In the name(s) of Japanese watchmaking, we know Seiko isn’t alone. Although the prolific watch company was born earlier in the late 19th century, it was, in actuality, joined by another two. We know them as Casio and, of course, Citizen. Cottoned as the big three, they stomped the watch industry repeatedly, begetting reliable watches with cutting-edge developments. From traditional methods of fabricating a single timepiece in the homeland to the innovative technologies each put forward, the trio didn’t waste time slowing down to take a breather.
While watch aficionados declared the brands mainly for being ubiquitous for decades – albeit providing excellent quality at a value pricepoint – they are widely known as consumable goods available from Japan. Little did we realize that these three watchmakers have been creating some of the best horology pieces – in terms of splendid hand-crafted decor and top-of-the-range technologies – undaunted to be placed side by side with high-end European counterparts. One might ask, “How could it be?” and “What are they?” The main reason is unfamiliarity across the globe. Although Seiko is doing a hell of a job promoting theirs overseas, most of the time, these adept watchmakers kept their best exclusively for their home people, known to us as the Japanese Domestic Market (J.D.M.).
With all that said, things are progressively changing, and people soon discovered and craved these hidden gems kept by the Japanese. As the big brother, Seiko took charge of penetrating the international market with their premium “Grand Seiko” line in 2010, garnering much attention from collectors worldwide. However, while the G.S. line managed to be popularly adopted by more and more enthusiasts, Citizen and Casio are not yet getting their deserved recognition for their higher range like “The Citizen” and “Oceanus,” respectively.
Since the Citizen mentioned above has recently come aboard Gnomon Watches, I feel it is time for us to shed some light on the brand’s heritage and its own high-end watches. Therefore, in this article, I would like to explore deeper into “The Citizen” line by doing a comparative review between our latest Citizen member, with what might seem fitting, my personal Grand Seiko. I’ll touch on both premium collections’ identities, thoroughly scrutinizing their executions and technical aspects that capture the very essence of what made them beyond adequate for the rest.
I’ll be comparing the Citizen “The Citizen” Eco-Drive Sunray Blue Ref. AQ4080-52L with my SBGX259 Quartz model, as I find them similarly designed and executed from the inside out. Or are they? Truthfully, both exemplify the pinnacle of high precision and accuracy, representing the utmost sophisticated quartz watches that one could obtain on earth. Besides, there’s truly nothing in the world that could combine such finesse with state-of-the-art technology that encapsulates the very essence of what Citizen and Grand Seiko stood for. Furthermore, here’s a tease for all of you, the Eco-Drive piece is almost indistinguishable from my Grand Seiko in terms of their case and dial execution. Brand awareness aside, they actually come really close in all ways. Period.
Table of Contents
A Humble Beginning from the East
Before I get down to the watches themselves, I’m delightfully compelled to share the brief history of Citizen Watch Company. Another driver for me to dutifully go through the brand’s heritage could be seen in tandem with the early times of Seiko – where the majority of us assumed bluntly that these Japanese makers only make inexpensive watches for the people. Well, that’s not totally off point, but historical events and doings avowed for themselves. Yet again, this proves significantly wrong and misleading. Like Seiko and their premium Grand Seiko/Credor, their brethren Citizen Watch Company has had tremendous manufacturing prowess, often placing them competitively among the top brands from Europe. It’s more than meets the eye, as Citizen could be deemed the bellwether in the watch industry.
So how did an often antithesis brand name “Citizen” come about? It all started with a Japanese native named Kamekichi Yamasaki. In 1870, Mr. Yamazaki (not the famed whiskey brand, mind you) was already a cognoscente in the watch industry. Since the early 1900s, he was an ebullient jeweler, dealing with watch materials initially, and was the head of the Yamazaki Shoten. He soon became a full-grown entrepreneur with a passion for watches, earning his role as the Chief Secretary of the Tokyo Commercial and Industrial Timepiece Cooperative at that time.
Although Kamekichi was mainly involved with political affairs during the Meiji era, he decided to zone in on the art of horology by leaving the legislative House of Peers. All he aimed for was to bring watchmaking to its height for Japan. From all his travel experiences, he quickly honed in on how watches were made outside of Japan, espousing what he learned back at home. After that, in 1918, he established the Shokosha Watch Research Institute, marking the very beginning of what would be the Citizen Watch Co. Ltd. After all, he foresaw the future of Japanese watchmaking.
The Shokosha Watch Research Institute was where the Japanese got their hands on building timing instruments from scratch locally. Overseen by Kameckichi himself, he wanted his watches to be developed with accuracy and reliability – as great as those from Switzerland and such. And the watch parts were to be produced locally, too. Therefore in making sure the employees were capable of executing these, Kameckichi established the Shokosha Watch School to properly train skilled technicians and watchmakers. This was a brilliant step in ensuring the needed refinements of manufacturing techniques.
