Watches have been a staple in fashion and style for decades. They not only serve as a practical way to keep track of time, but they can also be a statement piece and a reflection of personal taste. Although these fashion accessories were birthed in Europe, Japanese watch brands, in particular, have become increasingly popular over time.
This blog post will take a closer look at some of the most well-known and respected Japanese watch brands and explore their unique features, designs, and histories. From classic, timeless styles to modern, cutting-edge designs, there is something for everyone in the world of Japanese watches.
Thus, whether you’re a seasoned collector or simply looking for a new timepiece, read on to discover the best Japanese watch brands on the market today – and learn a little bit about their illustrious history.
Japanese Watches: A Brief History
Appearing in history books as early as the 14th century, the history of wearable timepieces is believed to have begun in 16th-century Europe, evolving from portable spring-driven clocks. Peter Henlein, a Nuremberg clockmaker, is credited as one of the first craftsmen to manufacture timepieces that could be worn on the body (clock watches came in pendants at the time).
Arrival in Japan
Watches first reached Japan in the late 16th century, when European traders and missionaries began to visit the country. These early watches, known as “Nuremberg eggs,” were small, portable timepieces that were highly prized by Japanese noblemen and merchants. These watches were considered luxury items and were often decorated with intricate designs and precious stones.
During the Edo period (1603-1867), watches were primarily imported from Europe and were owned by only a small group of wealthy Japanese individuals. During this time, the Japanese government had strict regulations on the import of foreign goods, which limited the availability of watches in the country.
It was not until the Meiji period (1868-1912) that Japan began to develop its own watchmaking industry, in which the Meiji government finally opened the country to foreign trade, and Japanese watchmakers started to experiment with incorporating American and European designs into their own watches.
In the early 1900s, the Japanese government established the Tokyo Clock & Watch Institute to promote the development of the country’s watchmaking industry. During World War II, Japan’s watchmaking industry was severely impacted by materials and labor shortages but would continue to see a dramatic rise to stardom afterward.
In the post-war period, the Japanese watchmaking industry experienced rapid growth, with companies such as Seiko and Citizen introducing new technologies and designs – in 1969, Seiko introduced the world’s first quartz watch, the Seiko Quartz Astron, which was much more accurate than traditional mechanical watches.
This technological breakthrough helped establish Japan as a leader in the watchmaking industry, letting it compete with traditional Swiss mechanical watchmaking. Japanese watch brands increasingly made high-end performance accessible without the high price point of Swiss watch brands (Rolex, Omega, etc.)
In the 1980s, Japanese watchmakers continued to innovate, with Seiko introducing the Kinetic, a watch that used the movement of the wearer’s arm to generate power, and Citizen introducing the Eco-Drive. This watch used solar power to run. These watches were known for their precision, durability, and low maintenance.
Japan: Today’s Watchmaking Capital of the World
Nowadays, the Japanese watchmaking industry has grown in reputation and popularity, with many high-end luxury watches being produced by brands such as Grand Seiko and Credor. These watches are known for their exceptional craftsmanship and attention to detail, often utilizing advanced materials and technologies.
Additionally, several independent watchmakers – Kikuchi Nakagawa, Kurono, and others – have emerged from Japan. These designers are known for their unique and innovative creations.
Top Japanese Watches Brands
Regarding luxury watches, Japanese brands are known for their exceptional craftsmanship, precision, and attention to detail. From traditional techniques to cutting-edge technology, these brands have made a name for themselves in the world of horology.
As we know, Japan has a rich history of watchmaking dating back to the late 1800s. Today, the country is home to some of the world’s most respected and sought-after watch brands.
In this section, we will take a closer look at the top Japanese watch brands that have significantly impacted the industry. From established brands with a long history of producing high-quality timepieces to newer ones pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the world of horology, these brands represent the best of Japanese watchmaking.
