Are Quality Japanese Mechanical Watch Movements As Good As Swiss Ones?


Hung N. from Virginia, USA asks:

What is your opinion regarding the new entry level hacking and handwinding Japanese automatic movements from Seiko (4R35B or NH35A) and Citizen (Miyota 9015) compared to the Swiss ETA 2824? Obviously, the ETA movement is a proven reliable and accurate movement, but the initial reviews of the Seiko and Citizen movements are also very reliable and accurate but at a much lower price.

Older movements from these Japanese brands have proven to be very reliable as well. Are you still getting what you pay for or are these Japanese movements on the verge of taking over the entry level market in brands that used to use the 2824 movements?

While the ETA 2824 and, in a lesser capacity, the Soprod A-10 have earned their place as the defacto Swiss automatic movements for third parties and non-manufactures, the Asian contingents are catching up. While previous generations of the Seiko and Citizen/Miyota movements may not have been direct competition, as examples like the 7S26 and the 8215 were robust but not exceptionally accurate or well-featured (non-hacking and hand-winding), this gap is much more narrow in the current generations.

With Seiko’s 4Rxx and 6Rxx and Miyota’s 9015 we are seeing more refined movements that feature hacking and hand-winding as well as the possibility for more successful accuracy adjustments (accuracy is dependant on so many conditions). All indications would suggest that reliability should be as good or better and servicing should be roughly in the same cost range as an entry level Swiss, with components being cheaper in many cases. From a feature and a reliability standpoint, I believe the 6RXX and 9015 to be comparable to a standard grade ETA 2824, but there are subtle differences in use. The 9015, for example, has quite a noticible rotor noise. That is, when you swing your arm to check the time, you can often hear the rotor spinning within the case. You would need to have your ear pretty close to hear the rotor on an ETA. I only mention this to illustrate that they aren’t identical, more like different actors playing the same role.

With Swatch limiting the supply of ETA movements to non-Swatch partners, I think the proliferation of Seiko and Citizen/Miyota movements will expand because the designs have proved adequate and there is a role that used to be filled by 28xx calibres. Just a couple of years ago you could get a micro-brand diver with an ETA movement for around ~$700 USD, today that price would push (if not exceed) $1000. Many small brands have made the switch to NH or Miyota movements due not only to cost and supply, but also because the these new generations proved to be significantly better than the 7SXX and 8215.

It seems the timing is in their favor, with the features and reliability being ironed out in time to fill a hole caused by the predatory pricing of middle-man ETA supplies. I have a couple watches with 9015s and, apart from the rotor noise, the movement would appear to be a very successful understudy for the 2824.