During that epoch, citizens relied on Swiss machinery for practices as well as production. Mr. Yamazaki and his team began to produce their pulchritudinous pocket watches. By 1924, the company started commercial sales of their first fruit: the Caliber 16 pocket watches. The Caliber 16 pocket watch was skilfully finished and executed, with a 40-41mm dimension and a snap-back case. The movement itself was where its model name lay. A 16 -ligne (36.093mm) movement is neatly decorated with 15 jewels and manual-winding capability. The Caliber 16 was not only a milestone for Mr. Yamazaki but also for the country. In an era where Japan had mainly relied on Swiss and American-made watches, Citizen became the first domestic pioneers to break through as entirely home-grown, made-in-Japan timepieces.
The emphasis on promoting local watchmakers couldn’t be more significant when the then Mayor of Tokyo, Gotō Shinpe, ambitiously desired to build high-quality Japanese pocket watches. Unsurprisingly, his good friend, the jeweler and watchmaker, Yamazaki, saw the Caliber 16 pocket watch and got one as a gift. Impressed by the styling and quality, an idea was sparked immediately that this would be the perfect watch that could be “loved by the citizens for a long time” after he knew it was a Japan-made pocket timepiece. He then unofficially christened the 1920s pocket watch as “Citizen.” Through the Mayor’s ingenious inspiration and encouragement by some investors from Japan and Switzerland, Mr. Yamazaki founded his eponymous brand sobriquet with the name “Citizen Watch Company,” later registered by Swiss watchmaker Rodolphe Schmid. Coalescing the nation’s spirit, the company was hopeful for the country, where the watches would be forever widely loved by the citizens of Japan.
Gussied up the company’s name, they had relentlessly produced timepieces that were even admired and purchased by the Emperor himself. He was so pleased that he wrote a letter to the Shokosha institute, praising the watch’s quality and precision. Marked by his compliments, the Emperor went through the halcyon to see Citizen becoming the world’s leading watchmaker. In a broader sense, he was experiencing Japan toppling the Swiss as the world’s top watch production nation. Now, before we head into our relatable topics of the imminent quartz technology and the company’s ingenious Eco-Drive development, I’ll highlight how Citizen had progressively built their Brobdingnagian empire through the decades.
From the thirties, the foundation for the watch company was laid by the new president, Yosaburo Nakajima. Under his reign, the company emerged as a significant producer, producing new calibers for slimmer pocket watches and exporting them overseas to Southeast Asia in 1936. The same year, he expanded their manufacturing premises by opening the Tanashi factory in Tokyo, which remains a key Citizen’s facility today. The expansion, aided the rapid growth of the Japanese watch industry, further cemented the company’s watchmaking roots.
Another significant milestone was Citizen’s involvement during the World War II period. Alongside Seikosha (Seiko), both giants started manufacturing robust chronometers and wristwatches for the military. During this period, the momentum shifted towards military instruments, fuse mechanisms, and such. Sadly, businesses were affected as Citizen and other watch firms were forced to move their production from Tokyo due to bombing by the Allies. They opened a new facility located in the Alps of Lida in Nagano prefecture.
After struggling through the war, Citizen’s endurance and strength came into fruition as the next two decades would turn the Maison into a global powerhouse. In 1949, the company established the Citizen Trading Company. Another facet of Citizen, where the goal was to prepare for international distribution, managing marketing works of their made in Japan watches. The main driver behind this bold step was their new president, Eiichi Yamada. At 38 years old, he served in his post for another 35 years, behooving the brand to become an international rockstar in the watch world.
During the post-war, Citizen released several remarkable novelties. For instance, the Citizen Calendar debuted in 1952, becoming the first men’s wristwatch with a date display in the nation. In 1956, the brand produced the Parashock system, a proprietary anti-shock system located in the watch’s mechanical movement. With that, Citizen strived to offer the first shock-proof Japanese watch. This ingenious shock-resistant system would be included in almost all of the upcoming mechanical watches.
Innovative developments did not rest at Citizen, where they dropped another two extensive developments in the following years. More firsts, an alarm and a water-resistant watch, respectively. Although I would love to go in-depth (not doing so would be like a sin against Citizen fans) with each of these milestones as they obviously deserved it, in this article, I’ll just briefly share some light on them, as they are as important. The erstwhile alarm watch by Citizen consisted of a dual-crown system, where the lower one was used to set the time while the upper one was to assess the alarm and wind it up. Once the alarm indicator hit the selected time, a hammer from the movement would strike the pin attached to the case-back, inducing a solid buzz and vibration on the wearer’s wrist.
The first water-resistant watch featured a similar elegant case but conspicuously more than meets the eye. These robust watches were initially put to the test during the summer of 1963 when a total of 130 were placed in buoys. Also known as the trans-Pacific Test, they were tossed from the deck of a ship into the Pacific Ocean and later retrieved. Each was found to be working as they should. Another testament to the brand’s vision in crafting superlative timepieces.
This would also become the first springboard for what was to come for Citizen, when they evinced their robust dive watches later on. Before I get to them, I need to address their next launch, their first automatic-winding timepiece. This was indeed an un-futz move in response to their biggest local competitor Seiko, who released their first in 1955. Three years later, the People’s brand launched the Calibre 3KA, an 18,000VPH movement with a 35 hours power reserve.
