It is said that the first mechanical watch came to Japan with the Spanish missionary Francisco Xavier. But their own workshops for the manufacture of such an important item appeared in Japan only when watches became a popular product supplied here from Europe.
For the next three centuries, Japan was closed from the outside world due to its policy of isolation. After the “curtain” was lifted, many European and American watches immediately came to the country, the demand for these products increased even more with the transition of Japan to the solar calendar instead of the lunar one.
The Japanese watch industry, on the other hand, was in its infancy. Only a few companies in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Kyoto have created a small range of pocket and wall clocks. But even those products were mostly imported copies. In December 1881, 22-year-old Kintaro Hattori, who by that time had already spent seven years studying watchmaking, opened his own shop in Tokyo selling wall and pocket clocks, as well as their repair.
The young businessman bought foreign copies in Yokohama, but not only resold them, like ordinary merchants did, but also repaired. Hattori quickly realized that watchmaking had good prospects in Japan. In 1892, he opened his own factory, convinced that his product could be cheaper than imported, and therefore more popular. Hattori named his company Seikosha (Seikosha). In Japanese, the word Seiko means exact.
At first, only primitive hand-operated machines were present in production. But in just a month and a half, a dozen and a half workers were able to produce just over a dozen wall clocks. It was easier to create them than pocket ones. And the low cost of such a product made it possible to compete more successfully with a foreign product.
Things gradually began to improve, a year later the workers moved to a new, more spacious complex. There were already machine tools set in motion by a steam engine. The system of mass production organized by Hattori turned out to be much more effective than previous methods. This allowed Seikosha to become Japan's premier wall clock manufacturer in just six to seven years.
The head of the company saw the prospects well, was in control of the situation in the home and international market. Hattori decided not to dwell on only one type of watch, while most watch companies preferred not to expand their range. First, the businessman traveled to America and Europe, where he bought a lot of machine tools, including automatic ones. This allowed both to increase productivity and establish uniform standards. Over time, factories for the production of table and pocket watches were further expanded to be able to install productive machines of their own production.
The history of Seiko is a classic example of how skillful management can turn even natural and social disasters to their advantage. At the beginning of the last century, the Japanese economy was in a protracted crisis. And although the demand for clocks, mainly table and wall clocks, increased sharply after the end of the Russian-Japanese war of 1904-1905, the financial crisis did not allow the business to develop.
The First World War played a surprisingly positive role. She made Japanese industry flourish. In Western countries, there was a shortage of goods, while imports to the islands themselves fell sharply. This has resulted in a sharp increase in demand for Japanese products. There was a real boom in the light industry, some of the products were also exported.
Unexpectedly, wrist watches became popular. The era of common family devices for measuring time has ended and the time has come for individual ones. The first wrist watches from Seikosha appeared already in 1913. If in 1916 only 12% of the company's total production had such variations, then by 1922 the share had already increased to 60%. Seikosha alarm clocks entered the Chinese market, displacing German products there. And in 1915, the company received an order for the manufacture of six hundred thousand watches for Great Britain and another three hundred thousand for France. However, fate dealt another blow to the company - its factories were destroyed in 1923 by the Great Kanto Earthquake.
The company immediately set about rebuilding. First, temporary buildings were built, and a year later Seikosha again released several types of watches. And in 1933, the construction of new factory premises with the most modern machine tools was completed. It was then that the wristwatches began to be produced under the modern name Seiko. The pocket ones came out under the Seikosha brand. And to increase the volume of production, a subsidiary company Daini Seikosha (Second Seikosha) was soon created.
First, the Japanese-Chinese war, and then the Second World War, forced watchmakers to completely switch to the production of military products. But the company also showed itself here - the chronometers created by the order of the fleet worked better than their Swiss counterparts. Only now the consumer goods market in the country has been reduced to a minimum, but the experience of the war years provided a good basis for the further development of the company. Japan's post-war economy received a clear export orientation, and it is no coincidence that the watch industry received special attention.
In 1948, the Ministry of Foreign Trade even held a competition for the best watch, which markedly affected the quality of the product. The watch boom was spurred on by another war, the Korean War, in 1954. The Japanese economy was clearly picking up. As the demand for watches increased, so did labor productivity with the quality of the goods. The Japanese were carefully analyzing the experience of their competitors from Switzerland, preparing for a new big step.
In the mid-50s, the efforts of the shock ten-year made themselves felt. Japanese watchmakers stopped copying their Western counterparts, experiencing the rise. Seiko has set itself an ambitious goal - to create wristwatches that would follow exactly international standards. At the same time, it was necessary to give a quality product an opportunity to compete in quality with Swiss brands.
In 1956, the first Japanese self-winding model, the 11 Line Seiko Automatic, was released. And nothing that the Swiss made automatic watches a quarter of a century ago. Seiko continued the pursuit with the 1963 Sportmatic 5, a water-resistant self-winding watch with a calendar. This product became the prototype of the modern Seiko 5, and then became the de facto world standard.
But the main blow to the Europeans was the ultra-precise Grand Seiko wrist watches, which even surpassed Swiss chronometers in a number of parameters. This was how the success of Seiko's products began. Her mechanical and quartz watches have repeatedly won prizes in various competitions, including those held by astronomical observatories.
No matter how much European watchmakers wanted to deny, but the Japanese manufacturer has become a strong competitor for them. Seiko won another victory when the company was elected as the official timekeeper of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. This is how the company declared itself to the whole world and ensured the brand's popularity.
In 1957, the first electronic watch from Seiko, powered by a Hamilton battery, was released. The manufacturer quickly considered the potential of quartz watches, focusing on their development. But for ten years the company's engineers have been working on the creation of the world's first watch using a quartz crystal, the model was named Seiko Quartz Astron 35 SQ.
Seiko created open-type motors, second-hand movement and tuning-fork quartz resonators, all of which, together with numerous other inventions of the company's engineers, soon became the standard for analog quartz watches.
From the mid-70s to the mid-80s, the demand for quartz watches only grew, and this was in the face of fierce competition. Such digital watches that came to the American market began to replace mechanical "oldies" with an anchor mechanism. Analog quartz movements soon became a product of their own, which was bought by other companies working as assemblers.
The global industry was changing rapidly. Against this background, Japanese manufacturers, with their automated lines operating around the clock, gradually took leading positions. In the mid-70s, Seiko became the leader in the mass production of quartz movements. The company soon acquired the status of a global brand, surpassing even many Swiss in popularity. And after creating quartz watches, Seiko began developing an automatic power generation system. This would eliminate the need for batteries, as previously it was possible to move away from the use of a mainspring.
So in 1988, the world's first self-generating quartz movement, Kinetic, appeared. Thanks to quartz, it was possible to achieve a revolution in accuracy, digital quartz marked a revolution in data display, it was the turn of a revolution in energy. Introducing the Kinetic watch to the market, Seiko used a loud slogan: "Someday all watches will be like this." Soon the Swiss proposed something similar, calling it autoquartz.
Seiko has shown that it is not going to be satisfied with what has already been achieved, proposing and developing new ideas for accurate timing. Today, the company employs more than 18 thousand people, which make it possible to earn more than $ 1.5 billion annually.