Seiko, established in 1881, is the oldest watch company in Japan and one of the oldest in the entire watch industry. Having established itself early on as a high quality mechanical watch manufacturer, Seiko introduced the first quartz watch in 1969. Globally, the emphasis for the company has been on quartz and kinetic, while Seiko continued producing high quality mechanical watches, primarily for its home market, under the names of Grand Seiko and Credor.
Seiko is one of the few vertically integrated companies in the worldwide watch industry. Seiko makes virtually every part that goes into its mechanical watches, including the mainspring and the balance spring.
Seiko is now making its mechanical watches available to markets outside of Asia with the new Ananta line, the rest of the watch industry better sit up and take notice.
Back when Seiko was first making clocks and watches, everything was mechanical. Seiko quickly earned a reputation for reliable, precise timekeeping. In fact, the name Seiko means ‘accurate’ in Japanese.
ANANTA AUTOMATIC CHRONOGRAPH
There is no tradition of small watchmaking ateliers in Japan, so Seiko couldn't rely on a network like the Swiss have to supply specialized parts. Therefore, Seiko had to do it all themselves, in-house.
“We do everything in-house for the watches, except bracelets and straps,” Seiko Watch Corporation's President and CEO Shinji Hattori says. “We make our own hairsprings, our own mainsprings, all the small parts - we even make the lubricating oil for the watches.
”In the past, Seiko's image was that of a mid-class watch,“he continues.”In the future, we would like to enhance the image of Seiko as a high-end watch manufacturer. We have set our brand image as innovation (technology) and refinement (high class design). We can see that our brand image is going up and up."
Though Seiko's quartz watches are in the upper end range already, it's in mechanicals where the most interesting and expensive work can be done, and Seiko rightly feels mechanical watch expertise is part of the company's DNA.
Seiko has the ability and the production ca-pacity to really make a mark in mechanical watches.
Having Seiko in the entry level mechanical market is good news for the watch industry, because the company is so big, the gospel of mechanical watches can be spread far and wide.
“At the US$2,100 starting point for Ananta’s mechanical watches, we are drawing a line in the sand and saying that we are a true manufacture,” says Les Perry, Executive Vice President, Seiko North America. “The Ananta is a chance for Seiko to showcase what our true abilities really are. It’s what the founding of our company was based on. I want to use Ananta as a launching pad that Seiko is a serious watchmaker of fine timepieces. We are one of the biggest watchmakers in the world.”
Ananta is a great line for retailers, because it has limited distribution, helping retailers stand out.
ANANTA DOUBLE RETROGADE AUTOMATIC
“First of all, Ananta offers a point of differentiation, which retailers need now,” Perry points out. “All across the world, everything is ‘sameness,’ everyone is carrying the same thing. Here is a chance for a retailer to carry something different, which has great value and it’s a great story. As long as we don’t sell it to a thousand different retailers, it will succeed. We are going to market this heavily.”
There is an educational process for the retailer who sells Ananta, however. “There is no question that the buyer of Ananta will be someone who appreciates the value of it, which means that they know who Seiko is,” Perry explains. “The customer who is not well educated won’t understand Seiko for US$2,000 or US$6,000, but the person who knows about us will get it. We have to educate the jewelers. The stores who have done very well with the Spring Drive have key people who love it and explain why it’s so special and why it’s so accurate. That’s what is going to make this successful.”
Entry level watches are the feeder system to the rest of the watch industry, the portal to the glories of high-end watches. “Like anything, customers will get a taste of mechanical watches and they will want the next best thing. It’s like a motorcycle — you ride it, get a taste of it, then start researching your next purchase.”
Seiko may find reinventing its image worldwide challenging – after all, Seiko succeeded during the quartz boom with an ad campaign that proclaimed “Someday, all watches will be made this way!” - but it certainly has the watchmaking heritage, the quality standards, the know how and the financial backing to succeed.
Source: Europa Star August-September 2009 Magazine Issue