Friday, October 19, 2018

Seiko's Museum of Paradise

Iron movement tower clock circa 1500
Well, it's actually called the Seiko Museum, but if you're a watch geek, then the Seiko Museum is two floors of timeless bliss. It's like being stuck on Bora Bora with endless flowing pina coladas and equally endless sunshine.

The Seiko Museum is off the beaten path. You'll find no Seiko boutiques nearby (though there are Seikos for sale in the museum's gift shop.) There are no watch stores at all in the neighborhood. The Seiko Museum is the destination.

Pro tip: Tell your traveling companion that the Seiko Museum isn't just a place about Seiko watches. The first floor is all about old timepieces.) Tell them the museum offers a slice of Japanese history you won't find at other museums. (You'll learn about business, war, style, engineering, and design.)

There's no entrance fee, and there's no fee for an English or Japanese speaking guide. I very much recommend a guide, because that person will invariably know a thing or two about the history of timekeeping and Seiko you don't. Like how incense clocks were used. Your guide will also touch clocks and make them bing and clang, something you can't do on your own.

You may even relearn a little Seiko history, as I did from our spirited Wired-wearing guide.  (Wired is a Seiko brand). For instance, like others, I've read that Seiko used the time-tested principle of competition to make the best possible watch. In 1959, Seiko set their two subsidiaries, Daini Seikosha and Suwa Seikosha, on independent paths, coaxing them into "friendly competition." Suwa introduced the Grand Seiko in 1960 (you can see one at the museum), while Daini ran with the King Seiko. The King Seiko was a pretty good watch, which inspired Suwa to make the Grand Seiko even better.

An incense clock
Or something like that. But mostly what I thought I knew is that the rivalry between Daini and Suwa was collegial, like two kids in college studying together for final exams. According to our guide the competition was bitter. She didn't use the word "enemies," but I got the sense that Daini and Suwa were less like two college students studying together and more like two guys pursuing the same woman, who happens to be the last woman on earth. Even to this day Suwa, which became Seiko Epson and which makes Spring Drive and quartz watches, and Daini, which was transformed into Seiko Instruments, where mechanical watches are born, are engaged in intense competition. Some people in Daini and Suwa aren't on speaking terms. Competition, indeed!

During World War I, Seiko  sold boatloads of alarm clocks to England and France. Previously, those countries had imported alarm clocks from Germany, but the war put a stop to that, so Seiko stepped in.

The museum offers a fun, interactive three-dimensional (you have to wear polarized eyeglasses) exhibit where you can take apart and put together movements for mechanical, quartz and Spring Drive watches, without risking thousands of dollars.

A marvel of engineering from 1967, the hi-beat Lord Marvel
You'll see a wide range of rare watches, including a high-beat Lord Marvel, Japan's first 36,000 bph watch, and the Laurel, Seiko's first wristwatch, built in 1913. The Laurel is the watch I most want to steal collect.

The museum also has the first Seiko Astron, the watch that almost destroyed revolutionized the watch industry on December 25, 1969, when it went to market. Seiko itself stopped selling mechanical Grand Seikos in 1976 until 1998. It's still a mystery to me how Seiko was able to resurrect Grand Seiko after decades of dormancy. Where did the watchmakers come from? How did Grand Seiko retool? Where did all their knowledge go during that time? I need to visit the museum again to find out.

You'll learn how an old style Japanese seasonal clock worked. It was based on how the amount of light changes during the seasons, a pretty wild way to track time.

There's much more to say about the Seiko Museum, but what museum review can aptly describe what only your eyes can enjoy?

Download the Seiko museum pamphlet here.

Enjoy some more photos below:

Pocket watches

1967 Lord Marvels. The Lord Marvel paved the way for the Grand Seiko

The first Grand Seiko, the star of the show

Seiko and Disney have a long history of collaboration

The first watch with the Seiko name on the dial
appeared in 1924

Grand Seiko: Incomparable accuracy
on your wrist

1960s Grand Seikos, before mechanical Grand Seikos
took a very long vacation

Seiko makes great watches because of the people who
work for Seiko

Seiko's first wristwatch, the Laurel, traveling
in time from 1913

The Seiko Museum also has more modern Seikos and especially Grand Seikos on display

Grand Seikos and more Grand Seikos

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