While for many watch enthusiasts the ultimate goal is to own the likes of Rolex or Omega, being able to afford a timepiece from the very top of the luxury sector requires years of sacrifice for most.
However, there is a way to enjoy the feel of owning a top-of-the-line watch without having to spend anywhere near as much money.
The truth is, there’s excellent value to be found in the mid-price sector where tens of much-loved and world-renowned brands fight for your attention. A trio of watchmakers that fit the bill perfectly is:
All three companies can be considered a backbone of the affordable-yet-reliable sector of the watchmaking industry. All enjoy millions of sales annually for a reason.
So, which of these three brands should you go for?
If you’ve been contemplating the purchase of one of these watches, continue reading. To help you make your decision, we’ve put together a comprehensive comparison of the three, looking at their history and background, style, durability, movement and price.
By the end of this Bulova vs Citizen vs Seiko comparison, you will have a much better idea of which direction to go.
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Seiko vs Citizen vs Bulova: Background & History
Since all three companies take great pride in their really strong heritage, it’s only fair to have a brief look at their individual stories.
For a quick peek at the best-selling models:
Seiko was founded in 1881 by Kintaro Hattori as a watch shop in Tokyo and started manufacturing watches in 1924.
Hattori’s great-grandson Hiroshi Miyoshi is the current chairman. The company has made many notable contributions to watchmaking, including the world’s first quartz wristwatch, the Astron 35SQ in 1969. The release of this model sparked the so-called Quartz Crisis in the industry which saw many Swiss watchmakers go bankrupt.
Seiko also developed the Kinetic range of watches that use body movements to recharge a battery, rather than relying on a battery alone.
As a result of its forward-thinking, Seiko has been named the official timekeeper of numerous sporting events such as the Olympic Games, the World Cup, and Wimbledon. The company is also known for its work on Grand Seiko, its luxury sub-brand that can easily compete with the very best of the industry in terms of the complexity of its movements and craft.
The brand has many notable inventions to its name, including:
- The world’s first quartz watch
- The world’s first watch with a perpetual calendar and chronograph
- The first GPS solar watch
- The world’s first Diver’s Watch with a chronograph
Citizen was founded in 1918 by Japanese and Swiss businessmen and has since become one of Japan’s largest watch manufacturers. It is currently the world’s largest producer of quartz watches with a 40% market share.
Akin to Seiko, Citizen is also one of the few watchmakers that manufacture their own movements in-house. The brand is particularly known for its Eco-Drive movement technology which powers the watches using light instead of a battery. The first Eco-Drive model was released in 1976 and the technology has continued to develop, with the latest addition being a satellite GPS system that can connect to movement to provide accurate timekeeping anywhere on the planet.
Some of the Citizen’s biggest landmarks include:
- The world’s thinnest LCD watch
- The world’s first voice recognition watch
- The world’s first professional dive watch with an electronic depth sensor
- The world’s first GPS satellite-synchronized watch
Bulova was founded in New York City in 1875 by Joseph Bulova, a 23-year-old Czech immigrant. The company started out as a jewelry store before moving into watch manufacture in 1911.
In 1923, Bulova released the world’s first full-line radio advertising campaign which helped make the brand a household name. In the 1930s, Bulova became the official timekeeper of baseball and in 1941, the company released the Accutron watch, the first electronic watch with tuning fork technology which was accurate to within 2 seconds per day.
Funnily enough, the company has been owned by Citizen since 2008 and continues to produce watches under both the Bulova and Citizen brands. With that said, some Bulova watches are Swiss-made and the brand has a long history of working with Swiss watchmakers.
Some of Bulova’s most notable achievements include:
- The world’s first full-line radio advertising campaign
- The world’s first clock radio
- The world’s first fully-electronic watch
- First Privately-Owned Watch on the Moon
Bulova vs Seiko vs Citizen: Style
When it comes to style, all three brands offer a wide range of different options to suit any taste – and that’s why they’re so appreciated by folks from all walks of life.
