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 full serviced 5626-7040 automatic chronometer here, one of the first King Seiko automatics – 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’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.
The long, thin applied chiseled hour markers haven’t been duplicated by Seiko or Grand Seiko since the 5626, 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. For a brief period in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, some Seiko’s were certified chronometers by Bureaux officiels de contrôle de la marche des montres (precursor to COSC). Seiko's history with the Swiss official chronometer rating is an interesting one, from Seiko's first participation in 1963 to its entry of the 45 calibre here in 1968.
Seiko nearly always placed rather well vis-a-vis its Swiss competition - almost certainly to the embarassment of the Swiss. When the successor to the chronometer contest was established, the COSC standard, the Swiss made the odd decision that "all parts used to build the movement must be made within Europe”...jealous much?
Seiko would eventually eschew the Swiss-based chronometer certification in favor of their own, more stringent, standard, thusly beating the Swiss at their own game. And Seiko would go on to be the first to invent the automatic movement...but thats another story. King Seiko production lasted loosely from 1968-1974, with the Seiko introduction of its Astron, the first quartz watch, in 1969 ultimately spelling the death kneel of the KS high frequency movement.
This King Seiko comes with a leather strap, nylon strap, rugged travel case, and springbar tool.
1971 King Seiko 5626-7040 Automatic Chronometer
DIAL: Steel-grey/blue starburst King Seiko and Hi-Beat-signed dial, with matching stick hour, minute, and chronograph hands; dial is also signed "Chronometer Officially Certified." Of note, day and date works as designed - only set these with the minute and hour hands at the six o'clock position to avoid damage.
CASE: Stainless-steel Grammar of Design case measures 36.5mm (37.5mm w/crown) x 42.5mm, with matching caseback, featuring crisply legible "KS" inscriptions.
CRYSTAL: Hardlex crystal in great condition, with no scratches or edge chips.
BAND: This 5626 KS comes with a grey leather rally strap and red, blue, and white nylon strap.
MOVEMENT: Chronometer serial number-inscribed Seiko 5626 25-jewel automatic movement, manufactured in January 1971; the “Hi-Beat” movement beats at 28,800 bph. Although most Swiss watches now beat at the same rate, this was considered high beat at the time. We have performed a full service on this King Seiko chronometer.