It’s the second milestone year in a row for Seiko, and Japan’s leading watchmaker is expected to be even busier. Following last year’s marking of the 55th anniversary of its first diver’s watch, (which also has the distinction of being the first of its kind in Japan) and the 60th year of Grand Seiko, the brand is now blowing 140 candles since its 1881 founding.
In an online media event, executives led by Seiko Watch Corporation Chairman and CEO Shinji Hattori veritably charted the company’s immediate future with a decisive backward glance at its rich past.
“Always one step ahead of the rest,” said Hattori, quoting his grandfather and Seiko founder Kintaro Hattori’s credo. This guiding principle was underscored by a desire to make the company self-sufficient – to be able to craft timepieces that were different and better.
Crucially, the mantra was meaningful in that Kintaro “never wanted Seiko to innovate for the sake of innovation,” continued Shinji. “Not many steps ahead. Just one step ahead (because the needs of the customers) are first.” This speaks to the relevance that the company wants to maintain. It’s a branding exercise, yes, but also a roadmap for how Seiko is navigating its future.
Kintaro Hattori’s commitment is being renewed in 2021 as “Moving ahead. Touching hearts,” emphasizing the “emotional connection with customers” that Seiko wants to keep.
While 2020, said Seiko President, COO, and CMO Shuji Takahashi, was “a terrible year for everyone,” he noted that it was not as bad as expected. In fact, Seiko (especially Grand Seiko) did better in many markets compared to 2019. In the US, Grand Seiko rose to fourth among watch brands in the US$5,000 to US$10,000 price range.
“We have good reason to be optimistic in 2021,” declared Takahashi.
GS and Prospex out front
For this year at least, the Seiko brain trust has deigned it to be a period for pushing two lines. Continued Takahashi, “We see tremendous potential for Grand Seiko and Prospex in particular.”
Indeed, this push is expressed through collections just unveiled. Grand Seiko is doubling down on its “Nature of Time” brand philosophy with a four-salvo release of GMT watches inspired by four Japanese “sekki” or seasonal phases (in Japan, there are 24 distinct seasons, not four). Dials are rendered in textures and colors that represent these. Grand Seiko also releases a new Spring Drive Chronograph with gold highlights, a jewelry watch with mother-of-pearl and green garnets, and a Hi-Beat 36000 9SA5-driven mechanical with a delicate wood grain pattern on its dial. Prospex, on the other hand, releases a recreation of its popular and iconic Alpinist of 1959 and three reinterpretations of the same.
Again, Seiko is grateful for its sales performance – particularly in the Asia Pacific region – last year. Director and Senior Vice Presiden Yoshikatsu Kawada averred that this is a product of strong brand communications, and the “seamless” spectrum of pricing from the most affordable Seiko 5 to the grandest Grand Seiko.
The message is clear: There’s definitely a Seiko for everyone.