Seiko is a brand with a rich history dating back to 1881 when Kintarō Hattori in Tokyo, Japan, founded it. Starting off as a wholesale clock shop, the brand quickly progressed to producing its timepieces by 1892. Though Seiko released its first wristwatch in 1913, it wasn’t until the 1960s that the brand began to gain international recognition.
Seiko is known for its precision, quality, and innovation in watchmaking. They are notably recognized for their use of cutting-edge technology, such as the introduction of the quartz watches movement in 1969 with the Astron, which revolutionized the industry and led to the widespread popularity of quartz timepieces.
In addition, Seiko has always been constantly innovating and experimenting with new technologies, such as Kinetic watches, GPS solar watches, and the Spring Drive. These watches are powered by either movement of the wearer’s arm or by a combination of light and GPS technology, making them highly accurate and efficient.
What makes Seiko stand out is its dedication to creating functional and stylish watches. It offers a wide range of watches, from affordable and practical models to luxury timepieces. This makes the brand appealing to a wide range of buyers. Seiko has also developed a reputation for making durable and long-lasting watches.
A luxury watch brand founded in 1960, you’ve probably guessed by the name – Grand Seiko is a subsidiary of the world-famous Seiko. The brand was created to showcase Seiko’s expertise in the art of watchmaking and to offer a luxury timepiece that could compete with the best in the world.
Grand Seiko is known for its exceptional craftsmanship, precision, and attention to detail. It’s one of the most sought-after Japanese watch brands globally.
Each watch is crafted by skilled artisans using traditional techniques and the latest technology. The brand is notably recognized for its use of high-quality materials, such as its signature Zaratsu polishing, which gives the watches their mirror-like finish.
In terms of design, Grand Seiko watches are known for their clean, minimalist aesthetic. The watches are designed to be elegant and timeless, focusing on functionality and readability. The Japanese luxury giant also offers a range of timepieces, from mechanical to quartz, and the watches are made to withstand harsh environments and to be accurate.
Thus, watch buyers who appreciate the art of watchmaking and are looking for a luxury timepiece that is both beautiful and functional would be a perfect fit for Grand Seiko timepieces. They’re also perfect for collectors, enthusiasts, and professionals who value precision, craftsmanship, and attention to detail.
Hajime Asaoka is a relatively new player in the watchmaking industry, but his eponymous brand has already made a name for itself with its exquisite, handcrafted watches.
The brand was founded by Hajime Asaoka himself, a watchmaking extraordinaire, in 2010. He designs and produces all of his watches in-house, using traditional watchmaking techniques and the latest technology.
What sets these timepieces apart is the brand’s exceptional craftsmanship and attention to detail. The brand is known for using only the finest materials, such as titanium and high-end movements. Its watches are not only beautiful, but they are also functional and built to last – which is undoubtedly reflected in the price tags.
Design-wise, their products have a minimalist, clean aesthetic that is both elegant and timeless, with the watches designed to be legible and functional – the brand also offers a range of watches from manual winding to automatic and tourbillon.
Hajime Asaoka watches are for those who appreciate the art of independent watchmaking and are looking for a unique, high-quality timepiece.
Minase is a highly exclusive Japanese watch brand, producing only a limited number of watches each year, making it an authentic boutique brand. Despite being relatively new, having been founded in 2005, the brand incorporates traditional Japanese philosophies into its process, focusing on “monozukuri.”
This refers to the art of repeatedly handcrafting perfect items, stemming from the brand’s origins as a machining workshop before transitioning to watches. This philosophy is reflected in their preference for educating new watchmakers from the local region to ensure the future of Japanese watch brands.
Their commitment to traditional techniques is reflected in the fact that they are one of the few brands to apply Zaratsu polishing on their watches – with Grand Seiko being the other. This style of finish, inspired by the qualities of mirrors, results in a metallic surface that appears black when viewed at certain angles.
Their precision approach to watchmaking allows them to create unique, multi-faceted cases with layered designs.
