Cutting through the noise and sheer volume of watches released at Baselworld is no mean feat. Overwhelming attention is focused on a handful of models from a few brands, and often it takes weeks and months from some of the hidden gems to reveal themselves. Nevertheless, every year the chatter in the halls seems to amplify around a few key models. And this year the buzz was strongest around Rolex’s new Daytona (of course), Patek’s World Time, TAG Heuer’s Monza and Seiko’s Presage Chronograph. The first three are pretty safe bets, but the Seiko? No one saw that awesomeness coming. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Seiko’s work, and they’ve got a great reputation. But most of it concerns itself with the Grand Seiko. No one had any notion the well priced, vintage styled Presage Chronograph was coming. But we should have, because it’s the perfect watch for right now; it’s precisely the sort of watch we should be seeing more of.
“I think our timing was very good. Many consumers these days are looking at what we call the prestige segment – fine quality that’s more affordable than luxury. And in this the price-to-quality ratio of Presage matches their hopes.” Seiko President and CEO Mr Shinji Hattori.
Fast-forward to October, and the watch is a commercial and critical success (it’s a strong contender for the prestigious GPHG’s ‘Petite Aigulle’ prize), and I’m sitting opposite Seiko President and CEO Mr Shinji Hattori in their new Tokyo office. Obviously I ask him about it, and he pinpoints three reasons for its success: “The Presage Chronograph represents Seiko’s unique and uniquely Japanese style of watchmaking. Its design echoes the first ever Seiko watch, the 1913 Laurel, and the dials show the quality of Japanese craftsmanship. The movement is high quality – people in the industry know our in-house automatic chronograph movements are among the very best. Finally I think our timing was very good. Many consumers these days are looking at what we call the prestige segment – fine quality that’s more affordable than luxury. And in this the price-to-quality ratio of Presage matches their hopes.” From Seiko’s perspective, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect – launching a 100 per cent mechanical prestige collection in a time when global luxury sales are slumping represents a huge opportunity.
Think about it. Presage offers you a completely in-house watch with legit history, all for a price that doesn’t require much in the way of scrimping and saving. And the heritage focus of the collection is perfect too, and has so much scope for growth and development. If the current Presage models don’t float your boat, think about all the great Seikos from the ‘50s and ‘60s – like the Sportsmatic and the Lord Marvel that are just ripe for reissue. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw these watches inspired by these designs popping up in the Presage collection in years to come.
Seiko is ahead of the curve here, and we’re only going to see watch brands get more aggressive in this sector of the market. Longines and Tissot already have strong heritage collections, but they represent a fraction of sales. Frederique Constant has the in-house credibility, and we can expect to hear a lot more from them soon, given that Citizen recently bought them out. But aside from these guys, not too many brands that sell at this price have the combination of brand-name recognition, history, production and distribution capacity as Seiko. If they follow up the excellent precedent set by the Presage Chronograph, and properly support Presage, it has the potential to be a huge success, and a challenge many of the Swiss brands will have to take very, very seriously.