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Next to Casio, about which pretty much everyone and their dog have heard, Seiko and Citizen are the most known and respected watchmakers from Japan. Quite surprisingly, they’re still largely untapped brands for many beginning watch enthusiasts.
The so-called Quartz Revolution in the 1970s opened up the door for many watchmakers from Asia to start a global expansion. Also known as the Quartz Crisis, the industry-shaking movement was started by none other than Seiko itself. With the release of the world-first battery-powered timepiece, Quartz Astron 35SQ, the brand has turned the Swiss-dominated industry on its head.
What then-dominating Swiss brands saw as a major setback, from which many never fully recovered, Japanese watchmakers considered an incredible opportunity. Looking back, we can safely say both Seiko and Citizen have grabbed it with both hands.
Nowadays, both brands are some of the best-known and respected watchmakers not only in Asia but worldwide. Apart from the country of origin, they share many other similarities. There are just as many, if not more, fields in which they differ greatly. In this Seiko vs Citizen brand comparison, we will go into detail regarding many aspects of both companies, from history to industry-shaping innovations to current best watch models.
Is Seiko better than Citizen? Or does Citizen watches have the edge? Let’s find out!
Both brands boast an enormously long and rich-in-landmark-moments history that can be bettered by only a few watchmakers. In their own way, through brilliant innovations, both Seiko and Citizen have made massive contributions to the watchmaking industry. Although the former has definitely more to brag about.
Let’s have a brief look at the history books of both.
History of Seiko
The spectacular story of Seiko took off in 1881 thanks to a visionary entrepreneur named Kintaro Hattori. For the first 11 years after opening his business, the talented 21-year old watchmaker was merely repairing and reselling watches.
The company’s first big breakthrough arrived in 1892 when Hattori made the decision to start producing clocks under the name Seikosha which translates to “House of Exquisite Workmanship“. It certainly lived up to its name.
After a major success of The Timekeeper, his first pocket watch, in 1895, Hattori released the first Japanese-made wristwatch under the name Laurel in 1913. So popular was the timepiece that the company was struggling to keep up with the demand.
The success streak Hattori was enjoying came to an end in 1923 when the Great Kanto Earthquake struck, burning down the company’s HQs and the manufactory. During the rebuilding phase, Hattori’s superstitions regarding the “Seikosha” label lead to him rebranding to Seiko.
Hattori’s never-say-die attitude made the process of reviving the brand look smooth. In 1929, the brand got appointed as the official timekeeping supplier of Japan National Railways.
Three years later, Seiko was asked to construct the Wako Clock Tower in one of the popular districts of Tokyo, Ginza. From the 1960s to the 1990s, the brand was serving as the Official Timer of Olympic games.
On top of reshaping the whole industry with the world’s first-ever quartz watch in 1969, the Tokyo-based company had a few other “World’s Firsts” that include:
- the first-ever six-digit LCD watch in 1973
- the first-ever multi-function digital watch in 1975
- the first-ever Professional Diver’s 600m watch with a titanium case in 1975
- the first-ever TV watch in 1982
- the first-ever voice-recording watch in 1983
- the first-ever watch with computer functions in 1984
- the first-ever diving watch with a ceramic outer case in 1986
- the first-ever Kinetic watch in 1988
- the first-ever computerized diving watch in 1990
- the first-ever mechanical watch with quartz accuracy (Spring Drive) in 1999
- the first-ever three-band Radio Wave analog Solar watch in 2005
- the first-ever E-Ink watch in 2010
- the first-ever solar-powered watch that receives GPS signals from 39 time zones on earth in 2012
History of Citizen
There are not many brands that could compete with Seiko in terms of the number of industry-shaking moments. You’ve got to admit, Seiko’s innovative approach has made an outstanding contribution to the whole horological world over the years.
The fact that the biggest watchmaking revolution to date, the Quartz Crisis, is solely down to Seiko’s invention speaks volumes.
Citizen’s history might not deserve a book of its own but it’s certainly worth getting familiar with as well.
Although Citizen’s official website states that the company was founded in 1930, it was in fact in 1918 that the watchmaker took its baby steps. It was set up by a horologist named Rodolphe Schmid in his home country, Switzerland. Schmid set up the enterprise in order to export and sell watches in Japan. At that time, the number of Japanese watchmakers was really small.
