Lamentamos, mas a nossa magazine ainda não se encontra disponível no idioma selecionado.
07/12/2023
 9 minutes

Citizen vs. Seiko: Sizing Up the Competitors’ Mechanical Watch Movements

By Tim Breining
Seiko-2-1

Casio, Seiko, and Citizen are Japanese watch giants of the highest order. All three companies are international conglomerates that earn billions in annual revenues, with quartz watches responsible for the bulk of those earnings and the majority of individual sales.

Unlike Casio, Seiko and Citizen also manufacture mechanical watches and watch movements in limited numbers. And, thanks to the considerable upswing in popularity of the high-end brand Grand Seiko, Seiko has become a fan favorite among enthusiasts around the globe for offering excellent mechanical timepieces in all price segments.

Citizen, on the other hand, is famous for their Eco-Drive solar technology. As far as mechanical watches go, the brand is primarily thought of as an entry point for affordable diving watches with simple but reliable mechanical movements. The conglomerate’s own watch movement manufacturer, Miyota, however, is the go-to enterprise for brands that rely on outsourced movements. From minimalist entry-level watch movements to contemporary calibers with a variety of complications, their catalog has anything a medium-sized brand or bold startup might need to power their timepieces.

Both Seiko and Citizen stand out for their wide range of robust models for every budget.

Citizen is not really known internationally for producing high-end mechanical watches and watch movements. The fact that the company isn’t content to leave it at that is evidenced by their releases and strategic course changes in recent years. In terms of price, some of the brand’s newest models even venture into the realm of Grand Seiko. They also have a few mechanical pieces in the mid-range now – a price segment that Citizen had largely ignored.

Let’s take a look at Citizen’s more affordable and luxury mechanical models, and see how they measure up against comparable timepieces from Seiko.

Citizen vs. Seiko: Entry-Level Segment

If we ignore the relatively unpopular Chinese watch manufacturers, Citizen Miyota offers the most affordable mechanical movements available on the foreign market. Even end consumers can purchase a movement from the Miyota caliber family 82XX for less than $50 on the Internet. This family of calibers consists of simple automatic movements and are can be found in many watch models made by third-party manufacturers in the lower three-digit price segment.

The most prevalent examples of this caliber design from the 1970s are the 8215 and 821A. Due to their age, these movements are rather unremarkable in terms of performance, and since they were introduced long before the era of see-through case backs, they’re also nothing to look at. Surprisingly, the 821A comes with a rudimentary finish and skeletonized, single-winding rotor. The relatively rustic 8215, on the other hand, is clearly meant to be hidden away in watches with steel case backs.

Miyota-Werk der Kaliberfamilie 82XX, hier in einer Uhr von Laco
Miyota movement from the caliber family 82XX, here in a watch from Laco.

In an era in which watches with an 80-hour power reserve and chronometer certification can be bought for under $1,000, the 82XX calibers, with their 42 hours of power reserve and accuracy of -20 to +40 seconds (according to the manufacturer), leave much to be desired. Nevertheless, this seems to have had no impact whatsoever on the popularity of these incredibly affordable movements – at least not since 2018-2019: That’s when Miyota eliminated what was probably the caliber’s biggest shortcoming, the missing stop-seconds. To be fair, Patek Philippe only trained the luxury three-hand Nautilus to perform this trick in 2019. And, unlike their Swiss counterparts, Citizen Miyota has kept their prices consistently low, which is why their movements are not only snatched up by third-party watch manufacturers but also used in popular pieces produced by Citizen itself.

The latest coup came with the release of the Citizen Tsuyosa, which, thanks in part to the entry-level movement, can be purchased for just $450. The watch is considered one of the hottest timepieces in its price segment. Another great selling point? Its resemblance to iconic Rolex models like the Oysterquartz.

Citizen Tsuyosa
Citizen Tsuyosa

The Miyota 8315 boasts a power reserve of 60 hours – something of a unique selling point in this price category. The variant is still fairly rare, but it’s safe to say it may well become the new standard.

Along with movements from its subsidiary Orient, which belongs to parent company Seiko Epson, Seiko offers entry-level movements to third-party manufacturers through the company TMI. The most popular product is the NH35, which is known as the 4R35 in Seiko’s own models and, interestingly, is less expensive in third-party timepieces than the brand’s own. The caliber’s key specifications are similar to those of the competition, offering stop-seconds and a 41-hour power reserve.

The NH35 aka 4R35 has a bit more visual appeal, and its self-winding rotor oscillates in both directions, thanks to Seiko’s now standard “magic lever” technology. The caliber has been around since 2010 and replaced the outdated 7S generation, which featured neither stop-seconds not manual winding. This movement can still be found in older Seiko 5 models. These watches require vigorous shaking after prolonged periods of disuse before they can be re-started and wound.

