On the block – 18

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

In this week’s “On the block”, rather than pick a single listing from each of the three main channels for purchasing vintage Grand Seikos from Japan – that is, Yahoo Japan auction, Rakuten, and individual dealer websites – I’m going to highlight three listings all from Yahoo Japan auctions that will be very interesting to watch over the weekend.

All three listings are for examples of the very first vintage Grand Seiko Chronometer, often referred to simply as the “First”, or alternatively by the reference number of its movement, the “3180”.

Grand Seiko "3180" logo variations
Grand Seiko “3180” logo variations

For the first time that I can remember, this week on Yahoo Auctions there are examples of Printed, Carved and Applied “Grand Seiko” logo dials. All three auctions close Sunday evening Tokyo time -if you have the money, this is an amazing opportunity to pick up a complete set of 3180’s within just a couple of hours bidding.

Or is it?

As mentioned in last week’s column, Grand Seiko “Firsts” are very, very hot right now. Prices are going through the roof – the really nice example of an applied logo dial 3180 that I featured last week ended up selling for 395,000 Yen, which must be close to a record for one of these without papers.

Let’s look at the three listings from Yahoo one by one, starting off with the applied logo 3180. As always, photos in this column feature watches in my own collection, not of those being listed in the auctions.

Grand Seiko Chronometer “First” with applied logo

Grand Seiko Chronometer "First" with applied logo dial
Grand Seiko Chronometer “First” with applied logo dial

With bidding currently standing at 120,000 Yen, this listing could represent a good opportunity to pick up a reasonable applied logo 3180 for a reasonable price. A couple of things to take into consideration though –

Firstly, the dial shows some signs of “spotting” – something that is fairly common to find with these watches now that they are all well over 50 years old, and are not water resistant.

Secondly, and on a more minor point, it’s possible (but by no means certain) that the crown has been replaced. The “S” on the crown is very pronounced and clearly visible, whereas – as is the case with my own example, pictured above – it is very common on these watches for it to be worn down after decades of manual winding. Personally, I wouldn’t be too worried about this.

Grand Seiko Chronometer “First” with carved logo

Next up, is the much, much, rarer carved dial version.

Grand Seiko Chronometer "First" carved dial logo
Grand Seiko Chronometer “First” carved dial logo

Interestingly, it has been discovered that Seiko actually went through three different methods of carving the logo into the dial over the short-lived history of this variant. The background to this has been explained in a recent article in one of the specialist Japanese watch magazines. I have a few copies on order, so hope to be able to go into this in more detail at a later date.

Without very high resolution shots of the dial, it’s almost impossible to distinguish one carved variant from another. Right now, it probably doesn’t matter that much – the very fact that there are different executions of the carving is not widely known in the marketplace, and vintage Grand Seiko collectors just want to get their hands on “the” carved dial variant of the 3180.

Listed on Yahoo Japan auctions here is what looks like a really nice example of a carved logo Grand Seiko Chronometer. The dial isn’t perfect, and has a few spots and marks on it, but I honestly don’t think you’ll ever find a perfect one (unless the dial has been re-done), and a few imperfections just add to the character of these pieces in my view.

Everything about the watch checks out – it has those highly sought after “mountain” hands (carved logo examples with the flat hands do also exist), the correct early-type Lion on the caseback medallion, a correct crown, and period-correct case and movement numbers.

Grand Seiko 3180 with carved dial
Grand Seiko 3180 with carved dial

The seller “bandeller” has listed some really great condition vintage Grand Seiko pieces recently. I rather suspect someone is selling off their collection through this account. Well worth keeping an eye on it to see what else comes up.

Lots of 3180’s are coming to the market at the moment as people are tempted to cash in on the ever increasing prices. If you’re after one, the trick is to wait for the really good one, and don’t be tempted by something that is sub-standard.

This is an excellent carved dial 3180, and whilst bidding is currently only sat at 141,000 Yen, I fully anticipate an all-out bidding war to develop for this on Sunday evening. Fortunately for me, I already have a really nice example of this watch, so I’ll just grab some popcorn, sit back, and watch the fun.

Remember. Last week a great example of a raised logo dial sold for 395,000 Yen…

Grand Seiko Chronometer “First” with printed logo

Ok, and finally – onto the printed logo listing.

This is the key missing piece in my collection, so I don’t have a photo to share of this watch (the printed logo in the lead photo for this article is from my stainless steel 3180).

Two days to go, and it’s up to 351,000 Yen already. You can find the listing here.

