CITIZEN’S CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION
The Japanese watchmaker celebrates its 100th birthday this year. Here is a look at the brand’s past, its future, and why Citizen is bigger – and more influential – than ever.
| e Japanese watchmaker celebrates its 100th birthday this year. We take a look at the brand’s past, its future, and why Citizen is bigger — and more influential — than ever before.
— Citizen has been one of the most recognized watch brands in the world over the past five decades. However, this was not always the case. One hundred years ago, the Japanese watch industry was basically nonexistent. In fact, it took the blessing of an emperor, the influence of the Tokyo mayor and a mantra focused on accessibility to get Citizen off the ground.
In the early 20th century, the entirety of the Japanese watch market was controlled by the powerhouses of horology at the time: Switzerland and the United States. A Tokyo jeweler named Kamekichi Yamazaki realized that producing timepieces domestically would be more financially prudent for the country. In 1918, he founded the Shokosha Watch Research Institute, which would primarily focus on experiments in pocketwatch production during its initial years. Yamazaki and his team took their time before finally releasing their first product in December of 1924, the Citizen Caliber 16 pocketwatch. e watch’s name came from
the then-mayor of Tokyo, Shinpei Goto, who was acquainted with Yamazaki. Goto’s reasoning was that while watches were by-and-large considered luxury items (they still are), Yamazaki was planning on making his timepieces more accessible to the everyday person. Goto believed that Yamazaki could one day make a watch that could be enjoyed by all the citizens of Japan. Little did he know that Citizen would one day help lead the Japanese watch industry through the Quartz Revolution (a Crisis to the rest of the watchmaking world) and into becoming one of the top producing watch firms of all time.
It was around this time that the Emperor of Japan, Hirohito, was rumored to receive the first of the Caliber 16 models as a gift from Yamazaki. While pocketwatches weren’t a strange appearance in the Imperial Palace, the fact that this one was produced domestically so impressed the young leader that he sent a note to Yamazaki encouraging him to keep moving forward.
Growth was slow in those early years and, in 1930, the Shokosha Watch Research Institute was reorganized into an official company with new leadership and a new name. is was when Citizen Watch Co. Ltd. was officially born. e 1930s marked an impressive period of growth as Citizen began exporting timepieces to Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. By 1939, Japan’s total watch production exceeded 5 million units for the first time with Citizen as a major force.
Unfortunately, World War II disrupted Japanese watch production in a devastating fashion. Citizen factories were damaged by Allied bombs and production was moved outside of Tokyo. It would take 20 years for Japan to surpass 5 million annual units again.
What Citizen lacked in production capacity during this time, it made up for in internal development. e year 1949 saw the birth of the Citizen Trading Company, which focused on selling and marketing the Citizen brand worldwide. In the 1950s, Citizen had a series of domestic breakthroughs including Japan’s first calendar wristwatch, first shock-resistant wristwatch, first alarm wristwatch and first water-resistant wristwatch. In 1958, the brand introduced its first automatic movement, the 21-jewel Caliber 3 KA.
It was around this time that the American brand Bulova (who entered into an importexport agreement with Citizen in 1960) changed the watch world forever with the Accutron, the world’s first electronic watch. Citizen responded with the Tokorozawa Technical Laboratory in 1964 that was completely focused on the development of electronic watches. Two years later, Citizen released the X-8, Japan’s first electronic timepiece.
anks in part to the X-8 and Japan’s technological know-how, Citizen was primed and ready
for the advent of quartz. While rival Seiko introduced the first commercial quartz wristwatch in December of 1969, Citizen unveiled the Citizen Mega Quartz, the world’s most accurate timepiece at plus/minus 3 seconds per year in 1975. Over the next few years, Citizen would bring to market a new world first every year, including, in 1976, the first solar-powered quartz analog timepiece, foreshadowing Citizen’s legendary Eco-drive movement, and, in 1981, the world’s first watch with internal IC temperature compensation.
During the early 1980s, as most watch enthusiasts know, Switzerland fell behind Japan in watch production in the face of the Quartz Crisis. Emperor Hirohito, who was still on the throne at the time, must have been pleased to see Japan conquer the global watch industry during his lifetime. By 1986, Citizen was building 80 million watches and movements each year, which accounted for 40 percent of Japan’s total watch production. at same year, Citizen assumed the title of the world’s largest watch producer, something they would hold for the rest of the century.
Since that landmark year, there have been a number of key moments for the brand; however, none have been more historically relevant than the introduction of the solar-powered Eco-drive in 1995 that continues to be Citizen’s most wellknown and best-selling line. ere are two factors that have led to this massive success and have kept the technology close to Citizen’s founding ethos of accessibility above all: eco-friendliness and affordability. In 2007, Citizen said that Ecodrive technology had eliminated the need for the disposal of 10 million batteries in North America. And, since most Eco-drive models can be found at retail for under $500 and many for under $300, the line has become prevalent on the wrists of even the most budget-minded enthusiasts. Yamazaki would be proud.