However, each brand puts a bigger focus on one particular style. Let’s learn which one!
Looking at the majority of timepieces on offer, we can safely say that Bulova is, by some distance, the brand with the biggest focus on dressy timepieces. A quick browse through its collections will reveal an array of sleek, sophisticated and stylish watches that are perfect for any formal or semi-formal occasion.
That’s not to say that Bulova doesn’t offer more casual options – far from it. The brand has a number of chronographs and even dive watches in its repertoire but, overall, its main focus is on dress watches. All stainless steel models and elegant timepieces with leather straps are the norm here.
In contrast, Citizen seems to be targeting a more general audience with its wide range of styles.
While Citizen does offer a broader selection of designs, the main focus is on sporty timepieces. The brand has a number of different collections and watch types, each catering to different activities, whether it’s hiking, diving or just everyday wear.
The Eco-Drive Promaster collection, in particular, is worth mentioning as it’s designed for professional adventurers and athletes who need a reliable and durable watch that can keep up with them.
So, if you’re looking for a brand that can offer something for every occasion, Citizen is definitely the way to go.
While discussing the brands’ styles, it’s impossible not to mention Citizen’s presence in the smartwatch sector.
Lately, the brand has been putting a lot of effort into developing and releasing smartwatch models that offer a wide array of features and connect to both Android and iOS devices. The Citizen CZ smartwatch is available in a variety of styles and has already racked up hundreds of positive user reviews.
Seiko is probably best known for its dive watches, which make up a large part of the brand’s catalog. All Seiko divers are cataloged in the Prospex line that offers capable models suitable for different marine activities from snorkeling to saturation diving.
A distinctive feature of these watches is the unidirectional bezel which helps divers keep track of their dive time. Seiko also offers a wide range of different materials and colorways for its dive watches, making them some of the most stylish and versatile on the market.
The brand also has plenty in store for fans of dressy timepieces. Their Presage line is full of them. These watches are characterized by their elegant and classic design, often with some vintage elements such as Roman numerals.
|DRAW: It’s really difficult to evaluate watch styles as everyone has different tastes – and there’s no accounting for it. All three brands offer exquisite designs but Seiko and Citizen probably offer a wider approach.|
Bulova vs Seiko vs Citizen: Materials & Durability
It’s always nice if you get many compliments on how the timepiece presents itself on your wrist but at the end of the day, a watch is a tool. It needs to withstand the rigors of your everyday activities whether you’re an office worker or an outdoor enthusiast.
Luckily, all three brands pass the durability test with flying colors.
Bulova, Citizen and Seiko assemble their watches with materials that guarantee excellent longevity – whatever the price tag.
Starting with the most damage-prone part of any timepiece, the glass, all three brands use two types of crystal each.
In the case of Bulova and Citizen, the glass types are mineral and sapphire. In the case of Seiko, it’s Hardlex (Seiko-patented but very similar to mineral) and sapphire.
Mineral crystal (or Hardlex) is used across the lower-priced collections of the watchmakers. This glass type is absolutely reliable and provides a good bang for the buck but isn’t as tough as sapphire crystal.
Sapphire glass is utilized by all the top-end watchmakers in the world, including the likes of Rolex and Patek Philippe. It is impenetrable to scratches and shattering, making it the most expensive and desirable crystal type used in watchmaking. More often than not, it also comes with an anti-reflective coating which greatly improves legibility – at times you might even forget the crystal is there!
While the sapphire glass is the desired type and all three brands offer it with selected models, the price points at which you can get such a watch model are different for each watchmaker.
In this aspect, Seiko seems to be by far the most affordable brand. There are even watches around the $100 mark, such as Seiko SGEH77P1, that utilize the material. Next up we have Citizen whose sapphire crystal watches start at around $250, for example, Citizen BU2070-12L. Finally, sapphire models from Bulova seem to be the priciest, with the most budget-friendly options starting at around $300 (eg. Bulova 96A206).