Casio is a world-renown brand of consumer electronics and watches founded in 1946 by Tadao Kashio in Japan. Although the company began as a manufacturer of calculators, by 1974, it had introduced its first digital watch, the Casiotron.
Over the years, Casio has continued to innovate in the watch industry, introducing new products routinely. These include G-Shock watches, known for their durability and resistance to shock, and the Baby-G line, geared towards the female consumer demographic.
Their watches are primarily known for their durability, functionality, and affordability. The brand offers a wide range of products, from basic digital watches to more advanced models with features such as GPS, atomic timekeeping, and solar power.
Many of their products are water-resistant and shock-resistant – think of Casio timekeepers as the Nokia brick phones of the watchmaking industry, with a little more flair and elegance.
In terms of design, Casio timepieces are known for their sporty and rugged look, with many featuring a digital display and a rubber or resin band. The brand also offers a range of styles, from classic and traditional to more modern and trendy designs.
Casio watches are popular among many buyers, from young people looking for a durable and affordable watch to outdoor enthusiasts and professionals who need a watch that can withstand harsh conditions. The brand’s timepieces are generally inexpensive to most buyers and can be found in most price ranges, from budget-friendly to high-end.
Citizen is a brand of watches and other timepieces founded in 1918 by Japanese watchmaker Shokosha Watch Research Institute. The company began as a small watch repair shop, but by 1918 it had started producing its timepieces.
Citizen is known for its pioneering spirit, and in 1924 the company developed Japan’s first wristwatch. In 1930, it added the first wristwatch with a date function. In 1956, it created the world’s first light-powered watch, known as the Eco-Drive.
Citizen is known for producing high-quality watches that are both stylish and functional. The brand offers a wide range of watches, from basic models to more advanced models, with features such as GPS, atomic timekeeping, and solar power.
The brand is also famed for its Eco-Drive technology, which allows its watches to be powered by light, making them both eco-friendly and convenient as they never require a battery change.
Citizen offers a wide range of watches suitable for different styles, preferences, and budgets. Some of the best Citizen watches include the Citizen Promaster series, a collection of professional-grade watches designed for aviation, diving, and land sports. They are also known for their durability, functionality, and reliability.
Additionally, the Citizen Signature collection offers luxury timepieces designed with high-end materials and top-of-the-line technology such as GPS and Atomic timekeeping. These watches are perfect for those who want a high-end luxury watch that is both stylish and functional.
Citizen also offers the Chandler Field, a stylish, vintage-inspired watch that is perfect for those who appreciate the vintage aesthetic.
Founded in Japan in 1950, Orient began as a small watch repair shop, but by 1951 it had started producing its timepieces. Nowadays, the brand is known for producing high-quality mechanical watches that are both stylish and affordable.
The brand offers a wide range of watches, from basic to more advanced models, with features such as automatic movements, power reserve indicators, and water resistance. Orient is also known for its in-house movements production and traditional techniques, such as hand polishing, which results in high precision and reliability.
Orient watches are known for their classic, timeless look. The brand offers a range of styles, from classic and traditional to more modern and trendy designs, focusing on functionality and readability.
Some of the best Orient watches include the Orient Star, a high-end watch collection that features in-house movements and traditional watchmaking techniques. Others include the Orient Bambino, a collection of dress watches perfect for formal occasions, and the Orient Mako, a collection of sports watches known for their durability and reliability.
Kurono is a Japanese luxury watch brand founded by the designer Taro Tanaka and watchmaker Masahiro Kikuno. The brand was established in 2010 to create high-end timepieces that blend Japanese craftsmanship with modern design.
Kurono watches are known for their minimalist, refined aesthetic and the use of high-quality materials such as titanium, sapphire crystal, and high-end Swiss movements. They are also known for their attention to detail and traditional Japanese techniques such as Mokume-gane.