Inexorably, the company upped the ante by launching the Citizen Deluxe with the first central second Caliber 920 in the same year. This new collection blew off the roof, as it gained tremendous support, welcoming with more than 100 million pieces in sales.
Here Comes Bulova and the Electronic Age
In the sixties, the Japanese watch industry gained traction by rebounding their productions to pre-war levels. Meanwhile, Citizen continued their international expansion through Yamada’s urging. In 1964, the company established Citizen Office Machine Co Ltd., widely known today as the Japan C.B.M. Corporation. The following apace step produced office equipment and precision manufacture components. This could be seen as the beginning of the company’s eccentric strategy apart from solely making wristwatches.
In the midst of all that, one noteworthy event was the import-export agreement between Citizen and the American watch company, Bulova. Oh yes, that same brand that brought you the high-frequency, tuning-fork movement Accutron watches. Bulova was at the peak and was about to introduce that very watch aforementioned, and Citizen was in charge of supplying watches and movements to Bulova. Why? Because the Bulova knew Citizen was a phenom watchmaker from Japan, and they could produce on a large scale. Their affable ties started way earlier in this sixties period than one could imagine.
The existence of Quartz technology was apparent in this period. Citizen introduced the very first quartz transistor clock in 1963. It was not easily clinched as the clocks only came into the market in 1967. At this point in time, the clock’s movement was an electromechanical movement rather than a full-fledged Quartz. But I see this as the prologue towards the ultimate vision for the brand when they started to produce one of the best quartz watches out there. Concurrently, the company continued to pursue this technological idea and came out with the X-8 Cosmotron caliber – the first Japanese hybrid movement where the balance wheel was electronically regulated – found in the popular Bulova Caravelle collection.
The agreement between both brands led Citizen to an upsurge in their fledgling movement, and the private label watch business, with around two million movements, went into the Caravelle watches. In the mid-1970s, the Japanese giant finally penetrated the U.S. market when the export agreement ended in the mid-70s. This was another key strategic move thanks to the know-how in cooperation with Bulova. Meanwhile, this was the time where Citizen spearheaded the production of quartz timepieces.
The Quartz Era
In the Quartz watch era, we’re familiarized with Japan dominating much in the industry, seen as a threat to the Swiss competitors. Yes, the folklore of Seiko prototyping their first quartz wristwatches in 1966 and 67, and then the revolutionary bang when unveiling the Astron in 1969. However, little did we know that Citizen was the first to commercialize the first electronic watch in Japan. During the prototyping phase of Seiko, Citizen had gone to release the X-8 series of quartz watches into the market in 1966.
The X-8 used a silver oxide battery, powering an electric circuit with a transistor and a balance wheel. It could run for an entire year, and then a simple battery replacement would keep it going for another. This was a significant advancement from those ubiquitous watches with mechanical components, and by the time of the Seiko Astron’s release in 1969, quartz watches had taken the front show.
Indeed, the sales and adoption of the X-8 series were successful, boosting Citizen’s confidence to pursue further, undertaking what would be the brand’s savoir-faire. Seven months after launching X-8, Mr. Yamada assured that the brand and Japan as a whole would eventually be the largest producer for electronic watches, overtaking their western competitors. Despite this booming quartz period, Citizen adhered to the production of mechanical watches. Still, the bucking pursuit of quartz technology would later seal what might be the pinnacle of Citizen watchmaking.
The following decade lets the introduction of the Caliber 3700 Hi-Sonic. This was another significant step for the brand, as this would be the first-ever tuning fork wristwatch in Japan. The technology was not confided. That’s because Citizen transferred Bulova’s Accutron 218 and 219 versions (yes, they were still in a close relationship), which unsurprisingly were the groundworks of Citizen themselves.
Subsequently, Citizen launched their first felicitous quartz watch in 1973: the legendary Citizen Quartz Crystal with an analog display. Although they had previously innovated and implemented these advanced technologies in their watches, this particular line was considered their first proper design. Following suit was the LCD (liquid crystal display) wristwatch Cryston LC, another first in Japan, in 1974. Through the mid-1970s, the company continuously presented the new world’s first wristwatches annually, solidifying its credentials as one of its premier watchmakers.
Another feat that exemplified Citizen’s axiomatic in leading the charge of electronic watches was the Crystal Mega in 1975. It was avowed as the first quartz watch that runs on a frequency of a whopping 4,194,304 Hertz per second (average was 32,768 times per second). As such, the Mega resulted in clinching mega accuracy of +/- 3 seconds a year! Therefore, Citizen had become a major key player in the electronic quartz watch field with these advancements.
Looking back a year Citizen had another breakthrough that would seal the D.N.A. of the brand. Through several years of experimenting, the engineers had successfully fabricated an anomalous solar-powered technology into their timepieces. They developed a prototype, light-powered analog watch in 1974. In two years, they fully unveiled the Crystron Solar Cell as the first official solar-powered piece, marking the imminent arrival of Citizen’s Eco-Drive technology.
