Located in the Sumida ward in Tokyo the Seiko Museum is an essential visit for any watch fans if they are ever in Japan.
When initially established in 1981 for the 100th Anniversary of the foundation of the company, the museum was named the Seiko Institute of Horology. It was located in the Seikosha factory in Kinshicho, this facility was built on the same location as the original Seikosha factory that was destroyed in the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923.
The Museum remained at the Kinshicho location until it was closed in the late 1990’s. At this time the museum was relocated to its current location in Sumida. In 2012 the museum underwent a major renovation and the exhibits were updated.
When you arrive at the museum there are a series of lockers where you are able to store your belongings. The lockers take a 100 yen coin that is returned when you take your items back out. After storing any bags you proceed to the reception area where you will be greeted by the staff. If you are taking a tour on your own you will be given an iPad that will tell you about many of the exhibits as you move around the museum.
As you begin to move around the exhibits the first thing that you will see will be a display with a holographic projection of a modern Astron. This is difficult to photograph but appears as a watch rotating in 3D space within the display.
Next around the corner there is a display with very early timekeeping instruments. There are sundials, incense clocks, water clocks, hour lamps and an hourglass.
The next exhibit area has a number of clocks including a prototype of the Westminster clock “Big Ben” and some of the earliest Seikosha clock movements. There is also a display of a Ulysse Nardin and Seiko marine chronometers.
In the centre of the room is a display of early pocket watches. These are mainly European models with elaborately designed and finished cases and a range of styles. There is also a display showing railroad pocket watches including some Seiko models.
Finishing up this section of the first floor is a display outlining the development of the quartz watch and the technologies involved. There is a couple of Seiko Lord Marvel 3600 (5740A based) watches that are presented to illustrate that mechanical watches, even high beat models, only produced 5-6 beats per second. The display then explains how quartz movements have a much higher frequency. There is a Bulova watch illustrating the tuning fork technology and then a couple of very early Seiko quartz models. There is then a display showing how quartz crystal oscillators are produced.
After seeing the quartz display you then catch the elevator up to the second floor to continue the tour. Just outside of the elevator before you enter is a poster showing some of the notable Seiko marionette clocks located across Japan.
When you exit the elevator the first thing that you see is a group of melted pocket watches that were recovered from the Seikosha factory after it was completely destroyed by fire during the great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. Despite all the customer records also being destroyed in the fire Seiko agreed to provide replacement watches to anyone who had claimed that their watch was being serviced at that time. This generous gesture was well accepted by the public and helped build a lot of goodwill for the company as they rebuilt the factory.
To the left is an environmentally controlled room with an exhibit of Traditional Japanese clocks. These clocks or “Wadokei” divided the daylight and night-time hours into even sections resulting in the hours being longer in the summer time compared to the shorter days during winter. Compared to clocks with even time divisions the production of the traditional Japanese clock was more complex. This type of timekeeping was phased out in Japan after 1872 when the country switched from the lunar calendar to the western calendar.
Outside of the traditional Japanese clock section is an area dedicated to Seiko clocks. The clocks include the 8 day wall clocks, the first Seiko alarm clock and desk clocks. There is the clock that was featured on the first Japanese TV commercial, high beat desk clock, world’s first quartz alarm clock and a clock from the mid-60’s that was synchronized to a signal broadcast by NHK.
There are a range of modern clocks on display including a number of models from the Décor range including a ball clock that i have always liked. There are also a series of character model clocks.
At the exit to the clock display area there is a disassembled example of the first alarm clock. Next to this is a display showing the WAKO department store in Ginza, that is owned by Seiko Corporation, and images of their famous showroom and clock tower.
The next displays are for the early pocket watch models. These were initially imported by Seikosha and then in 1895 they produced their first pocket watch the “Time Keeper”. Later models under the names Empire and Excellent and Laurel were released. These early watches were not highly mass produced so the plates and bridges were drilled together to ensure the holes perfectly aligned. To keep these together each component was stamped with a matching serial number.
The Laurel name was used again with Seiko’s first wristwatch released in 1913 and an example is prominently displayed. There is also a description of the early years of the company and examples of their early models through the 20’s to the 50’s. One section of this display includes railroad pocket watches including the Seiko model that was selected as Japan’s first domestically produced railroad watch.
The next group of exhibits begins with models that many Seiko fans will be quite familiar with. There is the “Super” Seiko’s first three hand centre second and then the “Marvel” Seiko’s first totally in-house designed movement from 1956. The Cronos movement that went on to become the basis for the first King Seiko and the Crown which was the basis for the first Grand Seiko. There is a display of the first Japanese produced automatic movement and the Gyro Marvel the first Seiko designed automatic movement.
The Seiko Goldfeather was the world’s first movement with a center second and thickness of less than 3mm. King Seiko along with Grand Seiko was the company's first introduction to the high grade watch market. There was also a ladies version of the watch released under the Queen Seiko branding.
Automatic models continue in the next section include the first Seiko 5 model released in 1963. The 1964 Olympics were a large driving force for Seiko as they were the official timer for the games. At this time Seiko released the first Japanese chronograph nicknamed the “one-button chrono” or officially the Crown Chronograph. This model came in a few different versions, the 5717 with date, 5719 with no date and the rarely seen 5718 Chronograph with Counter that was only sold in the Olympic village.
