07/05/2023
 6 minutes

Uncovering The Wonderful World Of Japanese Watch Brands

By Jorg Weppelink
Kurono-Tokyo-Bunkyo-2-1

Most people probably associate Japanese watchmaking with cheap quartz watches, but anyone who knows a bit more about the industry will tell you that there is a lot more to uncover when it comes to Japanese watch companies. There is a rich tradition of mechanical watchmaking in Japan that dates back to the late 19th century. While the Japanese tradition may not be as old as the Swiss, it’s at least as interesting. If you’re familiar with Japanese culture, you’ll know that the Japanese place great value on precision and craftsmanship. So, let’s start by looking at the history of the first Japanese watch brands.

The first Japanese watch was produced in 1879, but it wasn’t until Kintaro Hattori founded Seikosha Co. Ltd. in 1892 that watches were produced in larger numbers. You’ll probably recognize the first half of the company name; yes, Hattori was the founder of Seiko, the most famous Japanese watch brand today. In 1913, the company introduced its first wristwatch, the Laurel. Laurel watches were originally made for officers in the Japanese Army, and were powered by pocket watch movements. More importantly, however, the Laurel marked the beginning of a tradition of crafting remarkable Japanese wristwatches. Japanese watchmakers initially created watches inspired by western – mainly Swiss – brands. It wasn’t until 1960, with the introduction of the first Grand Seiko and King Seiko watches, that Japanese watchmaking got its own identity thanks to Seiko’s “Grammar of Design.” This was just one aspect of the Japanese quest for excellence in the industry.

The watch world was forever changed in 1969, following the introduction of the Seiko Astron, the world’s first quartz watch. While we often associate quartz watches with cheap timepieces, the Astron was actually a result of the same quest for excellence, namely a desire for improved accuracy. Thus, the watch world as we knew it was gone, and Japanese watchmaking became synonymous with cheap, mass-produced quartz watches. These watches would go on to take the world by storm and bring the Swiss watch industry to its knees. Swiss watchmaking eventually recovered in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and at the same time, the Japanese watch industry rediscovered its passion for mechanical watchmaking. As a result, we have since seen a string of watch brands out of Japan, both big and small, make a name for themselves in the watch world.

The Best Japanese Watch Brands

  1. Seiko
  2. Grand Seiko
  3. Credor
  4. Orient
  5. Citizen
  6. Casio
  7. Minase
  8. Hajime Asaoka
  9. Kurono Tokyo
  10. Kikuchi Nakagawa

Seiko

Most people have heard of Seiko, even if they don’t know much about watches. The brand is a well-respected name in the industry, known for pushing boundaries both in terms of craftsmanship and innovation. Seiko’s portfolio consists of five different product lines, the most famous of which is the Prospex series of professional divers. The second most popular is the stylish Presage collection, followed by the Seiko 5 Sports, which offers great affordable timepieces and is home to some of the brand’s most colorful collaborations. The fourth is the Astron collection, which combines cutting-edge design with the latest technology, and finally, the retro King Seiko series celebrates incredible timepieces from the 1960s. There is literally something for everyone and every budget.

Read more: Seiko: The most affordable entry-level watch brand

The Seiko Prospex Street Series offers a wide variety of colors and bands to choose from.
The Seiko Prospex Street series offers a wide variety of colors and bands to choose from.

Grand Seiko

While King Seiko falls under the Seiko umbrella, Grand Seiko is its own separate brand within the larger Seiko Group. The manufacturer was founded in 1960, with the intention of creating the best watches in the world. You may have already heard the story of how King Seiko and Grand Seiko pushed each other to release some amazing mechanical timepieces back in the sixties, but thanks to the quartz revolution, much of that ground to a halt. However, the Grand Seiko name didn’t disappear, and has since grown into a renowned luxury brand that crafts some of the finest watches on the market today. These watches are characterized by their remarkable designs and incredible mechanical, Spring Drive, and quartz movements that offer high levels of accuracy and unmatched finishing. These attributes have made Grand Seiko a brand for true watch aficionados.

Read more: Why is Grand Seiko getting increasingly more attention from serious collectors?

Grand Seiko Hi-Beat SLGH005
Grand Seiko Hi-Beat SLGH005

Credor

While Grand Seiko offers the highest level of technical excellence, Credor offers the ultimate in luxury. The brand is also part of the Seiko Group and has a lineup of incredible watches that draw on unique materials and techniques, resulting in nothing short of spectacular timepieces. Credor is still a relatively unknown name for many enthusiasts, but once you’ve seen a Credor in real life, you won’t forget it. The craftsmanship is literally the best Japanese watchmaking has to offer.

