a look back in time

24-7 (Singapore) - - J For .... Japanese Horology -

Like much else in re­cent Ja­panese his­tory, mod­ern clock­mak­ing and watch­mak­ing can be traced back to the Meiji Restora­tion of 1868, when the Em­peror Meiji took power from the last Toku­gawa Shogun, end­ing nearly 300 years of rule by the Toku­gawa clan.

In the years fol­low­ing the Meiji Restora­tion, Ja­pan be­gan to adopt some as­pects of Western cul­ture and tech­nol­ogy. The first do­mes­tic pocket watch was pro­duced by the now de­funct Osaka Watch Com­pany in 1895.

One re­tailer of for­eign im­ports was K. Hat­tori & Co., Ltd, es­tab­lished in 1881 in Tokyo’s Ginza dis­trict by Kin­taro Hat­tori. In 1892, Hat­tori es­tab­lished Seikosha Co., Ltd. to man­u­fac­ture wall clocks, fol­lowed by pocket watches three years later. Fi­nally, in 1913 Seikosha made the first Ja­panese wrist­watch, the Lau­rel.

K. Hat­tori & Co., the long­est-es­tab­lished Ja­panese watch­maker still in busi­ness, is the fore­run­ner of to­day’s Seiko Hold­ings Cor­po­ra­tion and its sub­sidiaries and sis­ter com­pa­nies. Seiko, to­gether with Cit­i­zen, now dom­i­nates the Ja­panese watch in­dus­try. The coun­try’s third ma­jor Ja­panese man­u­fac­turer, Ori­ent Watch Co., is a wholly-owned sub­sidiary of Seiko.

Cit­i­zen was a rel­a­tive up­start com­pared to Seiko. The pre­de­ces­sor of Cit­i­zen, the Shokosha Watch Re­search In­sti­tute, was es­tab­lished in 1918, pro­duc­ing its first pocket watch, named “Cit­i­zen”, in 1924. Even­tu­ally the com­pany was re­named Cit­i­zen Watch Co., Ltd. in 1930, with the brand’s first wrist­watch com­ing a year later.

To­day both Seiko and Cit­i­zen are multi­bil­lion dol­lar pub­lic cor­po­ra­tions, with a string of sub­sidiaries in mul­ti­ple busi­nesses, as is the habit of large Ja­panese com­pa­nies. Cit­i­zen not only makes watches, but also thermometers, blood-pres­sure mon­i­tors, mo­bile phone hinges and even pachinko ball dis­pensers.

Seiko and Cit­i­zen each pro­duce sev­eral hun­dred mil­lion watches and move­ments an­nu­ally, the bulk of which are ba­sic and made in China and other coun­tries where pro­duc­tion costs are low.

Seiko’s founder Kin­taro Hat­tori (above) es­tab­lished a watch re­tail busi­ness in Tokyo in 1881 In 1892, Hat­tori set up Seikosha to make wall clocks

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