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Citizen watches: history, innovations and models

The Japanese watch brand Citizen boasts a series of watchmaking records that few know. Often associated exclusively with modern Citizen Eco-Drive technology, the brand has a remarkable history in mechanical watchmaking and a long list of little known world firsts.

citizen-promaster-eco-drive-aqualand-BN2037-11E-quattroOn our brand page dedicated to Citizen watches, we'll go through the most relevant milestones of this global industrial watch group. It includes not only the Citizen brand, but Bulova, two Swiss brands belonging to accessible luxury watchmaking like Alpina and Frederique Constant, a niche brand currently sold just in selected markets like Campanola and two high-end watch brands such as Arnold & Son and Angelus, too. The Citizen Group also owns Miyota, a manufacturer of mechanical and quartz movements, to total more than 300 million pieces according to data available in the early 2000s. Moreover, the Citizen brand, alone, is the Japanese largest watch manufacturer.

The origins of the Citizen watch brand.

The Citizen Watch Company was founded under the name "Shokosha Watch Research Institute" in 1918 by Tokyo jeweler Kamekichi Yamazaki and has, since its foundation, established a series of records among both Japanese and European watch manufacturers, in either mechanical or quartz watchmaking.

The first Citizen pocket watch. The first Citizen wristwatch.

In 1924 Citizen produced its first pocket watch and the mayor of Tokyo at the time, Mr. Gotō Shinpei, laconically named it "Citizen," hoping the brand to sell its products soon globally. In 1930 the company took the name of "Citizen Watch Co. Ltd.," and in 1931 the first wristwatch was launched. In 1952 Citizen introduced the first Japanese calendar watch. In 1956 Citizen made its first shock-resistant watch, the Citizen Parashock and in 1959 its first diving watch, the Citizen Parawater.

citizen-parashock-challenge-1956The Japanese brand organized, to prove the anti-shock properties of the newly released Citizen Parashock, some public demonstrations across Japan, such as the one held in front of the Kyoto railway station, in which a team of engineers dropped a Citizen Parashock from a helicopter. All the tests were successful: after each of these demonstrations, the Parashock was still ticking. We have extensively told the story behind, in an article we released ahead of the celebrations for the 30th anniversary of the Citizen Promaster collection, that took place in 2019.

The year 1965: Citizen launches the world's thinnest watch (with date display).

In 1965 Citizen establishes a world record, by producing the world's thinnest watch with date display, whose thickness was just 4,48mm, an outstanding result at the time. Seven years earlier, Citizen had launched Japan's first wrist alarm clock.

citizen-x-8-primo-orologio-titanio-1970When Bulova presented the "Accutron", the world's first electronic watch, Citizen replied by launching the "X-8" watch, the first Japanese electronic watch, capable of running no-stop for a full year, and crafted it in titanium in 1970, thus launching the first titanium wristwatch ever, in the history of watchmaking. The challenge between Citizen and Bulova looks bizarre today, given Citizen acquired Bulova in the following years.

A second record: Citizen introduces the Citizen Mega Quartz, the world's most accurate quartz watch.

The brand achieves another record in 1975, during the quartz age inaugurated by Seiko and its famed Astron in 1970. Citizen launches the "Mega Quartz," the world's most accurate quartz watch, accurate to +/- three seconds per year, thus starting a quest for absolute precision that has never stopped ever since.

citizen-caliber-0100Citizen Watch came through this year when it launched the Citizen Caliber 0100 Limited Edition at Basel 2019, a watch capable of guaranteeing an outrageous +/-1 second per year accuracy.

The third record: Citizen crafts the first watch in the world equipped with an LCD, the Citizen Quartz Crystron Alarm LC.

The following year it arrives the Citizen Quartz Crystron Alarm LC, the first watch in the world to feature an LCD. It is in this period that Citizen lays the foundations for the development of what will soon become its core technology, the Eco-Drive technology.

Citizen-Quartz-Crystron-Alarm-LC-1976Citizen begins in fact, its research studies to create the first wristwatch powered by solar cells, placed on the dial, which will be launched in 1976 as a prototype: the Citizen Quartz Crystron Solar Cell.

The fourth record: Citizen produces the first watch in the world whose thickness is less than 1mm.

