Seiko vs Citizen – The Best Japanese Watchmaker?

Both Seiko and Citizen are beloved and respected Japanese watch brands. Both have a reputable history and track record of quality products and designs; however, is one better than the other? Does one watch brand put the other to shame, or are they both competitive in their own right?

Seiko dominates the Automatic and mid-range watch segment.
Both are
competitive in the entry-level Quartz and Luxury segments.

In this review, we will compare watches from both brands that are at the same price-point or those considered to be in the same class. We’ll discover what Seiko offers for the price compared to what Citizen offers, and determine which is the superior watchmaker once and for all.

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Seiko vs Citizen: Dive Watches

Seiko Sea Urchin SNZF15 | Read Reviews on Amazon
Citizen Promaster Diver | Read Reviews on Amazon

In the past, the Citizen Promaster Diver would be most fairly compared to the Seiko SKX007. However, Seiko has discontinued this watch and re-released a worse version for a higher price.

Currently, the most apt comparison in the entry-level dive watch category would be the famous Seiko 5 Sea Urchin. The are just about the same price, so let’s see which one offers the best features and value.

Both watches share similar visual features, which is no accident. They both borrow from designs that originate with the Rolex Submariner in a style dating back to 1954. This style has become ubiquitous in dive watch designs across nearly every brand among their dive watch offerings.

Dial

  • Seiko: The Sea Urchin has a conventional dial design – nothing particularly striking about the indices or the layout. It doesn’t look bad, but screams “budget Submariner.” The date window is useful but a bit on the boring conventional side, though the framing gives the watch more depth.
  • Citizen: The Promaster Diver has much more originality by comparison. Citizen incorporates chevron accents at the 12, 3, 6, and 9 hour markers. It also has a diagonally-facing date window at the 4-o’clock with a subtle white frame.
  • Winner: Citizen. The design of the Citizen is much more interesting and original than the Seiko Sea Urchin – both in the dial elements and the hands.

Movement

  • Seiko: The Sea Urchin has an automatic Seiko 7S36 movement; it’s self-winding (no battery, powered by kinetic motion of the wrist), but has no hacking (the seconds hand does not stop when the crown is pulled out to set the time). This makes it one of the lower-end automatic movements. For the price, this watch should definitely have both hacking and hand-winding capabilities considering other brands (such as Orient – owned by Seiko) have much cheaper options with movements of a higher caliber. This watch ticks at 6 times per second.
  • Citizen: The Promaster Diver is equipped with a quartz solar-powered Eco-Drive movement; it has hacking for accurate time-setting.
  • Winner: Citizen. The Citizen has a movement that can be used by professionals and can function as a tool watch, while the Seiko is more of a novelty movement by comparison.

Water Resistance

  • Seiko: The Sea Urchin is not really a dive watch. At 100m of water resistance, I would not recommend submerging it or getting it any wetter than a few raindrops. While it may continue working after a swim in the pool, it is not a certified ISO diver. As a rule, I treat any watch with less than 200m of water resistance as NOT water resistant.
  • Citizen: The Promaster Diver boasts a professional ISO rating of 200m – suitable for professional scuba diving. It has a screw-down crown to prevent water intrusions, and can be taken in nearly any water environment with no concern.
  • Winner: Citizen by a long shot. Again, given other brands’ abilities to release considerably-cheaper watches with 200m of water resistance, the Seiko Sea Urchin underwhelms the opposing Citizen. One is a professional diver, and the other is a sports watch.

Logo

  • Seiko: The dial of the Sea Urchin is very cluttered. Including the unsightly “5 shield”, it has a total of 6 lines of text. Seiko squeezes in “sports” before three more lines of text at the bottom. This is a lot to look at every time you want to check the time. With dial writing, less is more.
  • Citizen: Expressing great self-restraint, the Citizen Promaster Diver conveys everything important about it in just 3 lines total: Brand, movement type, and Water Resistance rating.
  • Winner: Citizen. The Seiko Sea Urchin looks too cluttered. I believe this was done to give it more of a Rolex Submariner look, since that watch has almost a whole essay written on the dial.

