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The 11 Japanese Watch Brands You Should Know

Best Japanese Watch Brands 0 Hero

While the Swiss often get top billing in the watchmaking world, they’re hardly the only name in the game. In fact, the Japanese have a lot to be proud of in regards to the craft. Hell, Seiko actually invented the quartz movement — an innovation that altered the watchmaking landscape permanently. And that’s just one of many timekeeping-related things to come out of the eastern island nation.

Perhaps obviously, the watchmaking landscape in Japan is not quite as vast as that of the Swiss — but there are still a fair number of brands producing spectacular watches that call Japan their home. And their offerings span a wide range of prices, styles, functionality, and more. Below, we’ve rounded up a list of the most essential brands to be talked about when discussing Japanese watchmaking.

History of watchmaking in japan

Dating back to the mid-1500s, horology arrived in Japan with the Christian missionaries who taught locals how to make clocks and other instruments. However, due to a long period of national isolation, it wasn’t until 1872 when the nation adopted the solar calendar, thus altering the way clocks were mechanized. Two decades later, the Osaka Tokei Manufacturing Company took guidance from an American engineer and started making pocket watches with lever escapements. From there, others caught on. Wristwatches started getting made in the 1920s until World War II, when production ceased entirely.

The industry and the nation recovered and in 1956, after automatic timepieces began cropping up, wristwatches were seen as a necessary fashion accessory. Seiko then debuted the world’s first quartz timepiece with the Quartz Astron 35SQ in 1969, revolutionizing the industry and almost sinking Swiss mechanical watchmaking as a whole. Today, Japanese watchmaking is a crucial industry, with some of the finest timepieces coming from the Land of the Rising Sun.

Japanese Vs. Swiss Watches

Japanese watches have long held a stigma of being “cheaper” than their Swiss counterparts. However, there are some fine luxury watches that come from Japan in their own right. Likewise, you could also say that the Japanese industry has perfected the ability to create luxurious timepieces at affordable prices without sacrificing quality. While Swiss brands may be better, as a whole, in terms of precision, Japanese brands are a bit more cutting edge with their technology, allowing them to make more watches in a shorter amount of time.


Casio GSHOCK GWM5610U1
Photo: Casio GSHOCK GWM5610U1
why it made the cut
  • Casio helped change the game with its quartz watches in the ’70s and ’80s while also kickstarting the still-dominant G-SHOCK brand.

Casio has done an excellent job, especially in recent years, reminding us that watchmaking shouldn’t always have to be so serious. It’s string of retro reissues and fun callbacks have been able to be more stylish and evocative without horological mastery ever entering the conversation. In the realm of wristwatches, however, Casio has still been an important name, paving the way for digital watches in the 1970s and ’80s (ever heard of a calculator watch?), having among the most popular models on the planet at the time. In the ’80s, the brand would also go on to launch its G-SHOCK label, which emphasized durability with a timeless style that honestly hasn’t changed much in 40 years. G-SHOCK’s impressive range of go-anywhere timepieces have largely overshadowed the newer pieces from Casio, which mainly focus on accessibility and nostalgia – and we’re not mad at it.

Year Founded: 1945
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Style: Sport, Retro, Field
Popular Models: ProTrek, G-SHOCK 2100, G-SHOCK 5600
Price Range: $30 to $5,000
Hero Watch: G-SHOCK GWM5610-1


Citizen Promaster Dive
Photo: Citizen Promaster Dive
why it made the cut
  • Citizen has become one of the biggest watchmakers in the world but also deserves recognition for its innovative Eco-Drive movements and capable tool watches.

Don’t let its ubiquity fool you, Citizen is a watchmaker to be reckoned with. Despite Citizen Group owning luxury names like Bulova, Frederique Constant, and Alpina, the Citizen brand itself offers affordable timepieces with some serious prowess. Founded in 1918, the Tokyo native specializes in a variety of watches, both quartz and mechanical, but has become legends for the development of its own Eco-Drive technology, which powers its quartz with, not just sunlight but any light, so that it never needs battery. One of our favorite Eco-Drive models is the Promaster diver, which is not only affordable but boasts some unique purpose-built iterations like the Aqualand, with features like a rapid ascent alarm and rapid depth memory.

Year Founded: 1918
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Style: Sport, Everyday, Dress
Popular Models: Promaster Dive, Promaster Skyhawk, PCAT
Price Range: $200 to $5,000
Hero Watch: Promaster Dive


Credor GBLT999
Photo: Credor GBLT999
why it made the cut
  • Once exclusively using precious metals, this Seiko offshoot has some of the most luxurious and complicated watches in the country.

