The Japanese watch brands that most people know are generally affordable. Casio, Citizen, Orient, and Seiko typically will not break the bank, and all make solid watches for much less than even the most affordable watches from the top luxury brands. While there are notable premium exceptions, for the most part, Japanese watches aren’t known for being luxury timepieces or “grail” watches that require months of savings to buy.
Japanese watches tend to have a more conservative style than the watches from flashy brands like Rolex, Patek Philippe, Omega, Breitling, and Hublot. Yet they push the envelope in terms of technology, like with Seiko’s Spring Drive. Japanese watch brands are also extremely reliable and rely more on solid engineering and design rather than artful movements, pricey materials, and expensive marketing.
Japanese vs Swiss Watch Movements
When it comes to mechanical hand-wound or automatic movements, there are distinct differences between Japanese and Swiss watches. Swiss movements, such as the popular Swiss ETA series, focus on craftsmanship for accuracy and aesthetics with decorated mechanical parts. Japanese Miyota movements are accurate as well and cost less, but can have a somewhat boring utilitarian look.
Swiss movements, by and large, are hand assembled with numerous grades that increase the price based on features, materials, and decoration. Many Swiss watchmakers add modifications to the rotors, component finishing, jewel color, and other aspects. Most Japanese movements are manufactured on a robot assembly line, which helps with consistency and accuracy. They don’t follow a tiered grade, so there’s more overall standardization.
There is one important exception to call out: Grand Seiko’s expensive and technologically advanced in-house Spring Drive movement. It takes the best of both automatic and quartz movements and creates the only true sweep second hand by utilizing a quartz crystal-regulated mainspring and a frictionless wheel for tremendous accuracy, durability, and smoothness. In some models, the Spring Drive uses 56 jewels versus the typical 20 to 30 used in most automatics. Each Spring Drive is also assembled by hand.
The Most Popular Japanese Watch Brands
- Casio G-Shock
- Grand Seiko
The Best Japanese Watch in Every Price Range
Best Japanese Watch For Under $50: Casio MRW200H-1BV
It would be a piece of cake to pick a solid digital model in this price range, but for barely more than a few cups of Starbucks, you can get a handsome and tough analog timepiece. This black resin watch resembles special forces timepieces with its no-nonsense dial, modern Arabic numerals, rugged strap, and the red pip at 12 o’clock. It also has scratch and impact-resistant mineral crystal, a day/date window, and is water-resistant to 100 meters.
Best Japanese Watch For $51 to $100: G-Shock GA-2100
This is the G-Shock that took the world by storm. It nods to the famous and way pricier Audemars Piguet Royal Oak — so much so that it’s become known as the “CasiOak” thanks to a similar octagonal shape that adds sophistication to an otherwise all-business analog-digital watch. The resin and carbon fiber case is seriously tough, and the anti-shock properties add resilience. The dark face, hands, and markers are offset by a double LED light, and the 45mm beast also gets 200 meters of water resistance and a mineral crystal glass face.
Best Japanese Watch For $101-300: Seiko 5 Sports SRPG7
Seiko’s 5 Sports line of watches offers some of the best value in the watch world. The understated but highly versatile SRPG7 is an automatic field watch that can easily pull duty at the office without skipping a beat. The 39.4mm stainless steel case is right-sized, and the matching bracelet dresses things up way beyond a standard nylon Nato strap. The movement gets upgraded to a hand-wound and hacking 4R36. The framed day/date window and the red-tipped second hand are nice upscale touches.
Best Japanese Watch For $301-500: Seiko Prospex SRPE93
If you were to pick one stand-out masculine Japanese dive watch, the SRPE93 would be it. The big 45mm case is offset by the curved “Turtle” case and the screw down crown located at the 4 o’clock position. Wear comfort is surprisingly good, despite its large dimensions, thanks to the extended case lugs. The legendary lume is excellent, and the rugged dive strap looks truly badass. You can hand wind it or let the motion of your arm do the duties via the 41 hour power-reserve mechanical automatic movement. Although the Turtle might not dress up well, it might just be one of the best utility watches ever made.
Best Japanese Watch For $501-1,000: Seiko Prospex Solar Speedtimer SSC813
Yes, another Seiko — there’s plenty of reasons why it’s the most popular watch brand in Japan. The new Speedtimer looks so good and it doesn’t have to mimic an Omega Speedmaster to look the part. The retro black and white panda dial looks perfect set inside the accommodating 39mm case. It’s topped off by a classic black tachymeter bezel, sapphire glass, vintage lume on the hands and markers, and a stainless steel oyster bracelet. The solar charging movement doesn’t give up more than about 15 seconds per month.
Best Japanese Watch For $1,001-2,000: Citizen Promaster Dive Automatic
This monster released in 2022, and it’s substantial in just about every way. 46mm in diameter, lightweight and tough titanium construction, sapphire glass, a unique mini-pyramid textured dial and bezel, a knurled screw-down crown, 200 meters of water resistance, and anti-magnetism. But it’s not all blunt force, because inside is the high-end Citizen 9051 automatic caliber movement.
Best Japanese Watch For $3,001-5,000: Casio G-Shock MRGB5000B-1
Before you balk at the idea of a $3,500 digital watch, take a look at the specs. The MRGB5000B-1 is the most expensive G-Shock watch for a reason. It uses a titanium alloy in the case, bezel, and bracelet that’s three times harder than pure titanium. The cobalt alloy on the bezel surface exhibits the same brilliance as platinum, even with the black DLC finishing. It also features gold plating, Bluetooth, atomic clock automatic timekeeping, and smartphone connectivity.
Best Japanese Watch For $5,000-plus: Grand Seiko Spring Drive 5 Days SLGA009
When it comes to truly expensive watches, don’t rule out the Japanese brands. Grand Seiko added a gorgeous white birch dial in 2022 on the brand’s Evolution 9 design. The latest (RA2 Spring Drive movement offers upgraded precision to the tune of about 0.5 seconds per day. Aside from the beautiful dial texture and the light play with the different case surfacing treatment, the SLGA009 is understated, but you’ll have one of the best made and most accurate timepieces on earth.