Something different for this week’s “On the block”, as for a change I will be taking a look at completed auctions from Yahoo Japan, rather than those about to close.
The market for Grand Seiko “Firsts” post-Baselworld 2017
In particular, I have decided to focus on auctions for the first Grand Seiko – the “3180” – that have taken place since Baselworld 2017, when Grand Seiko announced the limited edition “re-creation” pieces that are based on the original Grand Seiko Chronometer, the SBGW251, SBGW252, and SBGW253.
The buzz around the announcement of these pieces, along with the more strategic corporate approach going forward where Grand Seiko will be treated as a totally independent brand from Seiko, created a lot of interest in the original vintage watches, and had a dramatic effect on the market.
I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that the prices that good (and – as we shall see later – some bad) 3180’s have been selling for has more or less doubled since immediately prior to Baselworld in March 2017. This has had both positive and negative affects on the market.
On the positive side, the increased demand for the Grand Seiko “First” – whilst resulting in an increase in the prices that they are selling for – has also tempted more people to put their watches on the market.
Disconcertingly though, the increased demand has also resulted in what can only be described as “doctored” or “franken” watches surfacing.
Never before has the term “caveat emptor” been more applicable to hunting down these pieces – particularly if you are after the early, rarer and highly coveted, carved or printed logo dial variants.
Before I get onto the specific auction results themselves, one observation that I do have on the market is that at the moment the scarcity of original carved and printed dial variants is not being accurately reflected in the increased prices that 3180’s are selling for in general. That is to say, the price differential between raised, carved, and print logo watches has not been maintained post-Baselworld. This is something I expect to correct itself over time, particularly as the newer collectors in the market become more educated as to the history of this specific model.
Auction results for Grand Seiko Chronometers since March 2017
In the last three months, no fewer than 13 auctions of 3180’s have closed for more than 250,000 Yen. I will be giving my thoughts on each and every one of them, as well as an additional 3 auctions that closed for under 250,000 Yen that are worth highlighting.
If you have bought a 3180 from Yahoo Auctions for more than 250,000 Yen in the past 3 months, you may want to stop reading now, because you might find what’s coming to be upsetting.
I will stress in advance – these are solely my personal thoughts on the watches that have sold, and just because I express an opinion, it does not mean that opinion should be taken as definitive fact. My opinions are based on my personal perspective on the production history of these watches. That perspective has come about from having looked at literally hundreds of sales for 3180’s in the past couple of years, as well as from discussions with dealers and collectors in both Japan and worldwide.
Bottom line – if you disagree with my thoughts on a particular piece, that is absolutely fine. Please feel free to use the comments section (or contact me privately) if you want to discuss anything.
I will be including photos from the auctions themselves in order to highlight specific details that you should be aware of. One thing to note is that around 3 months after an auction closes, Yahoo remove the listing from their site. Since I believe this article may be of interest going forward, I don’t want to lose the “evidence” from the listings. I believe the re-hosting and use of the sellers’ images in this article is covered by “Fair Use” terms within international copyright law. The links themselves will no longer work once the auction has been dropped from Yahoo’s servers.
Evaluating printed and carved dial variants
The printed dial variant of the 3180 is very rare indeed. It is believed that printed dials were used on the early production watches, and sometime around 2 months or so before the launch of the watch, Seiko changed over to carved dials. Then, later in the production run due to problems with so many carved dials being ruined due to the high level of manual skill required to create them, the logo was changed to a raised one.
Movement and case serial numbers
All 3180’s have both case and movement serial numbers. The case number is stamped on the inside of the caseback, and the movement number on the right hand edge of the top bridge.
My personal advise is very simple – never purchase a print or carved dial 3180 unless you have both the case and movement serial numbers. Whilst the case number will tell you from the first two digits what the month and year of manufacture was, the movement number is a little more of a grey area.
The following is what I understand to be the background –
Movement numbers starting with 60 were manufactured in 1960. Then, in 1961 Seiko changed the numbering and serial numbers start with a 1. There is no real hard and fast rule to identify when a 1xxxxx movement was manufactured unless you also have the watch’s ratings certificate, and even then, all you will be able to state for a fact is that the movement must have been manufactured prior to the date on the certificate.
