JAPANESE WATCHMAKING HISTORY

The introduction of mechanical clocks in Japan happened in the 16th century, with the help of Christian missionaries from Europe. In 1872, Japan adopted the solar calendar and the Western fixed hour system entering into a new era of development, based on importing clock production technology from Europe. The domestic production of clocks and pocket watches exceeded one million pieces per year, before the end of the 19th century. During the 20th century, in particular after the 2nd world war, the history of Japanese horology is essentially that of the 2 major brands, SEIKO and CITIZEN, two of the most influential companies for the evolution of the global watch industry in the quartz era.

In the current century, according to statistics from 2010, the country keeps producing steadily more than 400,000,000 pieces of quartz watches and calibers annually maintaining its dominant position, along with the production facilities in other Asian countries, including China. Five years after, in 2015, Japanese have doubled their volume in mechanical watches and calibers reaching a figure of approximately 9.000.000 pieces annually, a result indicating their very competitive position in this segment as well. In 2020, the portion of complete watches in these numbers is 15-20%, with the average prices being approximately 20 euro for the quartz and 80 euro for the mechanical timepieces.

These results show the ability of this industry for qualitative mass production (oxymoron), plus the fact that JAPAN serves better than any other industry all the market segments, from the affordable basic range to the luxury one. Needless to say, the dominant position in the quartz market derives from the enormous numbers of calibers produced and exported worldwide, with the challenge being the appetite of Chinese to overcome this field in the future. Currently, Japan and China coexist investing on smart strategies, with mutual respect over the credibility of the first and the capacity of the second. In plain English, why fighting each other when there are other targets…

SEIKO

Kintaro Hattori created a shop for selling and repairing clocks and watches in 1881 at Gizna Tokyo. In 1891 he established SEIKOSHA factory, in 1895 he built his first pocket watch, and in 1913 he presented LAUREL, the first Japanese wristwatch. SEIKOSHA factory was completely destroyed from the devastating earthquake of 1923, but one year later he presented the first wristwatch with the name SEIKO, and in 1929 the brand started its long term collaboration with the National Railways, resulted in consecutive generations of special mechanical and quartz pocket watches till today in the early 2020s.

K.Hattori died in 1934 and 3 years after, DAINI SEIKOSHA division was opened as the first step towards the dual inner competition strategy established much later, during the Cold War. SUWA and DAINI factories being two separate entities in SEIKO company, engaged in their internal rivalry particularly during the 1960s with the introduction of GRAND SEIKO (1960) and KING SEIKO (1963) top quality mechanical models. It is noted that the participation of these two sub-brands in Neuchatel chronometer competition, from 1963 to 1968, is supposed to be the reason that the Swiss decided to terminate that annual challenge due to the progressive performance of Japanese in comparison to the best Swiss brands. After two decades affected by the quartz evolution, the revival of GRAND SEIKO in the late 1990s, with high accuracy quartz and top quality mechanical models, verified the capacity of SEIKO to be a top competitor across the board, from the basic to the luxury range.

Back to the 1950s and 60s, after the introduction of MARVEL, the first dress quality model in 1956, Seiko had been assigned the timing of 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo presenting its first wrist chronograph 5719, and introduced its first diver model 6217 in 1965 opening one of the most important chapters of its long history. The top historical year however is 1969, with the introduction of the first automatic chronograph 6139, and most important the introduction of ASTRON, the first commercial quartz watch in history. In the following decades till the end of the century, the two most important landmarks are the introduction of CREDOR luxury sub-brand in 1974, and the presentation of SPRING DRIVE in 1998, the first hybrid watch in history, one of the most impressive developments ever accomplished combining the best properties of mechanical and quartz technology.

One last worth mentioning brand diachronically affiliated with SEIKO corporation is ORIENT, established as an independent entity in 1950 at Tokyo. It has developed in close association with SEIKO since 1971 when adopted caliber 7005 as the base of its own automatic mechanism Cal.469 that has equipped (in various grades and variations) the majority of its models for almost 50 years, and keeps going. ORIENT STAR and ORIENT ROYAL (2004-2016) being the high range models of the brand are among the “best value for money” mechanical watches in the market. ORIENT and SEIKO share common production facilities since the 1980s, with the first becoming subsidiary of the second in 2009, and being fully integrated in SEIKO group from 2017.

CITIZEN

It is not the second brand of Japan, but an equal competitor to SEIKO sharing together a parallel approach to the conquest of the global watch industry. Its history goes back to 1918, related with the foundation of Sokosha watch research institute. In 1930, CITIZEN incorporation was based on the acquisition of Sokosha, supported by Swiss investors and technology. After WWII, the best development was the establishment of Nagano MIYOTA company in 1959 aiming to become the biggest watch movement producer worldwide. During the 1960s and 1970s, CITIZEN was following closely SEIKO introductions, with models like the hand wound DE LUXE and the automatic flyback chronograph 8110. In 1974, MIYOTA 82XX was introduced being perhaps the most credible basic automatic caliber ever appeared in the market, produced continually and unchangeable till today, and being the preferable choice for most middle range brands in the industry.

The quartz period of CITIZEN essentially started in 1981, with the introduction of MIYOTA 2035, the quartz caliber that pushed the brand to become the biggest producer of quartz watches worldwide. In 1995, CITIZEN presented CHRONOMASTER, the most accurate quartz watch in the market, surpassed only by atonic keeping watches, another first of this brand from 1993. The introduction of the first ECO-DRIVE model, again in 1995, was the major step towards the domination of the brand in solar watches as well. Finally, CAMPANOLA high range sub-brand was launched in 2000 presenting the limited edition model CTS-57, one of the best quartz watches ever appeared in the market.

During the first two decades of the 21st century, CITIZEN group has become even stronger both in the quartz and mechanical segment, with the presentation of new products and the acquisitions of Swiss entities, plus the American BULOVA. The new CAMPANOLA automatic models are assembled in Japan, equipped with high grade Swiss mechanisms (La Joux-Perret) providing a particular combination, a sign of CITIZEN paying respect to its roots from the 1930s.

Other Japanese brands

Contrary to their traditional “bad” habit to have their best products available only domestically, Japanese have started expanding their distribution, and almost all their brands have started being available internationally. The basic range includes not only CASIO with its primary G-SHOCK models introduced in 1983, but also the brand NORMAL, established in 2006 with the scope of presenting affordable watches with simple analog and digital designs. Stepping up to the high range, MINASE was established in 2005 presenting particular case designs equipped with Swiss calibers, KURONO was established very recently by the independent watchmaker HAJIME ASAOKA who has presented his own unique creations since 2009, and finally ZEROO TIME is a newcomer brand focusing on innovative designing. Other independent Japanese watchmakers are NAOYA HIDA, DAIZOH MAKIHARA, KIKUCHI NAKAGAWA presenting watches equipped with (re-worked) Swiss mechanisms, plus MASAHIRO KIKUNO who crafts fully handmade watches. Along with the entities of SEIKO and CITIZEN groups, there are at least 15 Japanese brands active in watchmaking. GS