People have all kinds of reasons for embarking on the journey of watch collecting. Some are looking for fashion watches to pair with their best fits. Others want to invest in pieces that will appreciate in both value and prestige. And some, frankly, just want to flex on the ’gram. Regardless of where a budding collector might be headed, the first question they all have is the same: Where do I start?
My answer is the Seiko 5 Sports line. These watches check all the boxes: They’re affordable, distinctive, and, despite costing a fraction of what most mechanical sports watches do, are built to last. The famed Japanese watchmaker launched the 5 Sports line in 1968, and revamped it in 2019 when it released watches across five functionally driven “styles”—from Suits and Street to Sports—at prices that seem to be missing a zero, dipping below $300 for some models. For the aspiring collector who has never owned a watch, the attractive price point of a 5 Sports may be all the convincing one needs. And for the burgeoning horologist who already owns a timepiece or two, these watches come with the history, the quality, the sophisticated design, and the functionality that make them every bit as essential as any Swiss brand to a well-rounded collection.
History is always one of the most important factors when considering a collection-worthy watch, and the Seiko 5 Sports collection has stories to tell. The Sportsmatic was allegedly used by special-ops teams in the Vietnam War, and the Speedtimer, now part of a different Seiko collection, was one of the first automatic chronographs to hit the market—a landmark innovation that put it in competition with the Swiss watch industry in the 1960s. Collectors have since bestowed nicknames (the UFO, the Sushi Roll) on some of the funky designs from the early years watches that today are as unique and recognizable as anything on the auction block.
But what feels most exciting about the Seiko 5 Sports line these days is that it’s not content to simply lean on its past. The lineup of recent collaborations speaks to the way these watches are pushing into the future and engaging with new and growing cadres of watch lovers. Those partners include prep purveyor Rowing Blazers, the streetwear brand Huf, and even Queen guitarist Brian May. In 2021, Seiko released a gold-faced model designed by fans, chosen from more than 48,000 submissions—helpful proof of the sizable community of devotees.
That club of Seiko 5 Sports owners is loaded with athletes and entertainers too, many of whom are noted aficionados of high horology—guys like comedian Ronny Chieng, former NBA player J.J. Redick, and actor Daniel Dae Kim. “You don’t have to be a millionaire to enjoy watch collecting,” says Dae Kim. “My dad had a Seiko Speedtimer 5 Sports, and since then they’ve always had a special place in my heart.”
Ronny Chieng points out that this is the watch worn by both Bruce Lee and James Bond—a fact that underscores how Seiko 5s have parallels with the story of Asians in America thus far. “[They’re] elegantly made with superlative performance, durability, and an underappreciated heritage,” Chieng says. “This is what I think of when I wear my Seiko 5s.” The Seiko 5 Sports line might be best known as an affordable option, but collectors aren’t sacrificing quality, durability, history, or even celebrity cosigns in buying one. Yes, these are great watches to start with, but the Seiko 5 line is so deep with interesting watches you could—and many do—spend a lifetime collecting them.
Cam Wolf is a senior style writer at GQ.
A version of this story originally appeared in the February 2023 issue of GQ with the title “The Only First Watch You’ll Ever Need”