The choice of straps is also important from a durability perspective.
Leather is undoubtedly the most comfortable and good-looking strap type but it’s also the most sensitive to water, sweat and everyday abuse. In other words, if you’re looking for a durable watch to take with you on hikes or runs, a leather strap isn’t the best option.
Both Citizen and Seiko offer an alternative to leather in the form of nylon straps. These are often seen on military or dive watches and can take a lot of punishment. Nylon is also very comfortable, especially if you go for the so-called “NATO” strap which has an extra layer of fabric under the watch case.
Bulova, on the other hand, being the most dressy brand, offers a huge number of leather and stainless steel models.
There are also selected watches across the brands that use titanium or ceramic bracelets.
When it comes to the casing, the brands offer a wide choice. All utilize:
- stainless steel – present in the vast majority of models. It’s known for being tough, corrosion-resistant and low-maintenance
- titanium – a material that’s almost as strong as steel but much lighter
- rose gold/yellow gold/white gold – different colors of gold-plated stainless steel. While the material itself is quite tough, the plating will wear off with time, exposing the steel beneath
- ceramic – a very scratch-resistant material but one that’s also quite brittle
What’s crucial to note here, all brands make sure there’s as little chance of moisture getting inside the watch and potentially damaging the movement as possible. How? The casebacks are always screwed-in, just like the crown(s).
Essentially, all timepieces – whether dress, casual or divers – are water-resistant to some degree.
The water-resistance rating starts at 99 feet (30m) and can reach as high as 3280 feet (1000m). Naturally, the lower margin applies to dressy timepieces while the higher one to professional dive watches (these are available solely with Citizen and Seiko).
|SEIKO: All three brands are solid when it comes to durability. However, if we had to pick a winner, it would be Seiko. The Japanese watchmaker offers a great variety of tough materials (including sapphire crystal) across all price points, making it the most accessible brand in this aspect.|
Bulova vs Citizen vs Seiko: Movements
As you’d expect from such popular brands, all three offer a wide range of different movement types that share one value – excellent quality.
Bulova watches are powered by a mix of Swiss and Japanese quartz movements. The brand’s entry-level models usually have Japanese quartz movements while the more expensive ones often have Swiss quartz or automatic calibers.
If you’re looking for unbeatable accuracy, target quartz collections. These watches, whether in Bulova’s, Citizen’s or Seiko’s, are accurate up to 15-20 seconds per month.
Automatic watches, on the other hand, offer much more sophisticated complications and are often the preferred type amongst collectors. However, they are nowhere near as accurate and usually carry a heftier price tag.
From all three brands, Citizen has by far the biggest selection of battery-powered (quartz) timepieces.
Crucially, the vast majority of quartz models released after 1995 utilize the Eco-Drive technology. It’s a type of battery that’s powered by light and doesn’t need to be replaced. As long as the watch is exposed to any type of light on a regular basis, it will continue to work without any issues.
According to Citizen wearers, the solar cells in Eco-Drive watches last for roughly 10 years which is an excellent result when you consider the affordable price points at which most of these watches are listed.
Naturally, Citizen also offers a collection of automatic models but they are in minority.
All Citizen watches, whether quartz or automatic, use Japanese-made movements. Eco-Drive calibers are made in-house while hand-wound collections are normally powered by Miyota automatic calibers.
