Horologically Curious? These 7 Japanese Watch Brands Are Perfect For The Watch Enthusiasts

by   |  in Accessories

Compared to Switzerland and Germany, Japan had a late start in the watchmaking race—about a few hundred years of a late start! Regardless, this plucky island nation managed to keep up, with their unique focus on discipline and efficiency.

When Seiko’s quartz Astron came out in late 60s, it disrupted the old guard, knocking Switzerland’s 50% share of the watch market down to about 24% today.

As you can imagine, we have our own favorite brands from the Land of the Rising Sun. In this article, we’re highlighting seven of the best (we’re biased, sure).

Cherry blossom photo by AJ

About Japanese Watchmaking

Watchmaking in Japan combines function with efficiency, often utilizing modern technology like robotic assembly lines to build mechanical movements. This results in more affordable automatic timepieces compared to their Swiss-made counterparts.

This also means that their movements, while less susceptible to human error, are generally less detailed and more of a basic and effective workhorse. These make great entry-level mechanicals for new collectors or the horologically curious.

Basically, 20th-century Japanese watchmaking truly helped democratize watch collecting. So let’s take a look at these brands!

The 7 Best Japanese Watch Brands

Here are our picks for the best Japanese watch brands on the market!

Seiko

Over the years, Seiko has grabbed the attention of watch enthusiasts because of their many innovations, as well as the general public because of their expansive price range and options.

Kintaro Hattori, who started as a clockmaker’s apprentice at 13 years old, opened a watch and jewelry shop in Tokyo in 1881. As it grew more successful, he transitioned into watch manufacturing. In 1924, he founded Seiko, which comes from the Japanese word “Seikosha”, which means “house of exquisite workmanship.”

Seiko was the driving force behind several watch industry revolutions. In 1969, they debuted the Astron, the world’s first production quartz watch. This immediately catapulted the “quartz crisis” in the 70s and 80s.

In the late 80s, Seiko combined self-powering automatic qualities with the accuracy of quartz movements to create the first automatic-quartz watch. And in 1998, they introduced the Ruputer, which though elementary, is the world’s first smartwatch.

Today, Seiko’s crossover appeal lies in their many sublines.

Their Seiko 5 line offers entry-level mechanical watches at affordable prices. Their Prospex line features professional timepieces, like dive watches, at a range of prices. Presage, and especially Grand Seiko, offer high-end timepieces comparable to watches by Swiss hardhitters. 

Seiko boasts cultural importance too. They’ve been the official timekeeper for several Olympic games and World Cups. They’re also the only Japanese brand in the 007 club. Roger Moore’s Bond sports a Seiko G757 Sports 100 in Octopussy.

It’s difficult to choose just one Seiko watch to highlight since they run the gamut, but today we’ve gone the fancy route with one of Grand Seiko’s most popular.

Grand Seiko Snowflake

From Grand Seiko’s bold Heritage line, the Snowflake is one of the brand’s most iconic watches featuring a dial pattern inspired by Japan’s Shinshu mountains. Its automatic movement has a spring drive for high precision similar to a quartz, while still using a mechanical watch’s mainspring for power. 

Grand Seiko Snowflake
$5,800.00

From Grand Seiko’s bold Heritage line, the Snowflake is one of the brand’s most iconic watches featuring a dial pattern inspired by Japan’s Shinshu mountains. Its automatic movement has a spring drive for high precision similar to a quartz, while still using a mechanical watch’s mainspring for power. 

Check Latest Price
09/26/2021 05:44 pm GMT

GRAND SEIKO SNOWFLAKE DETAILS 

  • 40mm case
  • Leather band
  • Automatic movement
  • 100m water resistance

Orient

Though owned by Seiko since 2017, Orient continues to carry on a unique legacy that started in 1901. It was originally founded as a wholesale watch shop in Tokyo, even coming back from going under after WWII. It officially became the Orient Watch Company in 1951, releasing its iconic Orient Star that same year.

Today, Orient is Japan’s largest producer of mechanical watches.

Similar to the Seiko 5 line, they’re a go-to brand for in-house automatic timepieces at reasonable prices. They’re also famous among the collector community for their top-notch homages. The Mako II and Ray II are considered some of the best affordable Submariner alternatives out there.

Complications often escalate prices, but if you’re looking for an affordable GMT, moonphase, or multi-year calendar watch, Orient’s got you covered. 

Their most popular lines are the Bambino dress watches. In our Orient brand profile, we highlighted the 2nd Generation Version III. Today, let’s look at the Version II.