However, the numbering was sequential, so clearly the higher the number, the later the movement was manufactured. Whilst there is some evidence to suggest that 12xxxx movements are from 1962, and 13xxxx movements are from 1963, it should also be highlighted that there are documented examples of 11xxxx movements being certified as late as the last quarter of 1962. There also movements from 1963 with 3XXXXX serial numbers.
Beyond the serial numbers, there are three other details that need to be considered when evaluating these watches.
There are two different types of handset on 3180’s. The early watches have what are referred to as “mountain” hands. You can clearly see that the example above – a carved dial watch from my own collection – has these hands (later in the article I will highlight what the “flat” hands look like).
Personally, I would never consider either a printed or carved logo dial 3180 that had flat hands. Certainly for the print variation, I personally find it inconceivable that any of these were ever manufactured with flat hands. For the carved logo, it is very possible that there was some overlap, and some were manufactured with flat hands, but again, I would always walk away from such an example, unless there was some kind of contemporary proof that the handset was original to the watch.
As with the handset, there are two variations of the caseback medallion on the first Grand Seiko. The easy way to distinguish between the early and later medallions is by looking carefully at the mane of the lion.
If the back of the mane aligns with the front of the knee of the rear right leg, then it’s an early medallion. If the back for the mane aligns with the middle of the thigh of the rear right leg, then it’s a late medallion.
As you will see from the above image, there are other differences, but the reason I highlight this particular one is that these medallions do wear down over time and lose their definition, but this difference tends to still be evident even on the most worn down medallions, and usually can be spotted even in the worst of photos.
As with the handset variants, I would never accept a print dial that had the later type of caseback.
Nor would I consider a carved dial example with the later caseback medallion. Especially not when the seller fails to provide an image of the inside of the caseback to show the case manufacturing date.
Finally, something that is not particularly common knowledge is that print, carved, and raised logo dials have their dial codes written in different places, and the codes vary. I won’t go into the details here, but will in this article discuss the location and when a code is wrong for the type of dial.
What is extremely important when evaluating either printed or carved dial examples of the first Grand Seiko is that you have a very clear photograph of the bottom of the dial. If the seller does not provide this, you should be very careful indeed.
So – onto the auction results, in descending order of closing price.
[UPDATE – July 12th 2017. Images removed at request of the seller, ndchow75. Who hopefully, now he has been in contact, will be more than happy to provide full details with regards the provenance of the watch that he sold. Please refer to the comments at the end of the article.]
The images above are somewhat typical of those that you come across on Yahoo auctions. Low resolution, and poor quality. But at least there are some discernible details that can provide some insight as to the watch’s provenance. But – as is often the case – it is what is not shown that we need to be really careful with.
At first glance – mostly – this watch looks to be OK, but there are some concerns that I hope the buyer addressed prior to purchasing the watch.
Firstly, let’s consider what evidence is not provided here.
There is no clear photo of the bottom of the dial, but based on what is shown, the balance of probabilities is that it’s a genuine printed dial. But you shouldn’t be buying a printed dial 3180 based on the balance of probabilities. In every image of the dial, the bottom is either cropped out, or significantly out of focus. Coincidence? Possibly. Or maybe the seller is deliberately hiding something? There is no way to know.
Secondly, where is the photo of the inside of the caseback? That is the photo that would provide us with the case manufacture date that would go a long way to providing evidence that the watch is legitimate. The seller clearly removed the caseback to photograph the movement. It does seem a little odd that he wouldn’t provide a photo showing the case serial number. Maybe there’s something there that he doesn’t want us to see?
Now, what about what we can see.
Handset checks out, as does the movement serial number. But the big problem with this watch is clear to see even from the poor quality photo of the caseback – it’s the wrong lion medallion for a print dial. You can clearly see the back of the mane aligning with the middle of the thigh, not the front of the knee.
This is a “frankenwatch”. It has been put together from parts from at least two different non-matching watches, and I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.
These watches are well over 50 years old now. It is unrealistic – not to mention impossible to verify – to expect nothing to have ever been replaced on the watch, but for the wrong case back to be used?
And what is worse is that I strongly suspect that the fact the seller didn’t provide an image of the inside of the case back was deliberate, because he knew it would be a giveaway that something was wrong.
