The Seiko 5 is renowned worldwide as Seiko's longest-selling watch line, this sporty offering having debuted half a century ago as the 21-jewel Sportsmatic 5, just before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
The concept for this offering emerged in the early 1960s, when Seiko was looking to attract university students and young workers to its mechanical watches.
Seiko was keenly aware that younger consumers sought more excitement from their timepieces, and set about delivering one that was both very affordable and five key attributes.
The first of these attributes was an automatic winding system that employed the "magic lever," a Seiko breakthrough in mechanical watchmaking in 1959. This device harnesses energy from the rotor, greatly increasing the power transfer to the mainspring. As many fans of the company well know, this sort of advance stemmed from Seiko's position as one of few watchmakers that can create each component in-house.
The second feature was resistance to water and sweat. When released in 1968, the second-generation 5 Sports line raised water resistance to what was then an impressive 7 bar. The third was that the watch displayed the day and date in a single window at the three o'clock mark. This was pleasingly legible.
Fourth, the case and bracelet had to be very durable. To that end, Seiko made the mainspring out of an unbreakable alloy called Diaflex and created the Diashock system to protect the movement from shock within the case.
Fifth, the Seiko 5 featured a distinctive new design, an important aspect of which was the metal bracelet, which in those days was unusual. Because of the magic lever, users rarely have to wind their Seiko 5s, which enabled the company to make the crown smaller and locate it at 4 o'clock on the case. Incidentally, with the current Seiko 5 line the crown is at 3 o'clock but this is likely just to accommodate contemporary aesthetics.
The Seiko 5 proved an instant hit among young consumers in Japan. It also vaulted Seiko into a solid position in the international marketplace in the aftermath of the Tokyo Olympics, helping its watch exports to soar. Seiko 5 watches were particularly popular throughout Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. That was because they were far more durable than most mechanical watches then available.
The Seiko 5's stylish design, outstanding shock resistance, and very competitive price heralded Seiko as truly arriving on the international scene. The company has released hundreds of Seiko 5s over the past five decades, and an extraordinarily large number of people purchasing high-end Seiko timepieces still happily use or fondly recall Seiko 5s, testament to the unwavering commitment to quality that extends across the entire Seiko product line.
In the next installment of this series about the Seiko Museum, we overview some of Seiko's landmark digital watches over the years.