Next to Swiss, Japanese watch brands are considered to be one of the most refined.
From the very beginning of the horological industry to now, Japanese watchmakers – thanks to an innovative and oftentimes bold approach – have contributed greatly to the development of the sector we all know and love today.
Most folks with at least a bit of interest in watchmaking are probably aware of the three most popular and respected Japanese brands. Oftentimes referred to as the Holy Trio of Japanese watchmaking, Citizen, Seiko, and Orient have millions of admirers worldwide. In fact, Seiko sparked one of the biggest revolutions in the industry with the introduction of the world’s first quartz model in the 1970s.
On the other hand, those who prefer a more sporty approach have definitely come across Casio who produces robust and lasting timepieces.
The fact is, the four excellent brands mentioned above are far from the only names you should be familiar with. The Land of the Rising Sun has a lot more to offer.
In today’s article, we will have a look at the best Japanese watch brands available in 2021. The list consists of the top 10 watchmakers – four that have already been mentioned and six hidden gems not many are aware of.
So, what are the best Japanese watches to get nowadays? Are there any top Japanese watch brands you’ve been missing out on?
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Best Japanese Watch Brands (Top 10)
It’s only fair to begin with the brand that’s been responsible for the biggest shake-up of the horological industry to this date.
Seiko is not only the oldest watchmaker originating from Japan but also one of the oldest hands globally. Since its foundation in 1881, the Japanese watch mogul has contributed greatly to many milestones of the industry, most noticeably by kickstarting the so-called Quartz Crisis (or Quartz Revolution) of the 1970s.
The Tokyo-based brand released the world’s first quartz watch, an innovation that forced all watchmakers globally to rethink their strategy and move away from the traditional mechanical timepieces that couldn’t (and still can’t) match the accuracy of battery-powered counterparts.
The list of Seiko’s amazing contributions certainly doesn’t stop here and you can read more about other ground-breaking watches in our Seiko brand review.
Nowadays, Seiko enjoys an excellent reputation worldwide as it continues to offer stylish and accurate timepieces that stand the test of time and won’t break the bank as many Swiss counterparts do. Fair to say, these are some of the most popular watches in Japan.
Price-wise, the cheapest Seiko watches can be snatched for less than $100 whilst some of the most refined models can set you back well into five figures. The brand is particularly known for its line of dive watches as well as solar-powered timepieces.
Next on the list is Citizen – a brand oftentimes compared to Seiko and considered its biggest competitor.
Citizen is a watchmaker whose roots date back to the 20th century.
Although the corporation was officially founded in 1930, it was in 1918 that the brand made its first steps. Rodolphe Schmid, a renowned Swiss watchmaker, registered the firm in his native country with the sole aim of selling his watches in Japan at the time.
Rodolphe required funding in the early years of Citizen’s existence in order to successfully advance the brand. Fortunately for him (and us), Goto Shinpei was enthusiastic about his idealistic concept of making high-quality timepieces affordable to the entire people. During the 1920s, Citizen had a lot of aid from the famous Japanese Count, which helped the brand grow in popularity.
Citizen might not have as long a list of industry-shaping releases as Seiko but it has still made amazing contributions which you can read in detail in the Citizen brand review. Most noticeably, it’s responsible for the development of some of the most advanced and reliable dive watches.
Many of the Citizen releases boast a more sporty design than Seikos. Also, at present, the brand puts bigger focus on quartz-powered timepieces rather than automatic models like Seiko. Many think that, dollar-for-dollar, Seiko offers the best Japanese automatic watches while Citizen is responsible for the development of the best Japanese quartz watches.
Citizen’s real trademark is the Eco-Drive movement technology. It’s a form of solar-powered movement that, according to users and the brand itself, can provide up to 10 years of hassle-free work.
When it comes to pricing, Citizen is an excellent example of a low-to-mid-budget brand. Lowest-priced Citizen watches are available from as low as $100, while the most advanced models reach up to $2,000.
Closing the so-called Holy Trio list of the best watch brands in Japan is Orient. If you’ve been looking for a brand that offers by far the best dollar-for-dollar value on Japanese automatic (and mechanical) watches, look no further.
Orient is definitely not a name with an as illustrious and long-lasting history as the pair discussed above. However, in the present-day market, they have just as impressive a number of fans that are lured with the amazing affordability of automatic watch models.
Although for many years after the 1950 foundation Orient was a stand-alone company, it is currently owned by Seiko Epson group. Since the very beginning, the company has been dedicated to making high-quality watches with an emphasis on workmanship, durability, accuracy, and timeless beauty.