The engineers fervidly improved the latent solar technology within that two years through adopting a silver oxide battery and eight solar cell panels for efficiency. The accuracy was way better than any mechanical watch at that time, at around +/- 15 seconds a month. Although the solar-powered watches were incredible, it wasn’t such a big hit in the ’70s, as the technology was far ahead of its time. However, the team was adamant, determined to push where the huge payoff came much later with the quantum light-powered Eco-Drive leap.
Through the late ’70s and into the ’80s, Citizen went on to compete in the thin-watch war with other great producers worldwide. They introduced an astonishing quartz movement measuring only 1.00 mm, with an accuracy of +/- 10 seconds per month. While at that, the company became the world’s largest producer of watches and movements in 1980.
Because this was the period where dive watches were emerging, the company released their first proper dive watch and a sidetrack from these elegant segments in Citizen’s trend. Don’t get me excited to head down the rabbit hole of dive watches here, as that would be a whole new chapter on its own. The company launched the brazen 1300m professional diver and was the world’s most water-resistant forsooth. It was made of transpiring titanium material for wearability and toughness, which could also be applied to its quartz caliber.
Following up was another incredible quartz diver: the Citizen Aqualand series. Launched in 1985, the first Aqualand was the Ref C0023 incorporated both a quartz movement and a digital depth gauge.
Although not the first to be clad as one, the Aqualand was the first to take the form of a traditionally styled dive watch – another revolutionary take. The ebullient dive watch was a transitional bridge to an almost gone era where divers utilized their analog dive watches to track dive times while embracing diving science – like the birth of digital dive computers.
Apart from tackling the ocean, Citizen introduced the Altichron watch in which catered to mountain climbers. Like the Aqualand that measures the depth, this Altichron would monitor the altitude through its elevation sensor. All these tool watches are not to be dismissed, as they would later spur the ProMaster series in the early 1990s. Like the Seiko Prospex collection, the ProMaster bestows a wide array of sports watches designed specifically for professional usage, reflecting on their rich history of timekeeping innovations.
Finally, in 1995 came the Eco-Drive collection. Citizen had mastered the light-powered technology by launching the Eco-Drive series and became the most successful product launch ever. This technology would, simply put, solve the number one problem that placed quartz watches since their birth, which was the need to replace the battery perpetually. Eco-Drive technology takes the quartz canon to the next level. It eliminates the need for frequent battery replacement by efficiently charging up the quartz movement and powering the watch through artificial or natural light exposure. This groundbreaking technology was not only ingenious to espouse longevity, but also being environmentally friendly. It was so much so that Citizen was diffidently awarded the first “Eco-Mark,” an official certified award in Japan for environmental protection.
How good and worthy is this technology, you might ask? I’ll be discussing our prominent watches to review later down below, where they not only stood through the test of time but evolved progressively. In the same year the Eco-Drive collection was born, Citizen forged their new premium series known as the “The Citizen” in 1995. By the late 90s, the Eco-Drive line would be adopted worldwide, acclaiming the brand’s number one bestseller. Throughout the following decades, the company focused on pushing the ultimate light-powering technology further – implementing them thoroughly throughout the other collections – setting new standards in the watch market by themselves.
In recent years, Citizen has been persistently pushing the multi-brand expansion alongside watch manufacturing. Implementing the brand’s strategy could actually be seen not only in the late nineties but also throughout their journey. At the onset, Citizen had acquired a majority stake of a domestic movement manufacturer we all known as Miyota Co. Ltd. The renowned producer had started making watch movement for Citizen in Miyota, Nagano Prefecture in Japan Since 1959. And by the 1980s, Miyota began offering their workhorse movements to other companies on a global scale. The movement maker produced a tremendous volume in production, with over 1.7 billion movements in 1999, and double up to 3.6 billion by 2005. The company fabricates Swiss E.T.A. and Sellita equivalents of ébauche movements, like the mechanical Caliber 8200 and 9000 families since 2009.
Another domestic expansion was the introduction of Campanola in the early 2000s. We’d argue that Campanola could be seen similarly to Seiko’s Credor line, where both brands take their decoration and ritzy watch techniques to another level – crafting the highest level of domestic watchmaking with a dash of flamboyance like no others. As for Campanola, the new premium division is almost unheard of even by seasoned J.D.M. collectors, as if kept a secret for the Japanese market themselves to indulge.
“Campanola is a division of Citizen Watch company and represents their dream of reaching Haute Horlogerie levels with the creations.” – Peter Chong, Deployant
What further sets Campanola apart from others and even the Citizen main-lineups is that the watches are coupled with Swiss and Japanese influences. The brand consists of three collections: the Mechanical which feature movements made by La Joux Perret from Switzerland; the Complications bestowing Citizen highest development of quarts caliber: and of course, the Eco-Drive which demonstrate the company’s state-of-the-art technology. All that and we haven’t even gone through the incredible dial and case works, but we digress.
