Rolex versus Grand Seiko

Rolex versus Grand Seiko

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 Explorer (courtesy thetruthaboutwatches.com)

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.

Rolex Cellini Time

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?

Grand Seiko Snowflake

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?

Rolex versus Grand Seiko - Grand Seiko

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.

Grand Seiko website

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 OP

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.

Grand Seiko Godzilla

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.

Rolex versus Grand Seiko threesome

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?

5 thoughts on “Rolex versus Grand Seiko”

  1. Re: all your music references all I can say is “ok Boomer.” Everyone knows that The Stones were only popular and relevant because they specifically were not The Beatles.

    Anyway…

    GS is the Lexus of the horology world. They are the small brand that their huge parent company uses to showcase their best technology and style direction. The high tech movements, precisely machine and polish work, and artful dials are to Seiko what the Lexus LFA was to Toyota. And like Lexus, GS is a way to get people to pay vastly more money for watches that, in many cases, don’t cost much more to make than a regular nice Seiko like a Presage or Prospex.

    Building up the Lexus brand and reputation was a 20+ year process that cost Toyota tons of money but undoubtedly put a shine on all their products. I think Seiko is starting that with the GS now. I agree that the best thing they could do is put an executive in charge of GS and task that person with elevating the prestige and marketing position of the brand.

    They need to do more to differentiate it from the rest of the Seiko line and build awareness of the unique technology and style of the brand. From a historical standpoint, Japan has a much (MUCH) longer and stronger heritage of art and craftsmanship than Switzerland. I’d love to see GS further embrace that and push it into the market.

    1. I was going to make the exact same comment. The stuff that Lexus puts its back into (LFA yeah, but also the LS, and the GS-F) has a level of finish that most of the luxury brands can’t match. Seriously, go to a dealership and look at the paint finish on an LS.

      Same with the detailing on a Grand Seiko – it’s definitely a cut above a Rolex.

      Rolex makes very very very nice watches and have done a great job of balancing marketing, technology, and availability (at least until a couple of years ago). The fact that they product somewhere north of 750k units a year at such a high level and with such brand cachet is evidence that they didn’t just stumble into success.

      GS can compete, but I think they’re missing a couple of things:
      – The association with Seiko doesn’t do them any favors; it’s why Lexus aren’t “Gran Toyotas”. Downmarket associations are kiss of death in the luxury space.
      – They need to get rid of the lower end. Get rid of anything under 4 or 5 grand USD. Right now, the range looks too much like Omega – bottom end luxury to stratospheric heights. Since money generally doesn’t buy any real performance advantage – unlike cars – give consumers the exclusivity signaling they want.
      – Marketing, as you said. Get rid of the alphanumeric names and create some brand equity in model lines. Sponsor events. Build awareness beyond watch nerds without chasing IG.

      1. What are the chances they’ll kill the Grand Seiko name and rebrand the whole line Credor? Slim to none and slim just left town.

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