From the French term for for “golden peak,” Credor was launched by Seiko in 1974 as a line of watches made from precious metals and in 1980 launched what was the world’s thinnest movement at the time. Today, it continues to be lesser known that Seiko’s most famous creation: Grand Seiko (more on that below). Continuing to be designed for the Japanese market with Japanese aesthetics, Credor has gone beyond its original intention and now uses materials like stainless steel. Also, compared to its Seiko and even Grand Seiko brethren, watches from Credor retail out the gate much higher. We’re talking anywhere from $9,000 to $300,000 or more for its most popular models.

Year Founded: 1974
Location: Iwate, Japan
Style: Dress, Luxury
Popular Models: Masterpiece, Goldfeather
Price Range: $9,000 to $300,000+
Hero Watch: Masterpiece GBLT999

Grand Seiko

Grand Seiko 44GS SLGH013
Photo: Grand Seiko 44GS SLGH013
why it made the cut
  • An offshoot of Seiko, GS has some of the finest movements in the industry, but its dial creations will keep you coming back for more.

Grand Seiko rests at the intersection of Japanese watches and luxury brands, with a ton of memorable timepieces powered by some of the best movements in the world. Lately, the dress watches in its Heritage 44GS line are imbued with an unparalleled level of inspiration, taking design cues from its own Japanese heritage and the foresty milieu around its studio in the mountainous Iwate Prefecture. Launched in 1960 as a sub-brand from Seiko who aimed at competing with the high-end Swiss manufactures, Grand Seiko has been on its own since 2017, after which it began to establish its own identity. Its calling cards are its Spring Drive movements, beautiful dial finishes, and acclaimed Zaratsu case finishing technique.

Year Founded: 1960
Location: Iwate, Japan
Style: Dress, Sport
Popular Models: 44GS, 9S
Price Range: $5,500 to $80,000
Hero Watch: 44GS SLGH013


Knot AT38
Photo: Knot AT38
why it made the cut
  • Knot specializes in customizable watches, from the dial to the strap to the buckles, and at wildly affordable price points.

The smartwatch world is pretty comendable when it comes to customization. From case materials to strap types to the tailoring of your home screen, you have access to a plethora of aesthetics for your wrist if you really want. The mechanical watch world has not quite caught on in the same way. That is, unless you’re looking at Knot, founded in 2014, one of the leaders in customizable timepieces. Once you pick out one of its beautiful cased dials, you can select from one of dozens of straps and buckles. If you take one glance at Knot’s dials you would think they’d cost you several thousand dollars. However, thanks to the company’s commitment to its mission of making quality watches available to everyone, some of its timepieces can be obtained for just over $100, with higher end watches at just over $1,000.

Year Founded: 2014
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Style: Dress, Sport, Minimalist
Popular Models: AT-38, Urushi
Price Range: $120 to $1,100
Hero Watch: AT-38


Photo: Kurono GRAND AKANE
why it made the cut
  • Wholly Japanese in spirit, Kurono’s beautiful timepieces, while hard to obtain, are an affordable alternative to luxury contemporaries.

While most Japanese watches benefit from the culture’s artistry, most of them can somewhat blend in with their contemporaries from elsewhere in the world. When looking at one of Kurono’s marvelous timepieces, however, you can tell that they’re explicitly Japanese. Going beyond mere design cues, the dials often featuring traditional Japanese textures or patterns, and always sporting the brand’s name (and sometimes the model’s name) in Japanese script. Launched in 1997, Kurono aims to be an affordable option to luxury watches with similar appeal. Unfortunately, it’s beautiful timepieces sell out rather quickly.

Year Founded: 1997
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Style: Dress, Sport
Popular Models: Grand Series, Classic Series
Price Range: $1,500 to $4,000
Hero Watch: Grand Akane


Minase Uruga
Photo: Minase Uruga
why it made the cut
  • Aside from GS, Minase has some of the most spectacular dial designs, with a low annual output that helps with quality.

Aside from Grand Seiko, Minase is probably the best in the country at making beautiful dials that pay homage to Japanese culture, such as the brush stroke appearance of its Uruga or the island-inspired square-cased Horizon, featuring an innovative construction with a domed dial and hands that rotate from a point higher than the corners of the glass. Launched in 2005, Minase is a bit more mainstream that some of these other watchmakers, while its production output routinely puts out fewer than 500 pieces annually. Unafraid to nod to Swiss precision, Minase uses ETA-based movements to power their watches.

