A few weeks ago, I had a fascinating discussion with an American or British watchmaker in Japan about about the origin of the watches discussed in this forum
The watchmaker works in Japan repairing Swiss and German watches for jewelry stores, and I was initially advising him about using metal polish to smooth rough bearings in a watchmaker's lathe he had been given (I do machining and know a lot about lathes). He said he could probably find an American or German brand of polish to use for this rather than a local Japanese brand, "because long experience in the watch business here has left me with the feeling that everything Japanese made be it tools or abrassives of any sort are close to worthless. My Japanese colleagues feel the same way."
I was pretty surprised at this, and we started talking about Japanese watches. He said that all of his customers "sell almost exclusively in their shops nothing but Swiss and German, because this is what Japanese consumers want." I said I preferred the honesty and solid workmanship of Japanese mechanical watches to "the advertising pufferies of Switzerland," and I also liked that Seiko and Orient made all their own mechanical movements in house instead of doing like the Swiss -- buying movements from Swatch, tarting them up with decorations, and pretending to the public that they make their own watches.
It turned out that the main reason he doesn't like Japanese watches is that you can't get parts for them, but he also said that he knew from the Japanese watch trade press that Seiko makes very few watches in Japan and Orient doesn't make any:
"[T]here are two types of Seiko mechanicals sold in Japan 1) Expensive made in Japan Seiko mechanicals 2) Parallel import (gray market) Seiko mechanicals made in China"
"Orient is infrequently mentioned in the trade press here, and only sold through discounters, at least in Tokyo. To the best of my knowledge, Orient is all manufactured offshore. I've heard Manus, Brazil mentioned and no doubt there is considerable manufacturing in Asia too. In terms of cost, it's just not feasible to manufacture a watch this economically in Japan. Casio is unquestionably all manufactured off shore."
He also proved this to me with a surprising curiosity of Japanese law:
"Here is something that will come as a shock. I have represented some of the finest Swiss brand names in Japan. This places me in frequent contact with Customs and makes me quite knowledgeable about Japanese tariffs and country of origin branding laws. According to Japanese law, a watch which is manufactured overseas in a Japanese owned (or contracted) factory to Japanese quality control standards under Japanese supervision by a Japanese owned firm may be labeled "Made in Japan".
"This is why Japan, with a population of 120 million, imports about 90 million watches a year, not because Japanese buy a new watch every year. They're for re-export. Statistics show that the average person buys a new watch somewhere around every five to seven years. Given this figure, Japan's internal watch demand would be somewhere between 17 to 24 million watches a year. Swiss watches represent only about 2 million pieces of the approximately 90 million pieces imported yearly. Chinese exports are around or even below this same figure. The rest of the approximately 85 million pieces imported are for re-export. They are made by Japanese companies overseas, and Japanese law allows them to be branded "made in Japan". this is entrepot trade."
"Lest this seems too surprising, a number of companies in France, Germany and Italy also have the right to label their watches "Made in Switzerland" under certain circumstances, and I believe that under some circumstances, watches made in the US Virgin islands and that re enter Europe (The US Virgin islands have a customs union with Denmark, hence with the EEC) may also be labeled "Swiss made."
"Japanese price levels for everything, be it the price of housing, food, moveis or wrist watches are Swiss levels. In Switzerland (and the USA too, for that matter) it's just not possible economically to mass produce inexpensive wrist watches. There are some special exceptions, such as Swatch, but it essentially has no competitors in Switzerland. Japan is in the same situation. The price of everything here makes the production of inexpensive mechanical watches prohibitive, and such production as there is remains limited to highly exclusive, quite pricey prestige pieces that are well beyond most people's pocket books--just like most Swiss watches."
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All of this was surprising to me, but it also makes sense, because the prices of consumer items in Japan can be ridiculously high -- I read once that honeydew melons are often given as gifts and can sell for as much as $100. So it never made much sense that Orient could make a watch in Japan that sells for $40 dollars or so. The guy also agreed that even if Japanese law lets their factories make watches elsewhere, if they have to be made to Japanese quality control standards to be labeled "made in Japan," they should be of the same high quality as the ones that actually are made on Japanese soil.
(If anyone wants to read everything this watchmaker said, you can find the whole discussion in the watchuseek watchmaking forum under the title "Repairing a watch maker's lathe" from about 4 weeks ago. But most of what I didn't include is about repairing the lathe).