Kurono watches are known for their clean, simple lines and minimalist aesthetic. The watches are designed to be elegant, timeless, and refined, with a touch of Japanese heritage. The brand offers a range of watches, from simple yet elegant time-only watches to more complex models with complications such as power reserves and tourbillons.
Thus, watch buyers who appreciate the art of independent watchmaking and are looking for a unique, high-quality timepiece that combines traditional Japanese craftsmanship with modern design should consider Kurono products. The brand’s watches are highly exclusive and luxurious, with price ranges at the upper end of the spectrum. They are perfect for collectors, enthusiasts, and professionals who value precision, craftsmanship, and attention to detail.
Some of the best Kurono watches include:
- The Kurono Classic, a luxury timepiece that showcases the brand’s minimalist aesthetic
- The Kurono Tourbillon, a high-end timepiece with a tourbillon movement
- The Kurono Mokume-gane is a luxury timepiece that showcases the traditional Japanese technique of Mokume-gane
Kikuchi Nakagawa is a relatively new, independent luxury watch brand founded by the Japanese watchmaker Kikuchi Nakagawa. The brand was established in 2015 and is known for its commitment to traditional Japanese watchmaking techniques and high-quality craftsmanship.
Its watches are defined by their exceptional craftsmanship and attention to detail, with a focus on traditional Japanese techniques. One of these is Mokume-gane (roughly translated to “wood grain metal”), a technique that involves layering different metals to create unique patterns.
This designer is also known among Japanese watch brands for its use of high-quality materials, such as Damascus steel, and its precision movements, which are often finished by hand.
The brand offers a range of watches, from simple yet elegant time-only watches to more complex models with complications such as moon phase, power reserve, and tourbillons.
Some of the finer choices include the Kikuchi Nakagawa Mokume-gane, a luxury timepiece that showcases the traditional Japanese technique of Mokume-gane, and the Kikuchi Nakagawa Tourbillon, which is a high-end timepiece with a tourbillon movement.
Founded in 1975 by Seiko themselves, Credor watches are characterized by their use of traditional Japanese techniques, such as the Maki-e, a traditional Japanese lacquer art, which is applied to the dials. They are also known for their high-quality materials, such as gold and platinum, and their precision movements.
The brand offers a range of watches, from simple yet elegant time-only watches to more complex models with complications such as moon phase, power reserve, and tourbillons. Design-wise, Credor watches are known for their minimalist aesthetic, with a focus on legibility and functionality. The watches are designed to be elegant, timeless, and refined, reflecting traditional Japanese stylistic archetypes.
Credor watches are geared toward watch buyers who appreciate the art of watchmaking and are looking for a luxury timepiece that is both beautiful and functional. They are perfect for collectors, enthusiasts, and professionals who value precision, craftsmanship, and attention to detail. The brand’s watches are highly exclusive and luxurious, with price ranges at the upper end of the spectrum.
Some of the best Credor watches include the Credor Fugaku Tourbillon, a high-end timepiece with a tourbillon movement, and the Credor Spring Drive, a unique product that combines the accuracy of a quartz movement with the smoothness of mechanical movement. Nonetheless, while there are watches sold at more economical prices, their cheaper, a little more lackluster designs mean that they’re not for everyone.
Japanese watches have a rich and fascinating history that spans centuries. From the early days of imported “Nuremberg eggs” to the development of its own watchmaking industry during the Meiji period, Japan has become a global powerhouse. Today, these watches are known for their precision, craftsmanship, and quality and are highly respected around the world.
Brands such as Seiko, Citizen, Grand Seiko, and Credor have played a significant role in the history of Japanese watches and continue to be innovators in the industry. They have left their mark on the watchmaking industry and the world of fashion and timekeeping.
Constant advancements in technology and design and the unique aesthetic of Japanese timepieces are augmented by highly-skilled, pioneering individual watchmakers from Japan. When will the next household name arise? It’s always exciting to see what the future holds for Japanese watch brands.