With the financial backing of a Japanese Count named Goto Shinpei and a combination of Swiss and Japanese investors, Schmid finally set up Citizen in the Land of the Rising Sun in 1930. He named the company this way because he believed wristwatches should be made affordable for all citizens of Tokyo and eventually, the whole country.
By far, the company’s biggest landmark moment was the introduction of the Eco-Drive collection – a line of solar-powered watches. After years of constant tests and betterments, the first Eco-Drive timepieces saw daylight in 1976. The collection became an instant hit in Asia and the word quickly spread to Europe and America. To this date, it’s Citizen’s most iconic line of watches for which they are predominantly known for.
During the 100+ year history, there were other notable accomplishments:
- the release of the first Japanese-made watch with a calendar in 1952
- the introduction of Japan’s first shockproof watch in 1956
- the release of Japan’s first water-resistant watch in 1959
- the start of a successful import/export partnership with American watchmaker Bulova in 1960. Nowadays, Citizen owns the American brand
- the release of Japan’s first electronic watch in 1966
- the introduction of Japan’s first watch with an LCD technology in 1974
- the release of the world’s first analog quartz watch with a solar cell in 1976
- the launch of the world’s most advanced diving watch in 1981. The Professional Diver boasted a 1300m water-resistance
Which Is Better - Seiko or Citizen?
Although the two brands have a lot in common, a direct comparison isn’t that straightforward for a few reasons.
Both Seiko and Citizen have tens of different watch lines with literally thousands of models to pick from. The style and design approach is extremely varied at times.
Also, the pair offer watches at different, often strongly contrasting price points. Both Seiko and Citizen produce watches for ranging budgets, from feature-rich watches for those with fat wallets to fashion timepieces affordable for most.
In addition to that, the two companies have millions of fans and critics, and it’s hard to find a 100% subjective opinion on the matter online. That said, I will do my best to provide one.
So, is Seiko or Citizen better?
The answer to this question will depend greatly on your needs and preferences.
Even though Seiko was responsible for the industry-changing Quartz Revolution, nowadays the brand focuses strongly on automatic watches. That’s in complete contrast to Citizen which prioritizes battery-powered (quartz) timepieces.
Style-wise, the brands differ as well. Whereas Seiko largely promotes the classic look in watches, Citizen collections include more watches with experimental, sometimes even futuristic style. Some say that with the choice of more minimalistic and oftentimes vintage style, Seiko intentionally creates a connection to the past.
On the other hand, we have Citizen who very much focuses on modern approach and technology. For instance, the brand introduced its line of solar-powered watches much earlier than Seiko’s.
Sales-wise, Citizen’s high saturation of the market means it sells a bigger number of watches annually – although the differences aren’t that big.
Amidst all the discussed differences, most watch enthusiasts agree on one matter: both brands offer brilliantly crafted watches for varying needs that in most cases won’t break the bank.
Now, to get a clearer picture of how Seiko and Citizen fare against each other, we will discuss similar watch models from both brands.
Seiko vs Citizen: Dive Watch
Let’s begin the model-to-model comparison with watches from one of the best-selling collections from both brands. Here I mean the diving watch series, and to be precise: Seiko’s Prospex collection and Citizen’s Promaster line (see also: Best Seiko Dive Watches & Best Citizen Diver).
Movement-wise, it’s the battle of Seiko automatic vs Citizen Eco-Drive. Is there a clear winner in the Seiko Prospex vs Citizen Promaster diving watch contest? Let’s find out below.
Seiko Prospex SRP777
Depending on where you do your shopping, Seiko Prospex SRP777 can be snatched at $350-$500. Without a doubt, it’s one of the highest-rated Seiko diving watches currently available.
Now let’s dive into (yes, pun intended) the watch specifications.
Design & Durability
The watch is a re-launched edition of the Seiko 6309 model that was produced between 1976 and 1988 and is now discontinued.
It’s a heavily built diving watch that comes with a stainless steel case measuring 44mm in diameter. Around the case, there’s a unidirectional bezel that allows you to measure elapsed time underwater. At 4 o’clock there’s a crown. Crucially, the crown is screw-down, just like the caseback, to make sure there’s no water getting inside the face.