Orient preserved its internal movements, despite the fact that it is now a Seiko subsidiary. This means its timepieces are still powered by high-quality, mechanical movements.
Furthermore, their designs are absolutely lovely – traditional and exquisite. With Orient, you may get a highly formal-looking dress watch without breaking the bank. There’s also a lot to choose from for those who prefer a more sporty style with a large collection of Orient dive watches available.
Orient is definitely the least expensive of the top three brands. Some of the cheapest models can be snatched even for $50 while the prices are unlikely to exceed $1,000 in most cases. For more details about the brand, check out our Orient watches review.
Casio is another famous Japanese watch brand. Interestingly, it’s the only brand on the list that we could classify as one with worldwide recognition that isn’t exclusively a watchmaker.
Although it’s predominantly known for its tough-to-beat G-Shock watch line, it also manufactures consumer electronics such as calculators, digital cameras, or even electronic musical instruments.
Certainly, Casio stands out from other brands on the list in terms of looks, functionalities, and, most importantly, ruggedness.
Casio watches are for those who value excellent quartz accuracy (all Casio models are battery-powered), a sporty look, and a body that can take a beating. Because of the sturdy build, Casio timepieces are a popular choice amongst folks working in demanding professions such as firefighters, EMTs or construction workers.
Casio was founded in Mitaka, Tokyo, in April 1946 by Kashio Seisakujo. The first electronic wristwatch, the Casiotron, was released about two decades after its foundation. Nowadays, the brand is mostly associated with its G-Shock line which continues to grow in popularity around the globe.
Casio watches cater to people with contrasting budgets. Some of the cheapest models are available even for less than $20. Such low price margins make Casio one of the favorites amongst savvy shoppers looking for cheap Japanese watch brands. On the other hand, the most advanced G-Shock releases can set you back even $1,000.
5. Grand Seiko
Someone once described Grand Seiko as Seiko on steroids and there’s certainly some truth to that statement.
Grand Seiko is a subsidiary of Seiko that produces high-end timepieces that can cost you well into four or even five figures.
Grand Seiko’s biggest trademark is the inclusion of Seiko’s Spring Drive movement technology. It’s a one-of-a-kind movement that blends the high torque of a mechanical watch with the unbeatable accuracy of a battery-powered (quartz) timepiece. Some of the most advanced Grand Seikos can achieve a yearly accuracy of +/- 10 seconds which is on par with the very best of the industry.
The newly-released models include a huge GS sign in the top center with the term Grand Seiko below it, as opposed to the old simple and traditional Grand Seiko as a logo. Despite the new design, Grand Seiko timepieces continue to live up to the brand’s reputation for dependability and beauty.
If you’re aiming to get one of these outstanding watches, prepare to shell out anywhere between $4,000 and $20,000.
Credor is oftentimes seen as a competitor to Seiko which is a bit ironic as both are actually owned by Grand Seiko, and are pretty much-partnering brands.
Despite that, both watchmakers have different approaches in terms of the design and watchmaking processes. Credor is definitely the younger of the two as its first timepiece saw daylight only in 1980. At that time, it used the world’s smallest movement barely measuring a millimeter in thickness.
Looking at the high pricing of Credor timepieces (they can cost you anywhere between $5,000 and $15,000), it’s fair to say that the brand is rivaling Grand Seiko more than Seiko.
The name Credor means “golden crest” in French while the brand’s logo is a Chinese character for a mountain represented by three stars on the top.
Because of the Seiko influence, some of the Credor timepieces also use the much-loved Spring Drive movement technology. One such model, a best-seller to this date, is Sonuri GBLQ998. Its other trademark is the skeletonized dial through which you can peek at the intricate workings of mechanical movement. Neither Seiko nor Grand Seiko offers many models in this mold.
The story of Minase as a watch brand is an interesting one.
For a large chunk of its history, the company was specializing in manufacturing precision drills and metal cutting. During that period, some watch brands collaborated with Minase in producing drills that could have precisely made stepped holes.
The next years saw Minase start the production of watch cases. The process earned them great reviews not only amongst Japanese micro-brands but also the industry’s bigger names. The success convinced the company to start its own watch brand.
They finally released the first wristwatch under the brand’s name in the summer of 2005. Minase prides itself on developing only the highest quality timepieces that will survive the test of time using the company’s skills and experience. Divido, Horizon, 5 Windows, and 7 Windows and Masterpiece are the five collections available from the brand today. All of these items were lovingly and painstakingly created in Japan.
