A Concise History of Seiko Horology

For over a century, Japanese watch company Seiko has been at the forefront of the horology world with its leading innovations and technological developments in watchmaking. But, how well do you know its rich history as one of the world’s pioneering watch brands? Are you a real watch enthusiast or just curious to see where your new watch or timepiece came from? Fortunately, this brief but reliable article will tell you all you need to know about “Seikosha” and how it came to be one of today’s most trusted names when it comes to watches and timepieces.

Seiko: A Concise History

1881 – 1959

The tiny seeds of modern-day Seiko were first planted in 1881 by 21-year-old entrepreneur Kintarō Hattori. Hattori opened a shop that sold and repaired watches and clocks in Ginza, Tokyo. By 1892, he founded and established the “Seikosha” (literally “success/exquisite/minute house”) factory. The factory first started with the production of wall clocks. 

Hattori then thought of new ways to expand the business. The Timekeeper, a pocket watch, was created in 1895 – eventually leading to the production of Japan’s first-ever wristwatch, the Laurel, in 1913. Hattori’s desire to be ahead of the watchmaking pack led to his development of the Laurel. So even in the 1900s, when watch manufacturers could only produce 30 to 50 watches, Seiko had a lead on the horology world.

Even when the Great Kanto earthquake struck in 1923, Hattori did not give up. Instead, he picked himself up by his bootstraps (or watch straps) and managed to release the first official Seiko brand watch in December 1924. 

In 1958, Seiko made and began to use “Diashock,” a shock-resistance device, in the production of its watches and timepieces. The Gyro Marvel, the first self-winding watch to use Seiko’s proprietary “magic lever” system, was introduced in 1959. Seiko’s “magic lever” system helped make self-winding watches popular worldwide.

1960 – 1999

In 1960, Seiko’s future signature timepiece, the Grand Seiko model, was first produced. In Nagano prefecture, Seiko entrusted a small team of its most experienced and skilled watchmakers with the task of creating the very best watch they could ever hope to make. As a result, Grand Seiko represented the pinnacle of Seiko’s excellence in mechanical watchmaking and aimed to deliver more accuracy, durability, and legibility than any other watch or timepiece.

Seiko introduced Japan’s first stopwatch-equipped wristwatch in 1964, during the Tokyo Olympic Games. The next year, 1965, marked the arrival of the first Japan-made diver’s watch, waterproof to a depth of 150 meters. 1969 was a banner year for Seiko as it introduced the world’s first automatic chronograph watch with a vertical clutch and column wheel (Cal. 6139) and the world’s first quartz watch (Seiko Quartz Astron) in the same year. The quartz revolution, or crisis for Seiko’s European rivals, had begun.

1982 was made more notable with Seiko introducing the world’s “TV watch.” The following year, in 1983, Seiko made global waves once again by introducing the world’s first analog quartz watch with a chronograph, designed by celebrated Italian car designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, no less. Seiko did not stop there as it also produced the world’s first voice-recording watch in the same year. In 1984, Seiko introduced a first-of-its-kind wrist computer that stored data. The Seiko wrist computer signified the dawn of portable information devices.

The world’s first 1000m diver’s watch with a ceramic outer case was produced by Seiko in 1986. It was the first watch to use ceramic material for the outer case layer. In 1988, Seiko had another horological breakthrough with the “Kinetic,” the world’s first watch with a quartz movement that the wearer’s movements could power.

The creation of the world’s first computerized diver’s watch (the Scubamaster, cal. M726), with dive table and depth meter functions, in 1990 became further proof of Seiko’s watchmaking expertise. In 1992, Seiko was selected to time the Olympic Games in Europe for the first time. 

1998 is identified as the year Seiko introduced its proprietary Spring Drive, a spring-driven luxury mechanical watch with quartz accuracy. In addition, Seiko launched the Ultimate Kinetic Chronograph cal. 9T82 in 1999 – an updated Kinetic watch equipped with a stopwatch function in a unique new design. Moreover, the cal. 9T82 is equipped with zero resetting function using a heart-shaped cam and special movement construction that avoids specks of dust.

2000 – present

Seiko continues to innovate and release new watches and timepieces that elevate the horology game, with new updates to its classic diver’s series through new Seiko Prospex collections as well as the creation of new movements. Additionally, collaborations with famous pop culture franchises such as Naruto and Street Fighter help connect the long-lived watch brand with new generations and inspire more younger folk to get into horology. No doubt it is Seiko’s remarkable resilience and adaptability, forever inspired by Kintarō Hattori, that have helped it become what it is today.

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