The watch boasts a black dial with three white hands and hour markers. Both the hands and the indexes are luminescent, allowing for easy reading while diving or after dusk. At three o’clock, there’s a day and date window.
The SRP777 model comes with a durable, black rubber band with a standard buckle clasp closure.
Protecting the watch face against cracks and scratches is a Hardlex crystal. “What is Hardlex?”, you might think. It’s Seiko’s patented form of scratch-resistant glass. Durability-wise, it’s closer to mineral crystal than sapphire which is more common in the high-end models.
Unsurprisingly, the model uses automatic movement in the form of Seiko’s in-house caliber 4R36. Akin to the majority of Seiko’s entry-level mechanical watches, it’s machine-assembled. It’s a 25-jewel movement with a Power Reserve of 40 hours. On the precision front, the movement provides an accuracy of between +45 to -35 seconds per day.
The watch is water-resistant up to 200m. It’s suitable for scuba diving but not for saturation diving.
Naturally, it meets the International Organization for Standardization’s (ISO) requirements for a dive watch. It’s magnetic and shock-resistant.
Citizen Promaster BN0150-28E
Similar to the Seiko dive watch above, Citizen Promaster BN0150-28E is one of the most popular choices amongst diving enthusiasts. You can find it online for $270-$400, depending on the store.
Design & Durability
Doesn’t it just look like a lost twin of Seiko Prospex SRP777? It’s the closest match I could possibly pick, that’s for sure.
The watch comes with a stainless steel case of the exact same size (44mm). Adjacent to the case you will find a unidirectional bezel for measuring time underwater. The screw-down crown is also placed at 4 o’clock. Unsurprisingly, the caseback is screw-down as well.
With pitch-black background and silver hands and hour markers, the dial is nearly identical as well. Both the hands and index are luminescent. Quite frankly, the only notable difference between the two models is the date window. The window in the Promaster model is located at 4 o’clock and displays the date only.
In the case of the Citizen model, the dial window is made from anti-reflective mineral crystal glass.
Whereas on the outside these two watches look nearly identical, they couldn’t be more different as far as the movement is concerned.
As already explained, more often than not, Seiko likes to install automatic movements in their watches. Citizen, being the complete opposite, goes with quartz movements.
It is no surprise then that the Promaster BN0150-28E model uses a battery-powered caliber. Like with most of their watches, the movement is solar-powered and comes from the much-loved Eco-Drive series. The exact caliber used in this model is E146. It delivers a pretty standard for quartz watches precision of +/- 15 seconds/month.
If you value accuracy above all, Citizen holds a massive advantage here.
The watch comes with the same 200m WR rating as the Seiko counterpart. Being magnetic and shock-resistant, it’s also designed in line with ISO requirements.
Seiko Solar vs Citizen Eco-Drive
As already mentioned, Citizen is a clear leader in terms of the number of quartz watches it produces. Hence, it’s no surprise it has a much bigger collection of solar-powered timepieces to pick from (there are no automatic watches powered by the sun).
Although Seiko too offers many solar watches, Citizen is miles ahead in this field.
When it comes to Seiko, the solar-powered watches are limited to just one collection – Seiko Solar. On the other hand, the vast majority of Citizen’s most refined models run on the Eco-Drive technology that the brand introduced in 1976 and has kept improving since.
The Eco-Drive movement stands out from most of its competitors due to its incredible longevity. Because of the extremely durable and efficient titanium lithium battery, the watch can easily provide up to 2 decades of hassle-free use. And even then, these batteries could still retain up to 85% of the recharging capabilities. It’s an outstanding result and one of a few that contribute to such massive popularity of Citizen watches.
Clearly inspired by Citizen’s first solar model from 1976, Seiko released its debut Seiko Solar watch a year later. Even though it was quite a success, the brand never considered solar watches as their #1 priority. Hence, to this day, the availability of those is limited to just one collection.
Even though the Seiko Solar line is rich in excellent timekeepers, the much-loved Citizen’s Eco-Drive technology probably deserves more of your attention.
