Among Japanese watchmakers, Seiko might get the most press and have the most prestigious history. But Citizen is also a significant player in the Japanese watch market, and they are one of the world’s largest makers of watches.
Citizen Watch Co. Ltd. dates to 1918, though the original name, Shokosha Watch Research Institute was changed in 1924 to match the name of a pocket watch the company was selling at that time.
While Citizen has made watches for nearly a century, most of the watches they made during the 20th century did not particularly attract a lot of attention. They were good, durable wristwatches, but they didn’t draw the attention of horology fans quite like Seiko did, partly because Citizen’s products lacked the innovation found in Seiko watches.
That changed in 1995 with the introduction of the Eco-Drive, an efficient quartz-powered watch. Where most quartz watches use a battery that has to be replaced every 2-3 years, the Eco-Drive models are different. They have a rechargeable battery that is powered by a built-in solar cell. The face of the watch is translucent and allows light to pass through the face to the solar cell underneath. This keeps the watch charged and makes regular battery replacement unnecessary.
The Eco-Drive models have been a huge hit and most of the company’s watches are now powered by this technology, which the company says has eliminated the need to dispose of millions of batteries in the meantime.
Citizen was also an early developer of radio-controlled watches that set their time by receiving signals from atomic clocks around the world.
This sort of innovation does attract the attention of watch fans, but Citizen has done even more to become a player on the world stage. What they have been doing in recent years is buying up other watch companies, and today, Citizen is truly a global brand. While still based in Japan, the company has purchased watch companies from around the world, including:
Bulova – This American watch company was founded in New York City in 1875.
Frederique Constant – A luxury Swiss watchmaker that was founded in 1988.
Alpina – A Swiss company founded in 1883 that was formerly owned by Frederique Constant.
Arnold & Son – A Swiss watchmaker of high end timepieces that was founded in 1764.
Citizen also recently acquired La Joux-Perret SA, a Swiss manufacturer of watch movements. This allows them to sell the movements to a variety of other companies who are free to market the finished watches under their own name.
By acquiring a variety of watchmakers from around the world, Citizen has become one of the world’s largest retailers of wristwatches. Not only that, but they have also put themselves in a position to have watches to sell to just about anyone who might want to buy them. Don’t like Swiss watches? They sell American watches in Bulova. Don’t like American watches? They sell Swiss ones and Japanese models.
Want to make a watch and brand it yourself? Citizen can sell you the movements that make that possible.
This sort of smart acquisition along with the development of technology such as the Eco-Drive puts Citizen in a unique position to weather any problems that may come about due to the development of smartwatches, too. If smartwatches become popular and begin to crowd out traditional watches, Citizen can develop their own line or acquire a company that makes them.