Speaking on having Swiss influence, Citizen’s holding expansion clearly showed that they were not restricted to Japan. By 2008, the corporation bought over their once American partner, Bulova Watch Co., and all the affiliated brands: Wittnauer, Accutron, and Caravelle. Not stopping at all, the giant conglomerate then bought Switzerland’s Frédérique Constant holding S.A. together with its brands like Alpina (sporty watches: check them out on our site), Frédérque Constant (dress watches), and Ateliers DeMonaco.
Also, Citizen took in the nifty Swiss movement maker La Joux-Perret, and high-end watchmakers Angelus, and Arnold & Son to complete the expansion. That is, as of now, what the company has accomplished. Through these acquisitions, it’s easy to realize how competence and the adept capacity of Citizen were fortuitous in becoming not only one of the largest industrial groups in Japan but also an inexorable horology giant that stormed the world. Their diversification boosted the indelible company’s portfolio and recognition and their watchmaking prowess – where now they imbued the best of both worlds: Japan and Switzerland. Although the conglomerate does include other prospects outside of watchmaking, through the adoption of several key brands and manufacturers, it continues to culminate watch production and development as their core business, building watches for the world’s citizens. So now, let’s look at our selected “The Citizen” models for further exemplification.
Now, let’s get into the specifications and features of the Citizen “The Citizen” Eco-Drive Sunray Blue Ref. AQ4080-52L, as well as the Grand Seiko SBGX259 Quartz.
1. 37.2mm in diameter, 44.2mm lug to lug, 10.2mm thick
1. 37mm in diameter, 45mm lug to lug, 10mm thick
2. 37.2mm in diameter, 44.2mm lug to lug, 10.2mm thick
2. Equivalent with the Citizen
3. Multi-finished in satin-brushed and high polished. Crystal coated with proprietary ‘Clarity Coating’ anti-reflective treatment
3. Multi-finished in satin-brushed and high polished, done with proprietary “Zaratsu” mirror-polished treatment
4. Runs on the Calibre A060 high accuracy quartz (H.A.Q.) – Eco-drive with +/- 5 seconds a year accuracy
4. Runs on the Caliber 9F62 caliber – Twin Pulse Control motor with regulator, +/- 10 seconds a year accuracy
5. Dark blue sunburst dial
5. Polar white dial
Made with the same material, both models are executed in 316L stainless steel and are almost identical in size. These models ooze a restrained look while incredibly executed, all in a retro package that resembles the Quartz era. Nevertheless, they are considerably in-tune with today’s market, where smaller sizing is in vogue.
Beseeched compares the Citizen “The Citizen” with a Presage model, which has the same aesthetics, but the execution akin to the Grand Seiko quality. The same goes for the quartz movement. Both “The Citizen” and Grand Seiko are further distinguished from many others through their high accuracy quartz calibers, which I will tackle shortly.
First, the case silhouettes are considered the “perfect” form of Japanese watchmaking for the daily commune, whereas each individual case and bracelet differ oh-so-slightly. Starting with the AQ4080-52L, “The Citizen” stands out with its multi-faceted case where the top satin surface is deemed thinner, only to be separated from its case sides by extensive bevelings. Each corner further transits sharply without a single smear of overlapped polishings. This is especially so considering the tip of the lugs’ edges, though they seem stubbier than the SBGX259.
Speaking of the lugs, Citizen forgoes the drilled-lug holes for a seamless look, sacrificing a sense of practicality begot from the Grand Seiko. Instead, it allows the mid-case to be smooth and continuous with a tad more elegance. However, a pusher button lies at 2 o’clock on the Citizen’s crown side, allowing adjustments for its one-of-a-kind solar movement. The externals of “The Citizen” seem to be well balanced – from the dimensions to the proportions of parts – where the bezel, sides, crown, and lugs are settled proportionally, without signs of excessive.
The thicker-looking bevels on “The Citizen” visually have a more brazen look than the SBGX259, although having the same proportions. With that aside, we now hop on to the impeccable polishing finishes. The high-end collection from Citizen flaunts a phenomenal polishing that could be seen as if it was done with the Grand Seiko’s “Zaratsu” technique. Well, that’s simply because it is, in fact, the actual “Zaratsu” polishing, but solely done by Citizen’s maestros.
Zaratsu Finishing Too
Citizen’s ‘The Citizen’ collection steps into a top-tier, premium segment of the brand, offering one of the highest levels of refinement in its case finishes and performance that inevitably rivals the likes of Grand Seiko.
In terms of finishing, both models are done coherently well. The immaculate cases are completed equally, as seen in the case of these two – a mix of high polishing and linear brushing that gives visual depth to the profile. Admittedly, most watch enthusiasts come across the term “Zaratsu” only with Grand Seiko or minority premium Seiko models. It is not limited only to the Japanese watchmaker. “ザラツ研磨” in Japanese writings depicts a unique polishing technique that was actually started by the Swiss, known as “Sallaz” or “Zarats,” phonetically pronounced by Germans. They contrived a grinding machine that uses a paper surface mounted on a vertical disc instead of conventional horizontal ones ubiquitously applied by the majority in the watch industry.