Now let’s move to the model-to-model comparison of a Seiko Solar watch vs Citizen Eco-Drive. Again, I picked watches in a similar price range.
Seiko Solar SNE329
Because of the budget-friendly price ($100-$150), Seiko SNE329 is currently one of the hottest-selling Seiko Solar timepieces.
Now let’s have a closer look at the watch specs.
Design & Durability
Seiko SNE329 belongs to the huge collection of the brand’s military/field watches. It’s built to last.
The stainless steel case measures 43mm in diameter and includes a fixed bezel. With the 51mm lug-to-lug length, it’s probably best suited for men with medium-to-large wrists. Well, at least in my opinion it would look best in such a setting. The case is just 11mm thick and has a solid caseback. Unlike the diving model discussed above, it has a push-pull and not a screw-down crown. It’s located at 3 o’clock.
The dark blue analog dial features three luminescent watch hands. It also has lume hour markers. At three o’clock, there’s a day and date window.
As far as the band is concerned, it’s made from a highly durable NATO Nylon with a tang buckle closure. It’s a popular choice amongst tactical watches that can take a beating. Probably a slight drawback is that it’s not as easy to clean as stainless steel or rubber bands.
Typically for Seiko, the dial window is made from Hardlex crystal. On the water-proofing front, the model comes with a 100m water-resistance rating.
Since Seiko is one of the most respected manufacturers of watch movements, it’s no surprise the caliber is made in-house. The watch uses a solar-powered quartz movement in the form of Seiko’s caliber V158.
The movement is highly durable and usually works for long years with excellent accuracy. It has a power reserve of 10 months, meaning you can basically live in a basement for that long without having to worry about the battery running out. When exposed to the sun, the battery can be fully charged after 9 hours. In the case of other sources of light, it might take longer.
The movement provides an accuracy of +/- 15 seconds/month.
Citizen Eco-Drive AW1236-03A
Listed at a similar price point, Citizen AW1236-03A is an excellent option to consider for those with limited budgets. You can find the model online even for as little as $90.
Design & Durability
In contrast to the heavily-built Seiko Solar model above, this Citizen Eco-Drive timepiece boasts a much more elegant look. If you’re a fan of dress watches, you could do much worse than go for this minimalistic yet comment-worthy timepiece.
The model comes with a slightly smaller case, making it a good option for men with smaller wrists or even females. The case measures 40mm in diameter and is made from stainless steel – just like the fixed bezel. The case is even thinner than in the Seiko Solar watch (9mm) and has a solid caseback. Also similar to the model above, the watch is equipped with a push/pull crown at 3 o’clock.
The snow-white analog dial has three gold-tone hands and Roman numerals, giving it a bit of a vintage feel. At three o’clock there’s also a date window. Contrastingly to the Seiko watch, none of the elements are luminescent.
The elegant feel of this model is completed by the black strap made from genuine leather. It comes with a standard tang buckle clasp. Bear in mind that although leather bands look excellent on any wrist, they’re much more prone to damage and are a nightmare to clean.
When it comes to the glass, this Citizen model, like most Eco-Drives in this price range, uses scratch-resistant mineral crystal. The water-resistance capabilities of this one are modest, to say the least. With the WR rating of 3 ATM/30m, the watch is splashproof at best.
Unsurprisingly for Citizen, the watch runs on quartz movement. The exact caliber is Eco-Drive J810.
Akin to the solar-powered movement by Seiko, this one too has excellent reviews regarding its lifespan. At 8 months, it has a slightly less impressive power reserve. For the battery to be fully charged, you need to expose the dial to around 30 hours of sunlight. In the case of fluorescent lamps or interior lighting, it can take even 10x times as long.
It has a pretty standard for quartz watches accuracy of +/- 15 seconds monthly.
Seiko vs Citizen: Automatic Movement
We’ve already had a detailed look at models from Seiko and Citizen’s most popular series, the diving watch and solar-powered collections. Now it’s time for two more comparisons.
Firstly, we will discuss automatic watch models – Seiko’s much-preferred type of wristwatches. To make it fair, the last comparison will cover popular models using quartz movement – the most common choice across all Citizen collections.
Without further ado, let’s go.
