You are wrong, Seiko did not almost kill watchmaking.

Although many accuse Seiko of almost killing traditional watchmaking in 1969, with the launch of the Astron, the first quartz watch on the market, we are soon to see that this is not true.
If, however, you think that Seiko’s history was born with this event, we have the pleasure to make you change your mind: Seiko is to all intents and purposes an ancient watch maison and, with its production ranging from small industrially produced automatic watches to incredible handcrafted masterpieces, is one of the leaders in the world of watchmaking. Let us look back together at the milestones of Japanese excellence: Seiko.

Early Years

Towards the end of the 19th century, in 1881 to be precise, the young Kintaro Hattori decided to open his own business at just 21 years of age. Settling in the centre of Tokyo, Hattori started a small watch repair workshop, occasionally selling a few timepieces.
The business proceeded well, and eleven years later, Hattori decided to found his own watch manufacture: thus in 1892, Seikosha was born. From the union of the Japanese words Seiko (“excellence“) and Sha (“home“), Hattori decided from the start that his company would only produce the best watches in Japan. Initially concentrating on wall clocks, Seikosha soon began production of pocket watches.

The real turning point came in 1913: while the public was still demanding pocket watches, Hattori decided to target a nascent market. Hence, the first wristwatch produced in Japan was launched, which Seikosha sold under the brand name ‘Laurel’.

Seiko Laurel, CC: The Seiko Guy

In 1923, a terrible earthquake devastated Japan and it did not spare Seikosha’s factory, which was completely destroyed. Hattori did not lose heart and decided that a phoenix should be born from the ashes of Seikosha: a new factory was built and wristwatch production was renamed Seiko.

The war

With the outbreak of the Second World War, Japan also took part in the hostilities. As in every country, civilian production was converted for the war effort and Seikosha was commissioned to produce watches for the pilots of the legendary air force of the Japanese Empire. According to the specifications received, Seikosha produced an oversize 48.5 mm watch with a spartan but precise and reliable movement and an easy-to-read luminescent dial.

Equipped with a large onion crown, easily operated using gloves, the watch is nicknamed ‘tensoku’. These watches accompanied Japanese air force pilots in their battles in the Pacific, right up to the last desperate Kamikaze suicide missions.

Amazingly preserved Tensoku, The Watch Boutique

Post-war era

Once the painful chapter of World War II was over, the national economy was in a disastrous condition, but thanks to the determination of the Japanese people and foreign investment, it soon took off.

Seiko decided that it would enter the world’s wristwatch market, and would do so as a leader. For this reason, the executives decide to found two sister companies: King Seiko and Grand Seiko. In pure Japanese spirit, these two are pitted against each other, tasked with creating the best watches imaginable.
At the same time, Seiko decides that the COSC certification typical of Swiss watches is not stringent enough to guarantee the goodness of its watches, and thus introduces its own guarantee of precision.

In addition to King and Grand, Seiko production continued steadily, turning its eyes to a new technology…

Vintage Grand Seiko, CC: Seiko

The Astron and the crisis

Known since the 1800s, the ability of quartz crystals to be used as regulators for precision timepieces was well known and used. Since the 1930s, quartz watches of the size of refrigerators could be found in major laboratories around the world, but it was unthinkable to miniaturise this technology to the point where it could be transported to wristwatches.

In the 1960s, as technology was preparing to launch man on the moon, engineers from watch maison around the world were competing in an exciting race to bring quartz into the small cases of wristwatches. The precision and determination of the Japanese allowed Seiko, on 25 December 1969, to launch the Astron, the world’s first quartz wristwatch to be marketed.

Seiko Quartz Astron from 1970, CC:The Seiko Guy

A far cry from the quartz watches we are used to today, the Astron was made in an extremely limited edition available only in yellow gold, for the price of 450,000 yen, at the time equivalent to the sum needed to buy a medium-sized car.
If you want to learn more about the Swiss reply to the Astron, don’t miss our dedicated article!

Technology was advancing quickly, however, and within a very short time, quartz watches were being equipped with very inexpensive mechanisms, which could then be sold for very little money.

This event, known as the ‘Quartz Crisis’, sadly swept away numerous small Swiss manufacturers. In order not to succumb, the big maisons had to invent a completely new concept: the modern luxury watch, whose cost is not related to the sum of the value of its components. Royal Oak, Nautilus, 222… Thus were born the modern icons, daughters of the Quartz Crisis.
We can therefore say that Seiko did not almost kill the traditional Swiss manufacture, as claimed by many, but rather gave birth to the modern concept of the luxury watch.
What can we say… thank you Seiko!

At over one hundred years old, Seiko is truly one of the great watchmaking brands. Not just because of its age, but because of the colossal dimensions that Seiko production is capable of reaching. From the tens of thousands of small and inexpensive Seiko 5s, still automatic and in-house, to the breathtakingly few Credor hand-painted by Japan’s most experienced masters, Seiko’s leading role certainly cannot be questioned.

Although the immense industrial production makes normal Seiko watches generally lack great collector’s value, some rare historical models are extremely sought-after.Such is the case with the Tensoku, the legendary Kamikaze watch, which, due to the unfortunate event to which it is linked, has survived in limited quantities.

The Watch Boutique

Remaining true to our mission to seek out only and exclusively the best pieces for our customers, we are pleased to offer an incredible example of the Seikosha Tensoku in excellent condition. To view this piece of history live or to search together for the perfect watch for you, please do not hesitate to contact our experts or visit our Boutiques.

written by Lorenzo Spolaor

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