A CENTURY OF FIRSTS. As Citizen Watch celebrates its 100th anniversary, the brand presents its past, present and future. Joezer Mandagi reports from Japan
The early developments and continued innovation in watchmaking are usually attributed to the big, historical Swiss brands. Yet, Japanese companies have long been key players that have helped shape the modern world of watchmaking. Of course, this should not come as a surprise: Japanese culture, much like that of the Swiss, emphasizes timeliness, precision and technological innovation. And perhaps the best argument for the case of Japan’s watchmaking prowess would undoubtedly be the Citizen Watch company, which this year celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Last April, I had the opportunity to see for myself how Citizen Watch maintains strong ties with its heritage and roots in the past, how it fares in the present and what the company has in store in the future.
My journey with Citizen Watch started at the company’s museum in Tokyo. The tour of the museum started with a short film highlighting the history of the brand and many of the milestones it has accomplished through the years. The main highlight of the museum itself, however, was a 24-meter-long display showcasing more than a hundred watches representing major achievements and important timepieces featuring technological milestones.
The length of the display was not an arbitrary choice, but instead represented the 24 hours of a day. So, in a way, the museum compressed nearly a century’s worth of history (at the time, the latest watch on the display was from 2016, just a couple of years shy of the brand’s centennial) into a single “day.” Some of the watches on the display were historically important, including one of the first wristwatches to bear the Citizen moniker produced in 1924, one of which was purchased by Emperor Showa. There were also plenty of firsts: The Citizen Parawater which was the first Japanese water-resistant wristwatch, the X-8 Chronometer which had the world’s first titanium case and so on. The display also traced the debut and development of many of Citizen’s most famous innovations, from the quest for the thinnest watch movements, radio-controlled—and later on GPS-equipped—watches and, of course, Eco-drive technology.
Beyond impressive, the visit to the Citizen Museum certainly set the stage for the next stages of the tour.
The next leg of my journey brought me to Iida, in Nagano prefecture, where I got to see Citizen Watch’s main factory for manufacturing mechanical movements and luxury watches. It’s interesting to note that Citizen doesn’t only manufacture watches and watch parts, but also the machines used to produce said parts. It is, in a way, a very comprehensive approach to manufacture d’horlogerie.
Back to the Iida factory itself, the facility was designed to correspond to the needs of mass, mid as well as limited quantity production. To this end, the factory includes both automatic manufacturing lines as well as workshops where seasoned meisters assemble high end timepieces by hand. The contrast between the two can be quite fascinating.
At one level, fully automated AT-3 lines churns out one movement piece per second with only a handful of personnel in attendance. On another, semi-automated lines where movements and cases are assembled share the same space as the workshops of the meisters. While the whole operation has a much more industrialized vibe to it, especially when compared to the more idyllic image of watch manufactures in the Jura mountains of Switzerland, Citizen’s Iida factory beautifully showcases the harmonious exchange between cutting-edge automation and traditional craftsmanship.
What is next for Citizen Watch? That question is perhaps best answered by the caliber 0100, a prototype Eco-Drive movement introduced earlier in the year at Baselworld 2018. Presented in the form of a not-for-sale pocket watch (which is a clear nod to the original Citizen pocket watch mentioned before), the movement is accurate to +/- 1 second a year. “Watches have always been about accuracy,” says Norio Takeuchi, Citizen’s managing director and general manager of sales, in a short interview. “We always believe that with the caliber 0100, and even beyond that, there are new frontiers that we can continue to discover.”
This sentiment is echoed by Noboyuki Tanaka, general manager of the product management section, who said that Citizen will basically keep “doing the same thing” in regards to how it will continue innovating. “We will keep chasing fundamental technologies,” he then clarified, “together with things that are new at the time and on the market.”
And perhaps this is the key to Citizen’s continued growth, as embodied by its motto: Better starts now. Essentially, the brand kept asking what it is that makes a watch better. At one time it was watches that are powered by light, then it became watches that are extraordinarily thin. Now it’s watches that are incredibly accurate. In other words, for Citizen, “better” is infinite and it always starts now.
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