Seiko has created some of the most interesting dials in watchmaking.

While many Swiss brands play it conservative, Seiko produced dials over the past few decades that are playful, and feature an amazing array of design concepts. Over the years Seiko defined what it meant to blend creativity and craftsmanship – while still maintaining the functionality of a dial.

The desire to create bold dials wasn't always a design goal at Seiko.

From the beginning Seiko watches were well-made, and considered good quality pieces, but they didn't stand out in store displays as much as their Swiss competitors – at least in places where the Japanese timepieces were available.


The first Seiko wristwatch, the "Laurel." Source: Chrono24


Round cases and rudimentary lugs were paired with dull, conventional dials in most designs. There was no design department within the company until 1956 – prior to that, the only people doing design work at the company were those in charge of the dial's form factor – in other words – engineers.

By late 1950s, the watch industry witnessed Seiko’s renowned developments on chronometer calibers like the iconic cal. 6139 chronograph movement and several other breakthrough technologies.

In parallel, another master move on the company’s part was the hiring of Taro Tanaka in 1956. He was a fresh design graduate at the time, and the first trained designer employed by the company.


Introduction to Seiko’s Design Style: Taro Tanaka’s ‘Grammar of Design’

Tanaka took a comprehensive approach to designing Seiko watches, and the Seiko design studio expanded its scope beyond dials to include the entire watchmaking process.

The biggest challenge for Tanaka was to make Seiko watches, particularly the high-end Grand Seiko and King Seiko brands, stand out on store shelves above their competition. He aspired to both figuratively and literally outshine the Swiss.


The Grand Seiko 6145-8000 - an embodiment of Tanaka's design philosophy. Source: Worn and Wound


Tanaka contributed to redefine the theory of watch design, partly inspired by the skill of gem cutting. By 1962, he developed a set of guidelines which he dubbed the "Grammar of Design.”

There were just four key principles to Tanaka's "Grammar of Design":

1- All surfaces and angles on the case, dial, hands, and indices must be flat and geometrically correct to optimally reflect light.

2- Simple, two-dimensional faceted bezels.

3- To avoid optical distortion, all cases and dials were to be mirror-finished (aka Zaratsu polishing)

4- Original case designs were key, no more generic circular cases, all cases must be one-of-a-kind


A New Way Forward for Seiko

Tanaka's influence resulted in Seiko implementing more severe manufacturing controls, which Tanaka considered was necessary to match the Swiss' quality.

Grand Seiko and King Seiko were the first product lines to benefit from this pared-down design methodology. These two early watches lines are considered the finest manifestations of Tanaka's philosophy, and are very valuable to collectors today.


A Grand Seiko 4420-9000 - another great manifestation of the Grammar of Design. Source: The Grand Seiko Guy


The design team at Seiko relied both on using top quality materials as well as thoroughly defining unique shapes and lines to each model. The final Zaratsu polishing treatment guaranteed luxury products that “brilliantly sparkled”.

Thereafter, Seiko’s “Grammar of Design” continued to define Grand Seiko design trends, and still influences modern Seiko products.

Tanaka pioneered a completely new approach to watch design rooted in Japanese culture and philosophy. His set of rules that established Japanese watchmaking as an artistic discipline, alongside other Japanese traditions that were already regarded as worthwhile aesthetic undertakings.

While Tanaka's Grammar of Design is well-known among watch collectors, it's equally vital to grasp the greater historical context in which it arose. Grand Seiko's wristwatches may be correctly appreciated as works of art alongside other kinds of artistic expressions in Japan's rich cultural history.


Seiko SRPE33 and SRPE39 Save the Ocean Manta Ray

The Seiko SRPE33 and the turtle model, aka the Seiko SRPE39 both have outstanding features and dials to die for. Like many in the Save the Ocean series, these two divers sport unique dials that stand out in a crowded display case.



Turtles and Manta Rays playing well together. Source: Seiko Watches


These two divers’ special editions were conceived to celebrate Seiko's sponsorship of the Save the Ocean project. The dials are designed to look like the sea through a patterned blue degradé ocean scene with a family of charming manta rays swimming across the deep blue dial.

The SRPE33 (Samurai) and SRPE39 (Turtle) Save the Ocean Manta Ray versions share the same ocean-like blue dial with a slight difference in the position of the manta rays.

The dial's intense blue is stunning, and fades to black at the edges, creating a compelling sensation of being in the ocean depths.


An aquarium right on your wrist. Source: Seiko Watches


Another distinction in the dials is that the Samurai is a date-only watch (powered by the 4R35 movement), whilst the SRPE39 is a day-and-date watch (utilizing the 4R36).

