Japanese watches are some of the most sought-after luxury items around the globe. From classic timepieces to modern designs, these pieces are coveted for their impeccable craftsmanship and timeless style.
Japan has long been synonymous with fine timepieces. The country was once home to the greatest horological manufacturers in history, such as Seiko and Citizen. Today, Japan remains at the forefront of mechanical innovation, producing some of the finest watches in the world.
Here are 15 of the best Japanese watch brands worth checking out.
The word “Seiko,” meaning “watch,” came out of the founder’s mouth. He wanted his employees to use it when speaking about the company, so he changed the spelling to match the pronunciation.
Seiko began life as a small watch store called Sekisui House in 1881. At the time, Japan had no laws governing the manufacture of watches. So, Sekisui House sold imported Swiss watches.
In 1924, Sekisui House became the sole distributor of the Zenith automatic movement. This allowed the company to produce its own products under the Seiko brand. In 1969, Seiko introduced the world’s first mass-produced quartz technology wristwatches. These watches used the same caliber movements as conventional watches, but the batteries lasted longer.
Today, Seiko produces around 30 million watches per day. They are one of the largest manufacturers of precision instruments in the world.
The world’s most popular watch brand, G-SHOCK, was born in 1984. Its founder, Kazuo Yoda, had the idea of making watches that could withstand extreme impacts. His concept became reality in 1986 with the release of the original model “GW-1000.” This was followed by the GW-2000 series, which included a variety of functions like stopwatch, countdown timer, alarm clock, etc., and was widely acclaimed for its durability.
In 1989, the G-Shock watch series began to expand beyond Japan. Today, there are hundreds of different models in every category imaginable, including sports watches, dive watches, dress watches, chronographs, men’s watches, women’s watches, kids’ watches, etc. But what makes the G-Shock so special is that it includes everything you could possibly want in a watch — and nothing else.
The very green Naoya Hida company has become an instant favorite thanks to its vintage-style timepieces. They’ve been around since 2018 and have already built over 2,500 pieces. Their watches feature motifs from the ’30s all the way up into the ’60s, capturing the time before the quartz era.
Naoya Hida takes inspiration from the craftsmanship of Japanese artisans, combining it with cutting-edge microfabrication techniques. This combination creates a watch that is sturdy while still being light and elegant.
The Japanese watchmaker Casio has been around since 1946, producing everything from calculators to cameras. But it didn’t become a household name until the 1970s when the company began making wristwatches. Today, Casio is still known for its G-Shocks — tough watches that are perfect for adventurers and outdoorsmen.
But Casio isn’t just about toughness. In fact, the company makes some pretty cool watches too. For example, Casio’s “G-Link” watches connect with smartphones via Bluetooth technology. So you can check out what time it is anywhere you go. Or you could use one to track your fitness goals. Casio even offers up smartwatches like the $200 Casio WSD FH100W1A, which features a built-in pedometer and sleep tracker.
And don’t forget about Casio’s iconic calculator watches. They’ve been around for decades, and there’s no better way to show off your math skills than with a big, chunky number on your wrist.
The name “Minase” translates into English as “the place where it rains.” And indeed, there are no raindrops anywhere near the factory in Akita, Japan, where Minase makes some of the world’s most beautiful watches. They’re located in the Akitas Prefecture, which they pointed out on their website, actually looks like the Swiss Jux Valley.
Staffed by local artisans, who’ve mastered hand-crafted techniques, Minase only produces 500 watches a year. They’re known for their 7 window design, which cuts back the use of steel. This leaves plenty of space for a lot more sapphire crystal, strategically placed so the interior of the watch face is illuminated by traveling light – just like a real Minase watch.
Founder Hiromitsu Endo set out to make a brand that connected people. He did so by creating a watch that could be customized. His goal was to connect people based on what they shared, rather than what they looked like.
The Knot brand was born in 2014 and now offers three collections: “Luxury,” “Modern” and “Elegant.” Each collection features a different type of movement, including quartz, automatic mechanical, and traditional manual wind movements.
Each model starts at $1,500 and goes up from there depending on the style. There are no plans to expand outside Japan, though.
Seiko launched the Orient brand in 1950. They’ve grown into one of the most well-known brands in Asia. However, Orient hasn’t always had a smooth ride. In fact, it actually began life as a subsidiary of another Japanese watchmaker, Citizen. After independence, Orient became a separate entity and focused on creating elegant, timeless pieces. Unlike many other manufacturers, Orient doesn’t just make watches; they build them too.
The brand’s history dates back to the 1950s when Seiko acquired the Oriental Watch Company, a small manufacturer in Tokyo. At the time, Seiko was looking to diversify its product lines, and it saw Orient as a way to do that without spending much money. So, they bought the brand and kept it running independently under the name “Orient.”
