Citizen is the core company of the Japanese conglomerate, Citizen Watch Company Ltd. The company is based out of Tokyo, Japan and has been one of the most popular and well-known watchmakers worldwide. What sets them apart from other watchmakers is that they are a true manufacture d’horlogerie (meaning that they make all or most of the parts required for a watch) and their in-house Eco-Drive movement. The post will cover Citizen watch history and it’s impact on the watch game.
The precursor to what we now know as the Citizen Watch Company started in 1918 under the name of Shokosha Watch Research Institute.
It was founded by Kamekichi Yamazaki and was created with the goal of producing Japanese made timepieces, however, they initially started off assembling imported components from Switzerland.
Eventually, they were able to import machine tools from the Western world to manufacture its own components.
The institute finally reached its goal in 1924 when they produced their first pocket watch. It was named by Yamazaki’s close friend and Mayor of Tokyo, at that time, Mr. Shimpei Goto.
His motivation for naming the watch “CITIZEN” was the hope that their products would be popular and loved by citizens all across the globe. The watch was well-received at the time and was even purchased by Emperor Showa, who was the Prince Regent at the time during the Emperor Taisho era.
Shortly after, in 1930, Kamekichi Yamazaki joined two other watch enthusiasts, Ryoichi Suzuki and Yosaburo Nakajima, to establish Citizen Watch Co., Ltd. Nakajima was the chief representative of the Japanese branch of the Schmitt Company, a watch dealer based out of Switzerland.
He, along with Suzuki, bought out the Shokosha Watch Research Institute and participated with Yamazaki in the establishment of Citizen Watch Co. Ltd.
The Start of an Empire
After being founded in 1930, Citizen began producing a 10 ½ ligne caliber wristwatch (Citizen model F) in 1931, which was followed by an 8 ¾ ligne caliber wristwatch (Citizen model K) in 1935. About a year later in 1936, they began to expand out of Japan and started exporting watches to Southeast Asia.
In 1940, the Citizen model L, a two-hand women’s wristwatch, was produced. However, it was also during this time that World War II was in swing and the company moved their production facilities to a small town about 125 miles away from their former Tokyo location. They manufactured other components for the military, such as chronometers and igniters.
As more success began to come in, Citizen needed a way to control the distribution and marketing of their products around the world so, in 1949, they created the Citizen Trading Company.
The early 1950’s saw the release of Japan’s first men’s manually wound watch that featured a calendar. The watch was called the Citizen Calendar and featured three push buttons that allowed the user to set the month, date and day.
More momentum followed in 1956 with Citizen creating the first shock proof Japanese watch, it was called the Parashock. In 1959, Citizen released the Parawater, which was Japan’s first fully waterproof, manually-wound wristwatch. The significance of this time piece can still be seen today as it is the prototype on which their current waterproof watches are based.
During March 1960, Citizen signed an export/import agreement with American watchmaker Bulova Watch Company as well as a technical assistance agreement with India. The Sixties also so the company branch out into other areas outside of watchmaking, such as business machines.
In 1964, the company founded the Citizen Office Machine Co., Ltd. Three years later, in 1967, Citizen put the world’s first quartz transistor clock into the market.
The Seventies and the Quartz Revolution
Like most other watchmakers during this time, especially those from Japan, the 70’s marked a period of transition from mechanical to quartz timepieces. This period was known as the Quartz Revolution.
Citizen had already experienced success outside of the mechanical realm with the previously released X-8 back in 1966.
It was the first Japanese produced electronic wristwatch and was capable for running for a year without stopping. The sales of the X-8 exceeded those of its mechanical counterparts and became a hit seller throughout the 1970’s.
In 1973, Citizen released it’s first quartz watch and shortly after in 1975, they released the now legendary, Citizen Crystron Mega.
The Citizen Crystron Mega was the world’s first high precision quartz timepiece; it had an accuracy of ±3 seconds per year. It was equipped with a caliber 8650 and is still one of the most accurate (and also expensive) watches ever released to the public.
With the release of the Crystron Mega, it was clear which direction Citizen was planning on going in terms of watchmaking. A year later, in 1976, Citizen also made another breakthrough with the release of the Crystron Solar Cell.
It was the world’s first light powered analog quartz watch with a rechargeable battery, no replacement needed.
Far East Movement
By time the 1980’s came around, Japan had become the world’s largest producer of watches and watch movements. Citizen once again put the world on notice with the Citizen Exceed Gold, a women’s analog watch that featured the world’s smallest movement.
In 1982, Citizen released the Professional Diver 1300M, a diver’s watch that was the world’s most waterproof watch at the time.
In 1986, Citizen became the largest single manufacturer of watch movements in the world. During this time in the 80’s, the Citizen Watch Company also introduced many other firsts to the world of Horology.
The 1990’s were a very busy and important decade for the company, equal to or maybe even more so than the 1970’s were. During this time, they introduced a lot of world’s firsts, but in 1995 the brought the world a significant addition to the watch game with the introduction of Eco-Drive.
Eco-Drive was significant because it improved on the solar technology that they introduced in 1976. It is able to generate power from any light source now regardless if it’s solar or artificial, thus never needing to replace batteries. It was introduced to Asia, Europe and Latin America in 95’; followed by the US in 96’.
In 1996, due to the popularity and significance of Eco-Drive, the technology was awarded the first “Eco-Mark” award; a Japanese officially certified award for environmental protection.
Throughout the rest of the 90’s, Citizen continued to release several new models that featured the Eco-Drive movement such as the Eco-Drive Thermo, the Citizen Promaster Aqualand, and the Exceed Eco-Drive.
2000’s to Present Day
During this time period Citizen has continued to move forward as a company and have continued to make waves in the watch world. In 2001 Citizen decided to relocate its headquarters to Nishi-Tokyo and two years later they introduced the worlds first full metal case radio-controlled watch with a built-in antenna.
In 2005, Citizen acquired Miyota Co. Ltd., as well as several other smaller companies. This is significant because a lot of watch movements from Japan that are not made in house are likely a Miyota movement. In January 2008, Citizen then bought Bulova Corporation, an American watch brand, and their affiliated brands.
However, Citizen wasn’t done. In April 2012, the company purchased Swiss watch maker Prothor Holding SA. In July 2016, Swiss watchmaker, Frederique Constant, agreed to be sold to Citizen, thus adding more to the Japanese watchmaker’s empire.
The Citizen Group consists of these brands: Citizen, Campanola, Q&Q, Arnold & Son, Bulova, Bulova Accutron II, Bulova AccuSwiss, Wittnauer, Caravelle New York, Bulova Clocks, Frank Lloyd Wright*, Harley-Davidson*, Frédérique Constant, Alpina, Ateliers de Monaco.
With that being said, any post about Citizen watch history is likely far from being completed. The company has no intent on slowing down and as of now has several brands under their umbrella and will continue to be a major player in the watch making industry.