Both the SRPE33 and SRPE39 divers also share an affordable purchase price. These special editions both include sapphire crystals, a decorated case back, and clearly the outstanding dials. Also, unlike many of the other mid-level divers, these models have ceramic bezel inserts.

Like any Seiko diver – both also pack an amazing lume job – with LumaBright that will shine for hours in the darkness.


Grand Seiko SBGA211 Snowflake

This year marks Grand Seiko's 60th anniversary, and with it comes renewed attention on the company's heritage. The aforementioned Grammar of Design, by renowned Taro Tanaka, is at the heart of the Grand Seiko history.

Grand Seiko is not a single piece or watch model; rather, it is a product line that can feature Zaratsu polishing, textured dials, Spring Drive movements, and an outrageously high level of craftsmanship.

While there isn't a single model that characterizes the group or their aesthetic, there is one that gets a lot of attention among collectors, and that is the Grand Seiko SBGA211, aka the Snowflake.


A watch with constantly high demand - the SBGA211. Source: Monochrome Watches


The Seiko Snowflake was first released in 2010 initially called SBGA011. It featured a white dial with a compelling texture that distinguishes it from any other in the industry.

Since then, the Grand Seiko catalog continues to grow with new releases every season, yet the SBGA211 Snowflake model remains alluring to many Grand Seiko enthusiasts.

While the Snowflake is known for its dial, it also has a high-intensity titanium case worthy of our appreciation. The polishing on the case is stunning to see in person, and it is true to the original design ideals that brought Grand Seiko to international prominence.

Like all Grand Seikos, the Snowflake has sophisticated geometry, which makes it appear and wear smaller and thinner than it is. Furthermore, because it is made of titanium, it is 30% lighter than if it were made of steel.

Seiko Snowflake’s Dial

The textured dial, which is meant to suggest a snow-covered field, is exquisitely executed. Despite the fact that a white dial is made of silver plating, the insertion of minor scissions at seemingly random locations allows the dial to form a complex depth that is impossible to replicate.

These gradually darker intervals produce a field of ever-changing grayish tones that is reminiscent of nature.

It's simple, effective, and stands out in its heue shifting state against the meticulous perfection of the case, hand, and marker finish. While the texture was created with a machine, it also conveys the image of a skilled artisan gently scooping up material with a little tool and loupe.


A texture unlike any other. Source: Revolution Watch


Zaratsu polished markings adorn the dial like perfect imaginary buildings rising from a snowy polar field. Our attention may be drawn to the dial surface initially, but after wearing the Seiko Snowflake for a while, our focus shifts to the markers.

The exceedingly smooth mirrored surfaces on both sides of the markers, like the case's bevels, reflect light in amazing ways.

At first look, the Grand Seiko SBGA211 Snowflake appears to be similar to many others, but closer examination reveals a lot more if you want to dive deeper.

Every detail speaks to something more meticulous, from the polishing to the dial texture to the movement within. It's more than a white-dial sports watch; it's a collection of stories that watch collectors will appreciate

The Snowflake is not cheap, but it's also not unobtainable, especially secondhand.


Seiko 5 SNK805 Automatic Watch Dial

When it comes to cost, the Seiko 5 SNK805 Automatic with an earthy green dial is a strong alternative for people looking for a great automatic watch at a reasonable price.

The Seiko 5 is one of the most popular automatic watches in the $100 price band, a surprisingly low price considering the features and characteristics.


The perfect dial for a tool watch. Source: @danicicletta on IG


It can be categorized as a field watch in terms of design. It features a streamlined shape and a distinct military aesthetic. This is further enhanced by the SNK805's green dial and strap. This model is also available in a variety of colors to suit everyone's preferences.

The watch serves as an ideal everyday timepiece that can be worn with a variety of clothes and on a variety of events.

Seiko 5 SNK805 Dial

The dial of the watch is green, which nicely matches the watch's utilitarian theme. It is clean and legible, with a single window at 3 o'clock that houses a day and date indicator, which is a traditional SEIKO 5 feature.

It would be impossible not to mention the resemblance that this dial has to a classic pilot's watch – although the overall size of the watch is much smaller than a traditional pilot's watch.


The SNK805 has crazy bang for buck. Source: @nickmankeydesigns on IG

The surface is slightly matte, giving it a lovely texture while also reducing glare and reflections, and helping to boost visibility. The finish on the dial compliments the tool-like aspect of the watch while also matching the matte case.

On the dial, the marks have been separated into two rings and printed. The outer ring of the dial indicates minutes, and the inner ring hours – once again reminding us of a pilot's watch.

A little dot on the dial's outer edge marks each five-minute point. These are luminescent dots that help with legibility in the dark. There is also a triangle at the 12 o'clock position, which can be used in analog navigation and orienteering.