Credor Eichi II

Orient

Another Japanese brand that many people are familiar with is Orient. While Orient is also part of the Seiko Group, it’s in a different division than Seiko and Grand Seiko. Nevertheless, it’s often linked to the Seiko name. Orient has been around since 1950 and offers great watches with incredible value for money – a plus point for many watch fans. On top of that, the brand’s collection is very extensive, so there is something for everyone.

Big Mako RA-AA0009L19B
Orient Big Mako RA-AA0009L19B

Citizen

Next to Seiko, Citizen is the other major brand in Japanese watchmaking. It’s likewise predominantly known for its cheap, mass-produced quartz watches, but the brand also has a rich tradition of making mechanical and solar-powered watches. The brand offers a series of mechanical professional diving watches, some of which are highly-regarded classics. Overall, Citizen has a wide collection of stylish pieces that are very affordable. The watchmaker has also created some more expensive high-end timepieces in collaboration with the Swiss movement maker La Joux-Perret.

Citizen Eco Drive
Citizen Eco-Drive

Casio and the G-Shock

In 1983, Casio introduced their G-Shock model, which turned into a cultural phenomenon and huge commercial success. Now, forty years later, the brand continues to produce timepieces according to the “Triple 10” concept, i.e., shock resistance to withstand a 10-meter drop, water resistance to 10 bar (100 m), and a 10-year battery life. At Casio, function comes first, even after becoming a cultural phenomenon. Over the last decade or so, the G-Shock has started moving into more exclusive territory by introducing new luxury materials, top-notch finishing, and more innovative functions.

A G-Shock is a fun and practically indestructible watch.
The G-Shock is a fun and practically indestructible watch.

Minase

The Japanese watch industry is also home to some amazing small independent brands that are pushing the boundaries of watchmaking. One of the most well-known among watch fans is Minase. This brand was founded in 2005, and is known for crafting watches with remarkable case designs and the highest levels of finishing. Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe wore a Minase, and all over the world, watch fans have grown to love the brand.

Hajime Asaoka

Hajime Asaoka is one of Japan’s most prominent and well-respected independent watchmakers. Asaoka is self-taught and learned the trade by reading the tome Watchmaking by world-famous watchmaker George Daniels and watching endless YouTube videos. The timepieces he creates are technological marvels that combine the best in independent high-end watchmaking and incredible levels of detail.

Kurono Tokyo

If you’re a fan of Hajime Asaoka, but don’t have a large budget, there’s no need to worry. Kurono Tokyo was founded by Asaoka and creates affordable timepieces that use third-party movements combined with the high watchmaking standards Asaoka holds so dear. While he doesn’t work on the watches himself, they all feature his name on the case back; it’s a seal of approval that these affordable timepieces are crafted according to his standards. This has made Kuruno Tokyo one of the most popular smaller brands among true watch fans.

Kurono Tokyo Bunkyo by Hajime Asaoka Salmon Pink Dial
Kurono Tokyo Bunkyo by Hajime Asaoka Salmon Pink Dial

Kikuchi Nakagawa

The last small independent brand I’d like to discuss is Kikuchi Nakagawa. The name of the brand comes from the surnames of watchmakers Yusuki Kikuchi and Tomonari Nakagawa, both of whom are exceptional in their field. You’ll have to wait 8–10 years for one of their timepieces, but if you have the time and money, the watch you’ll receive is nothing short of breathtaking. The watch designs are inspired by classics from Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin, but each has its own twist and boasts the absolute gold standard in finishing.

Kikuchi Nakagawa is the perfect closer to this list of Japanese watch brands. If you want to learn more about the incredible levels of skill in the Japanese watch industry, take a deep dive into any of the brands on this list. You’ll soon discover that a unique eye for detail and incredible levels of craftsmanship lead to some amazing products coming out of Japan. The Land of the Rising Sun is an incredible market to explore, and if you do, be prepared to find some of the most impressive timepieces available today.


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About the Author

Jorg Weppelink

Hi, I'm Jorg, and I've been writing articles for Chrono24 since 2016. However, my relationship with Chrono24 goes back a bit longer, as my love for watches began …

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