Seiko vs Citizen Diver: Conclusion

Overall, the Citizen Promaster Diver beats the Seiko Sea Urchin in every category. On their own, both are great watches. However, Seiko is asking for a lot more money for less watch. This goes to show that among low-priced watches, Citizen is nearly unbeatable.

Some readers may complain that this is an unfair comparison, and that the Seiko SKX007 would have been more appropriate to compare to; however, the SKX007 was double the price of the Citizen Promaster Diver at the time that it was discontinued. We are looking at the value proposition of both companies based on their offerings today.

Better Dive Watch Alternatives

While we’ve been examining sub-$200 dive watches in this comparison, the fact remains that Seiko makes some of the best professional divers in the $200-$1000 range. Read more here about the best Seiko divers.

Seiko vs Citizen: Pilot Watches

Seiko Flightmaster | Read Reviews on Amazon
Citizen Nighthawk | Read Reviews on Amazon

Two cult favorites on both sides of the aisle – the Seiko Flightmaster and the Citizen Nighthawk face off at last. Both are black professional flight watches with slide-rule bezels, quartz movements, GMT functionality, and are nearly the same price.

Main Differentiator

  • Seiko: The Seiko Flightmaster not only has a chronograph, but it’s seconds hand beats at 5 ticks per second – giving it an appealing sweeping motion that’s almost never found in a quartz movement. This watch also has a dual-time function that can alternatively be used as an actual alarm clock, though it may be too quiet to be useful for some.
  • Citizen: This is matched by the Nighthawk’s unique GMT/dual-time/military-time indicator displayed with plane-hands at the center of the dial. No other watch at any price point has such a cool-looking feature.
  • Winner: Tie. Both are really cool features.

Dial

  • Both dials are very busy looking, like a plane cockpit. They also throw in a chronograph or GMT function AND a slide-rule bezel. The Citizen is a much easier to read, but it also doesn’t have a chronograph.

Indices and Lume

  • Seiko: On the Seiko Flightmaster, the hour markers are relatively tiny round circles (“indices”) that easily get lost in the sea of tiny numbers as they circle around larger subdials. The Flightmaster lume is very weak, even by Seiko standards, and just isn’t as good.
  • Citizen: The indices on the Citizen Nighthawk are pronounced bars in a sea of long thin ticks, but it’s still easy to see where they are and to tell the time. The lume on the Nighthawk is considerably better, and is one of the best features of the watch; it resembles a plane cabin when the lights go out and only the essential instrument displays can be seen.
  • Winner: Tie. I like the Citizen Nighthawk’s dial, indices, and lume much more, but objectively they are equivalent.

Bracelet

  • The Seiko Flightmaster bracelet is barely passable compared to the Citizen Nighthawk’s, which is one of the best bracelets in an entry- and mid-range watch.
  • Winner: Citizen

Slide Rule

  • While the Flightmaster’s slide-rule is more accessible because it is on the bezel, the Citizen slide-rule is a bit harder to reach with the right hand, making it a little more impractical.
  • However, the Nighthawk’s slide rule is much more satisfying to play with, as the Flightmaster’s bezel makes me miss a 120-click dive watch bezel instead. Both are impractical for actual calculations because it requires a class to learn how to use it anyway.
  • Winner: Tie

Seiko vs Citizen Pilot Watch: Conclusion

  • The Seiko Flightmaster feels like a cool compass while the Nighthawk feels like an expensive flight instrument. Both are equivalent when found at the same price, but I personally like the Citizen Nighthawk much more.

Seiko vs Citizen: Field Watches

Seiko 5 Field | Read Reviews on Amazon
Citizen Chandler BM8180-03E | Read Reviews on Amazon

Two no-frills field watches compared: easy to read, minimal features, 100m water resistance, both taken to the height of their craft for the same price. Is one superior?

The Seiko SNZG15 is considered one of the best-value lowest-priced automatic field watches you can buy. For comparison, the Citizen Chandler (BM8180-03E) is one of Citizen’s best-selling field watches of all time.