Year Founded: 2005
Location: Akita, Japan
Style: Dress
Popular Models: Uruga, Horizon
Price Range: $3,000 to $8,000
Hero Watch: Uruga


Mirco Type 02 WB
Photo: Mirco Type 02 WB
why it made the cut
  • Blending vintage with modern techniques, Mirco thrives by ensuring each one of its models is distinctly original.

The name Mirco comes from a combination of the words “future” and “past” in Japanese (“mirai” and “kako”). Specializing in mid-century watch styles, Mirco separates itself from the pack by not focusing on one particular model in particular. This opens up the floor for the brand to imbue its own unique design ethos into any given piece, such as its chunky Type 02 chronograph or its uniquely-colored Type 03 divers, with sourced automatic movements from the likes of Seiko. Founded in 2019, the up-and-coming microbrand only has two model lines under its belt but Mirco is certainly one to watch in upcoming years.

Year Founded: 2019
Location: Fukushima, Japan
Style: Vintage-Style, Chronograph, Diver
Popular Models: Type 02, Type 03
Price Range: $1,500 to $2,000
Hero Watch: Type 02

Naoya Hida

Naoya Hida NH TYPE 4A
Photo: Naoya Hida NH TYPE 4A
why it made the cut
  • Don’t let its scarcity fool you, Naoya Hida has some of the most beautiful and meticulously-designed timepieces in the space.

We’d be lying if we said the watches from cult-favorite microbrand Naoya Hida were easy to obtain. With only about 15 pieces of each model made per year and sometimes up to a year between ordering and delivery, the Tokyo-based firm launched in 2019 with an emphasis on old-school looks and simplicity. Its namesake founder has credits that range from Ralph Lauren to Jaeger-LeCoultre to Vacheron Constantin, evident by his meticulous designs and understated aesthetics. Despite utilizing a range of different typefaces for its numerals, the range of timepieces still boast a unified identity with its vintage styling and recessed inner rings. Likewise, the brand specializes in modified versions of hand-wound ETA movements.

Year Founded: 2019
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Style: Dress, Vintage-Style
Popular Models: TYPE 4A, TYPE2C, TYPE 3B
Price Range: ~$20,000
Hero Watch: NH TYPE 4A


Orient Bambino
Photo: Orient Bambino
why it made the cut
  • Orient offers some of the best watches for the price in the entire industry, including its high-end Orient Star pieces.

Despite going independent in 2009, when it became part of the Seiko umbrella, Orient goes all the way back to 1950 when it was founded in Tokyo. Since then, it’s provided a gateway to the automatic watch world, known for its low-end mechanical timepieces that punch way above their price tags. More impressively, Orient uses its own in-house movements, which are used to power the brand’s affordable divers. While most of its pieces can be had around the $200 point, the brand does have a higher-end Orient Star label, which produces more complicated timepieces such as moon phases and open heart movements, often at prices that fetch around $3,000.

Year Founded: 1950
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Style: Dress, Dive, Sports
Popular Models: Bambino, Mako, Kamasu
Price Range: $200 to $3,000
Hero Watch: Bambino


Seiko Prospex SPB383
Photo: Seiko Prospex SPB383
why it made the cut
  • Simply the godfather of modern Japanese watchmaking, Seiko is a must-include on any Japanese watch list.

For those unfamiliar with the difference between Seiko and Grand Seiko, you may think that we’re double dipping here. However, the more upscale Grand Seiko, who was once an offshoot of its former parent company, became an independent brand in 2017. Design-wise, there’s a lot of difference between the two as well. While GS is known for its beautiful high-end dress watches, Seiko has become one of the forerunners in the sports watch category, especially with its Prospex divers and Seiko 5 Spors lines. However, its Presage dress pieces are nothing to sneeze at either. Simply put, Seiko is one of the most famous watchmakers in the world regardless of provenance, with a history dating back to 1881 and even the claim of inventing the quartz wristwatch and releasing (arguably) the first automatic chronograph, both in 1969.

Year Founded: 1881
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Style: Dress, Dive, Sports
Popular Models: Prospex, Prestige, 5 Sports
Price Range: $200 to $7,000
Hero Watch: Prospex SPB383

The Best Non-Swiss Watch Brands

Photo: Glashütte Original

If you want to explore more non-Swiss watchmakers check out our dedicated guide to some of the best brands from around the world.