Mention high-end Seiko, and relative newcomers to Seiko will assert Grand Seiko as the be-all end-all, but experienced Seiko hands will always mention King Seiko – like this 5626-7040 automatic Chronometer here, one of the first automatic King Seiko’s – in the same breath. Seiko phased out the King Seiko in the 1970’s, virtually ensuring the Grand Seiko would remain more famous
In 1959, Seiko split up their Suwa subsidiary into two separate entities—Suwa Seikosha and Daini Seikosha—to promote competition and product development within the company, with both operating separately under the idea this would incite competition and each would try to one-up each other and produce better products.
That same year, Daini Seikosha hired a young designer by the name of Taro Tanaka, the man who would in the early 1960's create a set of design principles that he called “The Grammar of Design.” In 1962, Tanaka noticed Swiss watches "sparkled brilliantly" and realized the design of high-end Seiko watches could be radically improved through the implementation of "flat and conical surfaces perfectly smooth and free of distortion." This "Grammar of Design" was implemented in Grand Seiko and King Seiko lines from 1967 and made these lines instantly recognizable as status symbols in the hierarchical Japanese business world of the 1960s and 1970s.
Tanaka’s rules would go on to fundamentally change Seiko’s design language. All surfaces and angles of the case, dial, indices and hands had to be flat and geometrically perfect to best reflect light. Following this aesthetic, the bezels were to be simple two-dimensional faceted curves. And third, no visual distortion from any angle was allowed, and all cases and dials had to be mirror-finished. In “A Journey in Time. The Remarkable Story of Seiko,” Tanaka’s approach to the new style is described as follows:
“He started by creating cases and dials that had a perfectly flat surface, with two-dimensional curves on the bezel as a secondary feature. Three-dimensional curves were not used, as a general rule. He also decided that all distortion should be eliminated from the dial, too, so that it could be finished with a mirror surface. This formed the basis for the new Seiko style.”
The 5626-7040’s contoured case is reminiscent of the legendary 1967 Grand Seiko “44GS” but perhaps even more attractively rendered. Like the 44GS, the 56KS features a beveled ring around the crystal that sits above the sharply-sculpted and polished body and lugs. That said, the 56KS differed with its long, elegant lugs that draw attention to the dial rather than the case. Speaking of the case, the example here has Japanese engraving on it, perhaps in commemoration of a special event for a previous owner? This watch has no doubt seen many stories over the last nearly half century.
The long, thin applied chiseled hour markers haven’t been duplicated by Seiko or Grand Seiko since the 5626-7040, standing out in contrast to the fatter markers found on the 44GS and modern watches. Even more unique, the King Seiko eschews the trademark sword hands of the Grand Seiko line for impossibly-thin pencil hands that complement these fine markers.
Now, on to the Chronometer part. During the early 1960s Seiko displayed the “Chronometer” name on selected, precision watches which had passed Seiko’s in-house chronometer standard testing, the equivalent of the BO (Basel Observatory) Chronometer high accuracy standard – when the Commission Internationale des Controles Chronometriques (CICC) Certification facilities in Japan were established in 1968, a few movements designated "Chronometer Officially Certified" (of which this King Seiko 5626 is one) appeared.
This King Seiko comes with a leather strap, NATO strap, Pelican travel case, and springbar tool.
1971 King Seiko 5626-7040 Automatic Chronometer
DIAL: Original silver King Seiko sunburst dial, with original hour, minute, and chronograph hands. Chronometer and Hi-Beat-signed dial.
CASE: Original 37mm (w/o crown, 38mm with) x 42mm stainless-steel case. Matching original caseback, featuring a legible "KS" emblem.
CRYSTAL: New-old stock original Seiko crystal, scratch-free, freshly installed.
BAND: This 5626 KS comes with a leather strap, as well as an orange, white, and dark blue NATO strap, with stainless steel hardware – a comfortable and stylish strap that compliments the colors on this classic vintage King Seiko.
MOVEMENT: Original 5626 Seiko 25-jewel automatic movement, manufactured in January 1971, the “Hi-Beat” movement beats at 28,800 A/h, not the 36,000 A/h often associated with that term. Although most Swiss watches now beat at the same rate, this was legitimately considered “high beat” at the time.
CROWN: King Seiko-signed stainless-steel crown.