Dial

  • Seiko: Like the Sea Urchin, this Seiko 5 has too much text on the dial. To look good, this watch should only say “Seiko”, “100m”, and “Automatic.”
  • Citizen: This is a very clean dial with only two lines of text. This is important in a field watch because you want to be able to read the time quickly an efficiently without distractions.
  • Winner: Citizen

Size

  • Normally this is subjective to personal preference, but I should note that the Citizen Chandler has a much more reasonable watch size (“case size”) at 37mm diameter than the Seiko at 42mm. Millimeters can add up quickly, and field watches generally look best in the 37-40mm range.

Movement

  • Seiko: The Seiko SNZG15 has a non-hacking automatic 7S36 movement – same as the Sea Urchin.
  • Citizen: The Citizen Chandler has an Eco-Drive movement that is powered by light. It can be “hacked” to set the time precisely.
  • Winner: In a field watch, setting the precise time is more important than an automatic movement. Additionally, accuracy matters more – you’d want to synchronize to command’s time and forget about it. The Citizen wins.

Date Window

  • Seiko: The Seiko field watch has a day-date indicator in white text on a black background. This is a tasteful way to display it, as it matches the rest of the watch and indices, giving it a “stealth” look.
  • Citizen: By contrast, the day-date display has a white background, which jumps out and slightly upsets the balance of the dial.
  • Winner: Tie. The day-date display is a subjective deign choice, and both watchmakers pull off their interpretation well.

Similarities

These two watches have a lot more in common than not.

  • The straps are both made of passable-quality canvas that gives the watches a classic military flavor. The Seiko comes alternatively with a bracelet, but stay away from that model because the bracelet is super cheap.
  • The hands are similar in shape, down to the red-tipped seconds hand. Which one you prefer is a subjective preference.

Seiko vs Citizen Field Watch Conclusion

  • For the price point, both watches are very competitive with each other. The choice of which depends largely on personal aesthetic preference.
  • Besides the black Seiko SNZG15, this watch comes in many different color options, including olive drab green, blue, and even a creme white dial.
  • Personally, the size of the watches is the most important aspect for me in a field watch, so once again I would go with the classic Citizen BM8180-03E Chandler.

You can also check out our full review of the Citizen Chandler BM8180-03E.

Other Field Watch Alternatives

The Seiko SNK809 watches are a great smaller alternative to the SNZG15 with a lot of the same features, and half the price. They are considered an excellent first watch, and look great on many different kinds of straps.

Seiko Prospex vs Citizen Promaster: Ana-Digi Watches

Citizen Skyhawk A-T | Read Reviews on Amazon

The Seiko “Arnie” reissue is a watch made famous for being worn by Arnold Schwarzenegger in many films such as Commando and Predator. It has a militaristic look and feel, 200m water resistance, and a digital display.

The Citizen Skyhawk A-T is a professional flight watch loaded to the brim with all kinds of useful features that a true pilot would find handy (including 200m water resistance and atomic timekeeping). It’s also equipped with a digital display alongside the analog hands. This combination is known as “Ana-Digi” for “Analog-Digital” hybrid.

Design Differences and Origins

  • Seiko: The Seiko Arnie originates with one of Seiko’s oldest and most famous designs (the Seiko Tuna). It incorporates both solar function and a digital display for the time and stopwatch function.
  • Citizen: The Citizen Skyhawk is full of functionality, including Atomic Timekeeping, which lets you sync to a nearby atomic clock. It also has solar (Eco-Drive) functionality and a chronograph in the digital display.
  • Verdict: As Citizen approaches the mid-range, it starts to ramp up the actual features that it loads into it’s watches. As Seiko approaches this mark, it doesn’t add any features, but increases the quality of the watch itself – materials, durability, and finishing.

Dial

Considering that these watches are built for different professional purposes (dive watch vs flight watch), I won’t rank the dial elements, but describe the differences.

  • Seiko: The Seiko Arnie has an overall classic look but with the addition of the digital display, which offsets the top three indices downward. This is an elegant solution to incorporating a display.
  • Citizen: There’s nothing classic about this dial, everything about it screams “modern and professional.” It has an extra militaristic flavor from the spear-end of the seconds hand. This watch incorporates an eye-catching yellow-and-blue color scheme as a tribute to the US Navy’s Blue Angels elite flight demonstration squadron.

