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Seiko ups its game with $72,000 watch, its priciest yet

Craftsmanship draws demand from wealthy customers

A Seiko watchmaker assembling a Grand Seiko. The company has found success translating its handmade reputation into higher prices. (Photo courtesy of Seiko Watch).

TOKYO -- Seiko Watch is set to offer an 8 million yen ($72,200) Grand Seiko, its most expensive timepiece ever, as part of a strategy to enhance luxury offerings built with its renowned craftsmanship.

The platinum-case Spring Drive, priced 30% more than the most costly existing Grand Seiko, will go on sale on July 6. The watch boasts a reconfigured mechanism that makes the body thinner than its predecessor. The snowflake design on its dial was inspired by the snow of the Shinshu region in Nagano Prefecture, where Seiko produces its top-of-the-line timepieces.

Only 30 of the watches will be available worldwide at Grand Seiko boutiques. Each watch will be individually produced by craftsmen, according to Seiko, and will therefore take time to deliver once ordered.

Seiko has pursued the strategy of turning its technology into a brand. The company spun off Grand Seiko in 2016 to differentiate the brand from the rest of its lineup after it determined that stronger branding was needed to raise prices. 

Part of that effort involved promoting handcrafted watches. Instead of marketing watches studded with precious stones, Seiko touted the charms of a complex timepiece to raise prices. The company justified the higher cost by featuring its watchmakers' production techniques.

The platinum-case Grand Seiko Spring Drive. (Photo courtesy of Seiko Watch)

The strategy has paid off. A 6.2 million yen Grand Seiko that launched in August 2016 has sold well thanks to growing demand from foreign visitors to Japan and wealthy Japanese customers. In the nine months through December, Seiko Holdings' operating profit for its watch segment jumped 27% on the year to 10.3 billion yen on brisk sales of premium products.

Consumers, especially younger ones, are abandoning watches as smartphones and smartwatches spread. Seiko has struggled both domestically and overseas in the market for products below $500. It is seeking new ways to add value now that consumers no longer need watches to tell time.

Seiko also spun off its high-end Credor brand in February as part of the same strategy. The company plans to keep strengthening its luxury labels as it looks toward an eventual 10 million yen price tag for Grand Seiko products, turning its reputation for handmade watches into brand value.

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