The Seiko 5 GMT Is The Most Important Release for Microbrands in 2023

Not often is a watch released that sets a new precedent for the entire watch market.

Sure, luxury brands like Rolex and Omega constantly push for seemingly revolutionary innovations that sometimes become an industry norm. In contrast, others go unnoticed, never to be seen again (the Rolex GMT with the crown at 9:00 comes to mind).

This is significantly less common on the affordable end of the spectrum. The focus is on packing as much value (I.E., specifications) as cheaply as possible and with unique, handsome designs.

So, it turns heads when a brand like Seiko releases the most affordable automatic GMT (at least from a major brand).

Seiko 5 Sports GMT SSK003 on My 6.5 Inch Wrist

And not just because the watch itself is a well-designed and great-looking watch on its own… But also how it’s nearly impossible to find another automatic GMT that is this affordable. This has significant implications for how it might set the bar for other watches released this year. And in the future, Seiko will likely sell the movement, assisting in releasing new, automatic GMT watches from microbrands. 

Here’s a story of how the 4R34 movement inside the Seiko 5 GMTs (ref. SSK001, SSK003, and SSK005) will be outsourced to microbrands and cause a flood of affordable GMT watches in the coming year(s).

A GMT Movement that Doesn’t Sacrifice Functionality for Affordability

It’s no secret that Seiko designs and builds its watches in-house. This means they control the development and manufacturing of every part of their watches, top-to-bottom, including the movement inside. With their recently released Seiko 5 GMTs, they needed to create a new movement to accommodate the GMT complication and extra hand.

For those who don’t know: a GMT watch allows the wearer to track another time zone (or two if the watch also has a 24-hour bezel, as the Seiko 5 does). It does this with the help of an added GMT hand, which can be set to the time of the additional time zone you are tracking.

Seiko 5 Sports SSK003 That Uses the 4R34 GMT Movement

Of course, no mechanical movement can handle this additional time zone, which adds some complication. And with complications often comes added cost…

Except if you’re Seiko… And you have the infrastructure and funds to develop an entire GMT movement and watch cheaper than almost any other market. For reference, these Seiko 5s were released with an MSRP of just $475, although they can often be found for under $400. In comparison, one of the next least expensive from a well-known brand retails for $875, the Wilton GMT from Bulova.

So, releasing an excellent watch is, well, awesome. But doing so much more affordable than 99% of the competition? “That’s a W,” as a much cooler generation would say.

Check out my full video review of the SSK003 GMT I picked up. Loving it.

Seiko Will Sell the 4R34 as the NH34

Seiko also has a history of selling unbranded versions of their movements. This allows smaller brands, or even independent watch modders, to buy the movements, and use them with whatever case, dial, and handset they want. The NH35, for example, is the unbranded version of the 4R35 movement. It is being used en masse by brands such as Invicta, Spinnaker, Avi-8, and third-party modders. The potential is endless.

Seiko 4R34 - NH34 GMT Movement
The 4R34 GMT movement inside my SSK003

So, it’s inevitable that Seiko will sell the NH34, the unbranded version of the 4R34 GMT movement. Microbrands and modders will jump at this opportunity. After all, it’s rare to find automatic GMT complications in watches this affordable.

An Influx of Affordable, Automatic GMTs Will Hit The Market

As other brands begin to get their hands on the NH34, they’ll be able to pair it with various designs as they’ve done with other NH movements. Prepare yourself for the influx of GMTs to hit the market.

It will be interesting to see the variety. Will they stick to a rotating, 24-hour bezel on the case, or will some opt to remove it altogether in favor of sleeker watches? Will we see more Rolex look-alikes? Will every unoriginal brand have its rendition of the Batman or Pepsi? Probably. But I can’t wait to see what other designers can come up with. And I anticipate it won’t be long before we find out.   

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