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Feature: Grand Seiko GMT Vs Rolex GMT Master II

This year marks twenty years since the Japanese brand Grand Seiko launched its first ever GMT model. Considering Grand Seiko has been around since 1960, we’re not sure what took it so long.

Compared to Rolex, which develops its watches at the pace of frozen treacle, Seiko—of which Grand Seiko was formerly a high-class sub-brand—often feels like a horse chomping at the bit to forge ahead with new technology and designs.

Of course, Rolex has been in the GMT game for a while—almost seventy years, in fact—initially making their now-iconic GMT-Master with red and blue bezel for the lucky airline pilots of Pan-Am in the 50s.

Grand Seiko got there eventually, though, and now produces its own range of GMTs, including those with its clever hybrid Spring Drive technology. But in this head-to-head, in which a Grand Seiko GMT from its ‘Sport’ Collection goes up against a Rolex GMT-Master II, we’re sticking with models that run on self-winding movements.

So let’s look at how one of Grand Seiko’s more practical watches fares against an industry superstar from the same genre.

Two great brands from two great countries, two of the best-loved and most useful functions. A monumental battle of Underdog versus Giant. Lion versus Crown. Tireless Japanese innovation versus deep-rooted Swiss heritage. The might of Mount Fuji versus, er… whatever the tallest mountain in Switzerland is.

Surface Details

We’ve purposely chosen models that are similar in looks and colour scheme here—blue bezels, sporty stainless-steel bracelets — thus giving Rolex’s ‘Pepsi’ models and the recent green and black left-hand model a miss.

Both deliver an aesthetic masterclass in simplicity, with clean, functional dials revealing a few stunning touches when viewed closely.

The Rolex has all the familiar features of its contemporary tool watches: high legibility thanks to Chromalight markers, a Mercedes hour hand and the big arrow-tipped GMT hand.

Is the Rolex GMT-Master II the watch you'd take on your travels abroad?

Is the Rolex GMT-Master II the watch you'd take on your travels abroad?

The Grand Seiko’s dial looks as black as the Rolex’s from some angles but it’s actually a deep blue. On top of this you’ll find multi-faceted, applied indices and those flat-ended hour and minute hands, a common feature in Grand Seiko’s sportier GMT models.

It even features a second 24-hour track on the periphery of the dial to account for the odd numbers missing from the ones on the bezel.

Meanwhile, the Grand Seiko’s date window—set at 4 o’clock, in line with the crown—is beautifully framed, while the Rolex has its signature Cyclops magnifying lens for extra legibility. Take your pick: finesse or function?

The Grand Seiko’s bezel is sapphire-coated—tough and scratch-proof but liable to fade over time— and filled with LumiBrite for superb low-light visibility. The Rolex uses its equally scratch-proof Cerachrom inserts with platinum-filled numerals. So you don’t get the glowing bezel but at least the Cerachrom should keep it looking perfect, even if you’ve left it lying on a sun-lounger for a decade.

Case And Bracelet

At a smidgen over 44mm, the Grand Seiko is significantly bigger than the Rolex, which measures in at 40mm. This will render it out of bounds for the twig-wristed. But a slightly thinner bezel and the omission of a crown guard takes away some of that muscularity.

There’s something delightfully tactile about the Grand Seiko’s case. Unlike the slab-sided Rolex, it slopes inwards, giving it a bowl-like appearance when viewed from the side.

The Grand Seiko Sports Collection GMT provides bang for your buck!

The Grand Seiko Sports Collection GMT provides bang for your buck!

While this latest GMT-Master II comes on a Jubilee bracelet, the Grand Seiko comes on an Oyster-style three-link bracelet, blessed with some of that famous Zaratsu-polishing—a Grand Seiko hallmark that takes its workers around three years to master.

For some, the Grand Seiko bracelet may appear a little safer with its push-button release, rather than the flip-lock clasp of the Rolex, but the Rolex feels better quality.

Neither of these luxury watches are meant to be worn diving, obviously, however both have screw-down crowns and casebacks. As for water resistance, the Grand Seiko can deal with depths of up to 200m compared to the Rolex’s 100m—not much of an issue if you never go further than the local swimming pool.

The Movements

The Rolex runs on its Caliber 3285, introduced in 2018, which is a COSC-certified Superlative Chronometer (allowing for an average daily deviation rate of -2 to +2), with a 70-hour power reserve.

As for the Grand Seiko’s 9S86 movement, its -3 to +5 rate comes within COSC’s standard of -6 to +4 but since it’s not a Swiss brand, Grand Seiko watches are not eligible for COSC certification. Not that it cares. Grand Seiko has its own chronometer standard, thank you very much!

The VPH is higher on the Grand Seiko movement and its power reserve is 55 hours. Not feeble by any stretch of the imagination, but lagging way behind the Rolex.

As for the actual GMT function, they’re both easy to operate via the crown and are both ‘true GMTs’, enabling the local hour hand to be adjusted independently of the GMT hand.

Heritage Is Still A Thing

A quick look at the prices…

The Rolex, at retail, is £8,600. That’s £2,500 more than the Grand Seiko’s £6,100. On the pre-owned market, however, the Rolex makes an astounding jump to well over £20k, while you can expect the Grand Seiko to drop slightly!

But that price gulf is harsh on the Grand Seiko. The Japanese watch more than holds its own against the Rolex. It could even be the better watch. But, as ever, there’s no getting away from it; that crown logo of the Swiss brand has that unrivalled allure, that irresistible cachet, the eternal Ace card.

Grand Seiko, as opposed to standard Seiko, is also still relatively new to the wider world. The words, “But it’s only a Seiko!” can still be heard occasionally, but the reputation of the more prestigious off-shoot—it finally gained independence from the mother company in 2017—is gradually and deservedly gaining ground.

The Grand Seiko Needs A Nickname!

The whole nickname situation divides opinion. Some people dismiss the practice as juvenile, others embrace it. Either way, this Rolex has been dubbed the ‘Batgirl’—the ‘Batman’, of course being the version on an Oyster bracelet.

Don't judge us, but we've come up with the perfect nickname for the Grand Seiko GMT

Don't judge us, but we've come up with the perfect nickname for the Grand Seiko GMT

What, then, can we call this Grand Seiko Sport Collection GMT? Surely this watch deserves its own moniker! Well, since it shares the same blue-and-white colour combo as the branding on one of Japan’s favourite soft drinks, Pocari Sweat (the ultimate hangover beverage, incidentally), we hereby declare this watch the Seiko ‘Pocari’.

Looking for a pre-owned Grand Seiko watch? Click here to shop now

Looking for a pre-owned Rolex watch? Click here to shop now