In the world of vintage watch collecting, few manufacturers provide the trifecta of affordability, quality, and diversity that Seiko does. With a vast array of timepieces, it should come as no surprise that many fantastic models can still be acquired for a reasonable sum, which makes Seiko an appealing prospect for avid collectors and budding enthusiasts alike.
Seiko’s lineup is punctuated with value, quality and affordability, and with some patience and thorough searching, examples from each of the five following lines can be sourced below the $300 price point. These are five vintage Seiko lines that have managed to slip under the collective watch enthusiast radar thus far, resulting in a group of b-side sleeper hits that run slightly adjacent to the mainstream.
The Chariot line from the 1970’s was characterized by elegant design and hi-beat manually wound movements. Common in vintage watches, hand-winding movements tend to be thinner than their automatic siblings. In the case of a dressier piece, such as the Seiko Chariot, this adds to the staggeringly svelte appearance. Most of the dials within this series feature razor-thin indices and simple “Seiko” script at 12 o’clock.
The typical 34-35mm case size and lack of a seconds hand further add to the admirably austere nature of this line. All of these attributes taken as a whole form a wonderfully spartan dress watch reminiscent of modern Grand Seiko designs, but for a fraction of the price.
Typical Price Range: $50-$250
The Seiko Sportsman line was marketed to a younger and more active demographic when it was released in the 1960’s, and for this reason, the components are on the value-driven end of the Seiko spectrum. In other words, these watches feature a simple handwound, 17-jewel movement with date function and a 35-36mm chrome-plated case. Although these cases were not uncommon in less expensive Seikos of the 60’s, they are far more prone to unsightly wear, making pristine examples more challenging to come by.
However, the allure of the Sportsman line lies in the variety and availability. Like sector dials? Crosshair dials? Lume-heavy hands and indices? Look no further, because the Sportsman has it all. With regard to availability, there are plenty to be had on eBay at any given time. So If you’re looking to make your first foray into the strange and fascinating realm of vintage watches, it’s worth considering a Seiko Sportsman to accompany you on your journey.
Typical Price Range: $50-$200
Reaching way back into the Seiko archives yields some fantastic dress watch options for the modern enthusiast. For historical context, from the late ’50s through the early ’80s, Seiko ran two separate factories: Daini and Suwa. Both factories produced the high-quality timepieces expected of the company, but each had its own design language and style. Most notably, Suwa produced the Grand Seiko line while Daini produced the King Seiko line. However, prior to the invention of the King/Grand Seiko lines in 1958, the Daini Seikosha factory was producing their first watch with a center seconds hand in the form of the Seiko Cronos.
The Cronos was, and remains, an ideally proportioned dress watch at 34mm and with a thin handwound movement. Each model within the line is marked by simplicity and function. These three-handers are utterly devoid of any extravagance — they serve the purpose of telling time in a sophisticated manner that conveys an air of elegance. So if a refined example of the prototypical dress watch is what you’re after, time is on your side with the Seiko Cronos.
Typical Price Range: $100-$300
King Seiko VANAC
The King Seiko VANAC line was produced for a short time in the early to mid-70’s, and the design language is out of this world. Dwelling within the angular cases of the VANACs, behind the faceted crystals and chromatic dials, beats the heart of a King Seiko. Second only to Grand Seiko in quality at the time, these watches were made with the utmost quality and attention to detail, despite their playful appearance. To make these obscure gems even more enticing, the bracelets included on the VANAC models are as much a work of art as the rest of the watch. This is a watch that continues to make a modern statement with a distinctly 70’s vibe.
Typical Price Range: $150-$300
Seiko 6458 Mid-size Diver
This mid-size quartz diver was produced around the early to mid-80’s as a slightly shrunken version of the full-size 7548. Clocking in at 38mm in diameter and equipped with a highly legible dial, day/date function, and 4 o’clock crown, this watch epitomizes the classic Seiko diver aesthetic.
All of these pragmatic features are packed into a stainless steel case rated to 150m of water resistance, and factory dial colors include black, white, orange, and even green. (It should be noted that the green dial is exceedingly rare and will likely fall outside the sub $300 budget of its brethren.) The highlight of the 6458 herd, in my opinion, is the fiery orange-dialed reference 6458-600A. This persimmon pal makes for a veritable beacon on the wrist. So if you’re comfortable with the thought of a quartz-powered midsize dive watch, the 6458 just might be the aquatic ally you never knew you needed.
Typical Price Range: $100-$300