Less than two years later, in 1978, Citizen established a new breaking record in watchmaking by producing the first watch ever to feature a less than a millimeter thickness, the Citizen Quartz 790. Citizen Watch had, a year before, created the first Japanese watch equipped with LCD, stopwatch, date display, alarm and calculator, the Citizen Quartz Calculator.

The year 1985: Citizen watch introduces Aqualand, the first professional diver's watch ever to feature an electronic depth gauge.

In 1985 Citizen launches the first ever wristwatch equipped with an electronic depth gauge, the Citizen Aqualand. Two years later Citizen unveils the Voice Master VX-2 watch, the world's first voice-activated watch and in 1989 the Citizen Altichron, the world's first professional watch equipped with an altimeter.

citizen-aqualand-1985In 1992 it launched the Citizen Analog Aqualand, the first ever with an analog depth display, and in 1994 the Citizen Hyper Aqualand, the first diver's watch with a depth gauge that could be connected to a computer. Meanwhile, Citizen also stands out as a pioneer in the field of first radio-controlled watches, by introducing, in 1993, the first multi-zone radio-controlled watch ever.

What does Eco Drive mean on Citizen Watches?

Citizen has always stood out for being ahead of its time and releasing innovative breakthrough products. The same happened when it developed the Eco-Drive technology. Citizen's goal was to create a watch that could be powered by solar energy only, a goal that it first achieved with the Citizen Quartz Crystron Solar Cell prototype. However, it was just the beginning of a journey. Citizen aimed at creating a timepiece capable of running with no battery that could be quickly recharged with any natural or artificial source of light and the Citizen Eco-Drive was then born.

citizen-eco-drive-come-funzionaThe Eco-Drive technology officially debuted in 1995. Once the technology was launched, a continuous improvement process began, to improve its precision: the Citizen Exceed Eco-Drive, launched in 1997, was the first watch with Eco-Drive technology to guarantee an accuracy of +/- 10 seconds per year. One year later, Citizen Watch's technicians extended the Eco-Drive technology to other collections, and in 1998 they came with the Citizen Eco-Drive Analog Depth, the world's first solar timepiece equipped with an analog depth gauge. Citizen Watch then launched the Exceed Ladies' Eco-Drive, a solar watch with the smallest movement in the world and the Eco-Drive Duo, that combined solar cells and kinetic energy technologies (Seiko will launch its proprietary technology, the Seiko Kinetic). In the following years, Citizen Watch broadens the Eco-Drive technology to most of its products, by combining it with other proprietary technologies, as that's the case with the Citizen Eco-Drive Satellite Wave, presented at Baselworld 2011.

How the Eco-Drive technology actually works. How long does a Citizen Eco Drive watch last?

The Eco-Drive technology was patented in 1995 and consisted of converting solar energy into electricity. The electricity is stored in rechargeable cells, which then power the motor of the movement, the gears, and the hands. Once fully charged, a Citizen Eco-Drive can operate without any additional light source for up to six months. The pinnacle of the Eco-Drive technology, so far, was achieved in 2019 with the launch of the Citizen Caliber 0100 Limited Edition which brought this technology to a new stage. The timepiece is accurate to a +/- one second per year. Furthermore, in this latest release, the Eco-Drive movement guarantees an eight-month power reserve. The Eco-Drive technology has granted Citizen several awards. A Citizen Eco-Drive powered watch meets the requirements for the Eco Mark, a certification established by the Japanese Association for the Environment (JEA) and in 2014 Citizen was the first watch manufacturer ever to win the Gold Award for JEA's Eco Marks.

Citizen Radio-controlled watch.

The radio control system installed on the wristwatch receives the time signal transmitted by an atomic clock using radio waves. The accuracy of the atomic clock and each radio-controlled Citizen watch is crazy, with a tolerance of 1 second every 10 million years! In 1993 Citizen launched the world's first multichannel radio-controlled watch, with a margin of error of 1 second every 100,000 years. Citizen watches receive radio signals from an atomic clock to set the time correctly and, to avoid any interference with smartphones and other devices, radio controlled Citizen watches receive those radio signals overnight.

Citizen Satellite watch.

Citizen has gone beyond the radio-controlled technology. A satellite system that orbits 20,000km from the earth, sends the exact time signal from space with incredible accuracy: 1 second every 10 million years. Do you want to know more? Click on each of the direct links listed below and access our in-depth dedicated articles. Enjoy reading!


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