Over the past decade, Citizen has made a number of industry-shaking moves. e first came in 2008 when it purchased the longtime American horological stalwart Bulova for $246.7 million from the Loews Corporation. is acquisition demonstrated Citizen’s commitment to the American market, which it has long regarded as its most important. Under the Citizen name, Bulova has flourished with lines such as the Precisionist/uhf, which showcases Bulova’s and Citizen’s shared historical pursuit for greater accuracy.
While the addition of Bulova to the ranks of the Citizen Group may have been a surprise to some, the two brands’ long history of working together made the move easy to comprehend. What came next, however, was a shock to many. In 2012, Citizen announced its first move into the Swiss market with the purchase of Manufacture La Joux-perret, a prominent producer of movements for the Swiss industry and the owner of high-end brands such as Arnold & Son and Angelus.
Finally, in 2016, Citizen again sent shock waves across the watch industry with the purchase of the small Swiss group Frederique Constant Holding SA and the three brands underneath its umbrella: Frederique Constant, Alpina and Ateliers demonaco.
e development of companies and brands outside of Citizen’s own was a major change in strategy and might have been confusing from an outside perspective. What Citizen has done here is not only consolidate its market share but also reach new demographics plus appeal to enthusiasts and collectors in new and different ways.
Jeffrey Cohen, the President of Citizen Watch America, puts it like this: “e Citizen brand is the machine that drives the group with a watch portfolio that focuses on technology: Eco-drive, Satellite, Atomic and Super Titanium with a product offering in all price points and style. e Bulova brand is our ‘affordable luxury’ brand with classic styling and details. A brand steeped in its American heritage with an ongoing archive series collection. Alpina, now going into the Swiss categories, we really see it as our affordable sport-luxury category collection. Filling a gap in the marketplace that’s really been left open in a big way [after] other brands shifted direction, certainly over the last few years. And, Frederique Constant, again, being at a company that’s vertically integrated, with Swiss movement manufacturing and
classic styling at a moderate price point, that’s a big deal. Being vertical and bringing products to marketplace at attainable price points so everybody can enjoy luxury. And, with Ateliers demonaco and Arnold & Son, we are speaking about high precision, superior-quality timepieces for the upper luxury market.”
And, it’s true. All the brands the Citizen Group now controls are still honed in on the idea that luxury should be enjoyed by everybody. Even in regards to Arnold & Son and Angelus, the timepieces they’re producing, while certainly expensive, are much more accessible than their Swiss counterparts. For example, the Arnold & Son Globetrotter, released this year at Baselworld and priced at slightly under $17,000, presents a certain value for its manufacture movement, handlacquered globe and high degree of finishing. Same with the Angelus U50 Diver Tourbillon at around $30,000. A skeletonized, titanium dive watch with a tourbillon, a depth rating of 300 meters and an in-house movement is unheard of in the watch industry.
With all these acquisitions in a relatively short time frame, the Citizen Group is investing in its future and the future of watchmaking. More brands mean more customers, which means even more watches of different styles and abilities for collectors and enthusiasts of all levels to enjoy.
“We see [the growth of the Citizen group portfolio] as a win-win because there are economies of scale we are able to realize as a group. ere are savings by consolidation of back-end operations, adopting best business practices across the brands and using our group business to negotiate the best prices for our advertising, collateral and services,” says Cohen. “But very, very importantly, as our portfolio continues to expand, we are making sure that each brand maintains its own DNA and voice. We think we have a business model here that’s innovative, that’s very much on trend for today. It allows us to continue to bring to the consumer new things, new ideas and the latest and greatest. And that’s what this company’s all about. How do we bring the latest and greatest to the marketplace in all of the cross spectrums of pricing and innovation? At the end of the day, it’ll lead to increased market share, but we want to have, again going back to the model of the group, we want more people to enjoy our products.”
Heroes & Audiences
Citizen’s future is no longer solely tied into how well it innovates horology and brings new timepieces to market. is year at Baselworld, the brand announced a partnership with Disney, which is not only a major marketing milestone but it might be the biggest deal of its kind in watchmaking history.
While Citizen continues to grow with a larger brand portfolio, Disney is growing in unprecedented ways. From Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar, to the classic animated films and the theme parks that attract millions every year, there’s a reason why becoming an alliance partner with Disney is highly coveted.
As part of the long-term promotional alliance, the Citizen logo will be displayed on the Main Street U.S.A. clocks in Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Park at Disneyland Resort. e logo will be displayed on select attraction Fastpass clocks located throughout Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, and Shanghai Disney. Citizen will also have global music licensing opportunities, a Red Carpet sponsorship for Marvel Avengers: Infinity War and its 2019 sequel, a sponsor of the Marvel Minute, and official timekeeper of the Run Disney Run Races at Walt Disney World, among other lucrative possibilities.
ere are a number of noteworthy factors here for watch enthusiasts that go beyond typical marketing spiel. Believe it or not, the Main Street
USA clocks found across the global Disney properties are some of the most photographed and recognized clocks in the world. And, remarkably, this is the first time that Disney is allowing a brand to put its logo on it, meaning Citizen will have a previously untapped reach into Disney’s worldwide demographic.