Case

  • Seiko: The Seiko has a durable case with a huge bezel shroud in case you bang the watch against anything or anyone. This makes the watch somewhat large at 48mm, though still within acceptable dive watch size. It has two additional crowns on the left side of the watch to operate the digital display. They are high quality and easy to operate. Stylistically, the three crowns are balanced by three screws in the bezel shroud, giving the watch a more regimental and uniform appearance.
  • Citizen: The Citizen Skyhawk has a classic chronograph crown layout, with all three being screw-down. The crowns have a gnarled texture for easy operation. The case is slightly smaller at 45mm, which is the perfect size for all those features.

Digital Features

  • Seiko: The Seiko Arnie has a chronograph function, alarm, calendar, and dual time.
  • Citizen: The Citizen Skyhawk A-T has all those features plus Atomic Sync, perpetual calendar, dual time, countdown timer, digital backlight, two alarms, UTC display, 24-hour hand, and a charge-level indicator.

Seiko vs Citizen Ana-Digi Conclusion

As Seiko approaches the mid-range, it starts to become very competitive with Citizen, and totally exceeding it above that. At this price point, Citizen is struggling to stay relevant by jam-packing it’s collections full of professional features. While impressive from a technological standpoint, the superior value of Seiko starts to emerge in a well-designed clean-looking watch.

The Citizen starts to turn into a very specialized tool, while Seiko watches transform into a particular type of everyday watch.; as the price rises, Seikos start to become much more fashionably versatile, aesthetically-pleasing, and timeless in appearance than their Citizen counterparts.

Seiko Solar vs Citizen Eco-Drive

This is a good place to mention a distinction in the solar-powered watch world.

These are the features that Seiko Solar and Citizen Eco-Drive watches have in common:

  • Part or all of the dial is actually a photo-voltaic solar cell similar to solar panels. These collect sunlight and lamplight, and recharge a rechargeable battery inside the watch.
  • These batteries power quartz movements which drive the hands and power the watch.
  • A full charge is rated to last 6 months of operation in the dark (with no additional charge).
  • To get a full charge takes approximately 5 hours of direct sunlight, or 110 hours from florescent light.
  • Both have built-in protection against overcharging from too much light or a too-bright light.
  • After a number of charge-recharge cycles, the rechargeable battery will start to lose power capacity just like a phone battery, and will need to be replaced.
Citizen Eco-Drive Charging Specification
Seiko Solar Charging Specifications

So those are the similarities, but what are the differences? Eco-Drive is Citizen’s term for “solar-powered,” so this question is asking “what’s the difference between Seiko Solar and Citizen Solar,” or “Seiko Eco-Drive vs Citizen Eco-Drive?”

The biggest difference is that over 90% of Citizen’s watches are Eco-Drive. While solar panels and solar cells have existed for decades, Citizen made significant innovations in the Eco-Drive watches it brought to the the market in 1995 by hiding the solar cell behind the dial. In other words, all the solar-powered watches of today are based on Citizen’s Eco-Drive innovations.

All else being equal, Citizen is superior in this technology because they have found what works and perfected it, while Seiko is slowly adapting it as a business response. Citizen has 25 years of experience using Eco-Drive as their bread-and-butter, while Seiko is just getting started.

However, it’s relevant to note that Seiko invented the quartz movement itself, which is what the solar cell powers; so in terms of overall watchmaking and electronic watchmaking experience, Seiko beats out Citizen.

Seiko Astron vs Citizen Satellite Wave

Seiko Astron GPS Titanium | Read Reviews on Amazon
Citizen Satellite Wave GPS | Read Reviews on Amazon

The modern Seiko Astron and Citizen Satellite Wave have similar time-sync technology: with the press of a button, the watches will sync up to multiple satellites and update the time without having to check against anything else. They are near the top of the quartz range of both watches, and are priced accordingly.

Full disclosure: this isn’t a fair comparison because Seiko has priced this at a luxury price-point, while Citizen’s is mid-range. In fact, Citizen incorporates the same technology in much cheaper watches; Seiko does not, because this isn’t their market niche – as such, the Seiko Astron is more of a novelty in their collection.

