In the years since King Seiko’s last releases in the mid-1970s, a cult following has emerged among collectors. Given its compelling blend of Japanese design, meticulous craftsmanship, and appealing price point, it’s easy to see why.
Last year, King Seiko made a triumphant return, with a stellar design straight from Seiko’s archives. King Seiko planner Kohei Egashira and designer Hikaru Matsumoto talk us through the process of reimagining an icon.
Square Mile : Why has Seiko chosen to revive King Seiko now?
Kohei Egashira : The 60th anniversary of King Seiko’s birth in 2021 was a major motivating factor. With the global recognition of Grand Seiko increasing ever since its brand independence in 2017, we thought the timing was appropriate to revive the King Seiko collection as a strong pillar of mechanical watchmaking for the Seiko brand.
SM : Does consumer demand play into big decisions, such as the return of King Seiko?
KE : Seiko has a very rich watchmaking history, and watch fans have a strong connection with various historical collections and watches. King Seiko was a series which demonstrated Seiko’s ability to develop highly accurate watches and is well-known among Seiko watch fans.
SM : How far did you delve into the archives for inspiration?
Hikaru Matsumoto : When designing a new model, I research the history of how the archive model was created and the historical background. At the same time, I ensure that I am carefully observing the actual product, the originality of the model, finding all the essential elements that make up its characteristics, and thinking about how we can make use of it in new designs. The size and proportion of the archive model, materials and processing technology at the time are also all important factors.
Representative models are kept in the Seiko Museum in Ginza, Tokyo, and designers have many opportunities to view them. Although not all past models are stored in the Seiko Museum, we have a large number of documents and resources which we refer to.
SM : King Seiko and Grand Seiko were once considered rival brands – a directive from Seiko to promote internal competition…
KE : Two factories were led by the K.Hattori & Co, in charge of creating Grand Seiko and King Seiko, which influenced each other and engaged in friendly competition. As a result, both teams improved their watchmaking skills, creating new paths and watchmaking developments. The company achieved a level of quality that rivalled the best watchmakers in the world, gaining global recognition.
SM : How are the two separated today and would they still be considered rivals?
KE : Today, Grand Seiko is an independent brand, separate from Seiko, while King Seiko is a collection within the Seiko brand. Both offer high-quality timepieces with their own unique qualities and characteristics.
We all strive to create the best designs that reflect the characteristics of each brand and collection. Although under separate brands, we do have friendly exchanges between designs and studios.
SM : The new models are inspired by the 1965 King Seiko KSK. How was this design modernised for a new audience?
HM : The biggest difference is the shape of the lugs: the original KSK watches have complex multi-faceted lugs, including the tips of the lugs, while the King Seiko modern design watches have a simpler shape with less faceted lugs. The silhouette of the watch, when viewed from the front, is also different: the original KSK has nearly straight lugs, while the King Seiko modern design has lugs that gradually taper towards the tip.
SM : Why were the changes made? What are the key elements of the KSK that were crucial to keep within the modern designs?
HM : For the King Seiko modern design, we wanted to take advantage of the original KSK’s features, so we adjusted the balance of the details to create a form that would also feel new. The key design elements from the original KSK that were kept within the King Seiko modern design were:
- The bezel is slim and the lugs are deep and straight
- Boldly shaped lugs composed of straight lines and flat surfaces
- The appearance of the box-shaped sapphire crystal (the side of the case, is made slimmer maintaining the balance between strength and lightness)
- The 12 o’clock index is more than twice the width of the others and has a patterned texture specially crafted to ensure legibility and to give the dial a bright sparkle.
SM : What are some of the finer details central to the new King Seiko?
HM : The cutting-edge, multifaceted case shape and the iconic 12 o’clock index are details inherited from the original in 1965 and are central to this creation. Several important elements, which maintain the identity of the design, including the 12 o’clock index, which is carefully crafted by hand, takes time and effort to create.
SM : Why was the Calibre 6R31 automatic movement selected for the new King Seiko?
KE : The first- and second-generation King Seiko watches were all equipped with the Calibre 44 series, which were five-beat per second movements. The original KSKs were also equipped with the Calibre 44, so in developing the new KSK-inspired watches, we thought it would be appropriate to equip the watches with six-beat movements or more.
In creating the new King Seiko series, we placed emphasis on the quality of the exterior design of the original. To achieve the right balance between design and movement while keeping the size compact, a non-date movement like the Calibre 6R31 was essential.
In terms of the history of calibres within King Seiko designs, the Calibre 45 series, which appeared in 1969, was a ten-beat movement [at 36,000 bph, this would be considered high-beat]. The Calibre 56 series, which appeared in the same year (developed by Suwa Seikosha) and the Calibre 52 series from 1971 were eight-beat movements.
SM : What is your favourite King Seiko model?
HM : I’m attracted to designs that have a universality that doesn’t fade over time. With that in mind, the 45-7000 is my favourite. I like the design of the case with its lean and simple shape and beautiful proportions.
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Prices from £1,470. The full collection will be available to view in the new Bond Street boutique from November. For more information on the return of the King Seiko series, see seikoboutique.co.uk