From a pure marketing standpoint, there’s a certain brand pedigree that Disney maintains that puts it in a realm by itself among global business entities. e fact that it has never had a watch partner of this caliber is remarkable not only for Disney’s overall reach but for how it will imprint Citizen’s watchmaking capabilities onto future collectors and enthusiasts.
“Imagine going to a park with the kids, the parents, and the grandparents,” explains Cohen. “You’re cutting across three generations. You’re onboarding a future consumer, you’re talking to probably someone who has had the brand in their [life] and then also looking for someone that’s looking to buy a watch today. So we are very excited about the potential this alliance agreement offers to us to reach a global audience across multiple demographics.”
Looking to the Past for Future Inspiration
is year, Citizen tapped into its history and brought back one of its underappreciated vintage models. Back in the 1970s, Citizen was not only known for quartz and electronic timepieces, but also for producing a line of bullhead chronographs. ese have been highly collectible for many years and are popular among vintage enthusiasts. e new collection, powered by Eco-drive, takes its design influences from a 1972 chronograph known as the Challenge Timer, and from its successor, the 1973 Tsuno Chrono (“horned chronograph” in Japanese), for which the modern piece is named. ese are purely funky timepieces that bring forward a colorful moment in Citizen’s history that might be unknown to the modern collector.
Cohen describes the choice to release the Tsuno Chronograph Racer as three-fold.
“For the past few years we have been rebuilding the Promaster franchise with new models for air, land and sea,” he says. “We felt that since this year we were celebrating our 100- year anniversary that it would be an appropriate time to look back into our heritage for inspiration for a new model to launch in the land category. Launching this model in Promaster with a handassembled movement pays homage to our roots.”
However, the most intriguing news out of Baselworld for fans of Citizen’s horological innovation is something that would be a pure fantasy for Yamazaki, Hirohito and Goto despite coming in packaging they would undoubtedly recognize. e concept Caliber 0100 was unveiled inside a pocketwatch designed in tribute to the original Citizen Caliber 16 and boasts an accuracy of plus/minus 1 second per year. Utilizing a newly developed movement powered by Eco-drive technology, the concept watch is now the world’s most accurate timekeeper with an internal regulator.
Citizen designed a brand-new At-cut quartz oscillator for the Caliber 0100 that lessens the effect that shifts in temperature and gravity have on overall accuracy. is is in part due to the smaller vibrations produced by the oscillator and its ability to monitor and adjust the frequency for temperature variations. Where an average tuning-forkstyle quartz oscillator vibrates at a frequency of 32,768 Hz, the Caliber 0100's new oscillator operates at 8.4 MHZ or 8,388,608 Hz. Citizen was able to build a new Eco-drive movement that could adapt to the level of electricity needed for this vibrational frequency that allows the watch to run for six months without a charge. is new movement is viewable through an exhibition caseback in the pocketwatch example and, if you look at the indexes and seconds hand on the dial, you’ll see a hexagonal design inspired by the quartz crystal. e Caliber 0100 also features superior shock resistance and an ability to automatically adjust the positioning of the hands in case of impact. Although it was unveiled as a not-for-sale concept at Baselworld this year, Citizen promises it will be available in future timepieces starting as soon as 2019.
Unlike other industries, hitting triple digits isn’t unheard of in the watch world. In fact, when the foundation of Citizen was established in 1918, Japanese watchmakers faced a 300-year hurdle compared to the Swiss who had been perfecting the mechanical movement since the 1600s. Looking at the past 50 years or so, what Citizen has done makes its centennial anniversary even more impressive. And, a closer look at the past decade, with the development of its brand portfolio and the new partnership with Disney, demonstrates how Citizen is uniquely prepared to move into its next 100 years with ease.
Happy Birthday, Citizen.
10 1.) An original Citizen pocketwatch from 19242.) One of the first Citizen wristwatches, 19313.) A vintage Citizen bullhead chronograph from the 1970s4.) Movement inspection in the early years of Citizen5.) A woman processes main plates.
9 6.) Testing the water resistance capabilities of the Citizen Parawater, Japan’s first water resistant watch7.) CEO and President of Citizen Watch Co. Toshio Tokura8.) Emperor Hirohito9.) Tokyo Mayor Shinpei Goto10.) Kamekichi Yamazaki
This ad of the Marvel superhero Thor charging an Eco-drive watch with his lightning powers is an example of the crossover branding opportunities between Disney and Citizen.
Released at Baselworld 2018, (top) the Citizen Tsuno Chronograph Racer and (above) the Citizen Caliber 0100 with an accuracy of +/- 1 second per year