Affordable Vintage: King Seiko ref. 5621-7020, and Some Things to Consider When Buying King Seiko

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Within the world of vintage Seiko, Grand and King Seikos rule the roost, with the “GS” and “KS” badges adorning the dials and case backs of only the most painstakingly accurate and exquisite watches ever made by Daini and Suwa Seikosha. Grand Seiko and King Seiko were brought to ticking life by a variety of movements produced by both Seiko divisions, among them the earlier hand-wound 45xx caliber, and then the subsequent automatic 61xx, 52xx, and 56xx calibers.

The late ‘60s were a turning point in Seiko’s manufacturing capabilities, with the 45xx and 61xx being the last hand-built movements.  The 51xx and 56xx were built to much tighter tolerances with many surviving through the years, still happily ticking today with little or no maintenance. (All the above mentioned movements were found in Seiko’s top-of-the-line collections, specifically inside watches from the King and Grand Seiko lines.)

But these movements are not without their, shall we say, quirks. The 45xx and 61xx calibers run at a super-high beat rate of 10 beats per second (36,000 per hour), and while the sweep of the second hand is beautiful to look at, that beauty comes at a cost. Due to the higher beat rate, the movement is prone to excessive wear, and that can be problematic as far as long-term servicing is concerned.Then there’s the 52xx series. These are generally great movements with a robust build, but they also come with a bit of a surcharge (just google “King Seiko 52 Special” and you’ll see what I mean).

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This leaves us with the slightly slower, but wholly adequate 56xx series of movements running at 8 beats per second. These calibers are robust and replacement parts are readily available should you need them. The 56 powered some of the last models from vintage Grand and King Seiko, and a 56-powered King Seiko is the focus of this installment of Affordable Vintage.

The 56KS has quite a few variants, including, but not limited to, a no date, date only, date/day, and several chronometer options. In my book, you’re better off with a simpler watch, both from an aesthetic perspective and from a point of maintenance as there’s less chance for anything to break (e.g. some of Seiko’s day/date movements from this era were quite finicky with wheels that were prone to cracking). The watch here—ref. 5621-7020—is powered by the 5621 no-date movement.The 36mm case here is monobloc, which means that there’s no case back, so the movement can only be accessed through the crystal/dial). It’s not widely known, but a number of King Seikos (as well as Seikos from other lines) from this era featured monobloc cases. The advantage? No case back means that there’s no case back gasket to worry about. The trade-off is that there is no King Seiko gold medallion in the case back, but it’s a reasonable exchange since those medallions do tend to deteriorate with sweat over time (when intact, however, they’re very pretty).

KS-signed crown.

The case on my example was not in perfect shape, showing some light, superficial wear. There are no major nicks on the case, but there is a small dent at the back. Thankfully the dent is fairly shallow and it does not impact the winding capability of the watch.

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One thing to be mindful of is over-polishing. My watch retains many of its Grammar of Design cues, which are often lost when these cases are polished, sometimes even slightly.


Click here to learn more about Taro Tanaka’s Grammar of Design and how it came to define Seiko’s unique aesthetic.


 

Unlike the case, the dial and hands here are immaculate—they’re basically factory fresh. I have handled my fair share of vintage King Seikos and there’s usually some flaking of the black paint that runs down middle of the hands, or there’s some degree of tarnishing along the polished portion of the hands. My watch was either really lucky to have a conscientious watchmaker, or the watch hadn’t been serviced at all. There are some indicators pointing to the latter, as there was some dirt ingrained so deeply between the case and crystal that the crystal would have to be removed before the dirt could be cleaned away.

With most vintage pieces, if there’s any flecking of the paint or printing, these impurities would contaminate the dial and cause discoloration over time in the surrounding areas. Water is also another problem, often entering the case (usually through a bad gasket) and staining the dial. This can be slight, with dark stains only appearing along the edge of the dial, but it’s definitely something worth watching out for. Thankfully, this watch avoided all that.

For what you get, these watches are still relatively affordable, and examples can be had anywhere from $400-$600 depending on the seller and condition, of course. But I’d definitely push for getting one in as original conditions as possible. The beauty here is in the details.

Photography by ZQ Chia.

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ZQ’s a die-hard Seiko lover, an obsession first sparked by the purchase of a Seiko Orange Monster, the original 7S classic. ZQ has yet to find his way out of the Seiko rabbit hole, dabbling in both vintage and modern, but his love extends to watches of all kinds. This isn’t ZQ’s first foray into the writing about watches, and he’s excited to bring his bank of knowledge to worn&wound. ZQ currently resides in Singapore with his family.
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