You may not know it, but Grand Seiko has a rival in Japanese watchmaking. That rival is the well-kept, albeit open, secret that is Credor, another elite brand of Seiko, but despite descending from the same legendary parent, they have very different ideas as to what makes the perfect watch.
But before we get into what Credor is today, we should start at the beginning, 1974. Grand Seiko had successfully established Seiko as one of the world’s greatest watchmakers in the 1960s, but the nascent brand’s celebration was cut short by a piece that ended the watch world as we know it, the Seiko Astron, in 1969. By the early 1970s, Seiko was aware that quartz was the future, and that Grand Seiko, a brand known for accurate mechanical movements, no longer made sense in a portfolio that included far more accurate quartz watches.
Now that Seiko commanded some of the most sought-after movements in the world, cutting edge quartz, they suddenly found themselves with a need to produce elegant, upscale watches in precious metal. To meet that need, they gradually phased in a new brand of special Seikos called “Crêt D’or.” This continued an interesting trend at Seiko of borrowing words from languages outside of Japan, be it English (Marvel, Lord, Laurel, Grand) or now French, no doubt as an homage to the Swiss. The term directly translates to English as “Gold Crest,” which figuratively refers to the top of the mountain. The name would later change from Crêt D’or to Credor, and it would adopt the “Yama” logo, which is based on the Japanese and Chinese character for mountain.
Not coincidentally, I speculate, Grand Seiko was discontinued just a year later, in 1975. In its place as Seiko’s prestige brand was a younger, more exotic, more luxurious line of watches that was focused on using cutting edge movement technology. This watch, for instance, released in 1980, had the thinnest quartz movement ever made at the time, under a single millimeter thick.
Grand Seiko, a practical, legible and highly accurate old school watch, had essentially built high-end Seiko from the ground up, and had delivered to Credor an incredible inheritance. Speaking metaphorically, therefore, Grand Seiko was the traditional, highly competent, hardworking parent that put in consistent 70 hour weeks, while Credor was the wealthy playboy son, free of such mundane necessities like legibility or competition and with a penchant for gold.
But don’t let any of that fool you into thinking that Credor was less competent than its predecessor. Credor continued to use excellent quartz movements (during a time when quartz was the pinnacle of watchmaking, mind you), and great mechanical movements, like this ultra-thin 6870.
One enormous feather in Credor’s cap is that it, not Grand Seiko, got the spring drive movement first, back in 1999. This matches Credor’s goal of using the latest, most cutting edge movement technology available, as opposed to the far more conservative approach followed by Grand Seiko. Grand Seiko would wait until 2004 before it got its own spring drive movement.
Today, the few Westerners that are aware of Credor generally associate it with ultra-high end pieces like this, the 2006 Sonnerie. With Grand Seiko performing better than ever as a mainstream luxury watch, Credor was free to pursue exotic watchmaking, the kind we’ve long associated with a handful of elite Swiss and German brands, from Vacheron Constantin to A. Lange & Sohne. While the Sonnerie was not the first haute horology piece from the brand (that was arguably 1996’s 6899 skeleton watch, the GBBD998), it was the first time it had really captured worldwide attention.
2008 would see the launch of the Eichi, something of a reversal of a complex watch like the Sonnerie. Instead of impressive complexity, the Eichi was a masterpiece of Japanese minimalist design, and would set the stage for the company’s greatest watch to be released in 2014.
But Credor hadn’t given up on complications just yet either. 2011 saw the release of the Credor Minute Repeater, an uncompromisingly exquisite watch that featured the rare and beautiful minute repeater complication, which tells the time via chimes. The Sonnerie and Minute Repeater remain some of the most complex Seikos ever produced.
By 2014, Credor released the sequel to the Eichi, the aptly-named Eichi II, widely regarded, including by this author, as the finest Japanese watch ever made. It is a stunning achievement in Japanese minimalist design. It improved upon its predecessor by removing any unnecessary clutter, notably relocating the power reserve complication to the movement side of the watch, a trend which has only recently been adopted by Grand Seiko.