Seiko SNKM97 is one of the more affordable automatic watch models. Depending on the online store you pick, you can snatch the watch from as low as $150.
Design & Durability
With a rather uncommon choice of gold and green accents, the model has a bit of a vintage feel to it, taking us back to the funky style of the 1970s.
The watch, mostly known under the name Recraft, comes with an interesting case shape. It’s not really circular, nor is it rectangular. It’s made from stainless steel and has a diameter of 43,5mm. On paper, it might look large but the fact is: rectangular-like cases wear a bit different than the round ones.
Also, because of the squared-off corners, the watch has relatively short lugs integrated into the case which makes it look smaller. It should look more than okay even on slender wrists. The case is 11mm thick.
Like many other Seiko automatic models, the case has a see-through caseback through which you can marvel at the intricate workings of the mechanical movement. The caseback is screw-down – unlike the push/pull crown which is located at 3 o’clock. That, in combination with a rather modest water-resistance rating (5 ATM/50m), means you really have to be careful when it comes to exposing the watch to water.
The timepiece comes with a stainless steel bracelet with a push-button fold-over safety clasp.
As already mentioned, the model boasts a really unique-looking analog dial. The dark green background and gold-tone hands and hour markers complement each other neatly, to say the least. None of the elements are luminescent which might make reading in the dark a challenge. Placed at three o’clock, there’s a month and a date window.
The dial glass is again made from Hardlex crystal.
Seiko SNKM97 runs on Seiko’s in-house automatic movement, caliber 7S26. It’s a 21-jewel, three-hand configuration movement with a 41-hour power reserve.
First introduced in 1996, the movement’s accuracy is ranging from -20 to +49 seconds per day. It’s a result that is to be expected with watches in this price category – it’s neither spectacular nor poor. It’s just okay.
Citizen NH8389-88LE, Seiko’s potent competitor in the automatic watch category, is a model that won’t set you back more than $200.
Design & Durability
The 1970s vibes beaming from the Seiko model above are a contrast to this modern-looking, ocean-inspired Citizen automatic model.
It’s a fairly heavy watch. With a stainless steel case measuring 46mm in diameter and 13mm in thickness, it’s definitely best suited for folks with large wrists. The case includes a uni-directional bezel and a solid caseback. Both the caseback and the crown are screw-down. Furthermore, the watch possesses double the water-resistance capabilities of the Seiko model above (10 ATM/100m).
The bracelet too is made from stainless steel and is equipped with a deployment clasp with safety.
The ocean blue dial includes three luminescent hands. For easy reading after dusk, the hour indexes glow in the dark as well. The dial is also equipped with a day and date window, located at 3 o’clock.
Protecting the face against cracks and scratches is mineral crystal glass.
Even though Citizen is clearly not too fond of automatic movements and prefers the use of its excellent Eco-Drive technology, the movement used in this model was developed in-house as well.
The caliber that powers this particular model is Citizen 8200. The 21-jewel movement was first produced in 1975 and by the end of the 1970s, it was the brand’s standard automatic choice. It has a power reserve of 40 hours and an accuracy matching that of the Seiko SNKM97 discussed above.
Seiko vs Citizen: Quartz Watches
As promised, the last Citizen vs Seiko battle will include similarly-priced quartz-powered timepieces from both brands. For this occasion, I picked two excellent chronograph models. Once we’re done with that, I will summarize all the comparisons and try to answer the ever-nagging question for good: is Seiko or Citizen better?
Bear with me, please.
Seiko SSB265P1 is one of a few Seiko quartz watches that look way above their price tag. It’s yet another budget-friendly model that won’t break the bank, with some online marketplaces and retailers listing the timepiece for as low as $100.
Design & Durability
The watch comes with a 44mm stainless steel-made case that’s 12mm thick. Again, such dimensions make the watch a better fit for medium-to-large wrists. The case is equipped with a fixed bezel with a tachymeter scale while the caseback is solid and screw-down. Along with the screw-down crown located at 3:00, it certainly aids the 100m water-resistance rating.
On both sides of the crown, the watch has two additional buttons that operate the chronograph functions (see also: Citizen PCAT Chronograph Collection).
