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ROLEX BLOG

Rolex vs. Grand Seiko Ultimate Comparison Guide

June 7, 2021

BY Paul Altieri

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When it comes to a reliable wristwatch that will hold its value, which brand is better? Rolex or Grand Seiko? For some, that answer is easy: Rolex, hands down. But there is certainly an argument for Grand Seiko, which much like Rolex, adheres to the industry’s strictest standards for accuracy and focuses on enduring and functional designs.

Rolex, with its genius marketing techniques, trumps Grand Seiko when it comes to brand presence. It appears that Seiko’s ethos has always been to focus on performance over expensive advertising (just look at both brands’ websites and you’ll understand what we mean by that). Additionally, in regards to general notoriety, Rolex is by far more established and well known. Simply put, if you want to make a statement or display a high level of social standing, then Rolex is the brand to wear.

However, there’s far more to the argument of Rolex vs. Grand Seiko than just brand presence. To better help you decide which watch company is the better investment, let’s take a closer look at both brands’ respective price points, comparable models, and overall reverence.

Rolex Watches

Rolex Submariner 126610LN Black Stainless Steel

Rolex Fast Facts:

– Founded in 1905.

– Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

– First brand to earn chronometer certification for a wristwatch.

– Invented the waterproof Oyster case in 1926.

– Produces approximately a million watches per year.

– The world’s most famous luxury watch manufacturer.

– All watches made in Switzerland.

Rolex

Grand Seiko Watches

Grand Seiko Hi-Beat GMT SBGJ201

Grand Seiko Fast Facts:

– Seiko founded in 1881; first Grand Seiko in 1960.

– Headquarters in Tokyo, Japan.

– Only sold in Japan until 2010.

– Became a separate brand from Seiko in 2017.

– Invented the Spring Drive movement.

– Watches inspired by nature.

– All watches made in Japan.

Grand Seiko

Rolex Datejust 41 vs Grand Seiko SBGJ201 Comparison

Rolex vs. Grand Seiko: History Steeped in Innovation

Seiko’s roots date back to 1881 when founder Kintarō Hattori opened a watch shop in Japan. However, it wasn’t until 1960 that the first Grand Seiko was released to the market, effectively transforming Seiko from more than just an affordable and reliable watchmaker into a high-end watch brand. With the arrival of Grand Seiko, the company had now entered the luxury watch game with prices often comparable to that of other industry heavy hitters such as Rolex.

On the other hand, Rolex was established in 1905 and established itself as a high-end watch manufacturer early in the company’s history. Rolex’s iconic waterproof Oyster case made history when it debuted in 1926, followed shortly by the Perpetual self-winding movement in 1931. The revolution from traditional pocket watches to durable waterproof wristwatches had begun, with Rolex leading the pack.

That brings us back to the question of which is the better investment, Rolex or Grand Seiko? Both companies have since become masters of their craft, producing ground-breaking movements decorated with various distinctions that celebrate their accuracy and reliability. Both companies also boast somewhat comparable price points. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at comparable models produced by Rolex and Grand Seiko in this battle of the brands.

Rolex vs. Grand Seiko: Dive Watches

Dive watches are one of the most popular types of timepieces in the entire industry and both Rolex and Grand Seiko offer some standout options.

Rolex Submariner ref. 126610LN

Rolex Submariner 126610LN Black Dial Stainless Steel

The Rolex Submariner is, without a doubt, one of the most iconic dive watches ever created. It dates back to 1953, featuring a design that has remained largely intact, despite decades of evolution and upgrades. New to the market is the reference 126610LN, which includes a unidirectional diver’s bezel topped with a ceramic insert, large hour markers and Mercedes hands filled with luminous blue Chromalight, and full Oystersteel (904L stainless steel) construction. It features a 41mm case, water-resistance up to 1,000 feet, and Rolex’s new-generation Caliber 3235 movement.

Submariner 126610LN Specs:

– Reference Number: 126610LN

– Case Size: 41mm

– Crystal: Sapphire

– Materials: Stainless Steel

– Bezel: Unidirectional

– Movement: Mechanical, Self-Winding

– Power Reserve: 70 Hours

– Dial: Hours, Minutes, Seconds, Date

– Retail Price: $9,150

Grand Seiko Dive Watch ref. SBGA229

Grand Seiko Dive Watch SBGA229 Black Dial Stainless Steel

The Grand Seiko ref. SBGA229 hails from the brand’s Sport Collection. It features a strikingly similar feature set as the Submariner with a stainless steel construction, a black dial topped with large Lumibrite plots, and a black unidirectional timing bezel. At 44mm in diameter, it’s quite a bit larger than the Submariner and features a lower depth rating of 660 feet. Outward appearances aside, the SBGA229 has the Submariner beat with a more accurate movement. The Calibre 3235 powering the Submariner promises accuracy up to -2/+2 seconds per day, while the SBGA229 is powered by the Caliber 9R65 Spring Drive movement with an accuracy rating of fewer than 15 seconds per month.

