During my trip to Japan towards the start of the year I was able to revisit the Seiko Epson Monozukuri Museum that is located at Suwa in the Nagano region.
This museum is housed at the Epson headquarters and has a range of exhibits presenting the range of products that Epson has produced over the years since its foundation.
I had previously visited the museum back in 2016 and was really impressed with the exhibits presented. Unfortunately I did not have enough time to properly see all of the items on display at that time so I was very happy to have the opportunity to return. Details of my first visit can be found HERE.
When I visited the Museum this time it was the start of March and Lake Suwa was still partially frozen. The weather was quite cold and there was a little wind. To get to the museum I caught a Shinkansen from Shinjuku to Kami-suwa station in the morning and arrived a little before lunch. The trip takes around two hours and fifteen minutes and heads north west to the center of the country. When I arrived at Kami-suwa I walked down to the shore of Lake Suwa and checked out the ice and built up snow. I then grabbed some ramen for lunch before walking to the Epson campus.
After checking in with security I met my guide and we walked across to the Museum. As many of the exhibits were the same as my first visit I quickly moved through the first half of the exhibits that present the early years of the Suwa factory and the different product types that Epson has developed over the years.
In this area there was an early Marine Chronometer that was based on the Crystal Chronometer that was developed as a timer for the 1964 Olympics. This has a cutaway design and was operational so the mechanism can be seen. Next to this was an example of the first model Astron from 1969.
In the center of the room was a new addition to the collection an Epson EX-1 accounting computer. This was released in 1977 and was the world's smallest office computer at time of release. This was a dedicated accounting computer with an 8080 processor, 20KB of RAM, built-in 8” floppy drive and line printer. This was the first end user product to feature the Epson branding.
There was also a section with a display on the process for producing quartz oscillators and various IC packages.
Towards the rear of the room was a display of various Epson production robots.
I then moved to the second half of the museum that's a huge display of watches from different decades covering all types of models that were produced. Due to the sheer size of this display I was only able to briefly examine this on my previous visit so I concentrated most of my time here on this visit. At the entrance to this room was the latest watch brand “Trume” that was released in 2017 by Epson which features a GPS time sync similar to the modern Seiko branded Astron models as well as a number of other functions. There was also a display of the SS-770S sports watch from 2012 that was the first model released in the Epson Wristable series.
Inside the second main room the visitor is greeted by a large number of display cases filled with watches. The display starts with the late 1940’s and 1950’s with the initial models that were produced at the Suwa factory. These were the 10‴ sized movements that came in a number of three handed designed and later included calendar functions.
These are followed by the Marvel model that was extremely successful and was released in 1956. This was Seiko’s first completely in house designed movement and became the best selling model of watch in Japan at the time. The Seiko Lord Marvel, Laurel, Crown and Crown calendar and Sportsman models followed. These were later superseded by the Gyro Marvel the automatic model released in 1960 that introduced the iconic magic lever winding system.
This following case has other key models from the 1960’s. First shown is the 5718A Counter chronograph that is surprisingly listed as a 1960 release. I am only aware of this model being produced for a small number of sales at the 1964 Olympic village so the dating of this model as 1960 is very surprising. The general movement design of the 5718 looks very similar to the 5719 based models but with the addition of the counter functionality, so the dating of this is unusual especially considering there is a 5719 that is shown with a 1964 release as expected just a few watches down.
Next in the case is the Sportsmatic Blue Yacht from 1961 that is described as Seiko first true waterproof watch. This is followed by other models from 1961 with the 6601 Sportsmatic, 6220A Sykliner and 6640 Disney Time that was Japan’s first character watch. Rounding out the cabinet is the Seikomatic Self Dater (6205) and Silverwave (6201) from 1962 and a Skyliner Calendar (6222B) from 1963. Next to these is a pair of 6606 models describing the first of the Seiko Sportsmatic Five models.
The next cabinet is for other models from the 60’s. It contains an 8301 Seikomatic Slim, 6218 Seikomatic Weekdater, 5740 Lord Marvel, 6217 World Time, 5719 one button Crown Chronograph, 8306 83matic Weekdater, 6246 Chronometer and 6106 Five Deluxe. At the end of the case is a 5740C Lord Marvel Seiko’s first 36,000 bph movement, 5601 Lord Matic, 5625/5626 King Seiko Calendar and King Seiko Chronometer. There was also a 61RW (6110) railway pocket watch.
The next section of the museum is focused on the Swiss Chronometer trials from the mid 1960’s. This starts with a cabinet in the corner containing one of the competition movements, a competition certificate and a prototype watch that was made to hold one of the competition movements. The wristwatch prototype was never publicly released and Seiko never sold any of the Neuchâtel competition movements to the public.
