Exploring the world of watches on a budget

The Simple Pleasure of Seiko Vintage Quartz - A Primer in Five Watches

By Guest Bum GUTuna - watch enthusiast, Washington, DC resident, and friend of The Time Bum. 

Only a short time after entering the watch hobby I discovered many collectors could not be called enthusiasts if their watch was driven by a quartz movement. Arguments against quartz ranged from the metaphysical (“quartz watches have no soul!”) to the aesthetic (“There’s no smooth sweeping second hand!”) and the economic (“quartz watches almost destroyed the mechanical watch industry I so love!). The mechanical vs. quartz debates will not be rehashed here. Rather, I wish only to share the pleasure I have found in collecting vintage quartz watches. I focus exclusively on Seiko quartz watches here because of Seiko’s role as the first mover in the quartz revolution as well as Seiko watches occupying the greatest part of my collection.

In 1969, Seiko introduced the Astron, the world’s first quartz regulated watch. This heralded the arrival of the Quartz Revolution, or perhaps more accurately for the Swiss watch industry, the Quartz Crisis. While both the Japanese and the Swiss, notably Omega, developed quartz movements in the early 1970s, Seiko most prominently featured quartz offerings at the top of their product line. The Astron and early Seiko VFA (Very Fine Adjusted) watches commanded the price of a small Japanese car. In later years, the massive influx of cheap quartz movements into world markets would destroy quartz’s technological cachet and therefore its price premium. But in these early years, quartz movements powered watches possessing finishing to match the best. Today, that means one can find beautifully finished watches at budget prices. The oldest in my collection (3803-7060, 1973) features raised indices, delicately faceted gold hands, and a rice paper dial one finds in Grand Seiko’s contemporary offering. It is on par with my Grand Seikos and King Seikos from the same era. The original bracelets also have unique designs. Seiko’s Suwa factory developed the 38 series movement, which descended from the original Astron movement. The movement was rated for within 15 seconds per month accuracy. 

As with the rest of Seiko’s product line in the 1970s, quartz dials began to burst with color. Seiko has always been a master of dial production, and this Quartz QT (0823-7000, 1974) displays their skill. Its dial has a subtle fade as it moves toward the center with slightly raised indices and framing for the day/date window. Just below center is the Seiko quartz symbol, which is featured on all these early watches. During this period, Seiko began to grade their quartz line in order of ascending quality, QZ, QT, and QR (correspondingly 4004, 3003, and 2002 in the export market). Those who crave different dials of deep burgundy, shaded blues, and brilliant green will find joy in this period of Seiko quartz.

Quartz overtook mechanical watch production through the mid-1970s, driving huge numbers of European watch producers out of the market. And while it continued Seiko’s success, they too had to differentiate between mass-market Quartz watches and those of the “executive” class. Seiko developed Grand Quartz and King Quartz watches out of their existing Grand Seiko and King Seiko mechanical brand that had achieved so much recognition. They featured, as already seen, high-end finishing. This Grand Quartz (9943-8000, 1979) has raised stepped indices that the minute hand gracefully passes through on its trip around the dial. Beneath the center of the dial, one can see a new “Twin Quartz” symbol that also is featured on the crown. The movement has two quartz crystals that oscillate at different frequencies and therefore vary at different rates at any given temperature. By comparing the variation of the two crystals, the watch can determine the temperature and thereby compensate for its effect on timekeeping. These so-called thermo-compensated high-accuracy quartz watches are able to achieve accuracy within 20 seconds per year. This technological innovation allowed for Seiko to continue to price these watches at a premium. 

Seiko Twin Quartz movements found their highest level expression in the “Superior” grade of watches. The 9481 movement in this Superior Watch (9481-5000, 1980) could produce accuracy of within 5 seconds per year, among the most accurate watches ever produced. These are in no way throw-away quartz movements. They were designed to be serviced and adjusted. I find equal joy in the engineering triumph of such a movement as I do in a chronometer-grade mechanical movement. The term "superior" extends to the finishing with a gorgeous textured dial, cabochon crown, and integrated bracelet of very fine mesh that is among the most comfortable I have worn. Prized by collectors, this Superior Quartz at $275 is the only watch featured in this article that cost over $110. 

The early 1980s found the market for quartz demanding ultra-thin movements and watches. Those in search of a classic thin dress watch can find top value in this period. Credor watches debuted in 1978 as high-end quartz made of gold or platinum. Featuring the Credor logo just below 12, this watch (6530-5620, 1985) features the trademark thinness of the era. With a gorgeous dial that radiates from the center, delicately faceted indices, and a diamond at 12, this watch shimmers when hit by light. It also possesses a fine mesh integrated bracelet. 

Collecting vintage Seiko quartz appeals to me in many ways. I find each and every Seiko quartz I own an outstanding value with finishing far above the price I paid. I can appreciate the engineering of the top-level high-accuracy quartz movements Seiko has presented. And as they are not picked-over by thousands of collectors, I can enjoy the hunt on eBay or Yahoo Auctions Japan for the models that most capture my imagination. I have found that the hobby sits quite easily next to, not ahead or behind, of my interest in mechanical watches. Perhaps if this short introduction interests the reader, I’ll find myself bidding against you soon on an obscure, interesting Seiko quartz that intrigues us both! 

[Note: See http://forums.watchuseek.com/f9/seiko-analog-quartz-table-pictures-160198.html for a comprehensive list of early Seiko quartz movements]

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