Image courtesy of SpencerPKAs an historical document, this ad for Seiko is interesting for a few reasons. It tells us what was perceived as desirable in a timepiece of the 70s; “Colored dials. Self Wind. Instant day and date change. Bilingual calendars.” It also, and more importantly, is an early salvo in the most serious threat to the Swiss watch– the emergence of cheap, mass produced quartz watches.
None of theshown here are quartz, and at the time a quartz watch probably cost about as much as a car – but the signs are all there. This ad challenged the perceived value of luxury Swiss products; “pay only for the timepiece, not the time it took to make it.”
I once had a chat to a gentleman who travelled around thein the early 70s. In Japan he bought what was at the time a top of the line Seiko, a watch with an alarm and calendar that retailed for just over $100 – a bell-matic. Later on in his grand tour this gentleman ended up in a watch store in . Apparently the staff and watchmakers in this store had never before seen a Seiko, and were very interested in this machine made Japanese watch, so interested that they asked to open it up for a better look. Apparently they were very impressed by the of the movement and finish and very shocked at how small a Seiko were selling them for.
The impressions of those Swiss salespeople are encapsulated in Seiko’s ad. It is a challenge to traditional Swiss methods. Modern production allows for “prices that weren’t possible till Seiko automation.” The years following this ad (and largely for reasons articulated in this ad) saw thousands of people lost jobs and many watch companies disappeared. The Swiss watchwas decimated.
Thankfully for fans of thethe Swiss recovered, bigger and brighter than ever – and I’m pleased to say that Seiko too have done ok for themselves over the last 40 years. This isn’t just a history lesson. We can see the same discussions and debates being played out today except this time it’s outsourced construction and Chinese tourbillions instead of automation that we’re talking about.