Therefore, the Japanese adopted the Sallaz machine, and it was pursued by both Seiko and Citizen. The polishing is done to buff off the metal surface, creating distortionless mirror surfaces for their watches which radiate a high level of sparkle that echoes premium case finishings only to be found in watches that usually start in the high five digits.
Essentially, the one key factor in this polishing method is that this indefectible polishing process lies solely in the hands of the watchmakers. These can only be done by Citizen and Seiko specialists known as Super-Meisters and master watchmakers, respectively, who have years of experience to consistently yield the vital results of each “The Citizen” and Grand Seiko timepiece. This distortion-free mirror polishing is what the grand-maestros in Japan do best. From placing side by side with an actual “Zaratsu” finished Grand Seiko, we could immediately conclude that those on the “The Citizen” are identical.
In tangible terms, the Citizen’s case is finished with a mirror-like polishing on the bezel and bevel lines, separated by intricate yet contrasting satin-brushed sides resulting in an expensive look. The satin-brush strokes are done by the hands of the master artisan. Each side must be satin finished with precision and dedication using fine-grain sandpaper, allowing a beautiful contrast from the other “Zaratsu” surfaces.
Flipping the watches over both watches in comparison have many similar knick-knacks. Smacked right in the middle of “The Citizen,” we got ourselves an eagle emblem, a proud mark of craftsmanship reserved only for Citizen’s very best timepieces. The representation could be deemed a Japanese practice to speak confidence of Citizen. The exact execution can be seen with the Grand Seiko and its enduring lion emblem, symbolizing inner strength. All of which inspire their watchmakers to preserve and create the very best timepieces possible.
Flanging those emblems are the essential information that describes the watches briefly. The case-backs on both are screw-down, increasing the water-resistance to a good 100m rating – more-than-enough resistance for you to take it for a swim or wash your hands and go about your daily activities. Citizen and Seiko truly adhere to their goals in building these watches as ideally practical with much sophistication.
Even Up Till the Bracelet
Those fits and finishes go well coherently with its three-link metal bracelet, offering the seamless appeal of a luxury sports watch. One might consider the lug-width of 19mm to be troublesome, but after experiencing these high-tier J.D.Ms., we derived that Citizen and Grand Seiko (yes, the SBGX259 has the same lug width) leaves no room for compromising the perfect proportion. Especially today, a wide array of 19mm straps are available, all thanks to the retro-sized watch trend.
Settling both bracelets side by side, they are equally reliable and well-crafted. None of the links felt flimsy, yet they were flexible enough to articulate comfortably on any wrist. Although the links are finished equally satin-finished at the top and mirror-polished sides, “The Citizen” feels tolerably more industrial than the Grand Seiko. And because of the less intricate polishing, Citizen exudes a sportier wearing experience while the other is more elegant.
The pushed-button clasp is designed similarly, where the bracelets are seen fluidly throughout without any breaking element. Both square-shaped signed clasps look simple while efficiently fulfilling their duties when one puts on or removes them from the wrist. I got to give both brands the credit of a well decorative logo on each clasp, where each is detailedly embossed (Citizen) and debossed (G.S.) in the middle. You do not find this level of detail on many. Most of them are either laser or stamped on, not as pronounced as those on those two clasps I’ve got here.
Since both the G.S. and “The Citizen” are almost identically sized, they wear amazingly on the wrists of both men and women. Fitted around the wrist, the Citizen’s lug to lug of 44mm does not seem to be smaller than the 45mm of the G.S., thanks to the beefier-looking lugs. That said, both feel versatile and elegant on any wrist, the quintessential wearing experience for a “unisex” appeal. This is further amplified by the 10mm slimness thanks to the quartz calibers, allowing one to fit within the shirt cuff or a long-sleeve with ease. Both pieces do not feel considerably petite for one’s liking, as their cases and bracelets exude a sense of virile sportiness, and of course, imposing qualities.
Simply put, these two are on par with the higher echelon of case and bracelet works found in the haute horology realm. Both transcend elaborate case lines with a refined look, retaining the authentic oriental spirit and being seen as a sculpture-like piece of art. All of that for a reasonable price point that undisputedly punched way above their belts. J.D.M. collectors could testify in this tangible sense for watches like these. In the case for “The Citizen,” I have just illustrated its G.S. equivalents craft, making the series just downright a superb alternative from its Seiko neighbor.
Now let’s get into the proverbial weeds of the tales of Japanese insane dial works. We’ve seen that this level of craftsmanship has been matched, if not exceeded, by the evolution of these dials, which these two companies produced entirely in one’s own facilities. The same could not be said for all Swiss watch dials, but for J.D.M., lovers draw fascination with the beauty of nature so characteristic of Japanese culture. For instance, the Grand Seiko’s textured dials usually express Japan’s personality and serene emotions with masterful craftsmanship. The well-received SBGA211 mimics the snow by creating a dial with its snowflake texture – resembling a field of fallen snow, whereas the SBGA413 has a dial inspired by fallen sakura blossom, dancing on water.
