Origin of Seiko and Orient watches
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  1. #1
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    Origin of Seiko and Orient watches

    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."

    * * *

    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).
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  2. #2
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    Re: Origin of Seiko and Orient watches

    Makes sense. I don't think anyone here believed Makos are made in japan.

    My understanding is that Seikos branded Automatic (in italics) on the dial and up are made in Japan, hence the significant jump in price from the SCVS range to the superficially similar SARB line.

    Even if this isn't true, they are damn fine watches.
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  3. #3
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    Re: Origin of Seiko and Orient watches

    Very interesting read! Thanks for posting...
    "Using no way as way, having no limitation as limitation." - Bruce Lee

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    Re: Origin of Seiko and Orient watches

    Two more things:

    Apart from the very affordable Seikos that are discussed here (eg. Monster, SKX007, Knights, etc), many of the others are mid-range and up, which could easily account for "very few" of Seiko's entire production. Hence, I believe a lot of the Seikos that we lust after on this forum are made in Japan. Probably Orient Star and Royal Orient, too.

    It is possible that this watchmaker is biased towards anglo products and anti-asian. I find it surpring that Japanese tools are "close to worthless" given that Japanese steels and manufacturing technology are world class. I have no experience with Japanese tools, so I may well be wrong. But I do find that statement surprising.

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    Re: Origin of Seiko and Orient watches

    hmmmm...very interesting article....

    "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."

    As for Orient Manau factory in Brazil, there was a Special Edition made up for 30 fellows. I read that Orient Brazil sent the order to Japan and the LE Orient divers were made there and shipped back to Brazil.

    MY vintage 1974 Seiko LM SPECIAL was made in the Daini factory for sure. I guess the article is valid for 1990s and on watches when labor costs dictated the Japanese watch companies started to set up factories in China, Thailand and Malaysia. This was the trend back then for Adidas etc. car companies too. Panasonic products and many of the other Japanese companies follow suit.

    Is a Toyota or BMW any less quality if made in the USA company factory??
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    Re: Origin of Seiko and Orient watches

    Most interesting... and thank you for posting (I'm off to read the whole account in a sec)

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike T View Post
    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".
    Truthfully, this business doesn't bother me. As far as I am concerned the item is pretty much made in Japan, because in this sense Japan is not merely a big island, something tangible in the geographical sense, but an idea of sorts, a standard and a work ethic that ensures and damn well demands perfection, well, perfection up to the level of the price you have paid for it, of course ;), and is brought by the denizens of those islands to everywhere they go to do a job .

    Workers where I am are terrible, buildings are shoddy and makeshift, and you'll be lucky if anything built locally lasts 10 years (if that!) in reasonable condition (sure, the humidity and sinking ground doesn't help, but compensate for that people! Please! ).

    But actually, it's not the fault of the workers. The workers are merely automatons, livivng out lives of hardship for the lowest wages (I'd hazard that this is mostly true of all workers? A worker is a worker is a worker :P). Tell them how to do something and they can and will do it, if you pay them of course ;) .

    So, the problem lies not with the worker, in the case of this place I'm in, but with the taskmaster, the responsibility lies with the person who holds a whip. It's these muppets that cut corners, that get the cheapest materials (and pocket the surplus of the funds you've given them to work with!) don't ensure worker safety, don't ensure quality product, and are generally pretty useless.

    That's where the Japanese come in.

    You bring a Japanese foreman into a factory, or one as a Construction-master (I don't know the term for this guy, the loud one that shouts at the workers :P) onto a site, and actually, the person doesn't have to be Japanese, just be instilled with the industrial values they espouse, and of course they need to be one uncompromising bastard at that! (this is the usual case, as the Japanese here need intermediaries as they tend to become.... frustrated with the locals :P) and all you need is a Japanese company to oversee and fund it all -- and Viola!

    Quality Product 101 - Thanks for taking the class, folks!

    There's one distinct thing missing from the industrial sectors in all third world countries (besides the obvious ), or, you can say, all the crappy places in which most of the world's stuff is made, and that is a form of 'honesty'.

    Everywhere along the line you have individuals (or groups of people) like the unscrupulous taskmaster I detailed above, pocketing some funds here and there, subcontracting to the nth level, and ordering substandard resources and 'cutting corners' in order that he may pocket his share.

    I'm not saying that all Japanese people are necessarily honest, because I'm talking about that work ethic airy-fairy thing I detailed at the start of this ramble, what I'm saying is that generally the Japanese companies are more honest in such matters of efficiency and the like than the local inhabitants of the region in which I inhabit (somewhere in SE Asia, if you must know).

    I can see it with my own eyes, and it is most apparent in architecture and buildings.

    A building locally made (meaning, the construction was overseen by locals) is, as I mentioned at the start, shoddy, makeshift, with corners cut everywhere and generally won't look too good in a few years (or months!) at one end, to actually become a safety hazard and be in danger of collapse (serious! no joke!) at the other. Projects managed by Japanese companies (the big and greats here) exhibit none of this mess.

    Thus, if I wanted a building designed and built, a subway constructed, a traintrack laid, a factory built and managed, and the insurance that the product I am making and selling is made to the highest level that it can be made in relations to the funds I put into the project, I will look to the scrupulously organised, and eternally efficient Japanese company to do it (or a German company, but that tale if for another day :P)

    Some stereotypes have more of a basis in reality than others ;).

    To sum up, that watch made wherever the hell it's made, is still made in Japan as far as I'm concerned, why? Because I trust that bastard, whip-totting taskmaster to make it so! :D


    TL;DR: Japanese ensure goodstuff
    Last edited by Silent Speaker; January 29th, 2010 at 07:16.
    ~not really that silent...bit of a boring, meandering, waffling, blathering blabber-mouth actually~ :D

  8. #7
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    Re: Origin of Seiko and Orient watches

    Silent Speaker has my thumbs up....
    I am an expat Canadian and now living in Japan for 7 years. I can attest to his overall theme - that Japanese are always striving to improve their work/products. They are scrupulous in their service, products etc. Their products made in off shore countries are usually quality checked to their own standards. Of course some do slip past, but I really appreciate the Japanese work ethic and their attention to fine detail.

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    Re: Origin of Seiko and Orient watches

    Interesting, but not really shocking. "Swiss made" (or the "Glashütte" label) is almost as mistakable as "Made in Japan", but that doesn't really mean anything as long as the quality is there.

    The quality of materials and construction on my Seiko watches was always top notch, I would just wish they would regulate their movements, but that's no quality issue. I've handled my father's Omega De Ville Quartz lately (way above $1000), and it feels like a cheap toy compared to the $300 Orient I'm wearing nowadays.

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    Re: Origin of Seiko and Orient watches

    What we recognize as the Japanese quality system can at least partially be attributed to the contributions of an American named Edwards Deming who was involved in the reconstruction of post war Japan. If you are interested, the wiki link below has a nice description of his methodologies which really are a template for any modern manufacturing environment. In my mind it is the perfect fusion of analytical tools, management and human behavior.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._Edwa...note-crisis-21

    With emphasis on the PROCESS driving quality rather than individual people, I have no reason to believe that a Seiko made in Japan is any superior to once made in Thailand, Korea, China or the moon, provided the same attention to quality in the process is given. This does not mean there are not unique challenges presented with having manufacturing plants in different locations, but at the end of the day, these watches are really just lot of little bits of metal assembled in a systematic way which lends itself perfectly to a modern quality manufacturing process.
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  11. #10
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    Re: Origin of Seiko and Orient watches

    Very interesting read, Mike. Thanks for posting.

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