Founded in 1881, Kintaro Hattori opened a watch shop in Ginza, Tokyo, Japan. From there, he built a brand known collectively throughout for its craftsmanship and exquisite timepieces. In fact, that’s what the name Seikosha means, translated as the ‘House of Exquisite Workmanship’. As the years progressed, Seiko became one of the competitions that went against the Swiss Haute Maisons, who didn’t embrace the new electric technology in wristwatch technology.
The Japanese vs. Swiss saga became known as the ‘Quartz Crisis’, as Japanese companies like Seiko was slowly starting to gain recognition and respect within the horology community. From becoming an afterthought to actual competition, the Japanese movement almost put the Swiss economy into bankruptcy, as the mechanical watch market crumbled before their very eyes.
A Competitive Attitude
The ‘Quartz Crisis’ hit a turning point when Seiko joined an exclusive competition in the Neuchatel Observatory. Before the Japanese came along, this was an exclusive event, being triumphed by the Swiss and their accurate mechanical movements.
Joining and competing in these contests would be seen as instant recognition and Japanese movements were initially seen as crude and unreliable. It was similar to when Japanese cars joined the North American market in the 20th century.
Through persistence and determination, Seiko got horological recognition when they entered the contest in 1963 and placed tenth overall, signifying the first non-Swiss company placing a top ten finish. The Swiss noticed Seiko slowly climbing up the manufacturer rankings taking up 2nd and 3rd place overall before the trials shut down in 1968. When they joined and had an impressive run in the 1969 Concours de Genève, the event got cancelled the following year. With the Swiss heavyweights noticing, Seiko was on the path to greatness.
Conquering the Watch Market, One Taste At a Time
The watch market today has many styles, features, and price-points covering every demographic imaginable: aviator, skeleton, digital, automatic, solar-powered, chronograph racing, diving, etc. Seiko recognizes that and sees potential in each possible demographic.
However, we’ll focus on the two most recognizable collections that they have: Seiko 5 and Grand Seiko. These two collections differ in both design philosophies and pricing, but both are hallmarks of what Seiko has to offer, what Seiko is known for, and what the market expects of them. With that in mind, Let’s see what Seiko has to offer with these two collections.
Seiko 5: Built on Simple Principles
To capture maximum market share in the entry-level market, Seiko focused on providing the best watch for the most affordable price. Built on 5 key principles that must be met before being released for production, Seiko 5 collection was born. Despite having various casing designs, all Seiko 5 watches must meet criteria to be called a ‘5’.
The must-haves include:
- Automatic winding
- Day/date displayed in a single window
- Water resistance
- Recessed crown at the 4 o’clock position
- Durable case and bracelet
With pricing less than $300 for the Seiko 5 collection, there is a watch selection that would catch your eye, meet all expectations, without breaking the bank.
Grand Seiko: The Epitome of Japanese Horology
Created with a mindset to be seen as luxurious and intricate, the Grand Seiko line was to compete with the best Swiss-made haute maisons like Rolex or Omega. Seiko designer Taro Tanako then created the “Grammar of Design”.
The philosophy can be summed up into one passage:
“He (Tanako) started by creating cases and dials that had a perfectly flat surface, with two-dimensional curves on the bezel as a secondary feature. […] He also decided that all distortion should be eliminated from the dial, too, so that it could be finished with a mirror surface.”
Through this philosophy, the Grand Seiko was born and created a collection that is not only hard to find in North America, but also a line that is respected by horology enthusiasts throughout the world. Creating innovative movements such as Spring Drive Technology, the Grand Seiko line is where Seiko continues to innovate in order to have a profitable present and a successful future.