Interestingly, I clearly wasn’t the only person to pick up on this because someone asked the seller what the serial number of the case was.
And his answer?
“It is case number 34XXXXX”.
So there we have it – the case back at least (and probably the entire case) was manufactured in April 1963.
Best case scenario is that this is a totally legitimate movement, dial and handset, re-cased. But given that, it really shouldn’t have sold for even half the price it ended up going for.
So – the first example of a printed dial didn’t fare so well. How about the second?
Well, sorry to say but straight up from the first photo – this is a doctored watch.
It’s intriguing to consider what the process might actually be for faking a print dial on a Grand Seiko 3180.
Clearly you can’t start off with a carved dial and turn it into a printed one, because – and this is of course stating what is quite literally blindingly obvious, the dial is carved. Is it possible to somehow remove the raised logo? I doubt it.
So how do these things come about? Unless someone is out-right manufacturing these things from scratch, I can only surmise that what we’re looking at here is a refinished printed dial.
And when I say refinished – I mean totally re-done. I strongly suspect that this dial has been reprinted in its entirety. Certainly the dial code is wrong, and in the wrong place (and yes – even though it’s not possible to read the code, there is sufficient detail there to spot that it is wrong). But what is much more subtle is that the actual printing of “Chronometer” is incorrect. Additionally, the dial seems just too clean. Perhaps the low resolution image is hiding some flaws, but it is almost unheard of to find a 3180 dial without some signs of aging.
Given the problem with the dial, it’s hardly worth going over the rest of the watch. Sure, the hands look great, the caseback medallion is OK. Movement serial number seems late for a print dial, as does the case serial number (although masked out in the photo, the seller did answer it started with “11”, indicating January 1961 production), but both are arguably within the print>carved dial cross-over period.
But run a mile from this one.
Sheesh. Two print dials, both selling for 400,000 Yen or over, and both have problems. What is going on here?!
As discussed earlier, the raised logo dial variant of the 3180 is by far and away the most common that you will find. Because it is worth much less – well, normally it is worth much less – than the earlier variants, logic would dictate that you shouldn’t have to worry so much about people trying to fake or doctor the watch. Sure, they will get serviced, and perhaps people might polish the case up or re-finish the dial, but you shouldn’t have to worry about these ones nearly as much as the printed or carved dial watches.
I’m going to come right out and say it – 395,000 Yen is an absolutely fantastic result for a raised logo 3180. But everything about this watch just oozes quality. I’m hard pressed to think of a better example. The seller highlighted some imperfections in the dial in his description, and when asked about the date of manufacture said he simply didn’t know.
No fewer than four bidders were in at over 370,000 Yen for this one. And I think this is a good indication as to where great quality 3180’s are heading.
Note the hands – these are the later flat hands that you should always expect to find on raised logo watches, never on printed, and probably pass if you find them on carved.
This is a great “honest” carved dial 3180. Almost everything checks out just fine. Although it’s not quite possible to confirm the movement number given the low resolution of the images provided, the seller does confirm it starts with 60. One slight downside however is that the crown is not correct.
Apart from that, the dial looks great – some signs of aging, but a clear shot of the bottom of the dial and we can’t see the dial code (which is exactly how it should be from the angles provided!); caseback medallion is the early lion, case serial number starts with D0 indicating December 1960 production; hands are mountain.
If only all auctions were as well presented as this one!
(Ignore the 1,000 yen auction result on that page. Some little gremlin in the system there. This watch did indeed close for 336,000 Yen.)
Right then. Third time lucky with a printed dial?
Firstly, what checks out? Handset and caseback medallion both get the thumbs up.
Movement serial number though is late for a print dial, and should raise a minor concern, but I wouldn’t want to write it off just based on that without knowing the full number. Remember that with the movement serial numbers, the second digit does not indicate the month, so this is not necessarily from January 1961.
When asked regarding the case manufacturing date, the seller stated it was November 1961. Alarm bells should be ringing now.
Finally, the image of the dial is not quite of high enough resolution to see if it has been reprinted – possibly it has – the Chronometer printing does look a little suspicious, but at this level of detail it’s not possible to confirm one way or another. The angle the dial has been shot at does not provide us with confirmation one way or the other regarding the dial code detail and location.