In the 1970s, Orient continued to grow, and they introduced several models that looked very similar to what we know today as the “Submariner,” including the “Starfish,” “Tiger,” “Lion,” and “Moon.” These watches were popular because they offered different styles and colors, and they helped Orient establish itself as a reliable option for consumers.
Citizen brand watches are known for their durability and dependability. But there’s one thing many don’t know about the Japanese watchmaker: it makes some pretty nice timepieces too. And while the company isn’t exactly well-known among watch enthusiasts, it does make some interesting pieces. Case in point: the Citizen C1G2T41G3G4X40.
This model is a limited edition chronograph, meaning it’s got a Chrono movement inside, along with a date display. It’s also water resistant up to 200 meters. On the outside, it features a stainless steel case with a black dial and blue hands. This particular piece is 40mm wide and 11.5mm thick. A quartz movement powers it, and it’s priced at $1,200.
The Citizen C1G2G3G4X50 is another 40mm chronograph with a date window. This one has a rubber strap, and it’s priced at around $1,500. It’s mostly similar to the previous version, except it’s 50mm wide.
And finally, the Citizen C1G3G4X51 is a 41mm chronograph with a leather band. It has a silver dial and a stainless steel case. It’s priced around $1k. Like the others, it has a date function.
Grand Seiko is one of Japan’s oldest brands, established in 1960. In more recent years though, the brand has been rethinking itself and trying to reconnect with the public.
In 2017, Seiko launched the “Seiko Heritage Collection,” a collection of limited editions of quality watches produced since the 1950s. But what really caught people’s eyes was the launch of a new line called “Grand Seiko.” These watches were modern interpretations of classic designs, like the Astron 37 and the Spring Drive.
And now there’s another reason to buy a Grand Seiko. In 2018, Seiko announced that they’d signed a deal with the Japanese car manufacturer Toyota to produce a new model, the GT86. Like the original Grand Seiko models, the GT86 has a 41mm case and uses a manual transmission.
The GT86 is based on the third-generation Scion FR-S sports coupe and is powered by a 2JZ-GTE motor producing 268 horsepower. The watch version of the GT86 is expected to go on sale in 2020.
A graduate of Tokyo University of Art’s School of Watchmaking, Hajime Asaoka is known for making some of the finest mechanical movements in the world—and he’s even won awards for it. But what sets him apart from the rest of the pack is his ability to make beautiful, artistic timepieces that are both technically impressive and aesthetically engaging.
His creations often feature unusual materials such as wood, leather, and ceramic, and he makes each one individually. His designs are bold, colorful, and sometimes even whimsical. And though he’s best known for creating complicated mechanisms, he’s also mastered the art of simplicity, too.
Asaoka’s work isn’t limited to just watches; he also creates jewelry, sculptures, and even furniture. He’s even designed a few cars.
Seiko launched its first luxury brand, Lorus. While it might seem like a strange choice for a Japanese watch manufacturer, the brand is actually based around one of the oldest watchmaking traditions — the field watch. These days, however, the concept isn’t just limited to watches worn while working outdoors, but rather those designed specifically for city life.
The brand’s watches are generally simple, utilitarian pieces, often featuring minimalistic dials and bold colors. They’re no frills, but they do offer good value for money. I’ve been wearing a few of these since getting my hands on them and I’m really enjoying them.
Seiko launched the Pulsar brand in 1976, following the acquisition of Hamilton Watch Co. At the time, it was one of the most technologically advanced watches in existence. In fact, it was the first wristwatch to feature a liquid crystal display, making it the first LCD watch.
In 1980, Seiko acquired Hamilton again, and once again relocated production to Japan. This time around, however, they did something different: they kept the name and branding intact while creating a separate line under the Pulsar label.
The second line of watches, called the ‘Pulsar’, followed suit, featuring the same design aesthetic and features as the original Pulsars. They had some minor cosmetic differences though – like the use of sapphire glass instead of mineral glass and the addition of a date window.
The last main entry in the popular Seiko trio, Credor is both an homage to vintage Seikos and a nod to modern horology. There aren’t many brands that can claim to be both and even fewer that succeeds at being both without straying too far into the kitsch territory. But Credors is neither one thing nor the other. Instead, they’re something else entirely.
They’re as old school as they come, but they’re also as contemporary as anything else out there today. And while they’re undoubtedly more expensive than most watches, they’re certainly worth every penny.
Masahiro Kikuno is another Japanese independent watchmaker legend. He began working in the industry during Japan’s postwar boom, where he worked alongside Japanese companies such as Seiko, Citizen, and Epson. In 1975, Kikuno founded Kikuno Watch Co., Ltd. Today, Kikuno is still a one-person show, producing everything himself – even down to the final dial coloration. His name is synonymous with precision, quality, and craftsmanship.
This Japanese brand is like the Japanese version of Swatch; offering crazy, reasonable price watches that often feature many weird materials. They are extremely popular among collectors because of their wide range of styles and availability. This brand does not seem to produce very high-end watches, however, most of their watches tend to be under $100 USD.