Here is the appendix to SJX’s comprehensive report on SEIKO Shizukuishi Watch Studio – Trivia Version.
See SJX's report here: home.watchprosite.com /
The season has changed. This part of Japan tends to have relatively lots of snow. But this year is heavier than average, I hear.
The plate that signifies the area of "Shizukuishi Watch Studio".
Now, let me dig some trivia about this SEIKO Factory.
I. Geography and History
(1) Where is Shizukuishi, Iwate?
Iwate is one of 47 prefectures (like the States in the US) of Japan and located in the northern part (Tohoku or Northeastern Region) of Honshu island which is the biggest one of Japan. Morioka City is the capital of Iwate, and Shizukuishi is one area around Morioka. The legal name of this big factory is Morioka SEIKO Instruments Inc. (“MSI”) and “Shizukuishi Watch Studio” is the name of a division within MSI.
(2) SEIKO history and Morioka Factory
SEIKO was established in 1881 – as "K. Hattori", from the founder’s name. This year, 2011, celebrates its 130th Anniversary (there will be some Anniversary models, I am sure). Then, "SEIKO-sha" was established in 1892 as a CLOCK manufacturing factory for "K. Hattori", and later in 1932 "Dai-Ni (The Second) SEIKO-sha" was established as a watch factory. (by the way, "SEIKO" means "Precision Manufacturing" to begin with... "sha" means "company"...)
...then it came out with GRAND SEIKO in 1960 while SEIKO had already commercialized its first quartz CLOCKS for broadcasting use since 1959.
In 1964, SEIKO introduced the world's first portable quartz chronometer, and SEIKO served as official timer of the 18th Olympic games in Tokyo and provided 1,278 stopwatches.
In 1968, SEIKO achieved the highest ever score in the Geneva competition and was awareded the "best mechanical wrist chronometer".
And then, in 1969, SEIKO introduced the world's first quartz watch, "SEIKO Quartz Astron".
MSI was created in such timing to accommodate the need for massive quartz movement manufacturing in 1970. The location was picked for its environmental advantage – weather, clean water and air. Unfortunately, in early 70s, Grand SEIKO line disappeared.....
In early 90s, SEIKO started restoring its prestigious mechanical watch production in Chiba prefecture (next to Tokyo), and then all the equipment and skill/ talent were transferred to MSI in around 2000, and Shizukuishi Watch Studio was created in 2004. Between its inception in 1970 and 2000, MSI was making mostly quartz movements. MSI still makes 100,000,000 (100 million) quartz movements (for SEIKO group brands as well as for the third party brands) while 10,000 (10 thousand) mechanical movements are hand-assembled per annum. Quartz manufacturing is almost completely automated and I did not have chance or time to see the facility.
II. Philosophy and Approach
Furthermore, thanks to MEMS, for 10-beat caliber, this parts is made with harder material, made much lighter (notice lots of “holes”) and has “pockets” to store extra lubricants so that the higher speed would not result in more frequent servicing.
This approach goes for any parts of the Prestige models from caliber base to escape wheel, balance wheel to spring.
There are a few watchmakers schools in Japan. But almost all of SEIKO's watchmakers are young fresh graduates from other normal schools with no experience whatsoever in horology. New hires are equally educated and trained from scratch. Requires at least three years of training even for the experienced new hires (i.e. graduated watchmakers school) to be in the clean assembly room (the youngest watchmaker in the clean room is 21 years old!), or at least five years for engraving. All are home grown watchmakers and so far there has been no turnover from or to other brands.
The "Clean Room" assembly room
SEIKO wants to preserve the skill of the watchmakers and promote its passing to the next generation. SEIKO created and began the watchmaker exam/ certification for all the Japanese watchmakers, regardless with SEIKO or not, four years ago, which is now endorsed by the Governor of Iwate prefecture. There is the national exam, but it is mostly for repair of quartz watches and doesn't mean much here. This SEIKO's exam is made extremely difficult – the applicants have to assemble, disassemble, plus detect and determine the defect and correct it in the limited time - the first class watchmaker certificate test passing ratio is about 30% (40 applicants last year, and 12 passed) and the meister watchmaker certificate test pass ratio is almost nil (only ONE passed in the past 4 years).
Gold Meister, Silver Meister, and Meister Specialist
IV. Future Direction
The direction of SEIKO’s prestige watch making – pursuit of accuracy and practicality will not change. All the parts are made in-house and can develop them from the selection of the material/ metal or alloy is the huge advantage. The new 10 beat (36,000 Hz) movement was made possible by newly developed springs, for example.
The reason for more automatic watches and more bracelet watches is simple – they sell more in Japan while they are aware that the true horology lovers do like manual winding and leather strap – I made a request to make manual winding 10-beat GS
Balance wheel, balance spring, and ancher assembly flow, for example
Q1: Why such a clean room?
A1: We want to do everything possible to increase the efficiency/ productivity. Even the swiss watchmakers do care a lot about avoiding dust when assembling and take time and great care to collect or blow away the dust anyway. We simply want to save time and focus more on assembling. The required spec of the room is Class 50,000 (less than 50,000 dusts with diameter of 0.5 micro meter in 1 cubic feet) level, but in reality it is rather closer to 5,000.
Q2: It seems that the benches are lower than conventional watchmakers' bench
A2: we use more microscope than loupes these days. So, our watchmakers do not need to be close to the caliber. Loupe gives 2 to 3 times magnification while microscope gives 15 times magnification. The desks are adjusted to each watchmaker, as you can see.
Q3: Aren't you going for the more complicated watches?
A3: we pursue the accuracy and precision with practicality in GS line and more jewelry and contemporary design in Credor line. We believe that it is SEIKO’s originality and we do not have a plan for the time being to go into the complicated watches (e.g. perpetual, tourbillon, minute repeater, etc.)
Q4: How is your GS global distribution being implemented?
A4: we are gradually expanding the distribution channel to US/EUR. We also aim to have our own service center/ watchmakers locally in the future, so that the customers wouldn’t have to wait for many months for simple repair or servicing if it had to come back to Japan.