Price-wise, we can safely consider Minase a high-budget brand. Minase watches can set you back anywhere between $3,000 and $15,000.
We now move on to the list of independent watchmakers, a field that is gaining a lot of traction in Japan and other Asian countries.
The first “brand” of this type is probably the most popular and with the biggest luxury status as of now. Hajime Asaoka has been in the industry since 2009 and his fairly recent rise to the top of the game is due to the refined skill and modern watchmaking philosophy that’s unique to the Japanese culture.
Hajime Asaoka doesn’t produce watches on a mass scale like any of the watchmakers we’ve covered before. However, all timepieces that are released are sold out within months or even weeks of the premiere and for many, they’re a symbol of privilege and luxury.
Asaoka, now a full member of the Independent Watchmaker Academy (AHCI), released his debut timepiece in 2009. The Tsunami watch, a best-seller to this day, offers quite a versatile look. One of its biggest trademarks is the see-through caseback that allows you to peek at the complex workings of the hand-wound movement.
Next to Tsunami, another two excellent lines of watches by Asaoka are chronographs and tourbillons. Both types come with see-through faces which gives an even better insight into the mechanisms. Chronograph timepieces come with fully transparent faces while tourbillons are adorned with an open-heart window at the bottom of the dial and a transparent caseback.
Hajime Asaoka’s timepieces stand for precision and a refined sense of modern watchmaking based on historical learning. As a result, the final product is nothing short of exquisite. It’s no surprise then that Hajime Asaoka is at the pinnacle of the luxury watch business in Japan and across the world.
The high-end status of Hajime Asaoka watches means these are some of the most expensive timepieces in Asia. The prices start at $50,000.
Next on the list of independent Japanese watchmakers is Masahiro Kikuno, the youngest-ever member of the Independent Watchmaker Academy (AHCI).
Quickly after selling his first timepiece at the age of 29, Kikuno made its way up the ladder of the watchmaking industry.
Most of his early success is attributed to his 2011 adaptation of a myriad-year clock. The clock was originally developed by Tanaka Hisashige back in 1851 and to this date is seen as one of the biggest symbols of Japanese horology. Masahiro’s retake of the wadokei (a Japanese clock showing Japanese time) as a wristwatch cemented his reputation as a master watchmaker.
Kikuno’s watches are well-known for the painstaking labor that goes into producing them by hand. This ensures that specific requirements are met. As a result, even machine-made timepieces are not always able to match the degree of detail required. Kikuno also employs the lessons of certain past watchmakers via invention. And in doing so, he joins his tale with theirs, resulting in a timepiece appropriate for the twenty-first century.
One of Kikuno’s best-selling models is the Sakubou watch. Masahiro came up with the idea for this timepiece because he felt that the Japanese culture no longer worshipped the moon the way it had used to for the majority of its rich history. Thus, Sakubou – a watch equipped with a much-loved MK17 movement and a moon phase dial – is a timepiece that reminds the wearer of the rich tradition.
Once you start browsing through Masahiro Kikuno’s website, you will quickly notice that it’s full of the previously-mentioned wadokei (traditional Japanese clocks) watches. These unique timekeepers adjust the automatic index every season. The time between sunrise and sunset is split into 6 divisions and measures each unit as an hour.
Closing today’s list of the best Japanese watch brands is another independent producer of high-end Japanese watches, Naoya Hida.
It’s definitely the freshest proposition of all discussed today as the first Naoya Hida watch saw daylight only in 2018. If we were to point to one brand that really focuses on quality over quantity, we might as well choose Naoya Hida. The company rarely develops more than 25 timepieces annually.
Naoya Hida, like Masahiro Kikuno and Hajime Asaoka, combines traditional Japanese watchmaker processes with cutting-edge technology. Despite the fact that all of the watches are powered by Valjoux/ETA 7750 movements, Hida refinishes the movements by removing the chronograph element. Not only that but the watches are made of stainless steel 904L, the same as Rolex watches, offering Naoya Hida the highest level of quality and accuracy.
At the time of writing, the brand offers four watch collections: NH1B (the first line released under the label), NH1C, NH2A, and NH3A.
The first is known for its vintage look accompanied by a sleek, modern casing. The NH1C collection combines microfabrication technology with skilled craftsmanship. NH2a boasts unique dial patterns. Finally, the latest release, NH3A, comes with a beautiful moon phase dial at 6 o’clock. Crucially, all watch models use mechanical, hand-wound movements.
Naoya Hida definitely doesn’t belong to the group of affordable Japanese watch brands as you’re unlikely to find a model online available for less than $20,000.