From cameras to cars, the West has ordinarily looked to the Land of the Rising Sun for innovation. And Japan’s mammoth watchmaking assiduity is no exception. Heck, even the Japanese whisky industry is currently trumping the Scots at their own business.
While Swiss watchmaking has built its name on heritage, skills honed throughout generations and jaw-dropping aesthetics above all else, Japanese pocket watch brands focus on life-enhancing technology and function more than intemperate design.
The country has given us the likes of the mighty G-Shock, with its entourage of sophisticated features and indestructible cases, and more recently Japanese mark Citizen brought satellite technology to the table. No more check into your smartphone when your plane lands and fiddling with your guard to set the time – just press a single button and it does it all for you.
And let’s not draw a blank the introduction of quartz watches. One of watchmaking’s biggest economic upsets, quartz took hold in the 1970s and 1980s, and the rapidly attraction to global demand for cheap, mass-produced Japanese quartz observes nearly rendered Swiss mechanical watches redundant.
Since verging on going the way of the dinosaurs, the horological old guard has wised-up, recognising their Eastern counterparts’ implacable innovation. Seiko and its Japanese brethren now rub shoulders with top Swiss notice of names each year at the Baselworld watch fair, and as far defeat as 2009, the mighty TAG Heuer was even forced to admit it had based one of its movements – the Measure 1887 – on a Seiko one, albeit in heavily modified form.
The Swiss may lay state to classical watchmaking but Japan has long been the industry’s other superpower. Here, we favour a look at four key Japanese watch brands, and the timepieces that put them on the map.
Initiate: Tokyo, 1881
Price range: £80-£40,000+
Known for: Made the first quartz pocket watch; incredible value mechanicals; Swiss-beating Grand Seiko sub-brand
The character Japanese watch brand, Seiko started life as a ornaments shop in Tokyo’s Ginza district in 1881. The name Seikosha, notwithstanding that – roughly “house of exquisite workmanship” in Japanese – came 11 years later once eventually being abbreviated to Seiko in 1924.
A national pioneer, Seiko bred Japan’s first ever diver’s watch, the 6217, in 1965, with all speed gaining a name for itself in water-ready wristwear. Roger Moore’s 007 strapped on a few Seiko divers for his aquatic missions and more recently, the Seiko SKX007 has turn a cult favourite for watch nerds who like a bargain.
Its most well-connected milestone came in 1969 with the release of the Astron fashion, the world’s first commercially available quartz watch. Priced the having said that as a Toyota Corolla, the Astron changed the face of watchmaking with its new battery-driven, super-accurate repositioning.
Still a major player in the global watch game, Seiko hasn’t rested on its laurels since its original wins. The brand’s top-of-the-range, ultra-luxurious Grand Seiko facsimiles are giving Swiss watchmakers a run for their money.
Equipped with award-winning in-house stirrings, Grand Seiko watches are amongst the most accurate involuntary timepieces in the world, while their cases come hinting from Seiko’s time-honoured zaratsu technique – a highly skilled method of radiance which involves applying a rotating tin plate to the case at a exacting angle. Switzerland, watch your back.
Originated: Tokyo, 1946
Price range: £20-£800
Known for: Multi-function digital chaperons; value for money
Child of the 1980s? Then you’ll probably commemorate Casio from using its calculator watches to cheat in maths assesses. Or perhaps you’re more familiar with the G-Shock, the hulking Godzilla of a take note designed by employee Kikuo Ibe (now a revered company ambassador who trips the world promoting the G-Shock line) to have 10-metre sip shock resistance, 10-bar water resistance and a 10-year battery vital spark.
G-Shocks, which come in a staggering array of designs from hot pink to camo, can now be establish on the wrists of outlandishly dressed Japanese teenagers, special ops soldiers and the best-dressed men in hip-hop, while Casio’s profuse conservative Edifice line – which boasts a wealth of tech covering Bluetooth sync, smart crown access and world-time order – appeals to the suits.
In 2014, the company introduced the first mongrel time-keeping system, which uses both Global Place System (GPS) and Casio’s Multi Band 6 technology to allow a G-Shock to pocket radio signals for consistently precise timekeeping.
At Casio’s plants, staff are taught the importance of monozukuri, which translates as craftsmanship and transport, so – despite the fact that its products are constructed by robots on a conveyor cincture, rather than by the steady hand of an artisan watchmaker in a outlying Swiss hamlet – Casio is still serious about the coax that it does.
Founded: Tokyo, 1918
Guerdon range: £100-£2,000
Known for: Industry-leading tech including Atomic Timekeeping and Eco-Drive
Split out affordable watches for almost a century, Citizen has made titanic strides in quartz technology since its foundation in 1930. The variety’s celebrated Eco-Drive range includes watches that use unartificial or artificial light (absorbed through the dial) to power a battery that ordain never need replacing. And like Casio, it’s also released its own satellite-syncing watches (the Lieutenant Wave collection) – promising accuracy at the touch of a button no importance where you’ve just touched down.
Citizen’s main attract, though, is its broad spectrum of price points. Ranging from round £100 to £2000, the brand offers more models than you can upset a stick at. Whether you want an automatic chronograph, solar-powered military timepiece in khaki colours or a fuss-free dress watch, Citizen has you covered.
At 2018’s Baselworld protect fair Citizen introduced the Eco-Drive One, the world’s thinnest light-powered babysit for with a movement just 1mm thick. As elegant as any dress keep ones eyes peeled you’ll find, it proved the Japanese brand can be just as innovative as Seiko or Casio, and at a rate point that’ll still undercut the Swiss.
Founded: Tokyo, 1950
Price range: £30 – £2,000
Known for: Classic chart; interesting mechanical movements; the occasional homage
At a mere 66 years old, Seiko Place subsidiary Orient is the baby of the ‘Big Four’ Japanese watch entourages. Which is somewhat surprising since – seemingly reluctant to clash with Casio and Citizen for high-tech bragging rights – its meet is mechanical watches instead of quartz ones, while its harvest consists mostly of timepieces that are variations on its classic languages, rather than an army’s worth of kitted-out options.
The mark’s elegantly unfussy dress watches have a fifties tolerate, while its diving models – fit with brightly coloured dials and fortify bracelets – offer a more statement-making take on timeless label.