When Citizen started on its quest to provide the correct time on demand to anyone on earth, global positioning satellites (GPS) were well known. By the mid-1990s, anyone with a car recognized that the acronym represented technology that was helpful for the directionally challenged.
But while GPS could direct a driver in search of an optimal route, with estimated timing information, no company had at that time placed a GPS chip in a wristwatch to indicate the correct time of day. Sensing yet another timekeeping challenge, Citizen more than a decade ago set out to develop GPS technology for wristwatches. By 2011 Citizen debuted the green-tinged Eco-Drive Satellite Wave, the world’s first light-powered satellite-synchronized analog watch.
Citizen’s attention to new technology has been at the core of the company’s success since it was founded 100 years ago in Tokyo. As it celebrates its first century this year, Citizen continues to focus its resources on technical advances like GPS timekeeping, light-powered movements, hardened titanium alloys and ultra-thin quartz movements.
NEW SATELLITE WAVE
To recall this century-long drive to innovation, this year Citizen debuts the Promaster Eco-Drive Satellite Wave GPS F990, a sleeker, brighter and technologically updated version of the first Satellite Wave model Citizen debuted in 2011.
Though this new watch echoes the original model’s green color accents and dial layout, its technology is light years ahead of the groundbreaking original. The 2018 Super Titanium-cased model is thinner and lighter than the ceramic original while inside Citizen’s new GPS technology automatically adjusts to the local time more quickly than the original model. In addition, the new model offers a new 24-hour hand and newly skeletonized pushers.
The idea this year is to recall that initial model, and more broadly to spotlight Citizen’s technical focus as a watchmaker as it celebrates its 100th anniversary. At Baselworld 2018, Citizen is offering additional examples of new GPS watches, as well as watches that demonstrate technical breakthroughs within its Eco-Drive models, explains Citizen’s Global Brand Manager Norio Takeuchi.
“Based on our company philosophy we will express our 100 years of history by emphasizing that we are a technology-oriented company,” he says. “Of particular importance is our Eco-Drive, which we invented more than forty years ago and have been improving every year since.”
Takeuchi adds that Citizen will also debut an even more advanced version of its ultra-thin Eco-Drive One (which debuted two years ago) at Baselworld.
“We believe that the Eco-Drive One expresses the best of our Eco-Drive technology. We will combine Eco-Drive with synchronized Bluetooth technology, which we developed first in 2006, and with global signal radio reception, which we pioneered in 1993. We will offer special limited edition collections that demonstrate each of these technologies this year at Baselworld.”
As Takeuchi explains, Citizen is proud of these technical advancements. He emphasizes that while the larger Citizen Group also manufactures electronic devices, machine tools and even jewelry, the company directs the largest share of its investment within its watch business. He points to the recent opening of a new movement factory, now the world’s largest, as an example of how Citizen focuses on developing its internal technology. (Built in the fall of 2016, Citizen’s Miyota Saku Factory houses watch movement, coil and complete watch assembly.)
These investments have, over decades, been at the core of Citizen’s leadership in a variety of technical timekeeping arenas. Primary among these, he emphasizes, is Citizen’s unparalleled development of light-powered technology for timepieces.
“Our Eco-Drive One is the perfect example of our accomplishments,” Takeuchi says. “Before Eco-Drive was born, more than forty years ago, our company built itself on developing smaller and smaller movements. We achieved that and we created the world’s thinnest watch (the 2.7mm Diamond Flake, from 1962). After Eco-Drive was born, we started the same efforts, but with this new technology. We started to make it thinner and smaller, leading up to the Eco-Drive One, which is the thinnest Eco-Drive watch.”
Citizen’s forward-looking technical focus often means it jumps ahead of trends before they become global. For example, Citizen was well ahead of its time forty years ago as it developed light-powered movements.
“Forty years ago few people cared about ecology in reference to watches, but today the world is very aware of this,” Takeuchi explains. “We forecast this interest forty years ago. Now the environment is a worldwide issue. And now everybody sees the value of the Eco-Drive technology.” Similarly, the watch world today sees the value of using titanium cases and bracelets. Citizen’s deep investment in its own metal development technology allowed it to experiment with titanium cases well before other watch companies.
“During our hundred years we have developed many important new materials for our watches,” Takeuchi adds. “One of our biggest accomplishments has been the development of titanium for watchcases and bracelets. Almost a half-century ago we developed the first watch made from 100% pure titanium. That was one of our biggest accomplishments.”
Watchmakers around the globe now see the value of using titanium to create watchcases. “It is gentle to the skin, is lightweight, it doesn’t rust, it is strong and it’s good for the environment. We forecast even more use of titanium. This is an alternative to other metals without compromising design and style.”
CITIZEN SMART WATCH?
Some would argue that the smart watch today represents a type of cutting-edge wristwatch technology. While Citizen recognizes this position, its views on connected wristwatch technology mean you likely won’t see a touch-screen Citizen for the wrist anytime soon.
“In 2006 we developed the world’s first Bluetooth watch,” Takeuchi explains. “It could be synchronized with a mobile phone and it received call notifications and email notifications. We pioneered that smart technology.”
He reminds us that in 2012 Citizen also debuted the Proximity, the world’s first Bluetooth-synchronized light powered watch, which Citizen sold only in the United States. On the ten-year anniversary of the premiere Bluetooth watch, Citizen in 2016 launched a newer Proximity that could be synchronized with both iPhone and Android.
“We added various smart functions to help the consumer,” says Takeuchi. “This is the Citizen-style smart watch. As long as there is demand we will invent new functions for this. But we never forget our foundations, which means it must be an analog watch with a beautiful dial. Sometimes you’ll see the opposite, where function comes before beauty – and everybody can make a digital ‘Smartwatch.’
Citizen’s core focus on technology complements its desire to improve the world, notes Takeuchi.
“Citizen is for people who have the will to change the world,” he says. “We appreciate these people and we want them to buy our watches.” He identifies Americans particularly as a group of citizens who have changed the world. “Our philosophy is higher, further, deeper. And there are no limits. We plan on doing this for the next 100 years, and even though the world is changing, the value of a watch will be there, and we will be here to change with it.”