In the case of “The Citizen” and the Grand Seiko Quartz, these pieces may have some similitude to these famous brethren, but they have their own personality with much more discretion – one with a lustrous gloss-white hue that is as pure as fresh snow. One comprises a deep sunburst blue that dances effortlessly under different lights. Starting right off, the AQ4080-52L relies on a dual spherical sapphire crystal with a slightly domed shape. A flat surface, like the G.S., allows zero distortion as compared to the domed ones, but Citizen accentuated clarity with their proprietary “clarity-coating” underneath the crystal. This AR-coating works superbly, as we tested to view time at several extreme angles, even when viewed eye-level. In comparison, the G.S., in fact, causes several reflections at any visual angle, but this could not be said for “The Citizen.”
Right underneath the dial belies true artistry from each watchmaker. Each dial comes from a multi-staged process. It starts with stamping the sunburst blue texture (Citizen) and white lacquered surface (G.S.) onto the blank in brass, followed by additional layers of coating to create a dazzling look on each surface. Evidently, when upon up close, the applied markers and printings could be seen as if they were “floating” on those well-made dials. The all-white background of the G.S. is whiter than usual ones, with where majority seemingly off-white or orangey in different lightings. Its stark white appeal allows great time-reading at any angle, even in dark environments. That said, its white dial is uniquely a nice nod to the vintage Grand Seiko models in the past, where the majority were executed in white for the sake of elegance. Therefore, the SBGX259 recalls some good ol’ times with a clean white dial and leaves the fancy stuff to the other elements on the dial.
As for a better comparison for our main protagonist, Citizen, I took out my personal SBGV225 as it has an identical sunburst blue dial as the AQ4080-52L. The result? All I could uncover was both are equally delicate and well-executed, though they encompass different shades of blue. Without losing any of its exuberant energy, the blue radial sunray effect splendidly captures the light in different angles as it emanates from the middle of the dial. These brought some energy and contemporary feel to the “daily-beater” genre compared to the sober-white dial of the SBGX259.
On to the hour markers: They both rely on applied metallic markers with facets. Coming in different shapes, “The Citizen” uses double batons at the cardinal points sans the 3 o’clock position for the date window, similar to the SBGX259 with elongated trapezium markers. Upon comparison, the Grand Seiko gets an edge with multiple finishings. The top and side surfaces are done with delicate satin strokes, separated by mirror-polished bevels. As for “The Citizen,” it alternatively opted for mirror polishing on the multi-facet markers, likewise done so perfectly. What I mean by “perfectly” is that each marker does not have a single hint of machine markings left on them upon close inspection. I could scrutinize a high gloss finished with scintillating reflections so bright I could read the time off even in dark conditions. In addition, both watches’ markers sparkle a rainbow-like hue (only when polishing is done well), often seen on the multi-facets markers.
This could even be said for their steel handsets and applied logos. The exact amount of effort that goes into the dial seems apparent with them. As both utilized “dauphine” shaped hands, they pair harmoniously with the applied markers. On the top surface of the hour and minute hands, we got the same laborious satin-finishing, flanged by mirror-polished sides that look sharp, allowing time to be read precisely. Another thing worth mentioning is the length of each hand is stretched perfectly out to the vocation. The hour hand’s tip would fall precisely at the tail of the hour markers; the minute and second hands reaching out and overlapped the printed minute markers perfectly.
As for the logo placement, Citizen printed their logo at 12′ o clock in matching white with the minutes and applied the “eagle” emblem at the bottom masterfully. No other texts are fitted on the dial, allowing a minimalist look that the brand strives for – keeping only the essentials. I’d find “The Citizen” ameliorates a more balanced aesthetic as compared to the SBGX259. As with all the new Grand Seikos, where the company stood fully independent in 2017, they only applied the “G.S.” and their “Grand Seiko” moniker on the top of the dial. This resulted in a bare bottom for those quartz models, where I feel the balance is a little thrown-off thanks to the clustered top half and empty bottom half.
To close up the dial works, we need to mention the date display. Citizen took the extra step to apply a full convex metallic window frame for its date window that mirrors the superior craftsmanship but executed differently in finishings. The date window on the G.S. has a polished surface with a matte inner edge that prevents any reflections around the date numeral. As for “The Citizen,” the top surface gets a contrasting satin finish, cusping additional mirror-polished sides. This would conspicuously reveal Citizens’ extra attention and effort, capturing the thought that goes into their design, where others usually find it less valuable.
Both dials are elegant yet subtle in detail, evidently from the markers and handset to the dial layers and date window. The exact amount of effort seems apparent in executing the dial-in tandem to the outstanding casework.
Forty Years of Eco-Drive
…where rates of ±5 seconds a year or better are an often-sought but rarely achieved the goal, Citizen’s “The Citizen” watches represent some of the most advanced autonomous timekeeping technology in the world
Jack Foster, Hodinkee
This section is where Citizen, projecting themselves as actual engineers of watchmaking, truly shines. Why? Simply because their innovative wristwatch movements, derived from decades of hellbent development, came to fruition with this High Accuracy Quartz. There have been many battery-powered watches out there, but only a handful of them came to be labeled H.A.Q. Both the Grand Seiko 9F quartz and Citizen Eco-drive areas such. At the fundamental level, to be considered one, the quartz movement is to run with an annual accuracy of +/- 10 seconds and maintain a stable rate despite different temperature impacts. The unique light-powered quartz calibers that eliminate the need for periodic battery replacement are indeed ones that lead the super-accurate herds with their accuracy of +/- 5 seconds max per year.