Printed logo 3180’s are the rarest variants of the lot. They are also the most sought after, and hence, the most expensive 3180’s barring the legendary platinum cased ones, and the “not so sure about the provenance” stainless steel examples.

Unfortunately, this means that you come across examples of fake dialed watches.

3180’s in general are relatively common – and it must be all too tempting at times for someone to re-do a dial to significantly increase the perceived value of the watch.

There are always relatively simple things to check when trying to establish whether or not you’re looking at the genuine article. Unfortunately, if you’re taking the chance on picking one of these up from Yahoo Auctions, you may not be able to tick off all the necessary boxes simply because people just don’t take sufficient care with their listings. Or on occasion, people take sufficient care to make sure they don’t reveal the problems…

So, with this example, let’s run through the checks.

The dial looks good, but crucially the image is not of good enough resolution to confirm in absolute certainty that it is genuine. There is a secret “tell” for identifying genuine print dial 3180’s that I have been sworn to secrecy on. This “tell” is not visible in the images provided. I’d need to see a higher resolution shot taken from a different angle to see it.

I must be clear here – I am not saying the dial isn’t genuine. I’m just saying that I can’t be sure it is genuine. In the previous listings for print dial 3180’s over the last couple of months, I was able to spot that the “tell” was missing, and hence I knew for a fact that the dials were not genuine.

Hands – mountain hands, as would be expected with the very earliest 3180’s.

Crown – looks good.

Movement serial number – in the right range.

Inside caseback to check case serial number – missing photo (despite the fact there is a photo of the movement, so clearly the seller removed the back).

Caseback to check the medallion variant – problem.

There are two different variants to the caseback medallion on Grand Seiko 3180’s. The font for “Grand Seiko” is subtly different, and the lion itself has differences.

First of all, to see how the lion should look on one of these earlier pieces, go back to that carved dial listing I detailed earlier, and look at the caseback photo for that watch. Whilst there are a number of ways that the lion logo differs between the earlier and later versions, the most obvious thing to look at the lion’s mane.

On the early lions, the mane is very clearly separated from the body with a sharp and deeply carved jagged line. If you orient the medallion so that the lion is standing upright, the rear-most part of that carved section is roughly in line with the front of the knee of the back right leg. Even if the medallion is severely worn, if you know to look out for this, it should be visible.

On the later lions, that carved line is not only significantly less deeply cut, but the mane is also effectively shaped much further back down the lion’s body. The less prominent carving on its own is usually sufficient to make a quick and decisive judgement. But if you’re comparing a severely worn early lion with a severely worn later lion, it’s still easy to spot which is which, because on the latter, the rear-most part of the carving that separates the mane from the body is much further back, and roughly in line with the middle of the thigh of the back right leg.

And that’s the problem that can be identified with this watch – the caseback is wrong. It’s very clearly the later type of lion that is featured on the medallion. The only photo provided of the caseback is of very low resolution, and poorly lit. But once you know what to look for, even at this low quality you can identify whether it is correct for the watch or not.

If you click the link on the listing on ZenMarket to check the original listing on Yahoo, you will be able to see whether the seller has replied to any questions about the watch. Here we can see that in the first question, someone did ask for the case serial number as stamped on the inside caseback, and the seller replied that it was “34xxxxx” – That corresponds to April 1963. Too late for a printed dial. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the account asking the question did not end up bidding on the watch.

Every time a printed dial 3180 comes up on Yahoo Auctions, I really want it to be the genuine article. This is the third or fourth one now in the last couple of months that is arguably of extremely dubious provenance. Best case scenario with this one is that the caseback has been replaced at some point in the watch’s life. Not the most terrible thing to happen to a watch, but possibly sufficient to put off most serious collectors.

Worst case scenario – and this cannot be confirmed one way or another based on the images provided – the dial itself is not legitimate. I would love to be able to confirm this one way or another, but the evidence simply isn’t there.

The wait for a printed dial 3180 that ticks all the boxes continues…

Caveat emptor – whilst I personally would be happy to have any of the pieces I comment on positively 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. Conversely, if I highlight perceived issues with a watch, I do not claim to speak from any position of authority other than that of an interested collector of vintage Grand Seiko. If I challenge the authenticity of a watch, it should not be read as meaning the watch is definitely not authentic, and nor should it be read as any observation as to a lack of credibility or honesty of the seller.





2 thoughts on “On the block – 18”

  1. Gerald – I enjoyed reading about your GS collection in the latest Watchtime magazine.
    I have a couple of modern GS and am looking to find an entry point for a vintage piece. I particularly like the cross hair piece shown in the article.

    Anyway, thanks for providing all this info. I definitely have a lot of reading to do!


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