The curious thing about reputation is that once you have acquired it, it can be hard to shake off. But Seiko seems to finally have had enough of the influx of cheap watch manufacturering from the Far East. Now everyone outside Japan can understand what Seiko actually represents: a fine watchmaking tradition paired with genuine luxury watches, which are in no way inferior to the competition from Switzerland.
Anyone who knows a thing or two about watches will not want to contradict this statement. But contradictorily, the inventor of the Spring-Drive caliber and the legendary Snow Flake is also a manufacturer of millions of inexpensive quartz watches for department stores worldwide. However, mass market consumers are not necessarily watch enthusiasts who dive deeper into the essence of the brand of Seiko, beyond what is directly visible to them. But this may be about to change.
Their first step was taken in the USA. In 2018, the manufacturer began to focus their business on the luxury market, i.e. Grand Seiko, and founded the Grand Seiko Corp. of America (GSA) for this purpose. This stragety also included increasing the prices of their luxury timepieces, more in the range of 7,000 US Dollars. In addition, the company also began to sell small upscale collections of the Presage and Prospex collections, which coincides with Seiko’s global brand strategy to gain a foothold in the luxury market internationally.
The brand hoped that this strategy would change Seiko’s image as a low-cost brand for the mass market, to what it is today: a fully fledged watch manufacturer that self-produces all of its own products, movements and watch components, including hairsprings. Seiko has in fact been doing so since 1895 – with its first wristwatch released in 1913. The plan seems to be working so far: In the meantime, the company is now in the range between 5,000 and 10,000 US dollars among the ten best-selling watch manufacturers in the USA.
The changes initiated in the USA were part of a long-term plan: As a result, Seiko watches are able to compete aggressively with Swiss brands for market share in global markets, as they already do in Japan. There, Grand Seiko is one of the five best-selling luxury watch brands. Finally, mass consumers are now becoming aware of Seiko’s rich history, and are seeing the brand in a whole new light.
Another aspect concerns the emotional component. Seiko see themselves as representative of Japanese craftsmanship and Japanese designs, and it is this specific “Japanese” aspect that set Seiko apart from other Swiss brands. Grand Seiko in particular is intended to embody the Japanese sense of aesthetics. According to Seiko, all of these considerations hold enormous potential for the brand – potential that has always existed, but has truly been fully exploited. Now the time has come for their strategy to bear fruit.
Seiko’s plans may also have been influenced by a specially commissioned study. External consultants concluded that Seiko would not be able to regain its initial dominant position in the mid-price range of watches, but should rather focus on moving upwards. Their problem of remaining within the mid-priced range, resulted from fierce competition with Citizen and Bulova, as well as some fashion brands of the Citizen Group. Added to these difficulties was the increase in e-commerce through new products such as Apple Watch and wearable tech. The problems caused by declining sales of mass retailers and department stores then became Seiko’s problem as well. But to move a brand away from a mid-price point is an extremely difficult task from a marketing perspective. After all, the name Seiko must remain on their dials for the time being, and that’s where the previous image comes into play again.
Browsing message boards and forum posts on the topic of Seiko watches, you will likely come across a recurring phenomenon: wide recognition, but often the hesitance to spend so much money on a dial that says “Seiko” on it. Many are often fixated on the negative connotations of the brand, rather than the value for money that Seiko watches offer. Seiko is now making every effort to ensure that future “Seiko” logos on dials will be another argument in favour of the timepieces from Japan.