Bambino 2nd Generation Version II

Like Version III, the sunburst on the dial of this beautiful timepiece is light and metallic, the shine changing depending on where the light hits it. It features regal dauphine hands with stately Roman numerals that contrast the second markers track for an efficient balance. The automatic F6724 movement is hand-winding and hacking.

Orient 2nd Gen. Bambino Ver. 2
$171.17

One of Orient’s flagship dress watches, this version of the Bambino has the much-coveted combination of glimmering applied Roman markers, a cream dial, and the blue-accented hands. This perfectly-balanced timepiece runs on the automatic F6724 movement, which has hand-winding and hacking.

Check Latest Price
09/26/2021 06:00 pm GMT

BAMBINO 2ND GENERATION VERSION II DETAILS

  • 40.5mm case
  • Leather band
  • Automatic movement
  • 30m water resistance

Casio

Many of us owned a Casio as a kid. After all, it was the go-to brand for electronic instruments in the 80s, 90s, and early aughts.

When Seiko launched the quartz crisis, Casio hopped on board and became one of the first manufacturers of this accurate movement, building quartz models in analog and with the digital faces they’re most associated with.

Casio soon became famous for tactical and practical watches. They created the first timepieces to display multiple time zones and added features like atmospheric-pressure, altitude, and temperature recording. For military-level accuracy, Casio fitted wristwatches with receivers synchronised with the Global Positioning System.

Their G-Shock line best represents this reputation for durable, practical timepieces. In fact, more than 200 prototypes were thrown out of the second floor window of Casio’s offices during the testing stages. The original G-Shock, the DW-5000C, came out in 1983 and is coveted by collectors worldwide. 

Casio G-Shock Master oR G Mudmaster GGB100-1A3

This Mudmaster boasts a protective high-rigidity carbon construction, metal button pipes to protect against external conditions, and even a filter for mud and dust. Features like the compass, altitude, barometer, temperature measurements, and accelerometer operate even in severe situations.

Casio G-Shock Mudmaster GGB100-1A3
$375.00

This Mudmaster boasts a protective high-rigidity carbon construction, metal button pipes to protect against external conditions, and even a filter for mud and dust. Features like the compass, altitude, barometer, temperature measurements, and accelerometer operate even in severe situations. This robust, tough, and multi-textured tank of a watch has a strong presence for casual looks.

Check Latest Price
09/26/2021 06:06 pm GMT

This robust, tough, and multi-textured tank of a watch has a strong presence for casual looks.

G-SHOCK MUDMASTER GGB100-1A3 DETAILS

  • 55mm case
  • Plastic band
  • Quartz movement
  • 200m water resistance

Citizen

Citizen has won Eco Mark awards in recognition for their environmentally conscious and innovative products, such as their Eco-Drive light power technology which runs for months without battery replacement, even in darkness. They were the first brand to bring light-powered watches into the market in 1976.

As an electronics company, Citizen serves up bang-for-buck workhorse watches. Some of their innovations include the first wristwatch with voice recognition and the first multi-band watch with atomic timekeeping. They’re known mainly for a heads-down style of watchmaking chops, and less for marketing or brand identity. 

Regardless, they’ve caught the eye of Disney. As we mentioned in our Citizen brand profile, they’re the official timekeeper of Disney resorts all over the world! 

Citizen Eco-Drive Nighthawk CA0295-58E

This Nighthawk is a durable all-black with ion plating that gives it a stealthy chic look. Of course, it’s powered by Citizen’s trademark Eco-Drive technology, on which power is stored in a secondary titanium lithium-ion battery that never stops running.

Citizen Eco-Drive Nighthawk CA0295-58E
$393.75

Black ion-plated watch featuring black-and-charcoal dial with date window, tachymeter outer dial, and three chronograph function subdial.

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09/26/2021 05:39 pm GMT

CITIZEN ECO-DRIVE NIGHTHAWK CA0295-58E DETAILS

  • 43mm case
  • Eco-Drive quartz movement
  • Stainless steel bracelet
  • 200m water resistance

Minase

This Akita Prefecture-based boutique watch manufacturer only produces about 500 watches a year. They came into prominence when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sported a Minase Divido at the G20 summit.

Their exquisite 7-windows design uses minimum steel and far more sapphire crystal for a scientifically dimensional surface for light to travel and illuminate the inside of the watch face.