These are invaluable for any professional or businessman regularly traveling across multiple time zones, and the choice of which one is better largely depends on what kind of complications you prefer to have. In this case, Citizen has classically jam-packed as many features into the watch as they could, and they market it as a tool for professionals.

The Seiko Astron, on the other hand, has a much more minimalistic and simple aesthetic by comparison, and with less features. This is more of a watch for the traveling Executive Elite. Imagine setting your reclined first-class seat upright and syncing your watch to Hong Kong time before grabbing your suitcase and taking a taxi to a business meeting. Adding luxury to class, the Seiko Astron is made of a lightweight titanium so you’ll hardly know it’s on your wrist.

Depending on your desired use, either one will suit your needs. Overall, the Citizen Satellite Wave is the sportier of the two, and is the much better value.

Seiko vs Citizen: Luxury Watches

Citizen Chronomaster

The top of the Seiko and Citizen range are difficult to compare to one another because they serve different purposes and different markets. On the one hand, Seiko has its increasingly-expensive Presage Basic, Presage Premier, and Grand Seiko lines. The Presage line is tailored towards watch enthusiasts who have likely worked their way up to Seiko’s more expensive models, starting with Seiko 5 and lower-priced divers.

The Grand Seiko line features Seiko’s innovative Hi-Beat or Spring Drive technology, and strives to provide classic Japanese dial designs, as well as a luxury appeal to compete with high-end Swiss luxury watchmakers like Rolex and Omega.

On the other hand, at the high end Citizen doubles down on mastery of quartz technology and provides one of the most accurate watches in history with the Chronomaster – a distinctly Japanese High Accuracy Quartz (HAQ) watch. Meanwhile, the Eco-Drive One is the world’s thinnest light-powered watch at 2.98mm thick, which is a substantial engineering innovation.

Citizen ONE

Both the High-end Seiko and High-end Citizen are nearly indistinguishable from their entry-level and mid-range models in terms of quality and price, and they start to acquire some classic family resemblances as they target luxury-segment customers with muchos dineros.

Grand Seiko vs Citizen Campanola

We’re cheating a little bit here by comparing sub-brands, but both companies utilize them to market their luxury watches. Moreover, Grand Seiko and Campanola watches are similarly-priced in the mid-luxury range.

Grand Seiko is increasingly well-known in the luxury watch world as they proliferate US markets; soon, they will become much more expensive than their current selling point considering the high level of finishing and movement technology (Spring Drive). For the price, they put Swiss brands like Rolex and Omega to absolute shame.

Meanwhile, Campanola is more of an unknown bespoke collector’s item that is somewhat obscure. They also involve a high degree of finishing as well as designs that can’t be found anywhere else. These watches are unlikely to sell more than a few dozen a year, and the high price point is primarily the result of ultra-exclusivity.

Seiko vs Citizen: Conclusion

As we have seen, Seiko faces some pretty stiff competition in the entry-level watch range from Citizen. This market segment is primarily the domain of Seiko’s Seiko 5 line; they’re basic watches with basic automatic movements. However, for Citizen, this range contains their best-value watches.

Once the price point approached the mid-range, Citizen has very little to show for itself, and with good reason – this isn’t their target market range. Their focus is on selling affordable solar (Eco-Drive) and professional watches, not expensive ones.

Also Read: Orient vs Seiko – the other Japanese watch company

At each brand’s luxury segment, the price skyrockets, and design, materials, and quality do as well. The technology and designs become much more exclusive, and they both strive to excel at their own niche.

Seiko vs Citizen: The Future

In order to become increasingly competitive with Swiss luxury watch brands, Seiko has recently been capitalizing on the tremendous “value for the money” proposition that it was so famous for until recently. They’ve discontinued many long-time affordable fan-favorites from their collection like the Seiko Alpinist and Seiko Monster, and re-released them for double the price. If you read about how great of a value Seiko is, you’re probably reading an outdated post.

Meanwhile, the comparative value of Citizen is only going up. They’re not inflating their prices, so their value proposition is getting stronger and stronger.

The question is – what do you get for your money in either watch? With Citizen it is a known quantity. With Seiko – it is increasingly less and less value for the money.

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