Finding a good watch to wear is a lot more difficult than it sounds. While all watches may have virtually the same function – telling time – the design and the quality of craftsmanship are different from model to model, brand to brand.
In today’s article, we’ll be going through the top 10 Japanese watch brands. All of the names you see have impeccable reputations for creating high-quality timepieces.
Top 10 Best Japanese Watch Brands Worth Adding To Your Collection
1. Seiko (1881)
Seiko is one of the best-known Japanese watchmakers out there.
The company’s history is almost ancient, having been founded all the way back in 1881 by a young entrepreneur: Kintaro Hattori.
At first, the company was just a small shop selling and repairing clocks. In 1892, the company transformed into a true watch-maker. Under the name “Seikosha” (Japanese for “House of Exquisite Craftsmanship”), the company built timepieces that would go on to define Japanese watchmaking culture for the next two centuries.
Besides being an old, respectable name, Seiko also boasts a variety of firsts: the first Japanese wristwatch, chronograph, and dive watch. Seiko is also recorded as the first company to build a quartz watch with the Seiko Astron.
For a company with such an impressive history, you would expect their timepieces to be expensive. Surprisingly, that’s not the case (at least for the mainstream Seiko brand). Most models in their catalog are very affordable.
However, that doesn’t mean they’re ugly or low-quality. Seiko watches tend to give you a lot of value for the money. That’s why even watch enthusiasts with million-dollar collections will still nod at a good, old Seiko.
2. Grand Seiko (1960)
Grand Seiko is an off-shoot of the main Seiko brand. While the primary Seiko brand offers watches that are more accessible for the masses, Grand Seiko takes it up a notch. It offers intricate pieces that rival the quality of certain high-end Swiss brands like Jaeger LeCoultre, IWC, and Panerai.
As a matter of fact, a few pieces from GS have reached extremely high levels of intricacies. High enough that many pundits have said that GS could go toe-to-toe with pieces from “The Big Three” (Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, and Vacheron Constantin).
For the price, the finishings are immaculate, the movements are complex and impressive, and the execution of the cases and dials’ designs is simply masterful. Even the toughest of watch enthusiasts can appreciate a vintage GS, even when it’s priced nowhere near something like a Patek.
Grand Seiko was founded in 1960.
3. Hajime Asaoka (2005)
The story behind Hajime Asaoka is an inspiring one. Its founder – the eponymous Hajime Asaoka – only began making watches in 2005. He was a completely self-taught watchmaker who, after four years of continuous practice, debuted his first watch, a tourbillon, in 2009.
Asaoka’s first watch took the horology world by storm, spurring the creation of new references and series. Check out the Project T Tourbillon. The complexity and beauty of this piece rivals that of established, legendary brands like A.Lange & Söhne.
4. Minase (2005)
Minase is a relatively young brand. It was founded in 2005 by a cutting tool company who decided to go into watch-making, Kyowa Co. Ltd.
The company makes watches at a pretty low volume at only 500 pieces a year. This is even lower than exclusive brands such as Patek Philippe, which makes up to 50,000 pieces annually.
Previously, the company only offered its products to the domestic market. That has changed in recent years. Many of its watch collections like the Horizon and Windows series are now available for purchase internationally.
Minase watches have very unique architecture, inspired by traditional Japanese wooden puzzles. Every piece of the movement is fitted together perfectly without increasing the overall internal volume displaced by the movement.
5. Credor (1974)
Credor – similar to Grand Seiko – is an off-shoot of the Seiko brand. Though there’s no certain date, the subsidiary officially began operation in 1974.
The name “Credor” comes from the French word “Créte d’Or”, meaning “Golden Ridge”. Its name reflects its logo, too, which is a stylized mountain.
Credor produces timepieces that are even more exclusive than those sold under the Grand Seiko name. Take the Credor Eichi II dress watch as an example. Only 20 pieces are crafted every year.
If you have a more complicated taste, try the Fugaku Tourbillon. The intricate finishing on the dial and the bevel alone brings it up to par with more than a few Grande Complication automatic watches out there.
Despite being a very premium brand, Credor isn’t very well-known on the world stage. It’s a lot more popular domestically in Japan.
6. Citizen (1918)
Citizen is a staunch rival of Seiko in Japan and also on the global market. It was founded in 1918 as Shokosha Watch Research Institute. After the organization was taken over by a group of Japanese and Swiss investors, the name was changed to Citizen.
Through the 70s, Citizen produced some excellent quartz wristwatches for the masses. However, its break came in 1976 when it created the first light-powered quartz movement that is called “Eco-Drive”. This technology still powered many Citizen’s pieces to this day.
While quartz movements are part of Citizen’s heritage, if you’re fond of Japanese movement watches, Citizen can help you out, too. It owns Miyota Group, which produces some of the best budget-friendly automatic movements on the market. The Miyota 8215 or the ETA-2824 are great examples.
7. Masahiro Kikuno (2011)
Masahiro Kikuno is a watchmaker that crafts all of his pieces entirely by hand. He personally handles every phase of a watch’s production, from design to manufacturing and assembly. Each piece is lovingly put together and has an incredible level of attention to detail that cannot be matched by mass-produced pieces.
Because each piece is handcrafted, supply is very limited. What little pieces that are available for sales can fetch a ludicrous price due to the exclusivity.
Kikuno is a member of a group called Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants. It is an association of the finest independent watchmakers in the world. He is the youngest and only Japanese watchmaker to be inducted as the group’s member, which only has a roster of 34 members thus far.
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8. Orient (1950)
Orient is the largest producer of automatic Japanese watches. Most notably, every part of the company’s pieces from the band, the case, the dial, the hand, down to the movement are built in-house. Orient pieces are fully made in Japan.
This is one of the reasons why the company could price its watches so affordably despite the high quality in construction and timekeeping performance.
The company is famous for its lines of dress watches, called Bambino. Its dive watches, Mako, are also well-rated among enthusiasts. It’s a great brand to consider if you need a good timepiece on a budget.
Its story began all the way back in 1901 when Shogoro Yoshida opened a wholesale watch shop named “Yoshida Watch Shop”. After many transformations and renaming, the Orient Watch Company, Limited finally took shape in 1950.
9. Casio (1946)
When it comes to Japanese watches, we can’t exclude Casio. Founded in 1946 after World War II by Tadao Kashio, the company started off selling mechanical parts. In 1949, the company shifted into building calculators.
Casio only began to sell its first digital quartz watches in the 70s. It culminated in the calculator watches that were super popular in the 80s. Also in the 80s, the company also introduced its legendary G-Shock lines.
Casio is still known for its digital and quartz watches today. It’s a good stop if you need a tough, affordable watch that can keep up with you through the day.
10. Knot (2014)
Unlike other brands on this list, Knot has only been founded very recently in 2014. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad watch brand. Knot will appeal to wearers who prefer their timepieces to be simple and functional. The dial, movement, and design are all minimalistic.
What sets it apart is that it allows you to customize the micro watches it offers. According to the company, it offers more than 100,000 combinations of faces, straps, and buckles.
That sounds like an expensive endeavor, but it’s really not. Knot’s watches are quite affordable.
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Japan, like Switzerland, is home to a great many watch companies and watchmakers. Depending on your budget and taste, it shouldn’t be too difficult to pick up a good watch from among these 10 best Japanese watch brands.
Have you ever worn pieces from any of these brands before? What was it like?
If not, which one do you plan on checking out in the future? Tell us in the comments!