Grand Seiko SBGA229 Specs:

– Reference Number: SBGA229

Case Size: 44.2mm

– Crystal: Sapphire

– Materials: Stainless Steel

– Bezel: Unidirectional

– Movement: Spring Drive

– Power Reserve: 72 Hours

– Dial: Hours, Minutes, Seconds, Date, Power Reserve Indicator

– Retail Price: $6,000

Rolex vs. Grand Seiko Dive Watch Price Comparison:

The Grand Seiko SBGA229 will set you back several thousand dollars less than the Submariner. However, while the Submariner is currently commanding significantly more than its original retail price on the secondary market, the SBGA229 is holding steady at or just below retail when purchased pre-owned. If you’re lucky enough to invest in the Submariner at retail, it is positioned as a better investment than reference SBGA229. However, unless you plan on spending several years on a waiting list, you will likely end up paying nearly twice the price of the Grand Seiko if you wish to add the Rolex Submariner 126610LN to your collection.

Rolex vs. Grand Seiko: Chronographs

Chronographs are another incredibly popular type of timepiece and both Rolex and Grand Seiko offer watches that offer this type of stopwatch functionality.

Rolex Daytona ref. 116500LN

Rolex Daytona 116500LN White Dial Stainless Steel

The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona is a relatively straightforward watch, with a tachymeter bezel calibrated to 400 units, a 12-hour stopwatch function within the movement, coordinating sub-dials, and central hour, minute, and seconds hands. The reference 116500LN hit the market in 2016, bringing with it the first instance of a ceramic bezel within the stainless steel Daytona series. It features an Oystersteel construction, Chromalight finished hour markers and hands, and either a white or black dial. At 40mm in diameter, the Rolex Daytona has become more than just a reliable motorsport wristwatch; it’s also a comfortable, everyday timepiece and a universally recognized status symbol.

Daytona 116500LN Specs:

– Reference Number: 116500LN

– Case Size: 40mm

– Crystal: Sapphire

– Materials: Stainless Steel

– Bezel: Tachymeter

– Movement: Mechanical, Self-Winding

– Power Reserve: 72 Hours

– Dial: Hours, Minutes, Seconds, 12-Hour Chronograph

– Retail Price: $13,150

Grand Seiko Chronograph ref. SBGC221 & SBGC223

Grand Seiko Chronograph SBGC221 White Dial Titanium

At 46.4mm in diameter and 16.2mm thick, Grand Seiko’s chronograph wears substantially larger on the wrist than the Rolex Daytona. However, it compensates for its large size with a lightweight combination of titanium and ceramic. Another notable difference between the two brands is the bezel. The Daytona features a Tachymeter bezel, and the Grand Seiko is equipped with a 24-hour bezel for use with its additional GMT hand. Both watches are powered by a chronograph movement with a 72-hour power reserve; however, while the Daytona relies on a traditional mechanical movement, the Grand Seiko uses one of the brand’s Spring Drive movements, which offers superior timekeeping accuracy. Additionally, one of the biggest selling points for the Grand Seiko chronograph over the Daytona is the additional functionality of its movement. In addition to its time-telling and chronograph functions, it also offers users a date display, power reserve indicator, and a secondary time zone displayed by an additional 24-hour GMT hand.

Grand Seiko SBGC221 Specs:

– Reference Number: SBGC221 (White Dial) & SBGC223 (Black Dial)

– Case Size: 46.4mm

– Crystal: Sapphire

– Materials: Titanium & Ceramic

– Bezel: 24-Hour

– Movement: Spring Drive

– Power Reserve: 72 Hours

– Dial: Hours, Minutes, Seconds, Date, 12-Hour Chronograph, Power Reserve Indicator, GMT Functionality

– Retail Price: $14,800

Rolex vs. Grand Seiko Chronograph Price Comparison:

The stainless steel Rolex Daytona has been a hot item on the secondary market since its debut in 2016, and it often commands more than twice its retail price pre-owned. Incredibly high demand for steel Rolex sports watches, coupled with persisting low inventory, has driven the Daytona 116500LN’s price to more than $30k used. The Grand Seiko Chronograph SBGC221 and SBGC223 average between $12k and $16k pre-owned, depending on the condition of the watch and the dial color. Again, Rolex wins this price comparison but only if you are able to find one at its original retail price. Given the current open-market prices for these two different chronograph watches, you will likely end up paying more than twice for the Rolex Daytona compared to its Grand Seiko Chronograph counterpart.

Rolex vs. Grand Seiko: Classic Watches

Alongside a range of purpose-built sports watches, both Rolex and Grand Seiko produce classic watches that are designed to be worn every day throughout a variety of different activities.

Rolex Datejust 41 ref. 126300

Rolex Datejust 41 126300 Blue Dial Stainless Steel Jubilee Bracelet

Rolex introduced the first Datejust in 1945. However, it wasn’t until 2009 that the series received a larger 41mm case with the arrival of the Datejust II (compared to the 36mm case diameter of its predecessor). The Rolex Datejust 41 hit the market a few years later in 2016, replacing the Datejust II and featuring a more refined case and the new-generation Caliber 3235 movement. A few years later in 2019, Rolex released the highly-anticipated reference 126300. It is an entirely Oystersteel edition of the current 41mm series with a smooth bezel, Oyster or Jubilee bracelet, and the option of a variety of different dial colors.

