Seiko Railroad Watch

After visiting the Seiko Epson Shiojiri factory in the Nagano region I was able to arrange a visit to the Monozukuri Museum at the Seiko Epson headquarters located in Kami-suwa.

I headed to the Epson HQ after leaving the Gishodo Museum I had visited earlier that day. It was just a short train ride from Shimo-suwa to Kami-suwa. This train driver had a Seiko pocket watch like seen on many Japan Rail trains.

It was about a 10 minute walk from the station to the Epson Headquarters. 

The Epson offices are spread over a number of different buildings and they house not only the Museum but also a school and offices.

I checked into the security reception and met my contact Yoshiko Kotani who works with the Monozukuri Museum. In the same facility there is a school where students study in a range of different areas related to the production segments that Epson is involved with. The term Monozukuri literally translates to production but is more accurately translated as craftsmanship. 

We headed across the campus to a building with some of the school facilities and also the museum. We started with a brief summary of Seiko Epson Corporation and the different parts of the company. Epson has an annual revenue of approximately $9 billion, this is broken down into $1.5 billion for watches, $1.5 billion for projectors and $6 billion for printers. 

The history of Epson can be traced back to 1942 with the founding of Daiwa-kogyo a third-party supplier. In 1943 the Daini-seikosha Suwa factory was evacuated and relocated to the Daiwa-kogyo location. In 1959 the companies were merged and renamed as Suwa-seikosha. In 1961 Sinshu-seiki was founded and it was made up of six different divisions. 

The printing section of the business had originally started with Seiko’s involvement in the 1964 Olympics. To record the times Seiko developed a small printer that could be connected to the timing devices. The electronic printer proved to be incredibly successful and in 1975 Sinshu-seiki created the Epson brand. Epson stands for “Electronic Printer SON” referencing its origins and in 1982 Sinshu-seiki renamed the company Epson.

After the company overview we started to look at the museum exhibits. The first display was the initial product that was produced by the factory. The initial product was a timing system that was used by security guards. The system has a clock built into a case, when the security guard did their rounds they inserted a key and this made a mark onto a round paper disc. 

The next items shown were requested by the Japanese government just before the end of the war. These were an artillery timing device, with a 55 second fuse, and ammunition, but thiey never made it into production as the war came to the end before development was completed. 

There was a frame on the wall that showed pictures of the first factory that was converted from a miso factory. There were also photos of the original management and employees. 

One of the original machines from the factory is on display and you are able power it up and see how it operated.

The first watch product was a ladies type 5 movement that also utilised parts from Daini-seikosha. There was also a movement that was used in the men's Super models. 

The first major success for the factory was the Marvel. This was designed to be a high quality movement that could compete with international rivals. In the 1957 Japanese evaluation of domestic watch quality the Marvel took 7 of the top spots including positions 1 to 5. The same year in an evaluation by the United States watch society of Japan the Marvel took first place beating Omega. The following year Marvels took the top nine positions in the Japanese evaluation of domestic watch quality.

In 1959 the Gyro Marvel was introduced. This was the first completely in house automatic movement that introduced the magic lever auto winding system. 

The next display was a Crystal Chronometer and a Marine Chronometer that was exposed so the movement could be seen. 

At the 1964 Olympics the Crystal Chronometer was used in a number of events and a printing timer was also used. The following were the quantities of units used on each of the sports.

Crystal Chronometer
12    Marathon
01    Rowing
02    Cycling
07    Modern Pentathlon
10    Equestrian
02    Shooting
06    Yachting

Printing Timer
02    Cycling
05    Modern Pentathlon
06    Equestrian
02    Shooting

Following the Crystal Chronometer was the Astron. This was obviously a significant milestone in not only Seiko’s history but for the whole industry. There is an Astron movement also on display. 

There was a display that showed some of the prototypes for the quartz oscillator that was developed for the watch. 

The development of the quartz wristwatch was recognised by the IEEE in 2004 as a milestone in electrical engineering and computing.

As part of the creation of stepper motors for the Astron, the SAM-D samarium-cobalt rare-earth bonded magnets were developed. These became the basis for the Suwa Seikosha Co., Ltd. magnet business.

Next is a cabinet explaining the development of the CMOS chip that was used in the 3823 VFA model released in 1971.

This was closely followed by the 06LC, released in 1973, the world's first watch with a six digit LCD display.

In 1978 Epson released the Melody IC the world’s first electronic sound generating device. This development was based on the company's research into CMOS technologies and the IC was able to produce three sounds, a melody, buzzer and chime. This technology was rapidly introduced into a Seiko watch providing an alarm function in the same year.

Related to watch production was the development of the specialised robots like this model from 1981. These were built to automate the production lines and eventually became a dedicated business in their own right.

In 1982 Seiko produced the TV watch. This had a 1.2” monochrome LCD display and was the world's smallest TV at the time. 

Following these watch focused displays was a stand showing the first printer developed for the 1964 Olympics. This was designed specifically to print times from the Seiko timing system. There was also an image of the world’s first digital stopwatch that was also developed for the games.

Inside the printer chassis was the main print mechanism. This was a huge leap forward in technology as this print mechanism was approximately 1/17 of the volume, 1/20 power consumption and 1/15 the weight, of a standard printer at the time.

In September 1968 this printer was commercialised and was released at the EP-101 the world’s first mini-printer.

In 1979 Epson released the terminal printer TP-80 a serial dot matrix printer. This proved to be very successful and the range was quickly expanded keeping pace with the rapid developments in the computer industry. By the mid-80’s Epson had grown to be the world’s largest printer manufacturer.

In 1982 Epson released the world’s first handheld computer the HC-20. This had built-in screen and printer as well as a CP-20 acoustic coupler accessory.