Too many questions on this one for my liking. More and better photos would help to call it one way or another, but based on the evidence provided, I would pass.
If you’re getting a sudden sense of deja vu from the above images, it’s because the seller here is the same as the previous watch.
So the printed dial that this seller was offering raised some significant concerns. How about his carved dial example?
Well, fortunately for the purposes of this article, there’s no doubt about this one at all. For the purchaser though, I’m afraid it’s not good news.
Carved dial, mountain hands, early case back medallion, movement serial number starting with 60, case serial number (as per description) is 06, indicating June 1960.
All would seem to check out. Except the dial has been totally re-finished. And refinished badly.
It’s a real shame, because apart from the really shoddy printing – the text is simply much too heavy, and the dial code is wrong, and wrongly located – this could have been a really nice watch. I can only assume that at some point in its life the dial degraded so badly that someone felt it worthwhile having another crack at it.
As a matter of principle, I personally would never again purchase a watch from this seller. I wrote in an earlier article about how this seller – week in, week out – is selling re-done black-dialed versions of multiple vintage Grand Seiko models without actually highlighting that the dials have been completely refinished.
However, he sold this 3180 for a little over 300,000 Yen a couple of weeks ago, so here it is being featured.
And frankly, apart from the fact that – as with all the pieces he sells – the case has been polished to the edge of oblivion, it would seem to be a great example of a late (July 1963) raised logo Grand Seiko “First”. For once, it would seem that this seller hasn’t messed with the dial, since the printing all looks good, and there are a few signs of aging.
Basically, everything checks out. I’m sure the buyer was very happy with his purchase, and rightly so as long as he doesn’t mind the polishing.
This is an odd one. To say the least.
The first image certainly gets the adrenaline going. A 3180 with box and papers?
Not so fast – that’s not the right box. But having the (hopefully) original ratings certificate and the manual are a big plus, so all is not lost.
And then we move onto the second image. Now quite what is going on here is hard to get ones head around. Where to start?
Well, let’s start with the thing that is obvious, and extremely bizarre. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a 3180 with mixed hands. The hour hand is flat, the minute hand is mountain. I’m pretty sure we can be certain that it didn’t leave the factory like that.
Given the caseback medallion is the early lion type, it’s probably safe to assume that the mountain minute hand is original, and at some point in time, this poor watch had its hour hand replaced with the wrong type.
In answering a question on Yahoo (questions and their answers are not provided on ZenMarket – you need to click through to the original Yahoo listing to see them), the seller stated that “of course” the movement number matched the one on the rating certificate. The problem is, he doesn’t provide any images of either the watch opened up, nor the rating certificate, so there is no way to verify this.
It’s just bizarre. It is so rare to see one of these watches with its rating certificate, and surely the seller would know that, and yet they don’t provide any decent images of the certificate itself. It’s a real shame because every rating certificate enables us to tie a movement number to a testing date, and hence would allow us to build up a record of when movements were manufactured.
As to the logo, well, it’s a bit hard to see what’s going on there. What is known is that Seiko actually tried three different ways of engraving the logo before finally giving up. We’ll see more examples of this later. Possibly this is just a really badly done one that just scraped through QC, or perhaps someone has had another go at it at a later date?
Regardless, this is just a weird listing all round. I take my hat off to whoever bid 300,000 Yen on this because they were taking a real punt given the state of the thing, and the lack of detail regarding serial numbers and the certificate. Perhaps one could argue that if the papers matched the movement, and you could find a replacement hour hand (and also, by the way, a replacement crown, because that too is wrong), it was a wise investment, but it’s a heck of a leap of faith.
Finally. Now this is how to list a Grand Seiko “First”.
Clear photos that provide details of absolutely everything we need to know when evaluating a 3180.
It’s almost as if this seller knows what’s important and what isn’t…
Carved dial. Beautifully carved dial in fact with a few minor signs of aging. It’s a very late one, with the case serial number indicating production in November 1961, and the movement serial number also indicating 1961 production (although I will say again – it would always be preferential to see at least the first three digits of the serial number).
