How Citizen Blazed New Trails in Watchmaking

By Justin Mastine-Frost

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The name is ubiquitous within the timepiece category but how much do you know about the contributions Citizen has made to its field?

Whether you’re a longtime collector, or you’re just starting to explore a budding interest in watches, Citizen is likely a name you’ve seen around. First launched in 1918, the brand is now retailed in Canada by everyone from the Hudson’s Bay company independent jewelry shops across the country. While there are many facets to the brand, Citizen is most well known for being a well-respected Japanese watch brand in the entry-level price bracket. That said, there’s much more to the brand than what we see on the surface. It’s worth noting that Citizen has played an interesting role in the history of watchmaking, more so than countless Swiss brands that are revered in the luxury category.

“In-House” Before It Was Cool

These days, the luxury watch industry loves talking about what their in-house manufacturing capabilities are. As more brands start building their own movements rather than relying on the long-established supplier chain in Switzerland, the words “in-house” give different brands and watches a certain perceived upper hand. This is almost humorous when you look at Citizen, as they’ve been producing all of their own movements and other components since even before WWII. They were a key player in the development of quartz (battery-powered) timekeeping, and their ability to build affordable quartz watches on an automated assembly line played a big role in turning the Swiss watch industry upside down in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Precision is Paramount

Accuracy has always been a pinnacle of watchmaking for Citizen, and one that is echoed throughout their model range. On one end of the spectrum, they are one of the only brands in the market that use GPS satellites to regularly sync the caliber with atomic time. While quartz calibers are inherently quite accurate when compared to their mechanical counterparts, this is a unique feature that’s especially handy when traveling across multiple time zones. On the other end of the scales, Citizen actually took rank for offering the most accurate watch in the world with their Caliber 0100 that went on sale in 2019. This watch movement is accurate to within one second per year. To provide some context, Rolex Officially Certified Superlative Chronometer calibers are touted as having a guaranteed accuracy of -2/+2 seconds per day.

Longevity Through Light

Another category in which Citizen excels is battery life. Regular quartz watches are designed to have their batteries replaced on a regular basis, whereas Citizen found a clever workaround for this less eco-friendly practice. In another industry first, Citizen built its first solar-powered wristwatch in 1976 and has continued to refine the practice with its Eco-Drive technology ever since. By converting any light source (natural or artificial) into energy and storing it in built-in rechargeable power cells, an Eco-Drive watch will never run out of battery life unless it’s locked in absolute darkness for over 6 months.