In the early 1990’s Epson began releasing inkjet printers and in 1994 introduced the MJ-700V2C the first full color product that could achieve 720 dpi printing.

The next exhibit was a display about the production of quartz crystals. Seiko Epson produce their own crystals and over the years have been able to increase their size and quality. 

The crystals are grown in large towers in specialised facilities that are located in the south of Japan. 

Next was a display showing the Epson Metal Injection Moulding (MIM) process. This process allows for the creation of complex shapes and minimises waste while increasing strength. This process has been used for the production of specialised nozzles, dental implants, locks and gundam feet. The process has also been used to produce the Landmaster single piece case and bezel as well as Grand Seiko case backs.

Another area that Epson was a major player in was the production of components for floppy disk and hard drives. 

This business grew from their strengths in stepper motor technology that was originally developed for the quartz watch. Stepper motors and similar tech are also found in other devices such as mobile phone vibration systems, camera lens motors and many other devices. 

The next area on display was the optical products that were produced by Seiko. These optical products include lenses for projectors, lenses for small cameras and eyewear. In 2013 the eyewear portion of the company was completely moved to the optical company Hoya and they also agreed to purchase 50% of Seiko Optical Products Co., LTD., ("SOP") that was previously SEIKO's wholly owned subsidiary.

There was also a display of Seiko Cleancut shavers and a range of portable karaoke systems. 

After being a leader in LCD development they grew this industry and produced displays for phones, portable televisions and media players. 

Epson released a watch, the Chrono-bit, with PDA functionality in 2000. This was a competitor to the SII Ruputer that had been released a couple of years earlier. 

There was a display of various Epson camera models from the 90's when Epson produced cameras.

In addition to cameras Epson also produced computers and monitors.

Epson is also a large producer of projectors. The projector division of Epson has approximately the same amount of revenue as the watch division. In 1989 Epson released their first 3LCD projector the VPJ-700. Examples of the early Epson projectors were also on display. 

Epson's largest division is printing. There was a display of many different printer modules.

There was also a display with an Epson Stylus 800 inkjet printer that was selected by NASA for use on the STS-95 Discovery space shuttle mission in 1998. This unit has serial number 1001 and is displayed with official mission patches, cap and a signed crew poster. The crew included John H. Glenn Jr. who at age 77 became the oldest person in space.

To help to produce products Epson developed various robotic systems and eventually sold these products to other companies as well as their own use.

This was the final display in the main museum room and I was impressed with the displays. I thought that this was going to be the end of the tour but we then headed to another large room.

In the second room I was faced with a huge selection of watches in numerous display cases. 

The first cabinet contained the early models from the 1940’s this was followed by models from the 1950’s.

From the beginning of the 1960’s the first couple of watches were the 5718A Chronograph and a Blue Yacht. The description of the Blue Yacht listed this as their first full-scale waterproof watch.

Next was a cabinet showing the Swiss Observatory competition models and results certificates. This was followed by a number of examples from the trials. This was the largest collection of these models that I have ever seen in a single display.

Following this was a series of cabinets with various models from the 1960’s and 70’s.

There were really too many nice watches to examine each closely but I did like the example of the 6347 that was surprisingly the only vintage mechanical moon-phase model made by Seiko.

The next set of cabinets grouped models by calibre, starting from the 1950’s then progressing through the 60’s and 70’s.

There was a display of compact clocks showing how the quartz movement was rapidly reduced in size over just a few short years.

There were then numerous examples from the development of quartz that showed the fast paced changes that happened with this technology and the wide range of models that were created.

The quartz models included the first couple of railroad pocket watches, the very rare 38RW (3870) from 1976 and the very successful 75RW (7550) that followed just two years later.

There were also various other quartz model examples covering a very wide selection of models.

A quartz 93 calibre movement was also on display. When released in 1979 it was the world’s thinnest at just 0.9mm.

There was a small case of Orient models on display that showed a timeline with some modern and early pieces.

Next was a couple of cabinets with Credor models and Grand Seiko models.

Heading across the room there were display cases with various LCD models, including their first LCD stopwatch and various calculator watches.

There was also a display of various sports timing and speciality models.

Following this area was a series of cabinets containing quartz models from the 70’s through to the 2000’s.

After these cabinets there was a display of various sports watches with an emphasis upon dive watches. The cabinet contained 6217, 6159, 6105, 6159, 7548, 6458 and DH33 models.

Next to these was a SpaceWalk and then a series of Kinetic models. There was an exploded kinetic movement that showed the power generation section and other components.

Beside this was a Brightz Phoenix SAGG007 direct drive kinetic model that I have always liked and then various other kinetic models.

A small display of the Seiko e-ink watches were then shown including the first bracelet model from 2006. There was an accompanying sign explaining how the e-ink technology works.

Finally completing the watch display were a series of radio controlled models and the new GPS Astrons as well as the 2000 Historical collection Astron.

The rest of the room houses some of the Epson printing technologies that allow printing for high quality food packaging and directly onto fabrics. 

There was also an explanation of the new Epson PaperLab that is the world’s first complete paper recycling system. You can input used paper into the unit and three minutes later a new sheet of A4 paper is produced. This self-contained system allows users completely secure document destruction and is environmentally friendly.

Lastly in the room was a small display of the Epson Pulsense optical heart rate monitors and fitness devices.

This completed the tour and we then returned to the main reception area before saying goodbye. What had originally been planned as a one hour tour had turned into close to three and I could have easily spent more time there. I then walked back to the station and caught an express train back to Tokyo.

The visit to the Monozukuri Museum was a great experience. This is a location that I do not think many people are even aware of, as I have not seen any reports of this previously. If you are ever in Japan and have a day spare then I would thoroughly recommend making the journey.