Seiko NH35 für externe Kunden, baugleich mit dem Seiko 4R35
The Seiko NH35 for third-party manufacturers, identical in construction to the Seiko 4R35.

The two competitors are basically neck-and-neck in this price segment, as you might expect. Both Citizen and Seiko produce entry-level calibers with all the standard, essential functions (at least since 2018). That said, you won’t get more than a reliable, functional watch here. Only the Miyota caliber 8315, with its above-average power reserve, is a nose ahead of the rest.

Citizen vs. Seiko: Mid-Range Segment

While Seiko has been able to establish its brand across all price categories, their advancements in watch movement design are clearly concentrated on Grand Seiko. Entry-level movements are tried and true, but have seen only moderate improvement over the years, rather than real innovation. This has led to unrest among Seiko fans, disappointed to find that models selling for several thousands of dollars are sometimes powered by only slightly modified entry-level movements. Mid-range models like Seiko’s Prospex and Presage collections have born the brunt of this criticism.

Citizen, on the other hand, has long been known outside Japan as first and foremost a producer of inexpensive diving watches (at least as far as mechanical watches are concerned). And although the brand has been supplying the international watch market with mid-range and high-end mechanical models for a number of years, Citizen really made a mark with Miyota movements back in 2010.

It was in 2010 that Citizen introduced the caliber generation 9000, a line of modern and attractive automatic movements that have since become very popular with microbrands and third-party manufacturers. The fact that the dimensions of certain calibers like the Miyota 9015 largely correspond to those of the omnipresent ETA 2824-2 movement certainly contributed to the former’s popularity. 2010 was also the year in which the Swatch Group’s legal obligation to supply components to rival companies ended. We know today that there was never a complete or immediate cessation of supplies, but the period of uncertainty preceding the court’s final decision sparked the creation of suitable alternatives for these standard and often indispensable Swatch Group watch movements.

Kaliber Miyota 9075 mit True GMT-Funktion
Miyota caliber 9075 with true GMT function

The 9000 calibers comes with 42-hour power reserve and an accuracy of -10 to +30 seconds per day, which is absolutely standard. The movement oscillates at a frequency of 4 Hz, which means it can be regulated easily and – at least according to wearer – performs far better than stereotypical Japanese modesty might suggest.

Thanks to its modern look and distinctive design, the 9000 generation of movements is a cut above the older 82XX generation.

The house of Seiko is a somewhat uneasy abode for mid-range watch movements. Watches in this price category are often powered with the same caliber 4R35 used in more affordable timepieces under $1,000, and Seiko’s 6R movements are usually only found powering more expensive models.

Neuauflage der King Seiko mit Kaliber 6R31
New edition of the King Seiko with the caliber 6R31

If you have one of these watches in front of you and are familiar with Seiko’s entry-level movements, you’ll see right away that the calibers are virtually identical. This isn’t a coincidence. After all, they date back to the same design era, and Seiko prefers to improve existing movements rather than create an independent line of mid-range movements. The relatively new caliber 6R31, used in the latest editions of the King Seiko, for example, stands out because it employs the brand’s proprietary alloy “SPRON” in the mainspring, which gives it a 70-hour power reserve. This also means you’d need to invest some $2,000 in a watch with a caliber that – without these upgrades – can also be found in timepieces that sell for far less. This gap in Seiko’s catalog is glaring. Even the column-wheel chronograph movement 8R28 (which TMI sells to third-party manufacturers as the NE88) looks exactly like the caliber 4R35 powering the Invicta diving watch, since it’s a modular caliber based on the tried-and-true 6R.

Between the basic entry-level and mid-range movements on the one side, and the outstanding Grand Seiko calibers on the other, there’s a remarkable gap that essentially drives Seiko enthusiasts toward the more expensive timepieces in the Prospex and Presage collections – but only for fans who can afford them.

Citizen Kaliber 0200 aus der Uhrenkollektion Series 8
Citizen caliber 0200 from the Series 8 collection

Citizen could also face a similar problem. The Series 8, launched in 2021, ranks just above most of Seiko’s Presage timepieces and is priced at around $2,000. But what are these must-have steel sports watches with an integrated steel bracelet powered by? The caliber 0950, which anyone familiar with Citizen movements will immediately recognize as a variant of the caliber 9000 line, optimized to feature a 50-hour power reserve. Tweaks aside, one has to wonder whether Citizen will find wider acceptance among fans, given that their mid-range models are fitted with movements that are more or less identical to those with which the company equips their much more affordable timepieces.