We can’t see the dial code. Good! We shouldn’t be able to from this angle. Nice strong lion medallion of the correct type, and even the crown is OK on this one.
My hearty congratulations to the buyer of this one. I think you got a bargain – as far as I’m concerned, this one is worth more than the most expensive watch detailed in this article.
As with the watch detailed above that sold for 395,000 Yen, this is another example of a great, late, raised logo dialed 3180.
Everything checks out OK, and not really a lot to say about it other than I think you should expect to see future examples of this watch in condition like this going for similar money or more.
If that sense of deja vu has returned, it’s because this watch is from the same seller of the 300,000 Yen carved dial.
Once again, everything we need to know to evaluate the watch is clearly presented.
Quite simply, an excellent example of a raised logo dial 3180 from 1963, and not much more to say about it than that. If you’ve read this far, you’ll know what you’re looking for now.
Just one observation though…
Is this watch worth 258,000 Yen? Absolutely. But given that is the case, what on earth is a carved dial watch in very similar condition from the same seller doing closing at just 300,000 Yen?
As I stated at the start of this article, I believe there is a serious mismatch at the moment with regards the differential pricing of printed (if you can find a legitimate one of course) and carved dial Grand Seiko “Firsts”. Prior to Baselworld, you could expect to have to stump up at least double the price of a great condition raised logo dial watch in order to secure a carved dial one in similar condition. In time, I fully expect this differential to re-establish itself.
Just a personal opinion. Let’s see what develops in the coming months.
At first glance this looks like another good example of a regular raised logo dial 3180. But there are a couple of things to point out.
Most obviously, the crown is wrong, but the listing did actually make mention of that.
But look at that third photo – yup, that’s an early type lion caseback medallion on a raised logo dial Grand Seiko “First”. Unfortunately, since there are no photos provided of the watch with the caseback removed, we have knowledge of neither the movement nor case serial numbers.
Could this be an example of one of the very first raised dial 3180’s, and that those very early examples genuinely left the factory with the earlier caseback? Has the medallion itself been replaced at some point in time? Or could this possibly be a re-cased watch?
Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing. But perhaps the buyer of this watch, and the buyer of the 444,000 Yen printed dial one should get together for a little chat!
In some respects, despite this being the final – and therefore, cheapest – example of the thirteen auctions for Grand Seiko “First” watches that have closed for over 250,000 Yen in the last 3 months, it’s actually the pick of the entire bunch. At least, it is in my opinion.
I am kicking myself that I didn’t get involved in this auction, because I think in time we may well see watches such as this one becoming the most valuable of all 3180’s. Potentially even more valuable than the printed dial ones. But I think for that to happen, we’re going to have to find examples with their paperwork.
One of the little known facts about the carved logo 3180’s that I alluded to earlier in this article is that Seiko actually experimented with multiple different ways of carving the logo before finally giving up due to the number of dials that had to be thrown out due to carving errors. In a recent article in the Japanese magazine “Low Beat”, the highly respected vintage Grand Seiko expert, Yoshihiko Honda, explains that there are actually three broad categories of carving types that can be found in these watches.
Here’s a close-up of the carved logo 3180 from my own collection –
As is plain to see, the carving is totally different to the example of the watch sold at auction. My watch is from July 1961, and the carving is very neat indeed – almost certainly this must have been done with the use of mechanised assistance.
Conversely, it is plain to see that the example from this auction was done very manually. In fact, it looks like the engraving has been done totally by hand with a small chisel. It could be argued that perhaps this one shouldn’t have even made it out of the factory, but photos can be deceiving. It is possible that to the naked eye, it doesn’t look nearly as “amateurish” as it does in this photo.
What is in no doubt about this watch though is that it is a very early example indeed. I’d love to know the full serial number of the movement, but with a case indicating a manufacturing date of April 1960 – a full 8 months before the watch was launched – this has to be one of the very earliest 3180’s ever to surface.
If everything about the watch is legitimate, then that was the bargain of the year.
I wish I’d bought it. Congratulations to the buyer – look after that one, because it is historically very important.
Before I detail the final three auctions that I wanted to highlight, but that closed for under 250,000 Yen, it’s probably worth just summarising the 13 examples that did sell for over that threshold in the last three months.
