Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Citizen vs. Seiko


Citizen as we know it today was birthed in 1918. They are currently one of the very few manufacturers who possess the ability to make every watch component in house, the machines used to make them (Our Citizen R04), as well as electronic components and lubricants. However it was only formally named as such some six years after in 1924 when they produced their first timepiece. The mayor of Tokyo, Mr Shimpei Goto, wanted a watch available to the general citizen and loved by citizens of the world, so he named this first time piece as such. ‘Citizen’ was then taken on as the company’s namesake - whether they liked the name or it was taken on out of respect, I was unable to divine.

Of course, Seiko was already making watches and pocket watches for the everyday wear of its Japanese and even international customers having been in business for about forty years at this point. However that did not stop Citizen from making rapid growth in the manufacturing and development of horological technologies. The two would battle it out for horological glory for the century to come.

Fast forward to the quartz era beginning in the late 60s. Seiko, leading the charge, had just released the Astron; the very first production quartz watch, in 1969. As they were already the official timekeeper for Japanese railways, it was soon after that the quartz movement was adopted and issued over its longstanding mechanical predecessor due to its higher accuracy in timekeeping standard. However this did not happen immediately as the Astron release price was about the price of a mid size car. From this point on for competitor horological companies across the globe, it was quite literally adapt or die. Enter citizen.

The first quartz rail pocket watches were plagued with not having a large enough amount of torque to turn those classic thick and heavy ‘Seiko style’ hands that were a requirement by the Japanese government to have on an issued pocket watch. Stepper motor technology was very much in its infancy. So the hands generally were made as thin as they were allowed. Citizen however, ever developing their pieces, had already produced in 1967 the first ever transistorised quartz clock - the Crystron. This movement had a larger amount of torque produced and supplied to the gear train than the currently produced quartz movements of Seiko. The technology was later miniaturised so that in 1973, the Crystron Pocket watch was born. Competitor to the Astron and a powerhouse movement in its own right, Citizen took the Cold War-esq arms race to the next level. In 1976 there were three world firsts. Seiko produced the first rail issued quartz pocket watch with an accuracy of within 10 seconds per month with their 38RW based on the 3870a movement. Citizen produced a Crystron movement with an accuracy of within 3 seconds...per year, and they also released the first solar powered quartz analogue watch. Since then citizen has been at the forefront of extremely high accuracy Quartz movements, and it all started with the Crystron.

What we can see from the comparison photo of the Crystron and Seiko pocket watch of the same decade can only be described as either an homage to a Japanese design so ingrained in the country's industry and persona they simply had to use it, or a plain and simple dial grab to bump sales. I’d like to think the former. What is interesting to note however is the hands on the Crystron. A little thinner, and inversely skeletonised to remove as much weight as possible to assist that power consumption. Irrespective of the size of their massive coil!

The Crystron is certainly a timepiece with a rich history not only in the tit for tat race between two Japanese giants, but horological development on a global scale. Your average modern Swiss quartz watch, a Seamaster or Cartier, even with an additional fifty years of multi-industrial development, is accurate to about 3 seconds per month.


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