On top of offering ultra-reliable quartz and automatic watches, Seiko has come up with two additional movement types:
- Kinetic – the movement operates on a similar concept as automated movements, but with slight differences in how it is powered. Automatic watches are driven by the wearer’s movement which drives the spring. In contrast, in the case of kinetic movements, the wrist motion charges a piece of quartz crystal, which is subsequently stored in a battery known as a capacitor. Simply said, the major difference between an automatic and kinetic watch is how the energy produced by the watch’s wearer is processed
- Spring Drive – without a shadow of a doubt, it’s a one-of-a-kind watch technology. The mechanism is so complex that it’s reserved exclusively for Seiko’s premium line, Grand Seiko. It generates energy in the same way that every other luxury mechanical watch does, but it combines this with an electronic regulator to give precision that no other mechanical watch can come close to. In other words, the Spring Drive movement combines the best of both worlds – just like an automatic watch, it is wound by the kinetic movement of your wrist but it delivers a quartz-like accuracy and doesn’t need a battery replacement
Naturally, all Seiko movements are Japanese. What’s more, the vast majority of them are manufactured in-house.
|CITIZEN: Because of some of Bulova’s Swiss movements and Seiko’s kinetic approach, the decision was a difficult one but we vote for Citizen due to its excellent Eco-Drive technology. Solar-powered quartz watches are not only great for the environment but also tend to last longer.|
Seiko vs Citizen vs Bulova: Affordability
Let’s now take a look at the pricing and affordability aspect.
The good news is that all three brands offer a wide range of options, from entry-level to more refined (and costly) models, so there’s something to suit every budget.
But which brand is the most affordable?
Seiko offers a wide range of options at different price points.
The brand’s entry-level models start at around $100 while its luxury Grand Seiko line will set you back at least $4,000.
With that said, the vast majority of Seiko watches, as you’d expect from a predominantly mid-budget brand, oscillate in the $250-500 price basket.
If we were to look at the cheapest Citizen models available in the current offer, the brand is even more affordable than Seiko – prices start at just $90.
Such low price points are rather an exception than a rule, however, as most Citizen timepieces will require you to spend between $200 and $500.
There are, of course, some more complex, high-precision Eco-Drive watches that can cost thousands. Again, the number of these is relatively small.
Bulova is probably the most expensive of the affordable bunch.
The prices start at around $200 for Bulova’s Entry-Level models and go up to around $5,000 for top-of-the-line Accu Swiss watches.
A lion’s share of Bulova watches fluctuates between the $300-$600 brackets.
|CITIZEN: If you’re on a tight budget, Citizen gives you the best chance of landing a quality timepiece south of the $100 mark. With that said, all three brands can be considered affordable.|
Bulova vs Seiko vs Citizen: Warranty
Although all three brands offer watches that are built to stand the test of time, it’s always good to have a warranty in case something does go wrong. Safe to say, the trio offers a fair length of protection.
But one watchmaker clearly stands out!
Starting with the American watchmaker, Bulova offers a three-year warranty on all its watches from the date of purchase. It’s worth noting that the warranty doesn’t cover battery replacement, normal wear and tear, or damage caused by accidental abuse. The guarantee period, like in the case of the other two brands, covers any manufacturing/workmanship defects.
Seiko matches Bulova by also offering a three-year warranty on its watches from the date of purchase. What’s worth noting, since October 2021, the Japanese watchmaker has extended its guarantee period on the luxury sub-brand, Grand Seiko. These watches are protected for additional 2 years.
And finally, Citizen goes above and beyond by offering a five-year warranty on all its watches from the date of purchase. Unlike in the case of Seiko, the 5-year period offered by Citizen applies to all watch models.
|CITIZEN: Citizen scores the highest on the warranty front as it offers 5-year protection on all of its watches – a 2-year improvement on Bulova and Seiko.|
Bulova vs Seiko vs Citizen: Is There a Winner? Conclusion
We hope that today’s article has gone a long way in helping you decide which watchmaker is the right fit for you.
Summing up, all three brands offer excellent value in their own sense and the final choice depends on your budget and what you’re looking for in a watch.
If you’re looking for an entry-level timepiece from a well-known brand, Seiko or Citizen are both good choices. These brands are particularly popular amongst aficionados who enjoy the dive watch design as both watchmakers offer a wide choice of these watches.
If you’re looking for something a bit more luxurious, Bulova’s Accu Swiss line offers Swiss-made watches with intricate complications at a fraction of the price of other luxury brands.