I have quite a few watches, but only a few earn consistent wrist time, month after month: The A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Thin, my Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Duo and AMVOX1, and this King Seiko Hi-Beat Chronometer. Being a keen Seiko fan, I have collected over a dozen of their watches but the 56KS stands out among my 10-beat Lord Marvel, funky LM’s, modern Premiers, and Guigiaro chronographs. What elevates the King Seiko is its elegant and timeless design and the excellent performance of the 5626 movement.
My King Seiko 5626-7040
My King Seiko has a contoured “7040” case reminiscent of the legendary 1967 Grand Seiko “44GS” but perhaps even more attractively rendered. Like the 44GS, the 56KS features a beveled ring around the crystal that sits above the sharply-sculpted and polished body and lugs. But where the 44GS had move of a cushion-style case, complete with brushed bridge between short lugs, the 56KS has long, elegant lugs that draw attention to the dial rather than the case.
The sunburst dial of the 56KS exudes subtle luxury, especially with the long, thin applied hour index markers. These chiseled markers haven’t been duplicated by Seiko or Grand Seiko since, standing out in contrast to the fatter markers found on the 44GS and modern watches. And the King Seiko eschews the trademark sword hands of the Grand Seiko line for impossibly-thin pencil hands that complement these fine markers.
The King Seiko and Lord Marvel brands were one step below Grand Seiko in the 1960’s, having been developed by the core Daini Seikosha operation rather than the high-end Suwa works. Although Daini did eventually introduce their own Grand Seiko (the 44GS), their more-affordable King Seiko line sold in greater numbers. Together, these Daini watches established a unique Japanese look that persists to this day.
That’s why the origin of this watch, as indicated by the Suwa Seikosha “swirl” rather than the Daini Seikosha “lightning bolt” on the dial, is quite surprising! As Seiko moved into the 1970’s, and despite the company’s success with quartz, both operations developed high-end watches and modern mechanical movements for mass production. Suwa’s 56xx calibre debuted in their Lord Marvel and King Seiko models before moving up to power the 56GS in 1970. And these movements featured the “Grand Seiko Style” pioneered by rival Daini rather than the more European look of previous Suwa watches.
Suwa’s Cal. 5626 was a thoroughly modern movement, and holds its own even today. It features all the expected features (quickset day and date, automatic winding, hacking, direct center seconds) and few of the vices of Seiko movements from the 1960’s. My only complaint is the too-familiar plastic day/date rocker wheel that is prone to breaking when the date is set near midnight.
And Cal. 5626 is incredibly accurate, available as a chronometer (in King Seiko guise) or higher (Grand Seiko certified). I vastly prefer it to the contemporary Cal. 5256, which drags winding along with setting and features an old-fashioned indirect seconds wheel. It’s too bad it was Daini’s 5200 series that evolved into the modern Seiko movements rather than this wonderful design!
Note that the “Hi-Beat” movement beats at 28,800 A/h, not the 36,000 A/h often associated with that term. Although most Swiss watches now beat at the same rate, this was legitimately considered “high beat” at the time.
Note also that these are quite small watches by modern standards. The case measures about 36.5 mm from 3 to 9, and it feels tiny on wrists accustomed to 40 mm or more monsters. But this too is part of the sharp, dainty charm of the 56KS!
Find Your Own 56KS
If you would like a 56KS of your own, they often come up for sale on eBay. But beware of condition: Most of the King Seiko models I’ve seen recently are in quite rough condition. Even so, they often sell for $300-$600!
You can find a date-only blue-faced King Seiko Hi-Beat Chronometer, model 5625-7040, with the same case as mine for $579 at Antique Watch Bar. It appears to be in wearable condition, with many scratches and some polishing evident. Still, these are strong movements and this is a lovely classic watch.
An alternative is this similar day/date version, also available at Antique Watch Bar for $639. Although the case has been quite rounded from polishing, the cushion shape of the 7060 model is closer to the 44GS look. And it sports the gorgeous white dial of my 7040. Like its blue brother, this is a wearer rather than a collectible.
I have purchased a few watches from Antique Watch Bar myself, and they’ve been decent examples. That’s where my Lord Marvel Hi-Beat came from, for example, and it’s in great shape. I don’t have any specific relationship with them, but they have a great selection of classic Seiko watches and seem to do a nice job cleaning them up and getting them running.