The first Grand Seiko - a primer for collectors
Also including a preview of watches coming up for sale later this month
In this newsletter I will be previewing a wide selection of variants of the first Grand Seiko that I will be making available for purchase on December 18th. Included will be examples of the extraordinarily rare printed logo and sunburst AD dials, along with watches featuring the coveted carved logos, and even full sets.
Whilst having a relatively short production timeline of just three years and four months, there were many different iterations of the first Grand Seiko, with updates to numerous different features of the watch including the dial, handset, caseback medallion.
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Before previewing the specific watches that will be available for purchase, I will go over the production timeline of the different variants, along with a discussion as to their relative rarity, desirability, and pricing, in the context of an example of the first Grand Seiko that sold recently at auction.
Phillips Geneva Watch Auctions
It’s probably fair to say that out of all the major auction houses, it is Phillips’ watch department - to give it its full title, “Phillips in Association with Bacs and Russo” - that has established itself as the undisputed worldwide market leader in the watch auction business.
Over the last couple of years, it has been interesting to note that Phillips have started to include vintage Grand Seiko in their catalogues, most notably at their prestigious Geneva auctions.
Whilst clearly this has been a gradual process perhaps akin to dipping one’s toe into a hot bath to test the water temperature, if one were to take as a group the three vintage Grand Seiko references that have been sold at Phillips Geneva over the last 18 months, one can’t help but wonder whether there is a longer term plan afoot here, the beginnings of which have only just become apparent.
The three watches sold so far at Phillips Geneva are a 6186-8000 VFA (in the May 2021 Geneva Watch Auction XIII), a 4420-9000 (in the November 2021 Geneva Watch Auction XIV), and finally an example of the raised logo dialed first Grand Seiko (in the November 2022 Geneva Watch Auction XVI), which is pictured above.
The prices achieved for the watches - CHF44,100 for the VFA, CHF59,220 for the 44GS, and CHF20,160 for the “First” - were, for anyone who has been keeping a close eye on the wider market for vintage Grand Seiko over the years, extraordinary.
For the purpose of this newsletter, it is really only the price of the most recent watch sold - the first Grand Seiko - that is relevant, and more on that later. But there is one thing that becomes obvious when you look at the bigger picture.
Phillips Geneva have, over the course of three auctions, sold what is without any doubt in my mind, a perfect three-watch vintage Grand Seiko collection.
The most common question I receive from seasoned watch collectors who are looking at vintage Grand Seiko for the first time is not “what vintage Grand Seiko would you recommend I add to my collection?”, but “if I were to put together a small sub-collection of vintage Grand Seiko, what should be in it?”.
For a three watch collection, there really can only be answer - a “First”, a 44GS, and a VFA, and Phillips Geneva have sold an example of each of those iconic references - in reverse chronological order to their original launches - over the last 18 months.
Now, clearly there are many different options available when putting together this ideal three watch vintage Grand Seiko collection - most notably when it comes to choosing an example of the first Grand Seiko and a VFA. In featuring one of the most common VFA’s - the silver dialed 6186-8000, and the most common first Grand Seiko - the raised logo dial variant, Phillips Geneva have effectively established the baseline here.
I suspect there are probably quite a few collectors out there who are looking at what Phillips have been up to with vintage Grand Seiko - and perhaps with one eye on the upcoming New York auction, where there is an entire “chapter” dedicated to Grand Seiko, including three vintage pieces - wondering whether now might be a good time to dip their own toes into vintage Grand Seiko.
Well, in my view, there is no better time than the present, and no better place to start from than the beginning, so let’s take a look at what the options are for the first Grand Seiko.
The variants of the first Grand Seiko
The first Grand Seiko was available in a number of variants over the course of its lifespan. At the highest level of detail, the watch was manufactured in both filled gold and platinum cases (with possibly steel cased demonstration only watches for the platinum version). But more granularly, each of the filled gold and platinum cased variants had their own sub-variants, which typically are identified by specific aspects of their dials.
Broadly speaking, examples of the first Grand Seiko can be found with the “Grand Seiko” logo on the dial being printed, carved, or raised. Within those broad categories there are further nuances, which I will get into later.
The platinum cased watches are out of scope for this article, as I will be covering (and offering for sale) just the filled gold cased variants.