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Articles from WATCHES (847 Articles), MEN'S JEWELLERY (163 Articles)


Techno Timepieces - How the Japanese brands dominate

The Japanese have developed their own niches to compete in the Swiss-dominated global watch market. The high-tech brands have wide appeal and even wider ranges, so much so that the only real difficulty for consumers and retailers is choosing the right watch.

Leading Japanese watch brands Seiko, Citizen and Casio have long been household names within the retail watch and jewellery industry thanks to their reputation for producing technologically-advanced, inexpensive and durable timepieces.

The Japanese quartz movement revolutionised the watch category when the first quartz watches were marketed in 1969. Not only did quartz timepieces operate without winding, but they also boasted accuracy about 100 times better than traditional Swiss watches, dropping out by no more than 20 seconds a month compared to a shift in performance of anywhere between 10 and 60 seconds in a single day for their Swiss competitors.

So popular was the quartz breakthrough that Japan quickly became the world’s largest timepiece producer, manufacturing some 60 million watches domestically in 1979.  Today, younger generations want their watches to be fashion-forward, technologically-advanced and available at affordable prices.

It is the Japanese who are delivering, creating products that have automatic power-generation or solar-power, GPS units, heart-rate monitors and sophisticated timing capabilities. Some models are even touted as indestructible. But these timepieces aren’t only for the younger consumers. Japanese watches have wide appeal and even wider product ranges, so much so that the only real difficulty for consumers (and retailers) is choosing between the brands.

From the suppliers
How do the suppliers view themselves as being different to the Swiss brands?

“Japanese brands have always been pioneers of technology; that’s the main difference between us and the Swiss watch brands,” Seiko Watches’ group marketing manager Stuart Smith says. “At Seiko, we’re a fully vertically-integrated watch and clock company, whereas some of the Swiss brands outsource some of their materials.”

Swiss watch brands regularly list their rich heritage as a sales feature, but Smith says the Seiko brand has a substantial heritage of its own: “While we might promote ourselves as a technology brand, we have just celebrated our 100-year anniversary so we have our own heritage too. There are a few Swiss brands out there without that type of heritage.”

Citizen Watches sales and marketing manager Rod Willment believes the strength of the Japanese companies lies in their ability “to produce sophisticated watches on a scale and at a price that is more acceptable to the marketplace”.

“What distinguishes Citizen from other watch brands is the fact that our concept models are never created just for the sake of exploring new ideas. Rather, they are always released as real production models and receive high praise for their unique design and innovative technologies,” Willment explains.

Heritage Vs Innovation

“Swiss brands rely heavily on their heritage as a watch brand, whereas Japanese companies are about the future of watch-making and using innovation and new technology to extend these boundaries. Our approach toward innovation has been the core of our DNA for over 80 years, and has allowed us to bring a higher level of sense and purpose to new technologies and sophisticated design.”

Bruno Bouchet is national sales and marketing manager for Casio Watches, part of the Shriro Group. He argues the differences between Swiss and Japanese brands are highlighted in the different marketing approaches each employs.

“There’s no denying it – Swiss companies have done a terrific job in creating classic and prestigious chronographs. Their focus has always been on the branding of ‘Swiss-made’, which enjoys a solid reputation globally, where Japanese watch companies have shaken things up is when it comes to innovation, price-point and fashion which is why the market has responded so positively to the cutting-edge technologies that have been incorporated in their timepieces.” Bouchet cites Casio in particular as a watch brand that has thrived on solving problems. 

“As a response to watches that would constantly break, Casio invented the G-Shock,” he explains. “Fast-forward 30 years and over 65 million G-Shocks have been sold. Put simply, Japanese brands stand for innovation.”

G-Shock’s 2011 release of the world’s first shock-resistant smart watch is just one of a handful of innovations that consumers are currently enjoying, and highlights the Japanese company’s ability to solve the problem of how to develop watches that have the latest cutting-edge technologies but can still take a beating.

On the topic of innovation, Seiko’s Smith puts forward a strong case for his brand:“Seiko was first with the quartz watch in 1969 and more recently introduced kinetic technology, stored energy in a watch. This type of technology underwent a whole series of patents. Now we have kinetic direct drive, plus traditional mechanical and automatic watches. In 2005, we launched spring drive, a hybrid style of watch featuring moving parts with quartz accuracy – it certainly separates us from all other brands.”

This innovation is a source of great pride for the Japanese industry, pride that flows from the factory to the sales floor.

“We’ve always been the market leaders when it comes to technology,” Smith beams, adding “While the Swiss get excited about changing the size of the crown, we get excited by technological changes, better battery life, solar-power and GPS-enabled watches.”

In 2012, Seiko was first to market with its Astron GPS watch, an analogue model that boasts solar power and 39 time zones, and which communicates with satellites to deliver pinpoint accuracy to +/- one second every 100,000 years.

“It’s the most advanced quartz watch on the market,” Smith states.

When the Astron series launched internationally with six models, Australia took five of them, with price points of $2,700 up to $5,500. Smith says for a relatively small local audience, the Astron series is doing exceptionally well, and a second-generation version has recently been released with four more models..

Women and technology
Our marketing trio agrees that women are not typically influenced by technology in their timepieces, preferring fashion over function, but that doesn’t mean the brands ignore the ladies.

“While guys like technology, females are drawn to design,” Smith says, admitting that Seiko is positioned more as a male brand, something reflected in its sell-through ratio of 65 per cent male and 35 per cent female.

“To attract female buyers, Seiko has concentrated more on ladies’ collections in the past few years and has moved into more products that have diamonds and stones,” Smith adds.