Citizen vs. Seiko: High-End Segment

I’ve already mentioned that, of the two brands, Grand Seiko is the dominant competitor in the high-end watchmaking sector. Depending on where you live in the world, there’s a good chance that comparable watches from Citizen aren’t even available for purchase. If you compare the popularity and sales volume of the high-end mechanical watches produced by both manufacturers, Seiko and Grand Seiko clearly come out on top. The goal here, however, is to compare watch movements and how well they perform, rather than discuss the commercial success of the watches themselves.

First, let’s take a look at what Citizen brings to the table. Despite its introduction two years ago, the caliber 0200 is not widely used.

The caliber was introduced together with a new watch in the sub-brand “The Citizen,” which unmistakably exhibits certain parallels to Grand Seiko’s successful combination of angular, superbly finished cases and dials with extraordinary patterns. The caliber 0200 is Citizen’s first completely new mechanical watch movement in decades, and, in terms of performance and refinement, is in another category altogether than the Miyota bestsellers.

The Citizen, angetrieben von Kaliber 0200
The Citizen, powered by the caliber 0200.

The finishing on this movement is clearly more traditional – at least from a Western perspective. Swiss complication and caliber design specialist La Joux-Perret, acquired by Citizen in 2012, is likely responsible for the look of this movement, bringing real know-how to the development in terms of classic polishing and other finishing techniques.

A balance frequency of 4 Hz and a 60-hour power reserve are now the norm rather than the exception. But by using an escapement made with the LIGA process, a free-sprung balance wheel with masselottes (small weights that can be tightened or loosened for accuracy), Citizen can guarantee an accuracy of -3 and +5 seconds per day. This is far better than the chronometer standard and, interestingly enough, more accurate than Grand Seiko’s flagship mechanical movement 9SA5.

The 0200’s biggest “competitor” is the 9SA5 – essentially the 0200’s counterpart in the Grand Seiko catalog – even if the contest is an unequal one commercially. The new gold standard in terms of three-hand automatic movements at Grand Seiko, the 9SA5 is visually a step up from the 0200. Technically, Grand Seiko has ventured into unprecedented territory by creating a movement with 80 hours of power reserve and a phenomenal frequency of 10 Hz, thanks to its highly efficient double-pulse escapement. This is made possible by micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) manufacturing, which removes every last bit of superfluous inertial mass from its components. A new end-curve geometry of the free-sprung balance wheel, two mainspring barrels, and a few other details make the 9SA5 the clear winner, at least on paper.

A Grand Seiko powered by the caliber 9SA5 will set you back about $10,000 (at the low end), while a Citizen watch with the caliber 0200 demands an investment of just $6,000.

Grand Seiko 9SA5
Grand Seiko 9SA5

It remains to be seen whether Citizen will ultimately succeed in holding its own against the overwhelming competition at home, even in the luxury segment. If we consider all the bestselling quartz calibers with Eco-Drive technology and the unimaginable number of mass-produced quartz calibers the company sells to third-party manufacturers, mechanical watches will always be something of a marginal (albeit not forgotten) note in their catalog.

Both Citizen and Seiko offer attractive calibers in the entry-level and mid-range price segments. While some of these movements are omnipresent, others can be considered exotic or insider information. If you’re thinking about purchasing a Citizen or Seiko watch in the near future, perhaps this article will prompt you to examine the technical specifications closely before you buy.


About the Author

Tim Breining

My interest in watches first emerged in 2014 while I was studying engineering in Karlsruhe, Germany. My initial curiosity quickly evolved into a full-blown passion. Since …

Read more

Latest Articles

Audemars-Piguet-vs-Piaget-2-1
04/26/2024
 4 minutes

Audemars Piguet vs. Piaget – Which one rules?

By Barbara Korp
IWC-Mark-2-1
03/20/2024
 4 minutes

Aviation Heroes: The IWC Mark Collection

By Barbara Korp

Featured

Omega-2-1
Top 10 Watches
 5 minutes

Top 10: the Best Watch Brands of All Time

By Donato Emilio Andrioli
5-favorite-Rolex-2-1
Rolex
 6 minutes

My Top 5 Rolex Watches

By Kristian Haagen
Top5-under-5000-2-1
Top 10 Watches
 4 minutes

Five Luxury Watches Under $5,000

By Sebastian Swart
Omega-2-1
Top 10 Watches
 5 minutes

Top 10: the Best Watch Brands of All Time

By Donato Emilio Andrioli
5-favorite-Rolex-2-1
Rolex
 6 minutes

My Top 5 Rolex Watches

By Kristian Haagen
Top5-under-5000-2-1
Top 10 Watches
 4 minutes

Five Luxury Watches Under $5,000

By Sebastian Swart