Everyone who’s ever come across a Grand Seiko watch will at some point wonder why these watches cost a few thousand dollars. Another question that will pop into your head simultaneously is if these watches are actually better than Rolex which many consider to be the benchmark of luxury watches. Let’s have a look.
Is Grand Seiko better than Rolex? Yes, Grand Seiko is better than Rolex in terms of built quality and the refinement of their movements. On the other hand, Rolex watches are considered to be much better investments because of their branding and resale value.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way it’s time to dive into a bit more detail. If you’re wondering why Grand Seiko’s are so expensive then I encourage you to check out this blog post that I wrote earlier on that subject. In this blog we’ll dive into the details of both Grand Seiko and Rolex and compare their built quality, use of materials, their movements and overall branding.
Use Of Materials
Let’s first talk about the use of materials that both Grand Seiko and Rolex use in their watches. Exterior design and good quality materials are of course considered to be important pillars to determine which watch is better.
Most Grand Seiko watches are made out of stainless steel that’s very durable and resilient. I’m aware that this doesn’t exactly sound like a high-quality material because stainless steel is used in most watches around the world.
Still, Grand Seiko watches differ in one of two ways. First, the stainless steel that they use is of much higher quality then your regular $100 watch. If you’ve ever had a Grand Seiko in your hands you will intuitively feel the difference between ”regular” and high-quality stainless steel.
On the other hand it’s also possible that a Grand Seiko watch uses a different material all together. Titanium and platinum are normally used for this. Gold is also an option. These are of course superb materials that will fit well with any luxury watch.
Furthermore, Grand Seiko dial covers are also made out of superb materials. Besides sapphire some are also made out of enamel which is considered to look stunning on most watches.
Just like Grand Seiko, Rolex watches are also available in stainless steel. Rolex uses a 904L stainless steel which is also a very high-quality form of stainless steel that is very corrosion resistant.
Furthermore Rolex watches can also be bought with platinum or gold bracelets and cases. All materials, whether it be stainless steel, platinum or gold are produced in-house by Rolex. They do this to ensure that the quality meets their own standards.
Furthermore, Rolex also invented a new type of ceramic which is called Cerachrom. This materials is used to make Rolex bezels. This material makes sure that the bezel is extremely scratch-resistant compared to regular ceramic bezels.
So, it’s clear that both Grand Seiko and Rolex use high-quality, exotic materials in their watches. Let’s continue with the movements of the watch. Besides the exterior use of materials this is normally the part that watch enthusiast value the most in a watch.
When it comes to making movements Grand Seiko is considered to be outstanding. All their watches us a 9S-movement which is of very high-quality for several reasons.
First of all, the movement is made of 200 – 300 individual components which are all made in-house by Grand Seiko. Furthermore, all these components are assembled by hand by the craftsmen and women that work in the Grand Seiko studio.
Furthermore, Grand Seiko watches are powered by using their unique Spring Drive technology which I already discussed in more detail in this blog. Let met give you a quick update on that.
In essence Spring Drive is the best use of both mechanical and electronic watchmaking. Just like any other mechanical watch this system is powered by a mainspring that slowly unwinds and powers the watch.
This system allows the watch to be self-sufficient in it’s power needs. Furthermore, the high level of torque allows the seconds hand to move like they are ”gliding” which is a trademark of Grand Seiko.
The electronic part of the watch is responsible for a few things. First of all, it adjust the speed at which the mainspring unwinds to make sure it’s not to quick nor to slow. It does this by using various technological innovations which I already discussed in the previous mentioned blog.
By using this system Grand Seiko watches us three different forces to make sure the watch unwinds perfectly. There’s the mechanical power from the mainspring, there’s electromagnetic power which applies a brake when things go to quickly. Finally, there’s electrical power of the quartz oscillator.
Overall, this is a very innovative and complex puzzle that makes Grand Seiko’s very well made and shows true craftsmanship.
Let’s continue by looking at the movements that Rolex watches use. Let it be clear that Rolex makes good, automatic movements. However, they’re generally considered to be of lesser quality than the ones Grand Seiko makes. Here’s why.
First of all the finishing of a Grand Seiko movement is much more refined and simply better done. In the image above you could already see how beautiful a Grand Seiko movement actually is. Now, let’s have a look at the ones Rolex builds.