Seiko has also chosen Russian Darya Klishina, an Olympic-level long-jumper, as its ladies brand ambassador. Smith says she embodies what the brand conveys – sporty yet feminine.

Willment says women play a very important role in any watch selection process, either purchasing watches as gifts for their male partners or advising those partners when they are looking to purchase; however, style and design are only as important to men as technology – functionality plays an important role in their decision process.

“Citizen recognises the importance of the female customer,” Willment says, adding that the brand introduced a new ladies range called the Citizen L Collection in 2012, with L standing for ladies. “It’s a range inspired by natural beauty, design speaking of serenity and elegance. This range was successfully launched in 2012 and we will add new models this year with the knowledge and confidence that Citizen has a strong and loyal female customer base.”

Over at Casio, Bouchet says Baby-G will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2014, a milestone expected to attract female customers. “Both locally and internationally, Baby-G has been hugely successful in creating timepieces that are relevant to fashion trends all whilst being tough and packed with important functionalities,” he says, emphasising the importance of the brand to luring the ladies.

“Baby-G is the perfect ‘sister brand’ for G-Shock. Whilst G-Shock has teamed up on designs with the likes of Eminem and the Wu-Tang Clan, Baby-G has teamed up with Ke$ha and influential brands such as Married To The Mob and Joy Rich. Baby-G designers have been terrific in ensuring that their watches reflect the latest trends.

“I remember getting a frantic phone call late one night from a Japanese colleague who was in Milan. ‘Bruno, pastel colours are the next big thing.’  Within a few months, Baby-G had a strong pastel offering that was both beautiful and tough.”

Japanese watch companies traditionally have healthy marketing budgets in order to help consumers distinguish between the brands, and ambassadors play a large role. 

“We strive to use global brand ambassadors, rather than local identities that don’t translate well to other markets, in order to connect with the widest market,” Smith says, adding that there is even a difference in the ambassadors used by the Japanese and the Swiss. “The Swiss use brand ambassadors that tie in with their aspirational timepieces, whereas we [Seiko] use ambassadors from the sporting arena our brand is known for its functionality.”

Sporting partnerships
In order to help form a link between technology and sporting culture, Seiko has partnered with European soccer giant FC Barcelona.

“When people talk about sport, they mention the timing accuracy that you can only get with good Japanese watches. That’s where Seiko is renowned. When it comes to technology, if you’re not up at the top of the tree, you’re a follower,” Smith says, adding that Seiko was ranked number four in marketing spend in the Australian watch market for 2012, and has been in the top 10 for each of the past eight years. “We’re the largest mainstream watch spenders across three brands: Seiko, Pulsar and Lorus.”

Each of Seiko’s brands is aimed at specific consumer price points: Seiko, $350 to $1,200 mainstream, Astron is above that and Grand Seiko ranges from $5,000 to $10,000 (mainstream) up to $30,000 for its gold and platinum models. Pulsar watches are priced around $150-$350, while Lorus sits at the bottom end of $49-$200.

“We think it’s difficult for a single brand to have that stretch across all price points,” Smith says. “Pulsar and Lorus give a lot more spread across the market. We’re the second largest watch company in Australia behind Swatch, which has the multiple brands under the swatch banner. Combine all three Seiko brands and we’d be the largest unit seller across the market.”

“Citizen is a brand that suits every customer’s budget,” Willment attests, “starting at the entry level Eco-Drive at $250 all the way to the top end Citizen Eco-Drive Satellite Wave-Air priced at $2,999. For those customers who feel technology is not that important but still want a reliable and quality watch at an affordable price, we have the Citizen Quartz range that is priced below $250.”

Bouchet boasts that Casio has been brilliant at aligning itself with the most relevant people and brands. “The demographic we’re going after doesn’t want to simply be sold a watch; they want to be sold a reflection of their lifestyle,” he explains. “Put simply, if their idols are digging it, they want to wear it.”

Watch this space …
Unsurprisingly, all three companies confirmed they have big plans for the future.

At Seiko, Smith says there will be more extensions to the Seiko GPS collection in mainstream models. In fact, the company is currently launching 98 new designs. A new app is also being launched for iPhone, iPad and Android that will have a watch selector and a local store locator with 252 premium stores. It will also contain the latest advertising, news and watch range.

Citizen will be launching new flagship models, including Eco-Drive Satellite Wave-Air and Eco-Drive Altichron. First marketed in 2011, Eco-Drive Satellite Wave became the world’s first watch to feature the precision satellite time-keeping system that could give the exact time wherever worn in the world.

World's first watch with a titanium case. Launched in 1970 by Citizen
“The new Eco-Drive Satellite Wave-Air incorporates newer technologies and a provocative aerodynamic design,” Willment explains. “Likewise, succeeding the Altichron model that was originally released in 1989, the new Eco-Drive Altichron extends the model’s legendary altimeter performance and elevates the multi-functionality even higher.”

Casio is moving ahead with version two of the G-Shock Smart Watch which, according to Bouchet, “ will allow users to control their music, read text messages and screen calls all from the comfort of their wrists”.

Bouchet expects the soon-to-be-released G-Shock x Eminem collaboration model to become the most highly-sought collaboration model in the history of G-Shock and says the iconic design of the DW6900 is to receive a face-lift – the new GDX6900 series will have a bigger face and added functionalities.

“We’re excited about the new designs for Baby-G. There had been a lot of demand for female-friendly versions of the popular G-Shock Duo GA110 series,” Bouchet says. 

After decades of innovation, the future has arrived, and Japanese watches find themselves well-positioned as cherished lifestyle accessories jam-packed with high-end, easily-accessible technology.

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