Tokyo in 1963 was a dark forbidding place, ravaged by storms and haunted by dinosaurs and giant monkeys. There were however a few havens of tranquility in this mayhem. One of these being the Seiko Wako department store in the middle of the Ginza district. The store was founded as a sales outlet as a part of the Seiko group (then named K Hattori & Co Ltd.) in 1895 and moved to the present building in 1932.
Picture credit – Seiko Japan
As a recent college graduate in 1963, our story starts outside this store. You might have been enticed there by the large Seiko promotions that you had seen in Tokyo newspapers throughout the autumn of 1963, touting the Seiko watches as the perfect accessory for the up and coming Japanese businessman and wife.
Picture credit – Seikomatic site – http://www.h4.dion.ne.jp/~smatic/dataroom/Lucky/lucky.html
The advertising also promoted the technological advances of the Seiko company.
Picture credit – Seikomatic site
Once in the shop, you notice the offical dealer sign and feel reassured that your warranty will be honoured. This is after all, Seiko’s very own store!
At the Seiko counter, the salesman brings out his pocket price list and shows you the different Seiko offerings.
As you can see from the page, retail prices are indicated in the left column and sales prices are displayed in the right. There seems to be about a 50% mark up on the products. As a valued customer, a discount fromt he recommended retail price would probably be in order.
Your first choice is for something dressy for the office. Having just graduated from University, your starting salary would be about 20,000 Japanese yen, making the 25,000 yen standard Grand Seiko (150,000 in platinum) or the 12,000 yen(15,000 in gold plate) King Seiko unaffordable.
Also, you must remember that choice of watch, like so many other things in Japanese society, is socially regulated. One is supposed to wear a watch that is neither above or below one’s status on the ladder of Japanese hierarchy. A Grand Seiko for example, only would have been worn by business leaders and top management.
The salesman, having correctly deduced your status from the cut and quality of your newly purchased dark blue suit, pulls out a 30 jewel Seikomatic gold plated dress watch.
The Seikomatic with the 603 caliber is new on the market. It was introduced only a few years earlier as Seiko’s first (technically second, the first being a very expensive and unsuccessful automatic released in the late 1950’s) mainstream automatic. This watch has been selling well and is probably one of the most popular watches with the Japanese middle classes. Then, as now, Japanese mainstream tastes leaned heavily towards domestic offerings. This 30j Seikomatic, priced at 12,000 yen for the gold plated version, is at the high end of the Seikomatic range.
You are a bit worried that this watch may be inappropriate and might be more suitable for your father, so you ask the salesman to see something more modern and perhaps less expensive. Although you are expecting the usual Christmas bonus of one or two times your monthly salary, you are thinking about that bracelet that your wife seemed to like so much.
The next watch picked out by the salesman is this two-tone 20j Seikomatic.
This is a rare Seikomatic with an unusal design. At 9,000 yen, it is priced significantly less and definitely is more daring than the standard dress watch designs of the time. This watch is more to your liking, but you are afraid that it may be considered too brash for a newly employed worker and ask to see something more practical; perhaps something in stainless steel with a date function.
In response to your request, the salesman brings out this Cronos Selfdater with a 21j 57A calibre. Introduced in 1961, the Cronos Selfdater is a midstream watch selling very well at 7,300 yen. This watch is not automatic, but as the salesman says, “a real dress watch should be manual wind.” You decide to play it safe and choose the Cronos.
Not having spent too much money on your dress watch, you ask the salesman for something sporty to wear on the weekend. His face lights up and he quickly brings out one of his coolest and most modern watches; the 20j Seikomatic Silverwave.
The Silverwave, also containing the 603 calibre, was introduced in 1961 as part of Seiko’s big push into the sports market, characterized by higher depth rated, technically advanced designs. The Silverwave has a two part screw in caseback and is rated at 50 meters; the highest of any Seiko watch at the time. It also continues the sporty design with a large 4 o’clock crown and a caseback imprinted with the now famous Seiko wave. This is the first time that Seiko has used this design. At 11,000 yen, it is also marketed towards a more affluent clientele.
You really love this watch, but again, you hesitate. The styling and price are both a bit much. Perhaps there is something cheaper but still waterproof and sporty. With a smile, the salesman quickly brings out another watch.
With its 30m rating and less advanced single piece caseback, this is a simpler version of the 20j calibre 603 Seikomatic. At 9,600 yen, it is also more affordable. This watch started selling in 1962 and was Seiko’s first use of the dolphin logo and caseback design.
Again, deciding on the safe alternative, you go for this watch but still have a nagging feeling that you have forgotten something. The salesman senses your bewilderment and moves you slightly to the left of the counter while asking; “Perhaps something for your wife, sir?” As your wife is one of the newly emerging Japanese women who are at least considering a career outside the home, a wristwatch would be an excellent gift.
Seiko has a broad variety of women’s watches, both in their own ranges as well as companions to the existing men’s lines. As expected, they are a bit more conservatively styled and smaller than the men’s watches. In the early 1960’s, the fashion still consisted of very small watches, so Seiko utilized significant levels of technical expertise to create dials and movements that fit into these tiny cases.
This Seikomatic Lady with the 21j 270 calibre was very new, having been just introduced in March of 1963. Seiko’s first automatic watch for women, it was priced at 7,500 yen making it realtively expensive. As the salesman tells you, the higher price is due to the size of the movement. Being only 15mm, the fitting of the autowind mechanism is more complicated than with the larger men’s calibres.
Having spent a total of 24,400 yen, (more than a months salary) the salesman gives you a generous discount bringing the price down to 22,000 yen. You are now again ready to face the gorillas and dinosaurs of the Tokyo streets.