Updated October 2017.
So here you are, asking your trusted ‘watch friend’ about the differences between say, a Seiko, and a Tissot, and they educate you about the history between these two storied brands, and the fundamental differences between a Japanese-made movement and a Swiss-made movement.
You kind of get it, you slightly understand but you need more information and context why there are differences. Are there even any differences? A watch is a watch, right?
Well… Let us at Gracious Watch educate you on movements and let you become the hit superstar at Trivia Pursuit.
Watchmaking in Switzerland has an incredibly interesting and long history.
Starting as far back as the sixteenth century when a religious reformer named John Calvin – well known for his controversial views and austere standards of living – decided that citizens should not be allowed to wear jewellery. Watches were the only items still permitted to be worn and faced with financial ruin, jewellery makers took to watchmaking to make ends meat.
By the end of the 16th century, watchmakers in Geneva had established a reputation for making quality desirable products. They formed the first watchmaking guild in 1601, thus marking Geneva as the birthplace for the entire industry.
Over the last few hundred years most major innovations in design and build have come from Switzerland. From first perpetual watch and first wristwatch to first waterproof watch and first quartz watch, the Swiss have done it all.
While the Swiss may have been the first to do many things in the watchmaking industry and certainly set the bar for timepiece quality, Japanese design has since caught up.
The start of the horological industry in Japan can be traced to the arrival of Christianity in the mid sixteenth century. The first mechanical clock in Japan is believed to have arrived in 1551 with Spanish missionary Francisco de Xavier which was presented to feudal lord Yoshitaka Ohuchi Suo.
A major change in Japan’s industry came in 1872 when they adopted the solar calendar in place of the lunar calendar that had been in use. The end of “Japanese time,” coupled with technology being introduced from the West, created the foundation for the modern watchmaking industry that was being built.
While Japan’s watchmaking industry was growing, WWII brought it to a screeching halt. As most factories were converted to serve as munitions factories, the watchmaking industry slowed. Then with the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and Japan’s eventual surrender, the industry was decimated. It wouldn’t be until the early 1960’s that Japan would start to regain its prowess.
The Quartz Crisis
The Quartz Crisis – also known as the Quartz Revolution – refers to the economic upheavals caused by the advent of quartz watches in the 1970s and early 1980s.
In the early 1970s Japan embraced the new technology and companies like Seiko started mass producing quartz watches. Despite the advancements in technology the Swiss hesitated in embracing quartz watches. The Swiss mechanical watches were dominating world markets, and national identity and watch industry organized deeply around mechanical watches, many in Switzerland thought that moving into quartz watches was unnecessary.
Worldwide the popularity of quartz watches grew and by 1978 quartz watches overtook mechanical watches in popularity, plunging the Swiss watch industry into crisis while at the same time strengthening the Japanese market.
Rolex watch movements are prized as some of the most reliable, precise and robust movements currently in existence and are a big part of why Rolex is the number one luxury brand. In addition to being certified by the COSC, Rolex does extensive in-house testing which is why they dub their movements as “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified.”
In 2015, Rolex enhanced the Swiss lever escapement and introduced their proprietary Chronergy escapement, Caliber 3255 which boasts a 15% increase in efficiency.
Named after a mechanical watch movement invented in 1894, OMEGA takes watch movements very seriously. Highly respected for their steadfast performance, OMEGA has pushed the envelope of watch movements by introducing technology such as their Co-Axial movement. The Co-Axial escapement within a caliber creates less friction than traditional movements allowing for less wear and tear and a longer life.
Creating their movements in-house, TAG Heuer has become famous for producing value-driven chronographs. Caliber 18 is the heart and soul of TAG Heuer watches taking proven expertise and coupling that with skill and intensive labor.
Seiko’s Caliber 5R86 movement is an example of their Seiko Spring Drive which instead of relying on a traditional escapement, is wound by the motion of the wrist. While this is very similar to many movements nowadays, this innovation was huge when it was first introduced. A rotor winds the mainspring and electro-magentic energy, a balance wheel and a quartz oscillator come together to provide optimum accuracy.
Citizen’s Miyota 8215 movement is so popular that it is used by a number of watch companies including Invicta, Camel, Kyobe and more.
The Miyota 8215 is a non-hacking, 21 jewel with a uni-directional winding system that gives it an accuracy of -20 to +40 seconds per day.
Orient creates its own movements in-house and the Caliber 46943 movement is one of their best. When tested against the popular ETA movement used in watches such as Breitling and Omega, the Caliber 46943 was found to be more efficient and required less parts to achieve that efficiency and accuracy.
Notable Swiss Brands
It’s impossible to mention top watch brands out of Switzerland without mentioning the SWATCH Group. Founded in 1983, the SWATCH Group employees over 50,000 people and had net sales in 2016 of over $7.5 billion dollars. The SWATCH group owns 19 watch brands including Omega, Hamilton, Tissot and Longines.
Rolex is the world’s largest single luxury watch brand and was ranked as one of the world’s top 100 most powerful global brands. Founded in 1905, Rolex movements are prized for their precision and over 100 years later Rolex still stands as a symbol for class and luxury.
Patek Philippe is considered by many to be one of the world’s most prestigious watch brands. Holding the record for the most expensive watch sold at auction – 16 million GBP – Patek Philippe watches have been owned by Popes, and Royalty including Queen Victoria.
Interested in getting a Patek Philippe watch? You’ll have to personally meet with the Company Director and then get on a waiting list that can stretch for years, as only a handful of Patek Philippe watches – like their Sky Moon Tourbillon – are released each year.
Notable Japanese Brands
Seiko is arguably one of the top watch brands in the world today. Chosen as official timekeepers for several olympics and FIFA world cups, the Seiko brand has continued to innovate and grow year after year.
Citizen’s Eco-drive technology has lead to it being one of the world’s largest producers of watches. Founded in 1918, Citizen has become a giant in the horology industry by utilizing the newest technology from quartz movements to atomic timekeeping.