SOLD – Grand Seiko “First” / “3180” in stainless steel

Grand Seiko First Stainless Steel
Grand Seiko Chronometer “First” in Stainless Steel

Note – none of the photos in this listing have been “touched up” in Photoshop to hide blemishes or imperfections. What you see is what you get.

In all likelihood, anyone who is potentially interested in acquiring an example of this watch will be fairly knowledgeable about it, but I do want to be absolutely open regarding what is – and what is not – known about these pieces. So before going into detail about the specific example that I am selling, some background.

Background

Firstly, it must be stressed that Seiko do not have any official record of ever having manufactured stainless steel examples of the Grand Seiko “First” for sale to the public. I have been informed, by someone who has direct connections with the company, that Seiko looked into this as part of the research leading to the release of the recent “reissues” of this watch – the Grand Seiko SBGW251, SBGW252, and SBGW253 – at Baselworld 2017.

At the same time, we have other representatives from Seiko who have publicly confirmed that stainless steel examples of the original Grand Seiko Chronometer were manufactured.

Theories regarding the possible background to these pieces include that they were prototypes of some sort; or “service watches” to be loaned to owners of the retail watches when brought in for servicing. Personally, I do not believe the service watch theory to be realistic, because if it were, they would have had to be catalogued on the asset register for tracking in and out of the company, and as such, should have turned up in the research for the modern reissues.

The other possibility of course, and one that cannot be discounted, is that these watches are at worst fakes, or possibly “frankenwatches” put together from parts taken from different sources.

If the “frankenwatch” theory is correct, then there are secondary questions as to where and by whom the watches were assembled, and of course, why. Was it contemporaneous with the manufacture of the regular, retail watches, by watchmakers in the factory? Clearly this would be a very different situation to that where they were put together by an unscrupulous individual in some dodgy backstreet workshop looking to make a quick buck.

For an owner of one of these watches, or for someone considering purchasing one, the most favourable option is that these watches were internal prototypes of some sort. A possibility, that we will see, is actually granted some level of credence by the known examples “out there”.

The bottom line however, is that we simply do not know. For anyone considering purchasing this watch, caveat emptor – it simply cannot come with any guarantee as to its provenance.

Details of the watch for sale

With that preamble over, onto the details of the watch I am selling.

Grand Seiko Chronometer "First" in Stainless Steel
Grand Seiko Chronometer “First” in Stainless Steel

With reference to the above photo, one of the most puzzling things about all Stainless Steel examples of this watch that I have come across is that the case back medallion is different to production watches. Rather than having “Grand Seiko” above the lion, it has the text “Chronometer” below it. This medallion – as far as I can ascertain – is unique to the steel examples of the first Grand Seiko Chronometer.

My particular example of the Stainless Steel 3180 is in very good condition, with just a couple of blemishes to highlight.

Firstly, as can be seen on the caseback photo above, there are some scratches on the case. These scratches (some of which I personally have contributed to!) are as a result of “popping open” the caseback on this watch, which is very tightly secured. There are also slight scratches on the side of the case at the point where the back can be opened, and note the marks on the upper right lug.

Apart from those relatively minor issues however, for a 57 year old watch, it is in remarkable condition. The dial is close to immaculate, with very minor signs of “spotting” which is common on all 3180 dials.

Grand Seiko "First" in Stainless Steel
Grand Seiko Chronometer “First” in Stainless Steel

The above photo has been taken with the crystal removed to give the clearest possible indication of the quality of the dial, handset and indices.

Note that the “Grand Seiko” logo on this example is printed, and that the dial has a “sunburst” pattern to it. More on this later.

Grand Seiko Chronometer "First" in Stainless Steel
Grand Seiko Chronometer “First” in Stainless Steel

As is evident from the photo above, the movement in this watch is in absolutely superb condition. I have masked out the latter two digits of the movement serial number, but what must be highlighted is that this is a very early 3180 movement. It is widely accepted that “60xxxx” movements were manufactured in 1960. Therefore, it can be reasonably assumed that this movement was one of the first 1600 or so ever made (assuming the first was numbered “600001”).

It is certainly the lowest numbered 3180 movement I have ever personally come across.

Grand Seiko Chronometer "First" in Stainless Steel
Grand Seiko Chronometer “First” in Stainless Steel

On all subsequent vintage Grand Seikos, the case serial number was stamped on the outside of the case back, with the first two digits of the number indicating the year and month of manufacture, making it immediately obvious to understand when the watch was manufactured.

For the Grand Seiko “First”, however, the case serial number was stamped on the inside of the case back, so you need to pop the watch open to find out when it was made. The format however is the same as the subsequent models – a digit indicating the year, a character indicating the month (1-9 for January through September, with the latter three months of the year indicated by the initial of the month), followed by five digits.

The inside case back of this watch can be seen in the above photograph, and it should be noted that the only markings are “318067A”, and “SSJ14070GS”.

Markings on the inside of production pieces are laid out very differently, with the seven digit case serial number at the top, and much larger text (laid out in a semi circle at the bottom of the back) stating “14K GOLD FILLED J14070GS”.

So on this watch, the “SSJ14070GS” makes sense, given what is stamped on the gold filled production watches, but the “318067A” is somewhat of a mystery.

Is it a serial number of sorts, but structured totally differently to regular pieces? Presumably the 3180 refers to the movement number, but what of the “67A” suffix?