Does this look bad? No, not at all. But many will consider the Grand Seiko movement to be much better looking.
Besides aesthetics there’s also built quality. Rolex movements are a bit ”over-engineered” and use a lot of bridges and plates. This makes the movement robust, but it also makes them a bit clunky and almost 1.5x thicker then a more refined movement.
Furthermore, Grand Seiko is also known for making much more complex movements than Rolex. For example, Grand Seiko has multiple automatic chronograph movements (which are very hard to make) while Rolex only has one.
In general Rolex movements are considered to be of good quality but the general opinion is that Grand Seiko makes better movements overall. However, there’s one point where Rolex takes the crown (no pun intended) and that’s branding.
So, when it comes to use of materials both watches are mainly equal to each other. In terms of movements Grand Seiko watches are considered to be better built. How about branding?
Branding is one of the main problems that Grand Seiko watches still have. The reason for this is that Grand Seiko is of course owned by Seiko. Let’s be honest here and say that the name ”Seiko” isn’t really luxurious.
Regular Seiko watches are known for their high build quality but they’re also known for their affordable price. This means that the name Seiko is associated with watches that cost around $100 – $500. Not really something you will be pleased with when you buy a $4.000 Grand Seiko.
Furthermore, Grand Seiko has only been established as an independent brand since March 2017. That certainly was a good move but it still hasn’t yet solve their image problems. Most likely it will take many more years for Grand Seiko to be considered luxurious by the general public. Until that time this will be a problem for the brand.
On the other end of the spectrum there’s Rolex. A watchmaker that has been refining it’s luxurious image since the 1960’s and has become an absolute master of marketing. Let’s see why Rolex has such a strong brand and why they decided to brand their watches in the way they did.
In order to get that information we’ll actually have to go back to 1969. In that year Seiko introduced the first ever quartz watch at the Basel Watch Fair. Up until that time watches used an automatic movement and Rolex was a master at making those movements.
The fact that Seiko introduced the first ever quartz watch was a real problem for Rolex. Quartz was a lot cheaper than automatic movements could ever be. Furthermore, quartz watches are also a lot more accurate. Those two things rendered Swiss watches obsolete and it’s the main reason why a lot of Swiss brands went bankrupt during this period.
However, Rolex fought back. Their executives decided that if Rolex watches weren’t needed they had to be wanted. Rolex decided that they had to market their history (decades of experience in automatic watchmaking) and have their brand be associated with adventure and triumph.
That’s the reason why Daytona drivers wore Rolex watches. Or why Roger Federer is sponsored by Rolex. Or why Sir Edmun Hillary wore an Explorer when ascending the Mount Everest.
Each generation of Rolex watches brought with it an increase in price. Furthermore, each generation ingrained their luxurious image in the minds of the general public. This is certainly a point where Rolex has Grand Seiko beat. Rolex is definitely more wanted.
The final point I want to discuss is resale value and what brand is a better investement. As we already discussed Rolex watches are much better known and therefore they’re also wanted more. In turn, this means that a Rolex watch holds it value much better than a Grand Seiko one.
How much of a difference there’s is hard to determine. In general watches lose about 10-20% of their value in the first three years after their initial purchase. However, this depends on the brand, the particular series and whether or not it’s a limited or special edition watch.
The depreciation that I just mentioned above can be considered realistic for a Grand Seiko watch. You’ lose about 20 – 50% of the value of the watch in three years. Limited or special edition watches are known to stop at about 20% while the ”regular” ones can fall 40 – 50% in the first years.
Rolex watches are a bit different. Again, the true resale value of any watch depends on the model and whether it’s special or limited edition. However, some Rolex watches are known to hold their value or even appreciate in value over the years.
This certainly doesn’t mean that every Rolex watch is a winner. Another factor that comes into play is the current luxury watch market condition. All these things add up. In general however, Rolex watches can be considered better investments then Rolex watches.
One final thing I want to add to that is the fact that you shouldn’t buy a watch because of it’s potential monetary gain. Unless you’re a professional you’re much more likely to lose money on a watch then to gain it. Simply because so many factors come into play and the large majority of watches lose value over the years.
However, if we compare Rolex and Grand Seiko to determine which is a better investment it’s definitely Rolex.