Simple and functional. Source: @maheshclicks on IG


Both the minute and hour hands are sword shaped. They help the watch to be both easy to read at a distance, and also allow precise timekeeping if needed.

Despite the price, the minute and hour hands are also filled with Lumibright to improve legibility in low light conditions.

The watch also features a red-tipped second hand. The opposing side of this hand has a luminous dot, much like the meatball on an SKX, allowing you to read the seconds in the dark.

Overall the SNK805 has a clean, made-for-purpose appearance, will stand up to years of use, and is the perfect daily driver for anyone who needs a simple – yet elegant – automatic watch.


Seiko SRPD19K1 Zimbe

In person, the Seiko SRPD19K1 is even more spectacular than anything you've seen online or heard about. The dial has to be seen in order to be fully appreciated.

On the surface, Seiko imprinted a Fubuki cabbage-like pattern and covered it in a warm shade of canary yellow. The dial color has a beautiful metallic sunburst-effect that changes constantly with light conditions due to the undulating patterns and ridges.

The dial shows a sort of sunburst metallic canary yellow at times, and a more muted, mellow warm yellow at other times.



That pattern is just a pleasure to look at. Source: Watch Patrol


Similarly, the yellow on the bezel insert has a metallic shine that changes in tone with the light. The hour hand in red was a great touch, and helps maintain the warm, playful feeling of the watch.

Built on the Seiko Mini-Turtle the SRPD19K1 has a design that fits in perfectly with the Seiko diver line, but still offers something unique. The Mini-Turtle is very true to the original Seiko divers of the 1970s, but in a much smaller package.

The Seiko SRPD19K1 Zimbe is another well-executed, high-level, unique, and just fascinating watch. While it is far more expensive than a standard Mini-Turtle, it can be had for around $1,000 – at least for the moment.

In all likelihood, watches like this will be rare and unavailable to all but the most knowledgeable collectors in a few short years.


Seiko SARB065 Seiko Shinobu Ishigaki

It's easy to see why the Seiko SARB065 is so popular; it's stylish, useful, and may offer you more than you'd expect for the price.

The SARB065 is also one of many in the Cocktail Time series of watches, which offer some of the most beautiful dials in the entire Seiko catalog (especially for the price – did we mention?).


It's always the perfect time for a cocktail. Source: @arjtee on IG


The Seiko SARB065 provides practically everything you need in a dress watch: a sophisticated appearance to complement a fine suit, and a solid movement in terms of accuracy and precision. It is a watch created in conjunction with Ishigaki Shinobu, one of Japan's best mixologists and dubbed "Nippon's top bartender" by those who have sampled his work.

We confess that a cooperation with a watchmaker isn't exactly what you'd anticipate, but it resulted in cocktail-inspired timepieces being introduced in 2010, and then again in 2016.

Most of the dials in the Cocktail Time collection have the explosive radial pattern that is featured on the SARB065, which is an absolute pleasure to see. The dial will catch light in interesting ways, the overall color of the dial will also shift based on the lighting conditions.


Is it the best watch to wear on a date? Source: @faigenistic on IG


The SARB065, sometimes known as "Cool," was one of the earliest. It was released alongside the SARB066 dubbed "Dry" and the SARB068 dubbed "Sweet.” There are many other models in the Cocktail Time line, and most offer the same kind of dial design, with different color themes to choose from.

Keep an eye out for the special editions, which feature unique dials in gorgeous colors and designs. The Cocktail Time line of watches have some of the best Seiko OEM dial out there, and offer incredible looks for the money.


Bonus Dial: Seiko SKX007

The Seiko SKX007 diver is part of a long series of diver's watches that dates back to 1965, when Seiko released the reference 6217, a 150-meter-water-resistant watch


The dial of the SKX007 is a clear departure from the first Seiko divers, which were chunky, and extremely utilitarian. It isn't going to turn heads like a SARB065, but the design lends itself to interpretation, and we think it is an amazing base for innovative design work.


A blank canvas that allows for infinite possibilities. Source: Shwen Design


If you want to see what we do with classic Seiko divers' dial design, take a look at our range of Seiko comparable aftermarket dials. We take some of the most innovative designs in the watchmaking world, and give them the namokiMODS touch.

Seiko Mods are one of the best ways to get the watch design you really want, especially if you are working to express your own design ideas. Seiko mod parts aren’t all created equal, and if you want your Seiko diver to be ready for the water, think about how much quality matters.

Unlike many aftermarket companies, the parts we sell are at least as good as Seiko OEM parts, and in the case of our dials, many exceed the craftsmanship of entry level Seiko models.

At namokiMODS, we know Seiko – and our clients understand our dedication to delivering some of the best aftermarket parts in the world.

August 10, 2021 — Jeremiah A

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