Which brings us to Credor’s most recent milestone, the Fugaku, featuring the brand’s first tourbillon. The rather startling aesthetic differences between this watch and the Eichi II reminds us that Credor is a brand that is not like Grand Seiko. GS has a rigid code of design that all models should adhere to, and a practical one at that. Credor, conversely, is free to experiment, from extreme minimalism to decadent tourbillons.
So that’s a very brief look at the history of Credor, but what about the brand today? Despite the ultra-high end pieces that make the news in the West, most of Credor’s lineup is actually much more obtainable and down to earth. It might surprise you to know, for instance, that there are more than 200 different models of Credor available today–at least, available if you’re in Japan.
Take, for instance, one of my favorite Credors, the GCLP995. This watch is well under $10,000, far more obtainable than something like a Sonnerie or Eichi II, yet it retains a lot of what I love about Credor. In this case, it resembles the Eichi a bit, with simple applied indexes and no numerals. Yet it has a very rare feature, at least for a spring drive, a big date complication, placed in a rather avant garde location. The GCLP995, and its brother, the white-dialed GCLP993, represent a nice medium between Grand Seiko and more exotic Credors, being somewhat more playful and carefree in design, yet retaining a degree of Japanese minimalism.
Similarly, there’s the GCAR055, which would only be about $3,000 in the US. This watch is even more restrained, but features totally blued hands, a design choice that’s a bit too bold for most (all except a few limited editions, anyway) Grand Seikos, but totally makes sense within Credor.
One big difference between GS and Credor is an emphasis on ladies watches. While both have ladies models, Credor’s are vastly more numerous. One of my favorites of these is this, the GSAW993, a bold design that, through its flower-shaped case and eccentric numerals, showcases the avant garde design of the brand.
But don’t think Credor is strictly a minimalist brand–it isn’t by a long shot, those are just my personal favorites. For instance, you can still get elaborate skeleton pieces like this GBBD958.
A happy medium between the complex skeletons and minimalist pieces might be this, the GBAQ961, which shows off a gorgeous enamel dial and is uncluttered by complications.
Of course, this isn’t a brand guide, so I can’t introduce you to every model they make, but I just wanted to show off a variety of their more conventional models to give a broad idea of what they offer.
So I’ve walked you through a basic history of Credor and a brief overview of some of their models, but where does Credor stand relative to GS? This is almost always the first question I hear about Credor.
In my observation, these are parallel watch brands that are designed to meet very different needs. Grand Seiko, from the very beginning, was conceived to be the ideal everyday watch. It had to be incredibly reliable, uncompromisingly accurate, and easy to read. These were the foundations of GS, and it did them well. But Credor had a very different set of goals in mind. Credor did not want to be tied down to any sense of traditionalism, or even an aversion to traditionalism. It needed to be completely free to pursue the ideas that GS couldn’t, either from even more minimalist designs like the Eichi II, or exotic and complex pieces like the Sonnerie.
Furthermore, it was liberated from any need to be practical. Some Credors certainly are practical, but they didn’t have to be. Legibility, for instance, is always a high priority in GS design, but that constricts the creativity of what you can do with dials. No one would argue that this GBBD963 is practical in any sense, and that’s the charm of it.
Credors are also much freer with regard to the materials they use. They very frequently use materials like gold, which is reserved for only a small percentage of GSes, and will also use gemstones with some frequency.
Movement finishing is also a higher priority at Credor. While Grand Seiko movements, even the 9F quartz, are very attractive, they don’t receive the kind of decorative flourishes that many Credors do.
Credor is much more likely to use complex movements as well. From minute repeaters to tourbillons, or even to the first spring drive, Credor is usually pushing the movement envelope in exciting ways. While Credor focuses on complications, Grand Seiko focuses on more humble movement attributes, like accuracy and robustness.
One final differentiator between the brands is Credor’s emphasis on thinness. While not all Credors are super thin, they are, on average, thinner than their GS counterparts. It is for this reason that the brand tends to use quartz and hand wound movements.
In my personal view, then, GS and Credor aren’t really direct competitors. While both are exquisitely well made, Grand Seiko wants to be your practical, reliable and accurate everyday watch, whereas Credor wants to be bolder and more exciting. There’s certainly room in my collection for both, but for those who have found Grand Seiko to be too plain, and I have met many, Credor might be a way to get GS-level craftsmanship or a spring drive in a more elaborate package.