Wonders of Infinity

Wonders of Infinity

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< Seiko >

Known for its horological landmarks and movements, Seiko has timeless tales to tell. Mitrajit Bhattacharya finds out what makes the brand tick

Seiko Epson Shiojiri Plant

Every time I board a flight to Tokyo, it feels closer than it is. In fact, it is a lot further than going to mainland Europe. My Singapore Airlines flight touches down slightly earlier, just in time for a view of the setting sun at the Narita airport. A quick transfer to the limousine (it takes very little time to complete formalities at Narita) and I am on my way to Tokyo city. Despite being caught in rush-hour traffic, I am excited to be in Japan, more so to be part of the highly popular national pastime: autumn leaf viewing.

The Japanese have celebrated, appreciated and deified their country’s autumn foliage. People make their way to see the beautiful and rich colours of the red maple, as they turn the countryside into a vibrant carpet of reds, golds, and oranges. I am fortunate to be in the land of filmmaker Kurosawa, in October, as the Koyo season begins.

Kouji Kubota, the developer of C-MOS IC Quartz movement

Booked at Conrad, one of the best downtown hotels of Tokyo, I quickly dine at its Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant, China Blue. As I slink into the comfort of my room, which oversees the high-rises of the Shiodome area, a stone’s throw from the Mecca of luxury – Ginza, I doze off to sleep.

The next morning, I meet up with my Seiko Media Experience team members, all flown in by Seiko, to visit their state-of-theart Manufacture and other facilities. The team comprises three Europeans from the soccer playing nations of Denmark, Holland and Great Britain, an American from San Francisco, plus two beautiful ladies from Romania and Turkey. And yes, there is our friend and guide, Akikosan (equivalent of Akikoji), who shall take us around for the next one week.

The emblem of The Seiko Institute of Horology (extreme top) and the first few wallclocks produced by Seikosha (above)

We begin the day at the Seiko Institute of Horology. Opened in 1981, the 100th year of the foundation of Seiko by Kintaro Hattori, it houses invaluable timepieces and is visited by hundreds of people everyday. Here one can view Seiko’s priceless horological landmark products: the first mechanical watch, Laurel (1913), world’s first quartz watch, Astron (1969), Kinetic and Spring Drive movements (1988 and 2005 respectively) and others. Before you start wondering ‘Is that all?’, let me tell you that Seiko has been the timekeeper for great sporting events around the world, proving its superiority in accurately measuring even the fraction of a second. Ever since the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, Seiko has been in the forefront of timekeeping, having kept time for seven Olympic Games, eight IAAF athletic games, five Commonwealth Games and six Asian Games.

The story that began with a clock repair store in central Tokyo, today boasts of over 85,000 employees in all its subsidiaries – Seiko Watch Corporation, Seiko Epson Corporation and Seiko Instruments Inc., which collectively has an annual turnover of over US $ 14 billion. The Seiko Watch Corporation is the holding company, which takes care of designs, brand marketing and sales. Its two pillars of technology – the Spring Drive and the Mechanical movements are produced by two different subsidiaries, namely, Seiko Epson Corporation, based at Shiojiri in the Suwa region and Seiko Instruments, based at Morioka in the north.

The combination of the silence of a Spring Drive movement and the clean sound of the Japanese bell makes Credor Sonnerie one of the best minute repeaters

What is absolutely amazing to know and sometimes difficult to comprehend is: why Seiko has a completely different range of products for the local and the global markets? While it prefers to reserve its topof- the-line products, like Credor and Grand Seiko, for its domestic buyers, it has ultra modern offerings, like Sportura, Velatura, Arctura and Premier for the international markets. With the launch of Ananta, a truly global product, Seiko now wishes to bridge this gap.

Slowly getting comfortable with the world of Seiko, we set out for lunch with Kouji Kubota, considered the ‘Father of Quartz Watches’, who developed the C-MOS IC in quartz movements, towards the end of the 1960s.

After a great meal, we move eastwards to Kamisuwa, to check into our hotel – an inn called Hamano-yu. Blessed with natural hot springs, the hotel has tourists coming from all over Japan, looking at enhancing the glow on their faces at the hotel’s spa. Japanese Inns are different from others: for they don’t allow shoes and beds in the room. You change into Yukata (the traditional wrap-around cotton outfit) and slippers provided by the hotel. After a nice hot spring spa, we are treated to an eight-course Japanese dinner, seated on the floor accompanied by another Japanese love – the Karaoke.