Could the “67” indicated a manufacturing date of July 1960? Is the “A” for “acier” (French for “steel”, and commonly found on steel watches from Switzerland)?

I can only speculate, there is simply no way to know the answer to this.

Other known stainless steel examples of the Grand Seiko “First”

I am personally aware of five examples of the the Grand Seiko “First” in Stainless Steel. Mine; two that are in the hands of collectors I am familiar with; and two others that have sold on Yahoo Auctions in the last year – one in September 2016, and one in January 2017.

The most puzzling thing about these watches is that every single one of them is unique in some way.

I know the precise details regarding my watch, and that which is in the hands of another collector, because detailed images of his watch have been shared online. The remaining three watches I don’t know everything about, but I know sufficient about them to identify them all as being unique.

The watches differ in up to six different ways, although just four of these features are sufficient to identify every known example of this watch as being unique. I will explain the differences first, and then detail which features are exhibited by which watch.

Firstly, the differentiating features –

Dial logo

Dial logos are either printed, as in my example, or carved.

Dial texture

Dial texture is either sunburst, as in my example, or matte.

Hands

Hands are either flat, as in my example, or “mountain”.

Hour markers

Hour markers are either sized as per production models, as in my example, or shortened.

Case back medallion

The case back medallion can be gold, as in my example, or steel.

Inside case back

Markings on the inside case back can be of a markedly different layout to the production pieces, as in my example, or very similar to the production pieces.

The five examples that I am aware of, and how they differ

My watch

  • Dial logo – printed
  • Dial texture – sunburst
  • Hands – flat
  • Hour markers – as per production watches
  • Case back medallion – gold
  • Inside case back – different layout to production watches, and with seemingly differently formatted case serial number.
  • Movement (and possibly case) serial number indicate a manufacturing date of 1960.

Collector 1’s watch

  • Dial logo – carved
  • Dial texture – matte
  • Hands – flat
  • Hour markers – as per production watches
  • Case back medallion – steel
  • Inside case back – same layout as production watches, with standard format for case serial number
  • Movement serial number indicates a manufacturing date of  1963, case serial number indicates a manufacturing date of 1962

Collector 2’s watch

  • Dial logo – printed
  • Dial texture – sunburst
  • Hands – flat
  • Hour markers – shortened
  • Case back medallion – steel
  • Inside case back – unknown

Yahoo auction September 2016

  • Dial logo – carved
  • Dial texture – unknown
  • Hands – mountain
  • Hour markers – unknown
  • Case back medallion – unknown
  • Inside case back – unknown

Yahoo auction January 2017

  • Dial logo – printed
  • Dial texture – sunburst
  • Hands – mountain
  • Hour markers – short
  • Case back medallion – unknown
  • Inside case back – unknown
Why am I selling this watch?

The reason for selling this watch is simple – I have always wanted to have one example of each of the printed, carved, and raised logo Grand Seiko Chronometer “First” in my collection. It has taken a very long time, but I have finally managed to track down an original printed dial regular production “3180”, and so this has to go to make space for that watch.

Should you buy this watch?

Well, only you can answer that. I have done my best to put you off (!), but the simple fact of the matter is that every time one of these comes up for sale, there is a huge amount of interest in acquiring it, and the price being paid goes up (substantially).

There is absolutely no doubt that purchasing this watch is a risky venture. As I see it there are three ways this could go –

  1. It could be that we never find out the story behind these pieces, and they forever remain a mystery; or
  2. It could be that in time they (or perhaps just some of the ones known) turn out to be genuine factory pieces, with the story behind them finally understood; or
  3. It could be that in time every example out there can be proven to be an after-market fake.

If you do want to purchase this watch, please get in touch.

Full resolution images of all photos included in this listing are available for serious enquirers only. Please also remember that many more photos of this watch are available on this site.

Addendum – July 13th 2017

A week ago, another example of a stainless steel Grand Seiko Chronometer “First”/”3180 appeared on the website of a Japanese dealer. The watch sold for the asking price within literally minutes of being listed online.

This sixth example of a 3180 in stainless steel appears again to be a unique piece, with the following apparent characteristics discernible from the images posted and description –

  • Dial logo – printed
  • Dial texture – appears to be flat, but cannot confirm 100%
  • Hands – flat
  • Hour markers – as per production watches
  • Case back medallion – steel
  • Inside case back – not pictured

Addendum – September 30th 2017

I have discovered details of a seventh example of this watch that sold back in 2015 on Yahoo Auctions in Japan.

Incredibly, this watch too is different from the six examples documented above. It is most similar to collector 1’s watch, but has no medallion on the case back.

  • Dial logo – printed
  • Dial texture – flat
  • Hands – flat
  • Hour markers – as per production watches
  • Case back medallion – none
  • Inside case back – same layout as production watches, with standard format for case serial number. Case serial number indicates production in September 1963

 

 

 

 

 

9 thoughts on “SOLD – Grand Seiko “First” / “3180” in stainless steel”

  1. Greeting from Virginia on a warm Friday afternoon!
    Amazing watch…is it still available? I am in the market for a vintage Grand Seiko and any help is appreciated.

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Jerry –

      Yes it is still available. I will reply to the email address you left when posting.

      Kind regards,

      Gerald.

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