Datejust 126300 Specs:

– Reference Number: 126300

– Case Size: 41mm

– Crystal: Sapphire

– Materials: Stainless Steel

– Bezel: Smooth

– Movement: Mechanical, Self-Winding

– Power Reserve: 70 Hours

– Dial: Hours, Minutes, Seconds, Date

– Retail Price: $7,650

Grand Seiko Heritage ref. SBGP005

The most notable difference between the Grand Seiko ref. SBGP005 and the Rolex Datejust 41 ref. 126300 is the movement, with the Datejust 41 utilizing a traditional self-winding mechanical movement and the Grand Seiko featuring one of the brand’s high-accuracy quartz movements. Both watches are presented in stainless steel and feature a date window on the dial at the 3 o’clock location. The Grand Seiko SBGP005 is also similar in size with a contemporary 40mm case diameter. One could also argue that both watches exude just the right amount of understated opulence that many luxury watch collectors crave, with top-quality materials and expert-level finishing. Additionally, with its ultra-accurate quartz movement the Grand Seiko ref. SBGP005 is a true set-it-and-forget-it watch and it is rated to be accurate within just 10 seconds per year.

Grand Seiko SBGP005 Specs:

– Reference Number: SBGP005

– Case Size: 40mm

– Crystal: Sapphire

– Materials: Stainless Steel

– Bezel: Smooth

– Movement: High-Accuracy Quartz

– Power Reserve: 3 Years (battery life)

– Dial: Hours, Minutes, Seconds, Date

– Retail Price: $3,200

Rolex vs. Grand Seiko Classic Watch Price Comparison:

On the secondary market, the Rolex Datejust 41 ref. 126300 averages around $10k used. If you were able to purchase one at retail, your Datejust 41 has already appreciated in value. The Grand Seiko SBGP005 is currently reselling for just about the exact same as its brand-new retail price. The reference SBGP005 is indeed the more affordable option; however, it’s also more likely to lose value in the coming years, whereas the Rolex Datejust 41 has already appreciated in value since coming to market in 2019.

Rolex Submariner Movement Caliber 3135

Rolex vs. Grand Seiko: Which One Is Better?

Rolex watches will almost always be the most expensive option compared to Grand Seiko. As we’ve already highlighted above, newer models – particularly the stainless steel sports watches, tend to hold their value better, often commanding well over their original brand-new retail prices on the secondary market. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Grand Seiko watches resell for close to their original retail prices, but there are far fewer models that experience the same type of rapid and extreme appreciation as certain Rolex models.

Both Rolex and Grand Seiko produce high-end timepieces that are exceptionally well-made. When trying to choose between these two iconic luxury watch manufacturers, it ultimately comes down to your budget and how important resale value is going to be long term. Rolex watches hold their value better than almost any other luxury timepiece, but the future resale value may mean very little if you plan on keeping your watch forever.

On the other hand, Grand Seiko’s use of Spring Drive and high-accuracy Quartz movements guarantee that certain models will inherently keep better time than a Rolex watch (or anything else that is powered by a traditional mechanical caliber). Again, this may ultimately mean very little if you trade off wearing a number of different watches on a regular basis, where day-to-day accuracy becomes significantly less important.

When it comes to choosing between Rolex and Grand Seiko, a solid case can be made for either brand and personal preference will likely be the key factors. With that in mind, Rolex and Grand Seiko are very different brands, with different designs, different movements, and different company values. Given all of these differences, there is definitely room in a collection for both Rolex and Grand Seiko watches, and regardless of whether you buy a Rolex or a Grand Seiko first, you will be receiving one of the very finest luxury timepieces available from an iconic brand that is renowned for pursuing perfection.

*Images courtesy of Grand Seiko.

Grand Seiko SBGA403 Limited Edition Titanium Spring Drive Caliber 9R15

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3 Responses to “Rolex vs. Grand Seiko Ultimate Comparison Guide”

  1. Sanjiv Purba says:

    Great analysis Paul. Both brands offer a lot to those appreciating luxury watches. The prices are close enough that i’m not sure that’s a factor in the decision, so i think it’s going to come down to personal preference.

  2. Gabriel says:

    Glad to see GS finally getting some recognition! The Snowflake is stunning and so are the Cherry Blossom and the White Birch. A good alternative if one loves watches for their own sake.

  3. VeMa says:

    Seiko has always been so called in-house manufacturer. Rolex was more like marketing company than manufacturer. All Rolex watches before 2004 are more or less made by others than Rolex.

    Here is some facts:
    Movements ( Aegler 2004 )
    Crowns ( Boninchi 2000 )
    Dials ( Beyeler 2000 )
    Bracelets ( Gay Freres 1998 )
    Cases ( Genex 1992 )

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