When most people think about wristwatches, brands from Switzerland come to mind quickly. The Swiss have been making watches for a long time, and they have many brands that are of very high quality. Swiss watchmakers have also taken great pains to make sure that the quality remains. For instance, they insist that most of the parts in the watches that they make must also come from Switzerland.
They sell a lot of watches, and some of them are very expensive. They are nice.
There are other places in the world where watches are made. The Japanese, for instance, have been making watches for more than 100 years. Some of them are also very good, and some of them are as good as any watches from Switzerland.
Seiko, for instance, has been in business since 1881. That is when Kintarō Hattori started a watch shop under his own name. A few years later, he began to make clocks under the name “Seikosha,” and that name was later shortened to simply “Seiko.” The company has been making watches under that name since 1924.
It is true that until the 1960s, many products made in Japan were seen as inferior in the West, and that is when Seiko introduced their Grand Seiko watches. These were created for the express purpose of showing the world that Japan was capable of producing a watch that was as good, or better, than those made in Switzerland.
The Grand Seiko was highly regarded when it was new, and collectors still eagerly look for them today. The first models of Grand Seiko had mechanical, hand-wound movements and 25 jewels. Only 36,000 were made, so they are rare today. They are also expensive. I have seen them for sale for U.S. $25,000 on eBay.
Seiko sold many watches in the Grand Seiko line in the 1960s, but they were not finished making interesting watches. In 1969, they produced the Astron, which was the world’s first commercially available quartz watch. Several Swiss companies had been trying to make a quartz watch throughout the 1960s, but the Astron was the first one to come to market.
The Astron sold for U.S. $1250 in 1969. For the same amount of money, you could have bought a small car at that time.
The watch was successful, but it also scared many of the older watch companies, as they were worried that the quartz watches would put them out of business.
That did not happen, and today, Seiko still makes quartz watches, but they also make some very nice and expensive mechanical watches. The most expensive is the “FUGAKU” GBCC 999, which sells for more than U.S. $500,000. The watch has a hand painted lacquer face and a movement with a tourbillon that is only 4mm thick. Unlike most Seiko watches, which are sold with stainless steel cases, this one is sold with a case of white gold, yellow gold, or platinum.
See the Fugaku GBCC 999 –
I will write about some of these other companies soon.