Next to the corner case is a display of more of the competition movements from various years with both the movement and dial side visible. In addition to the watches there are three different small quartz clocks also from the Neuchâtel competitions.
Next to the Neuchâtel competition case is another case with other generally released models. The case starts with a couple of divers with a 62MAS and a 6105-8110 that is incorrectly labeled as 1968, the 6105-8000 was released in 1968 while the 8110 model did not launch until 1970. There is also a 6159-7000 the first Professional labeled Seiko dive watch and the 56 Lord Matic that was awarded the Prime Minister’s prize for Innovation from 1968.
Also in the case is a 6139 Speedtimer, a 6106 Five Actus and a 5626 King Seiko Vanac (on an incorrect bracelet). There is a pair of 5619 Duo Time models as well as a 6159-7010 grandfather tuna model. There is also a 6306 SilverWave, 5780 skeletonised jeweled and toward the rear of the case you can see various ladies movements, a 5018 Tomony jump hour and 6347 moon phase.
The next couple of cases in the room contain mechanical watches grouped by movement type and decade. There are hundreds of watches in the cases and they are mostly just watch heads. They cover the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s.
After the mechanical watch cases there are a number of cases in the center of the room devoted to the development and evolution of quartz watches. The cabinet starts with a 952 SQCT Crystal Timer from 1965 that was used on Shinkansen trains as well as an Antarctic observatory. There are then a number of early quartz watches including the 36SQC, 35SQC and 38SQW. There are also a couple of electronic models featuring 3100 and 3700 series calibers. These are followed with a series of 38 series models.
The next group of watches are 48 series including King quartz and Superior models. There is also an example of the first railway quartz pocket watch the 38RW (3870). The evolution of the models continues with the 75RW railway pocket watch, 7549 diver (incorrectly identified as 7548), 9300 and 2320 Credors and the 9983 Twin Quartz Superior. The next case shows the advances in the early 80’s with 9441 twin quartz, 8123, 6458 diver, 7A28 first analog chronograph, 9063 twin mode quartz Majesta, 7A48 Fishing Master and finally the 1E70 small ladies caliber.
The next cabinet has a small selection of Orient models followed by some of the 1980’s Credor models.
The next group of cabinets shows the evolution of the Grand Seiko models from the first 3180, 5722, 6145, 6185 VFA and 6156 that had an example of stored in a time capsule at the 1970 World Expo. The next cabinet starts with the introduction of the modern GS models with a 9581 from 1987. This is followed by the first 9F quartz GS models with the 9F83 from 1993 and the ladies 4J51 ladies model from 2002.
The corner cabinet has a couple of key models in the “smart watch” evolution with the RC-20 from 1984 that allowed connection to a PC to transfer data and a WM-550X Chronobit from 2000 that was the first watch to include PDA functionality directly into a wrist watch.
The next cabinet has watches featuring radio sync functionality and this is followed by the modern GPS time syncing Astron models. The modern Astrons of course take their name from the first quartz watch from 1969. In 2000 there was a reissue of this initial model and I was wearing my example of this so I took a shot with it.
The next group of cabinets have a display of the Kinetic models starting with the 7M22 and 7M42 from 1988. These are followed by the 5M23 kinetic diver, the thin 4M21, 5M42 and 9T82 one of the most complex kinetic models ever produced. The kinetic models continue with a 5M62, 5M47 Land Master South Pole, 5J22, 5J32, 7L22 and finally a SAGG007 Brightz Phoenix Kinetic Direct Drive with a 5D44 movement.
There is also a Seiko Spectrum which was the world first electronic ink watch from 2006. This watch has an unusual bracelet/cuff design and range of display designs.
The final group of cases in the center of the room is focused on Spring Drive. There is an example of the first 7R68 based model from 1999 along with pictures of the prototype movements. There is an exploded model of the 5R86 Spring Drive chronograph and a model that shows different sections of the movement and how it functions. There are also examples of Land Master, Space Walk and Marine Master Spring Drive models.
Lastly there is a Decor ball clock from 2005 and a display of watches specifically designed for the visually impaired with the mechanical 6618 and quartz 7C17 based models.
On the far side of the room there are another series of cabinets that have quartz models from the 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s. Like the mechanical display on the other side of the room these cabinets are grouped chronologically and are mostly just the watch head.
The last of the cabinets have watches with unique functions and specialist applications. These include calculator models, stopwatches, multi function LCD models, ani-digi models and early “smart watches”.
This was the conclusion of my visit to the museum and after leaving the museum I stayed at a local hotel with views across Lake Suwa. The next day I headed to Nagoya and shortly after leaving Kami-Suwa the train passes by the Seiko Epson Shiojiri facility.
It was an excellent experience to visit the Monozukuri Museum again and it is fantastic to be able to see all of these pieces together. If you are in Japan and visiting the Nagano region I would strongly recommend visiting the museum.