To understand the Rolex versus Grand Seiko dynamic, go back to the 70’s. A band trying to fuel their drug habit had to have a hit. The general public would only buy their LP if it had at least one great song, preferably more. Bands and artists who could crank out an album full of hits minted money. Elton John. The Bee Gees. The Rolling Stones. Rolex . . .
Rolex – all killer, no filler! Submariner! Daytona! Oyster Perpetual! Explorer! Yacht Master! GMT! The Swiss watchmaker’s greatest hits album rivals The Eagles’. And just as The Eagles didn’t mess with their money-making melodies Rolex has left its golden geese unmolested.
Oh sure, if you look closely at Rolex’s back catalogue you’ll find the horological equivalent of Elton John’s I Can’t Steer My Heart Clear of You. Three words: Rolex Air King. By the same token, you could say the entire Rolex Cellini line qualifies as beautifully made meh. In fact, I’ve yet to see a single Cellini on Instagram.
So what of Grand Seiko?
The Japanese watchmaker is a one-hit wonder. And there it is. Or is it? Is the Grand Seiko Snowflake really a hit? It’s only a “famous” timepiece among people who know watches – in the same way that Little Feat was only famous among people who knew great bands that other people didn’t know.
Equally, what’s the Snowflake famous for? The Daytona is the motor racing watch. The Submariner is the dive watch. The Snowflake is the watch that evokes fresh fallen snow in the Japanese mountains, with a movement that leaves the average buyer thinking hang on, don’t all watches use springs?
If we’re talking about a head-to-head matchup between Rolex and Grand Seiko re: scientifically measurable build quality and attention to detail, there’s no question who dominates the charts. GS all day. If we’re talking about desirability amongst the hoi polloi, Grand Seiko doesn’t even make the top 10.
No surprise there. Seiko does nothing to sell their high end watches. Have you seen Grand Seiko’s website? The Collections page couldn’t be more generic if it was Costco’s paper goods aisle. The landing page “features” 99 unadorned, identically shot watches. The watches don’t even have names – the renowned Snowflake is simply the SBGA211.
Rolex versus Grand Seiko? Compare GS’s sizzle-deficiency with Rolex’s landing page. Geneva’s favorite son hits you with a macro-magnificent video header and sumptuous photography of seven – just seven – watches. Mouse-over one of the images and the chosen watch sashays towards you like a lover coming to bed. Oh baby!
Rolex is the watch brand. Grand Seiko is a non-brand. At best, it’s a really expensive Seiko. A really expensive Seiko – for buyers can get past Seiko’s rep for mass market merch. Who don’t care what other people think about their watch. Who can afford to pay big bucks for a watch that only watch people recognize as anything other than a mass market Seiko.
If you’ve ever wondered why GS’ magnificently crafted timepieces are such great value, there’s your answer: their marketing sucks. The Godzilla watch was most exciting thing to happen to Grand Seiko and that was just plain stupid. Not to put too fine a point on it, Seiko doesn’t have a clue how to sell high horology.
All great marketing starts with the product. Check! So, all Grand Seiko has to do is . . . do what Rolex does. Same approach to model selection, same marketing plan and same sales approach. Add personalized customer contact – Rolex’s blind spot – and Bob-san’s your uncle.
Could Grand Seiko overcome its blah image and get woke, marketing-wise? It’s doubtful. The same corporate culture that creates GS’ minimalist watches creates its blah marketing. Still, hope spring drives eternal. Meanwhile, it’s Rolex two, Grand Seiko one in the Farago household. What does that tell you music fans?