The Seiko and Grand Seiko story began in the late 19th century when 21-year-old Kintaro Hattori opened a small watch and clock shop in Tokyo’s Kyobashi district. For ten years he built and repaired watches and clocks before partnering with an engineer named Tsuruhiko Yoshikawa to set up the Seikosha watch factory, the clock manufacturing arm of K.Hattori & Co.
Evolving from wall clocks Sheikosha (“the house of precision”) produced their first pocket watch in 1895, with an English name, the ‘Time Keeper’ and years later Japan’s first alarm clock. In 1909 Hattori launched the Empire pocket watch which was an undeniable success. However, it was his travels to the west that saw him recognise the popularity of the wristwatch and began developing his own model. In 1913 he launched The Laurel, Japan’s first wristwatch. The unisex watch featured a porcelain dial and “contained components manufactured entirely in-house”, specifically the silver case and possibly balance springs.Ultimately Laurel became one of various sub-brands of Seikosha – it wasn’t until 1924, a year after the Great Kanto Earthquake destroyed the factory, did the public see the first Seiko branded watch. Hattori’s reputation benefited from his generosity to replace 1500 customer’s watches that were destroyed in the Earthquake, and again in 1929 when the Seikosha pocket watch was certified as Japan’s official railroad watch.
From the late 1930’s world events reduced the production of watches and clocks for civilians until the end of war in 1945. The special procurement boom during the 1950 Korean War revitalised the Japanese economy and started a boom in the watch market as well. Seiko broadcasted Japan’s first radio commercial in 1951 and Japan’s first TV ad in 1953. In 1956 they launched the Marvel, a handsome men’s wristwatch with high durability and high accuracy. Seiko had arrived on the world stage.
Today Seiko produces five families of watches; all applauded for their innovation and technical ability; Grand Seiko, Astron, Prospex, Presage & Premier. However, it’s the first three families I’ve chosen to focus on today.
Grand Seiko arrived four years after the Marvel; a watch that Seiko designed to be “the best in the world” regarding accuracy and precision. The Calibre 3180 movement was certified with a standard of precision that Seiko established. Today that level of accuracy goes above and beyond Swiss agency COSC’s standard for certifying chronometers. For the last 50 years, this mechanical superiority and elegant design have propelled the Grand Seiko into the upper echelon of watchmaking, a watch strictly reserved for connoisseurs of time.
Interestingly in 1969, the same year Seiko was attempting to and did become, the first to produce an automatic winding chronograph in its Sports Speed Timer, Seiko launched the Astron. The Seiko Quartz Astron, was the world’s first quartz wristwatch, a groundbreaking innovation that changed the face of the watch industry forever. The Calibre 35A possessed incredible accuracy, far greater than any mechanical movement. Throughout the 70’s and 80’s, they unveiled many exciting innovations including a solar power watch in 1977. In 1988, it introduced Seiko A.G.S., or ‘Kinetic’ as we know it today. Similar to the rotor of a mechanical movement, an oscillating weight converts motion into electricity to power the quartz movement. Development of these technologies helped Seiko launch the first GPS Solar Watch, a genuinely fascinating release that sources energy from any light source and uses a Seiko ring antenna to receive GPS signals that automatically update the timezone.
The Seiko diver’s watch family, which now falls under the Prospex range, confirmed the brand’s status as an authoritative watch manufacturer. From the launch of the Diver’s 150M in 1965, Seiko created many world-first innovations including the first Titanium cased dive watch in 1975 and the first Ceramic case watch in 1986, both water resistant to 1000m. Seiko’s first Professional Diver’s Watch was the first diver’s watch with a titanium case and was water-resistant to 1,000 meters. In 1978 they introduced the first saturation diving watch featuring a quartz movement. Their quartz domination continued into the 80’s, and the 1985 Quartz Diver’s 200m became a global best seller and one of the most recognisable watches in the category. Interestingly a few months after Seiko’s first diver’s watch appeared two American dive enthusiasts decided that standards of training in diving needed to be raised and founded the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, also known as PADI. Recently the two iconic dive brands partnered to produce two limited edition watches that celebrate diver safety and protection of the marine environment. Seiko’s in-house standards for its dive watches helped establish the ISO standards for dive watches that are still in use today.
Understanding and appreciating the scale of innovation that Seiko has committed to the watch industry makes wearing a Seiko timepiece a rewarding activity. For the last four years, we’ve written about watches that ‘mean something’ and Seiko is at the very forefront of that concept.