As far as the band is concerned, it’s made from genuine calfskin leather. It uses a standard tang buckle closure.
The dial looks like a powerful machine and, quite frankly, lit is just that. Design-wise, the rose-gold hands and indexes blend in beautifully with the black-and-grey background.
Since it’s a chronograph model, the face includes three additional sub-dials which measure up to 12 hours in 1.5-second increments. Quite inconspicuously, there’s also a date window located between 4 and 5 o’clock. For easy reading in the dark, both the hands and indexes are covered in Lumibrite – Seiko’s patented paint that provides even brighter and longer luminescence free of any radioactive substances.
To be expected, the watch comes with Hardlex crystal glass.
The quartz movement used in this model is Seiko’s own-made caliber 8T67. It’s a popular choice amongst the brand’s chronograph watches.
Like most battery-powered timekeepers in this price range, it provides an accuracy of +/- 15 seconds monthly.
Last but not least, we’ve got this comment-worthy, tough-looking quartz watch from Citizen. The CA4184-81E model is a slightly more expensive watch than its competitor in this clash, with the $200 being the lowest price I could find online.
Design & Durability
The watch belongs to Citizen’s Ecosphere line which is known for being rich in excellent chronograph watches designed with sports enthusiasts in mind.
It boasts a gunmetal-tone stainless steel case measuring 48mm in diameter. On top of being rather long, it’s also 15mm thick, meaning it will definitely look better on larger wrists. The caseback is solid and screw-down, just like the main crown at 3 o’clock. The crown is surrounded by two buttons responsible for the chronograph function. Akin to the Seiko model above, the case includes a fixed bezel with a tachymeter scale.
In contrast to Seiko SSB265P1, it’s an all-stainless steel model, featuring an ion-plated bracelet with a fold-over-clasp-with-hidden-double-push-button.
The predominantly black dial includes three chronograph sub-dials with a 1/5 second function measuring up to 60 minutes, as well as 12/24-hour time. Between 4 and 5 o’clock, there’s also a date window. The window is made from a mineral crystal. Many will find the fact that neither the three watch hands nor the indexes are luminous, rather disappointing.
The water-resistance rating of this quartz model is 10 ATM/100m.
This Citizen model is powered by a quartz movement in the form of Citizen’s own caliber, B620. The movement is a common choice in the brand’s chronograph models and, at the time of writing, is featured in 16 watche=s.
Akin to the Seiko counterpart above, it ensures an accuracy of +/- 15 seconds monthly.
Citizen vs Seiko Watches: Conclusion
It’s been a quite long read, hasn’t it?
If you’ve been mulling over which brand to choose for your first (or yet another) timepiece, I have high hopes that the detailed comparison has delivered enough answers to make the process smoother. If you’re still not there yet, feel free to also read my article comparing the Seiko Flightmaster vs Citizen Nighthawk.
To sum up the Citizen vs Seiko watches contest, it’s only fair to say that both brands deliver excellent timepieces for the price and each specializes in different types of watches. Thus, the final answer to the question of which is better will depend massively on what you’re looking for in a watch.
If you’re an automatic watch aficionado, you will find Seiko more appealing as the mechanical movement is the brand’s much-preferred choice, resulting in hundreds of well-crafted automatic models. That’s not to say Citizen is poor in this aspect – it’s just the choice isn’t that big.
It’s the opposite when it comes to quartz watches. If you value accuracy above everything else, you will have a lot more options to pick from when browsing through Citizen collections.
If you’re a diving enthusiast, you will appreciate the fact that both brands have excellent quality diving watch series in the form of Seiko Prospex and Citizen Promaster.
Finally, even though the Seiko Solar line is highly thought of in the watchmaking industry, there’s no getting away from the fact that Citizen has a clear edge in this field. The Eco-Drive technology is the brand’s trademark and, in contrast to the sun-powered line by Seiko, it’s featured in the vast majority of watches across all collections. The choice is endless – as is the battery life that can easily survive for more than 2 decades.
If the article has helped you make your mind up, I’m glad. Please make sure to share which brand you’ve gone for and why in the comment section below. If you have prior experience with Seiko or/and Citizen, I’d love to hear your feedback as well. Let’s interact!