Citizen Flagship Store Tokyo, in Ginza Six shopping complex, houses a full line-up of Citizen and Citizen Watch Group brands including Alpina, Arnold & Son, Bulova, Campanola, Frederique Constant Image Credit: Supplied

The year 2018 is an exciting milestone for Citizen as the Japanese watch manufacturer celebrates 100 years of excellence in watchmaking. 

The story of Citizen’s rise is a fascinating one, from a small experimental producer of mechanical pocket watches to a primary player in the quartz-watch revolution that took the industry by storm in the 1970s and ’80s, to the development of the Citizen Eco-Drive, a major force in the quartz watch revolution.

“In 2018, Citizen celebrates its 100th anniversary, and throughout our existence we have continually sought to define the meaning of time,” said Toshio Tokura, President and CEO, Citizen Watch Co Ltd, at this year’s Baselworld. “Time truly is precious, so the tools to measure and communicate time must be accurate, and Citizen’s unwavering mission and pursuit for accuracy has continued since its founding in 1918.”

Picture 1: The first pocket watch called the Citizen; Picture 2: Calibre 0100 Eco-Drive, released this year, pays homage to the first watch made by the company; Picture 3: The Eco-Drive One, the thinnest light-powered watch ever; Picture 4: The new Satellite Wave GPS limited edition model

RICH HISTORY
It all started when Citizen’s forerunner, the Shokosha Watch Research Institute, founded in 1918, produced its first pocket watch called the Citizen. Shimpei Goto, then mayor of Tokyo, named the watch Citizen with the hope that the timepiece, a luxury item in those times, would become widely available to ordinary citizens and be sold throughout the world.

In 1930 the Shokosha Watch Research Institute expanded into a full-fledged watch company with a new name, Citizen Watch Co Ltd, and a new president, Yosaburo Nakajima. Sadly, its progress was halted by the Second World War, which devastated the Japanese watch industry. After the war, however, a new era began for Citizen with the arrival of company president Eiichi Yamada. He created the Citizen Trading Company, which marketed the brand around the world and also focused on its technological development, producing a series of mechanical watches that were breakthroughs in the Japanese watch industry.

Norio Takeuchi, Managing Director, Citizen Watch Co Ltd, says: “It’s always about innovation for us. It’s about new technology and if you take the Baselworld 2018, for example, the Cal 0100 is a completely new technology that we were able to showcase. We are proud to say it’s one of the key highlights at Basel as well. So we will continue to showcase innovations, technology and lot of products and that will be our pursuit, and our objective and goal.”

It was a time of firsts. Citizen introduced Japan’s first calendar watch (1952), shock-resistant watch Parashock (1956), alarm wristwatch Citizen Alarm (1959) and water-resistant watch Parawater (1959). The company debuted its quartz watch, which was accurate to ± 10 seconds per month, in 1973, and in 1975, it brought out the Crystron Mega, the world’s first quartz watch accurate to ± 3 seconds per year.

The Citizen Museum takes you through 100 years of development; (Inset) This autowinding diver’s watch was found underwater in Long Reef Beach, Australia in 1983 in working condition

ECO-DRIVE REVOLUTION

Citizen continued to produce even more accurate watches with longer running times by incorporating its proprietary light-powered technology, Eco-Drive. Introduced to the world in 1976, these watches presented numerous technological advances compared to other solar-powered watches available at the time. This cutting edge technology eliminated the need for large and unsightly power cells, and opened up space for sleek, elegant designs.

The concept behind these watches was the Eco-Drive Calibre 8629 movement, which was the first of its kind. This allowed solar cells to be mounted under the dial, which was translucent enough to let light pass through to power movement and charge the battery. The watches could run from 180 days to up to 7 years on secondary (stored) energy before needing to be recharged by exposure to light.

“This year, as we mark our 100th anniversary, we have achieved yet another milestone: Calibre 0100, an Eco-Drive movement with annual accuracy ± 1 second, which tells the world’s most precise time,” says Tokura. “The Cal 0100 is completely self-sustainable, relying only on a light source and the mechanics of its internal movement to deliver precise timekeeping, autonomously and continuously.”

Unveiled quietly at this year’s Baselworld exhibition, the Citizen Calibre 0100 Eco-Drive — the name refers to Citizen’s 100th anniversary and designed as a homage to the first Citizen pocket watch — is a solar-powered concept pocket watch that is accurate to within ± one second per year thanks to a new movement that incorporates self-correcting technology and the company’s proprietary Eco-Drive power system.

On the brand’s strategy going forward, Takeuchi says, “We have always remained as a citizen brand, a mid-price range product. This will not change. New brands have joined the Citizen Group but they have their own identities and price ranges. This allows us to prioritise our mid-price range even further and we will continue to offer new values in that segment.”

Given the rapid growth of artificial intelligence (AI), does Citizen have a strategy to use this new technology to its advantage? “We talk about it, but we don’t have a company policy per se on how we are going to engage in the development of AI as a technology,” Takeuchi says. “Yes, AI will change our society, but it is not about domination, but streamlining. It will create a whole new area of creative labour. AI is all about making things efficient. We are aware of it and we will take its support if need be.”

Citizen has won the battle for making the world’s most consumer-friendly watches years ago, mainly because it has an unspoken rule that watches should be useful and convenient. With Eco-Drive and other technologies such as radio controlled or GPS time synchronisation, today, Citizen has almost perfected the art of the watch that you never need to adjust.

A meister carefully assembles a watch, as the finest ones involve a lot of hand-assembly and testing, and is a task still handled best by humans

THE FACTORY
A journey through the Citizen watch factory in Nagano Prefecture’s Iida City gives you a glimpse into the entire watchmaking operations. It starts with the making of watch parts, assembling a range of movements, from mass-produced watch analogs to totally hand assembled high-grade mechanical and Eco-Drive watches, testing for defects, and finally assembling of finished watches.

The most interesting stop is the fine watch assembling area, which is the domain of Citizen’s most valued master watchmakers, called meisters. Citizen has three levels of meister, starting with Watchmeister — a title conferred after 10 years of training and experience; Grandmeister, who take 20 years to get the honour; and finally the most celebrated title you can have at Citizen, a Supermeister, who requires 30 years of experience. Currently, they have only one Supermeister, and she’s a woman. Citizen’s sole Supermeister, Hiroko Arai is at the top of the brand’s high-end watchmaking department and she both assembles and repairs watches.

Every Citizen watch is made in-house, including the equipment that helps assemble the watches, with both human and robotic assembly at play