Three of the top five most expensive watches had printed dials. Of those three, two – the two most expensive examples of 3180’s to sell on Yahoo auctions since Baselworld – I can categorically state are not legitimate. The third I have serious concerns about, but there is a slim chance that it is ok.
There were five carved dial watches, of which only two – both from the same dealer – didn’t have any serious issues.
The remaining five examples were of raised logo dialed watches, and all but one of them checked out OK.
And now to close, the final three auctions that I felt were worth highlighting, but didn’t close for above 250,000 Yen –
Don’t hang around if you want to check out this auction, because it will drop off the Yahoo server in just a few days from now.
This was an interesting listing that generated a lot of behind-the-scenes discussion amongst a few collectors. Personally, I dismissed it completely for a couple of reasons. First – it looked from the photos to be a printed dial, but it had flat hands. That for me is an immediate disqualification. Additionally, the box that is shown in the listing is the wrong box for a 3180 (it’s actually the box for a 57GS). The final nail in the coffin from my prespective is that the watch was presented in such a way that you couldn’t quite make out anything you needed to in order to get any validation beyond the fact that it was a printed dial version with flat hands. It’s impossible to even be sure as to the lion version on the caseback. It just about looks like it could be the early version, but equally, a spec of dust could through your senses off at that low level of magnification.
It was just one of those listings where it seemed that the seller had done just enough to tease you into wishing to believe it was something, but not quite enough to enable you to validate your wish.
As it turns out, one collector was brave enough to give it a go, and because of the dubious nature of the listing, got it at a fairly decent price too. It was also extremely fortuitous timing, because this auction closed just a week before the announcements at Baselworld.
When the watch arrived, to everyone’s surprise – and the collector’s delight – it turned out not to be a slightly suspicious printed dial, but an absolutely stunning example of a totally legitimate carved dial.
I’m including this one because it is – as long as I’ve not missed any – I believe the only other claimed printed dial example of a 3180 to surface in the last three months. It only sold for 193,000 Yen, which is hardly surprising.
Everything is wrong about it. Hands, dial code, dial code location, movement and serial numbers, and caseback medallion. Yes – despite the fact almost every detail in the lion has been totally worn down – I am very confident in calling out that at some stage in its life, that was a later type lion.
So when it comes to the printed dial 3180’s, in my view, not a single legitimate one has been listed on Yahoo auctions in the last three months. And in fact – because I have been watching this very closely – I don’t believe a single legitimate example has been listed this year.
And finally, for those still with me, a treat for having stayed with me until the end. Because not a lot of people know about this one…
Just two days ago, this closed for 160,000 Yen…
Almost zero interest was shown in this listing. A lot of people may have missed it entirely because there is no mention of 3180 in the auction title. Others may have passed it by because the quality of the listing was dire, and it had a 160,000 Yen starting bid.
But one person was intrigued enough to take the right approach, and put in a very late bid for the starting price, and saw the auction tick down to zero seconds with no-one else cottoning onto it.
Well, almost no-one else. Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing it up, would I?!
Until very recently, I wasn’t even aware of the existence of AD-dialed Grand Seiko Firsts. In fact, I don’t think anyone was. But once again, we have Honda-san to thank for bringing them to our attention in his article for Low Beat. As per his article, the manufacturing period for these dials was very short (although he doesn’t specify how short), and possibly they were used as service replacement dials.
Either AD-dialed 3180’s are stupidly rare, or possibly many have sold in the past without people even noticing them. The dial code is of course different, as is the star symbol beneath the “Diashock 25 Jewels” text on the bottom half of the dial. Unless you’re looking out for them explicitly, both of these details would be easy to miss. Before Honda-san’s article, I wouldn’t have known about their existence. Now I do, I’m on the lookout for one!
Sadly, the dial on this particular example is rather poor. The photos in the listing are not good, and unfortunately they hide a lot – almost certainly deliberately.
Here are another couple of images of the dial of this exact watch when it was for sale at one of the Japanese pawn shops a few months ago –
As you can see, there is some severe damage to the dial around the periphery.
I’m assuming the buyer had no way of knowing this, but even so, I don’t think it was necessarily a bad purchase. Now the cat is out of the bag on this one, who knows what the next will go for…