Swiss vs Japanese Movements – A Quick Read

In the watch world you will often times hear about these two different movements. Most people may not know the difference between, let’s say, a Seiko and a Tissot. On the outside, sure, they both could look the same as they are both watches and both have a dial with hands on them for telling time. However, there are fundamental differences between the two. This post will help you understand Swiss vs Japanese movements and what the differences are.

Swiss Movement

The Swiss weren’t the first nation to make portable clocks small enough to carry around, Germany takes credit for that. Portable clocks date back somewhere around the early 1500’s, with Peter Henlein of Nuremberg, Germany creating the earliest officially documented watch in 1530.

An image of a swiss made watch with a bracelet style band.

During the 16th century, the Swiss watch industry began to slowly gain traction due to Western European refugees entering Switzerland to escape from religious persecution. The refugees settled into Geneva and, along with themselves, they brought their watch and clock making skills as well.

However, despite having a good reputation, Swiss watches were not the standard by which other timepieces would be judged. During the mid-1600’s to mid-1800’s, it was the English watches and clocks that were the gold standard.

By the end of the 18th century, the Swiss created many innovations in the watch world. One of the most prominent of those innovations was the “perpetual” watch, which was created by Abraham-Louis Perrelet in 1770. This watch became the forerunner to the modern self-winding watch.

Another prominent and well-known innovation was the “tourbillion” by Swiss-born watch maker, Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1795; it was patented in 1801. It is one of the most incredible pieces of high-quality watchmaking expertise even to this day (and extremely expensive!).

In the 1760’s, French watchmaker Jean-Antoine Lépine invented a flat, simplified calibre. Known as the Lépine calibre, this allowed the development of smaller, thinner pocket watches.

This invention helped to turn the Swiss into the watchmaking powerhouse we know today. This is due to the Lépine calibre being adapted to factory production in the early 1800’s.

Photo of an Omega brand watch.

This favored Swiss watchmakers more so than it did the French as Swiss peasants would spend the winter months making watch components for Geneva based firms. As the technology improved and became implemented for mass-production, the Swiss were able to out produce their rivals at a much higher rate.

Meanwhile, the French and English watchmakers rejected this form of mass-production and ultimately almost completely collapsed by the end of the 1800’s.

Some of the most notable Swiss brands include those of the SWATCH Group. Founded in 1983, the SWATCH Group owns 19 brands which includes names such as Omega, Tissot and Hamilton. Other notable Swiss brands are Rolex and Patek Philippe. Both are considered to be among the world’s most exalted watch brands.

Japanese Movement

While the Swiss watch industry started at a much earlier point in time, the Japanese watch industry is fairly recent. However, just because they don’t have the same amount of time in the game doesn’t mean that they haven’t done remarkable things.

They were able to target a market in the affordable luxury category that still provided quality, but wasn’t as expensive as the Swiss made watches.

The backside view of a Seiko brand watch.

The quartz movement of the late 1960’s, was a new movement in the watch world. Seiko, the Japanese company who created it, launched the first ever commercial model called the Astron.

The Astron was the world’s first quartz wristwatch. It was a limited-edition release and featured a gold case and costed, at the time, the equivalent of a Toyota Corolla.

It wasn’t long before all Japanese watch firms adopted quartz technology, but Seiko undisputedly led the way. With the quartz movement in full effect, it threatened to shut down the Swiss watch industry in the early 1980’s.

The Swiss responded with their own quartz movement with ETA, the largest movement manufacturer of Switzerland supplying movements to the rest of the world. The Citizen owned Miyota movement is the counterpart to ETA.

A Citizen Eco-Drive Watch.

While the Japanese movements are considerably lower in price, they are still quite precise and efficient and consume a low amount of power.

One of the most notable Japanese watch brands is Seiko, of course, as the company is one of the top watch brands in today’s world. Their watches can be found almost anywhere.

Citizen is another highly recognizable Japanese brand and its Eco-drive technology has led the company to being among the world’s largest producers or wristwatches.

Lastly, Casio is also a major Japanese watch brand. Their lineup includes the extremely popular G-shock and Baby G-shock collections, which have been worn by countless celebrities.

Swiss vs Japanese movements and How They Differ

When it comes to these two movements, it comes down to two things; practicality or luxury. While both are similar from a technical standpoint, they differ in how they are crafted and what features are implemented.

A Casio Edifice featuring chronograph and date complications.

When thinking about Japanese movements, think more about functionality and efficiency first, followed by aesthetics secondly. This isn’t to say that Japanese made watches are bland or unattractive to the eye, it just means that in comparison to their Swiss counterparts they aren’t always as luxurious looking.

Since the end of the 1970’s Japanese watch makers have been making watches that people have no issue spending their money on. They are very precise and usually a lot less expensive than their Swiss counterparts.

On the other hand, Swiss-made watches have a much longer and richer history than their Japanese counterpart. Their traditions go back as far as the 16th century, while the Japanese watchmakers really came onto the scene in the 20th century.

Image of a Patek Philippe watch.

Swiss-made watches are still and will likely always be considered the gold standard when it comes to watch making quality. They are highly precise and always well crafted and beautiful.

Aesthetics are vital during the design and assembly stages and it is not uncommon to find that hand assembly is a part of the watchmaking process. Because of this, we can see why the prices on Swiss-made watches are typically higher than Japanese made watches.


When it comes to Swiss vs Japanese movements, both will get the job done. That is evident as both the Swiss and Japanese have watchmaking companies that are world renown. As far as what you should buy, that depends on your budget, style, and passion for timepieces.

For those who want a practical, but less luxurious timepiece, then maybe consider a Japanese-made watch. For those who want a more luxurious watch of the highest quality then I would suggest taking a look at a Swiss-made timepiece.

What are your thoughts about these movements? Do you prefer one over the other? Feel free to let us know in the comments below!

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4 thoughts on “Swiss vs Japanese Movements – A Quick Read”

  1. I didn’t actually know until I read this article that Citizen was a Japanese brand of watch. I’ve seen plenty of these timepieces over the years and never really thought about it.

    Personally, I prefer Swiss watches to Japanese ones. I’d settle for a Japanese Seiko or a Citizen if my budget didn’t allow for a Swiss.

    My budget watch of choice is a Swatch that I bought about 12 years ago. It’s still running, just needs the occasional battery change and a polish from time to time.

    Jim W

  2. Hi Jerry,
    First of all, congratulations, I think that your website is very nice, good quality, the images are well selected. The content is great, I was reading during my lunch break, I could not stop reading of how informative it is.

    There was a time in my life when I used to collect Guess? brand watches, not expensive, of course, but I liked them because they were fashionable. Then I got my awesome G-shock specially to take it on a trip to Cancun because I wanted to be able to get in the water without loosing track of time LOL. Now I own an iWatch which I looove.

    Again, great content. Keep up the good work!

    • Hello Adriana,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, I appreciate the feedback on the website. The G-Shock line is an extremely popular line for those who are active or need something that will stand up to the elements! Thanks for sharing!


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