Old Seiko Watches: History & Valuable Types to Collect

Updated December 13, 2021
photo of two old Seiko watches

Seiko is a stalwart of the old-world watch manufacturers and continues to dominate the global market with quality products. Yet, decade-old Seikos aren't something to throw out in favor of a watch that's shiny and new. In fact, they're many different types of old Seiko watches, several of which hold a special place in watch making history.

Seiko Launches the Japanese Wristwatch Market

In 1881, Japanese entrepreneur Kintaro Hattori began a business which made clocks and pocket watches, though it wasn't until 1913 that his company, Seiko, produced the Laurel, the first wristwatch in Japan. The company continued to increase in size and reputation and in 1929, Seiko watches became the official watch of the Japan National Railways. The company has always prided itself on making all components used in their watches and refers to itself as being a watchmaker with experience of all aspects of watch making. This storied past of watchmaking means that there are several old Seiko watches that have signified key developments in watch making history both in terms of Japanese developments and those of the whole world.

Famous Old Seiko Watches

There are a number of old Seiko watches that represent world firsts, spanning developments pertaining to technology, media, and regional accomplishments. These watches include:

  • 1956 - Seiko's Marvel watch was the first one of Seiko's watches that was made entirely using Seiko movements and technology.
  • 1969 - Seiko introduced the Seiko Astron, the world's first quartz watch, in 1969.
  • 1973 - Seiko introduced the first digital wristwatch with a six figure digital display this year.
  • 1975 - Seiko launched the 0634, the first multi-function digital watch with a chronograph.
  • 1978 - The introduction of the Twin Quartz watch, known for its ultra accurate movement, occurred in 1978.
  • 1982 - The launch of the first Seiko TV watch, also known at the time as the world's smallest television that could access television using a radio tuner, happened in 1982.
  • 1983 - Seiko launched the Voice Note, a wrist watch with sound recording functionality, in 1983.
  • 1984 - The world's first wristwatch with computer functions is launched by Seiko in 1984.
  • 1988 - Seiko introduced the Kinetic watch, the automatic power generating quartz watch that was controlled by CPU-IC, in 1988.
  • 1990 - The first computerized diver's watch, the Scubamaster, rolls off of Seiko's lines in 1990.
  • 1991 - Seiko launched the world's first "millennium-plus calendar" watch in 1991.
  • 1998 - The Seiko Thermic, which was the world's first watch driven by body heat, was sold in 1998.
  • 2005 - The first three-band radio wave watch was introduced by Seiko in 2005.
  • 2006 - Seiko's Spectrum, the famous electrophoresis display, was launched in 2006.

Tips for Buying Vintage Seiko Watches

With such a wide range of different types and styles of old Seiko watches to choose from, picking the right style and functionality can be difficult. The best way to buy an old or vintage Seiko watch is to determine the functions that are important to you and identify the reasons why you're buying an old watch. Collectors, for instance, have very different needs than someone who is interested in the styling or design of a watch, and are probably willing to pay far more than a casual fan is. You can rest easy, though, since vintage Seiko's aren't currently that valuable on the seller's market. Most vintage Seiko watches that're selling on eBay are selling for under $100.

How to Determine a Seiko Watch's Age

Thankfully, it's possible to tell the manufacturing date of a Seiko watch by looking at the serial number. This number is engraved onto the back of the watch case. The serial number that you can find starts with three digits that represent the year and month of the manufacture, with double-digit months being represented alphabetically. However, it doesn't show the decade for the year; rather, only the last number in the year itself. For instance, you could have a watch with a serial number beginning with a 9 and that could correlate to 1979, 1989, 1999, and so on. Therefore, you'll need to know the decade that the watch was produced to be able to narrow down the date of manufacture.

infographic how to read seiko serial numbers

Many specialist watch makers and dealers will be able to help and can use the case style or other features to date the watch. In fact, one of the easiest ways to do so is to input the model number and serial number into one of the many Seiko serial catalogs online. Using this information and their databases, these websites can give you a more precise answer as to when your Seiko was manufactured.

Buy From a Reputable Dealer

The best way to buy any antique or vintage watch is through a reputable dealer, particularly if a large investment is being made. An old watch can be an excellent time keeper and represent a sound investment. However, if it's broken or damaged, it'll not keep good time nor will it hold its value. A good watch dealer will be able to tell you the watch's history and will be able to give sound advice as to how to look after it in order to keep it in a safe condition.

Time to Invest in Seiko

Vintage watches are a great accessory to invest in if you don't like to spend money on something that doesn't have a practical purchase and like the idea of having a piece of history close to you. Keep it old-school with a classic wind-up or turn to one of Seiko's more contemporary digital watches. Either way, these Japanese wristwatches are sure to be a conversation starter.

Old Seiko Watches: History & Valuable Types to Collect