Their initial designs featured 5 crystals, before Minase added more sapphire in the 12- and 6-hour indices. The harmonious architecture of their watches is so Japanese, I can’t imagine this unique brand coming from anywhere else.

Minase recruits local craftsmen and trains them in the “Monozukuri” philosophy, which means mastering hand-crafted techniques with sincere attitude and continuous improvement.

Though Minase builds so few watches, you can likely find one of their 5 Window models on eBay. However, let’s look at one of their impeccable new 7 Windows models!

7 Windows VM15-MNBL-SSB

Mianse 7 Windows

This is a balanced and versatile dress watch. It has a dual spherical box sapphire over the dial, a sapphire for the exhibition caseback, and five sapphire windows at the 12, 3, 6, and 9 markers for lighting and light play that’s as beautiful and efficient as a haiku poem. This timepiece is truly rare and unique!

SHOP EBAY BROWSE MIANSE

This is a balanced and versatile dress watch. It has a dual spherical box sapphire over the dial, a sapphire for the exhibition caseback, and five sapphire windows at the 12, 3, 6, and 9 markers for lighting and light play that’s as beautiful and efficient as a haiku poem. This timepiece is truly rare and unique!

7 WINDOWS VM15-MNBL-SSB FEATURES

  • 38x47mm
  • Automatic movement
  • Stainless steel bracelet
  • 50m water resistance

Knot 

This Tokyo-based brand launched as recently as 2014 to immediate acclaim. Knot follows the tradition of Japanese efficiency, but their eye-catching and innovative designs have an almost German minimalist quality about them.

Founder Hiromitsu Endo’s aim was to produce affordable high-quality “mix and match watches” that connect people. The charming concept is a bit like adult friendship bracelets, because there are so many options, colors, and material for straps and faces.

You can build an automatic small seconds watch with a Bauhaus face, but a utilitarian canvas strap, and at a fraction of the cost of a German or Swiss brand.

Many of the straps are built with generation-spanning Japanese craft techniques, such as the tatami-beri band that is modeled after the traditional Japanese floor mat, a Yamanashi umbrella strap, or the braided Kyoto kumihimo.

Knot CS-36 Classic Series Small Second Quartz

Knot CS-36 Classic Series Small Second Quartz

This vintage-inspired timepiece is upgraded with Japanese engineering to include a 316L stainless steel case and a sapphire crystal. Since it runs on a Japanese quartz movement, the monthly difference is only 20 seconds, if even!

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This vintage-inspired timepiece is upgraded with Japanese engineering to include a 316L stainless steel case and a sapphire crystal. Since it runs on a Japanese quartz movement, the monthly difference is only 20 seconds, if even!

KNOT SMALL SECONDS QUARTZ DETAILS

  • 36mm
  • Quartz movement
  • Leather strap
  • 30m water resistance

Hajime Asaoka

Asaoka studied fine art at Tokyo University of the Arts, and his watches are equal parts function and design. As an independent watchmaker, he takes part in every single step of the process, so each watch is literally like having a Hajime Asaoka art piece.  

Today, Asaoka’s watches are some of the most popular in Japan. In 2009, He tried his hand at adding extra parts to the mechanics of the escapement to increase accuracy. This resulted in a successful Tourbillon watch, well-loved by fans.

Asaoka then created the three-handed Tsunami watch, an open-worked chronograph, and the exceedingly complex Tourbillon Pura. Like any true artist, he’s dabbles in collaborations. Let’s take a look at one of those…

Hajime Asaoka Project T Tourbillon

Hajime Asaoka Project T Tourbillon

This industrial but clean and futuristic watch was built by Asaoka in partnership with Yuki Precision, manufacturer for aerospace grand machining -and it shows! The 13 ball bearings add durability and shock resistance, and the modular diamond-like carbon design gives it a hint of masculine art deco.

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This industrial but clean and futuristic watch was built by Asaoka in partnership with Yuki Precision, manufacturer for aerospace grand machining — and it shows! The 13 ball bearings add durability and shock resistance, and the modular diamond-like carbon design gives it a hint of masculine art deco.

HAJIME ASAOKA PROJECT T TOURBILLON DETAILS

  • 43mm
  • Automatic movement
  • Leather strap
  • 30m water resistance

Efficient and Precise

Japan truly has a unique level of discipline and a respectful productivity, resulting in distinct, artistic brands as well as A+ textbook brands.

Whether you want to learn more about mechanicals, need a wallet-friendly style accessory, or a fine investment piece, Japanese brands have made every category more accessible to collectors.

What are some of your favorite Japanese brands?