Exquisite. Success. These are the ideas that the word Seiko conjures in the Japanese language.
It’s hard to argue that the Seiko company is anything but exquisite and a success. The company has been making watches for almost a hundred and fifty years.
Seiko today makes a whole range of devices through its subsidiaries, including clocks, watches, jewelry, eyewear, electronic devices, and even semiconductors. The company has become a worldwide success and a highly recognizable brand. Seiko employs more than thirteen thousand people and has an annual revenue of more than two hundred and fifty billion yen.
Founded by Kintaro Hattori in 1881 as a jewelry and watch shop, Seiko was originally called Seikosha, which means “House of Exquisite Workmanship.” Hattori lived and worked in the Ginza area, which is near Tokyo. It’s where Seiko is still headquartered today. The company changed its name to Hattori Seiko in 1983, and then became the Seiko Corporation in 1990.
The company is deeply aware of its own journey, publishing a history of itself in 2003 called “A Journey In Time: The Remarkable Story of Seiko.”
It took more than forty years of clockmaking by Seiko before the company produced its first watch in 1924.
Where Seiko really took things to the next level in terms of exquisite workmanship was with the Astron in 1969, the world’s first quartz watch to be mass-produced. At that time, the watch cost about the same as a mid-sized car.
The company also produced the first quartz chronograph to be mass-marketed.
Seiko’s most well-known line of products are its wristwatches. For a large amount of time, these detailed timepieces were made totally in Seiko’s facilities, however, parts of the process were eventually outsourced. The in house nature of this manufacturing was a major point of pride for Seiko. Their production included not just the pieces like the gears and dials, but seemingly insignificant aspects of the watch like the oils used to lubricate the mechanisms and the glowing compounds that were added to the dials and to the moving hands. It was controversial when this policy had to be abandoned.
Early on, Seiko split its production into two different companies. This allowed them to have competition between the two to produce the pieces while allowing for less risk. If one company had to reduce production due to research and development, the other could increase to compensate and the orders would be filled on time.
Seiko relies heavily on sponsorship to spread the word about its products. It’s been the official watch of many sporting events, including the FIFA World Cup and the IAAF World Championships. It’s been the official timekeeper for the Olympics five times.
The high level of craftsmanship has led Seiko to be one watches that was beloved by NASA. Flight director Gene Kranz wore a Seiko Model 5 throughout his career. This includes what he was wearing as he guided the Apollo 11 to touchdown on the Moon, and as he guided the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission from the ground.
Seiko has continued to push forward with new ideas and new watch movements. The company is a constant innovator in watch technology, all while keeping its original craftsmanship.