The late 60’s to mid-70’s models continue the display with key models like the Bellmatic, 36000 high beat 5740C Lord Matic, sports models, UTD 6800 & 6810, electronic models and the first automatic chronograph Speed-Timer.
There is a dedicated divers section with many of the key diver models from Seiko. There is a beautiful 62MAS on the original strap, 6105-800 on original ZLM01, 6159 models, quartz models, kinetic and M725 diving computer.
At the height of the mechanical watch era Seiko participated in the Swiss Observatory Chronometer trials at Neuchâtel. There is a display with some of these movements along with the associated certificates.
Continuing with the pursuit of accuracy and the future of timekeeping Seiko made various revolutionary developments in the production of quartz technology. The display is in-front of an image of the Seiko quartz timing instrument that was designed for the broadcast industry. In the case there is a Quartz Crystal Chronometer, some technical drawings of the quartz oscillator design and a small quartz prototype. There is an original Astron 35SQ along with a copy of an article from the New York Times discussing the release of the world’s first quartz wristwatch. There is a display of the IEEE Milestone in Electrical Engineering and Computing award plaque presented to commemorate the development of the quartz wristwatch.
A large variation of quartz models are on display showing the evolution of the technology. These show some key models like the 36SQC world's first watch with CMOS IC, multi-function watches, LCD models, twin quartz, calculator models, world timers and watches with special functions like television, audio recording and pulse meters.
There is section devoted to the continued technology development and this includes the Kinetic AGS movements and the creation of Spring Drive culminating in the creation of the Spacewalk.
Next to this area is a relatively small display with Galante and Credor models. Beside this is an interactive 3D display that allows users to see different movement types in 3D and view how they function.
Finally there is an exhibit focused on Grand Seiko. First is a case with one of the limited edition 44GS reissues showing the inspection certificate that are provided with GS when shipped from the factory. Beside this is a case showing the different parts that are used to produce the high beat GS movements. Next to this is a display showing the different details that goes into making the GS dials extremely legible. This includes details such as white and silver dials are paired with hands and markers with a mirror finish, while black and dark coloured dials have brushed markers and hands. The display also includes the markers, cases and a bracelet at different levels of finish. These displays are topped with a large monitor showing a video of the GS production techniques.
On the other side of the dial and case finishing display is another case showing the SBGJ005 Hi-Beat 36000 GMT Limited Edition model that won the “Petite Aiguille” prize at the 2014 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. As you can imagine Seiko are proud of this international recognition for Grand Seiko.
Next up is a display showing the different types of movements that Grand Seiko’s are currently available with. These are the 9S mechanical, 9F quartz and 9R Spring Drive movements. The case also has two stands showing the different levels that components are assembled in, with the Spring Drive being made up of seven layers while the mechanical is comprised of five layers.
Beside this display is a case containing the first model GS (3180) from 1960. Seiko was awarded a Mechanical Engineering Heritage award in Japan for this in 2014. The case also has a copy of the Chronometer Rating Certificate.
The large case shows the main display of historical models. This case shows some of the initial designs for the Grand Seiko text font and logo. The final design and the modern version can also be compared. Next comes the display of numerous key historical models. First is a 1966 Grand Seiko Self-dater and a 1967 44GS. These are followed by the 1967 62GS, 1967 62GS Week-dater and 1968 61GS. Next are the 1968 45GS and the ladies 19GS from 1971. Rounding out the historical models are the 1972 61GS VFA, 1970 45GS VFA, 1972 19GS VFA, and 1971 and 1973 56GS Week-daters. In a case to the right is a display of some of the current models of Grand Seiko.
This concludes the exhibits on the second floor. There is a library with some Japanese watch publications on the third floor that is also open as well as staff office space, but most visitors will head back to the ground floor. When you exit the elevator you turn to the right and enter the final area dedicated to sports timing.
The first thing you see is a swimming starting block that is linked to a large timing clock that is able to be started and stopped from the touch pad on the pool wall. There is also a display of the starting track blocks which are connected to a timing system to detect false starts. Beside this is an original official timer’s jacket from the 1964 Olympics as well as a bell that was used at the track and field events.
Next to this is a case with a wide range of stop watches. These include mechanical models as well as a cut down Quartz Chronometer where you are able to see the movement. There is also an example of the world’s first quartz stopwatch that was developed for the 1964 Olympics.
Finally there is a case showing some of the Seiko Super Runner watches and associated products.
You then arrive back to the museum reception area. At the museum shop they sell a range of current models and a few unique items including some Seiko postcards and a Seiko Museum Hourglass that contains the material used in the Metal Injection Molding production process that is used for specially designed watch cases.
This concludes the museum displays but note that there are continual special exhibits that are placed on display and these run for around 6-9 months, so it is always worth visiting the museum whenever you get the opportunity even if you have been before.
If you have the chance to visit Tokyo it is really worth the effort to spend a couple of hours to visit the Seiko Museum.
For details on directions and booking a visit to the Museum check out the article HERE.
Update: The museum has added an interactive audio guide application and updated signage throughout. A summary of these new features can be found here.