “waterproof”, whereas the -7011’s state “water resistant”. I believe other Seikos from this period also went through a change in whether they were described as “waterproof” or “water resistant”. Perhaps readers with more knowledge on this would care to comment.

The final observation regarding this listing is that it seems odd to me that someone would have kept every single little thing that came with the watch – the inner and outer cases, the swing tag, the price tag, the original buckle… and yet none of the paperwork? No manual/certificate is included in this listing, which does make one wonder whether the seller has put this package together in order to get 1+1 to equal more than 2?

Regardless – its a great set, and I don’t doubt for one moment that it will reach a high price. Possibly one starting with a 3.

I have purchased from arcadia1911 previously and been very happy with what I have received – if you can look past the fact that possibly this listing has been packaged up to create more value – then I can’t see you being disappointed if you win the auction (but you may kick yourself in the future if a true full-set, including papers, comes up for sale!).

Caveat emptor – whilst I personally would be happy to have any of the pieces I link to in my collection, you do need to be aware that there are always risks when you purchase a watch remotely. My recommendation of a watch can in no way be taken as any guarantee as to its condition or authenticity, nor as to the credibility of the individual or company selling it.





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