I have briefly gone through the historical passage on the Eco-Drive development above, and we will take a closer look at how capable this modern solar-powered movement is forged. Citizen’s stable has two ultra-high precision quartz movements that Citizen currently produces: the caliber A060 and the A010, which clads an additional power reserve indicator displayed on the dial. These two movements are state-of-the-art light-powered analog quartz that crowned Citizen as the leader of technologists and environmentalists.
Citizen AQ4080-52L utilizes the caliber A060, powered up by natural and artificial light, and holds a power reserve of up to 7 months! The insanely accurate and long-lasting quartz could be deemed better than the 9F62 found within my GS SBGX259. Even though the SBGX259 tends to be hovering around +/- 2 seconds per year for my case, the need to replace its battery at my local Seiko service center every 2 years plus could be a little bothersome.
I had the opportunity to pop off both case-backs (for the sake of comparison). There is additional evidence that these are not your typical run-the-mill battery-powered watches. Similar to the indisputable case works, the A060 caliber is produced and assembled by hands (same as 9F) by a single Super-Meister, in the Citizen facility in Lida. After assembling, the highly experienced watchmaker will polish up the quarts movement plate with “Tokyo stripes” similar to the Swiss Geneva stripe and the angle around the edges.
Alas, compared to the gold-tone 9F62 quartz of the G.S., the A060 nevertheless has more industrial appeal while lacking the regulator system that Grand Seiko had ingeniously designed. But the finishings on the A060 are anything but an “industrial” quartz movement. Therefore if there’s an issue with the movement falling out of accuracy, the watch would need to be sent back to Citizen, and a Super-Meister will have to re-adjust it from the inside. In reality, this would be considered the worst-case scenario when owning a “The Citizen” Eco-Drive watch. It is a highly engineered, robust yet sophisticatedly built, high precision movement.
More than a Three Hands Analog Watch
Apart from the raison d’être for “The Citizen,” do not be fooled by this simple three-hander dial, concluding as another mere quartz movement inside. The A060 is a catalyst and fruition through decades of sheer engineering, with several technical feats within this coin-sized movement. Several techs found within would blow your mind, while I do my best not to sound too geek here.
Since 2002, Citizen realized the VITRO technology, the solar cells no longer visible on the dial’s surface. They are now smartly hidden below its sunburst blue dial in this case, letting the wearer fully enjoy the illusive dial works without breaking the serenity with any fancy techs on the surface. Another highlight is the A060 has a superior power saving mode, where the watch could store its remaining power in a dark environment (unworn) for up to 1.5 years. The hands will stop at 12 o’clock systematically, and once you pick it up again, the watch would be reactivated with its hands auto-adjusted to the correct time without intervention. How crazy is that?
Furthermore, the movement itself has a perpetual calendar complication that rings one’s bell of Haute-horology watchmaking. A perpetual calendar is considered an Haute-horology complication, where it displays the date, day, month, and the cycle of leap years, all into account. This particular calendar system lies within the three-three-hander with date – through the second hand pointing towards each hour marker representing each month – and can be adjusted through the 2 o’clock pusher on the case side. Now we know what that button is for.
And that’s not all that the single pusher does, and it further allows the wearer to check the watch’s power reserve. Yes, this watch works discreetly as compared to its other A010 brethren. By pressing the button, the second hand indicates the current charge level, indicated between the 3 o’clock markers (fully charged) and 1 o’clock position (insufficient).
For the icing to the cake, the caliber A060 has a quick hour adjustment through its push-pull crown, where the hour hand can be set independently without stopping the watch completely. This adjustment creates a GMT watch perk when one needs to quickset a different timezone when traveling.
All of these traits are nowhere to be not found on the high-end 9F62 caliber, which I have to give admirable credits to Citizen. But they do have several similarities. For instance, both utilize their individual development of a system that allows the second hand to have zero backlashes, and instead, precisely jumping the second hand onto each minute markings. Also, the precise flipping of the date numerals happened when both calibers’ minute and hour hands struck precisely at 12 o’clock. However, the A060 intelligently shows the 29th of February during leap year and skipping those shorter months.
The best representation for Japan’s watchmaking for watch movement has to be their pursuit of the finest and most innovative, encapsulated through their traditionally styled watches. This is one area in which Citizen has been and remains a good forerunner, along with Seiko. Their 9F62 and A060 calibers are decades of abiding research and development by both Maisons, and they paid off. This is even more significant for citizens here, as I can’t think of other companies that succeeded in coalescing high-end solar quartz technology with traditional analog watch design. All those marvelous complications inside a well-finished, scintillating watch case, all that for a price of less than $2500USD. “The Citizen” truly brings a value proposition if you’re looking for a prodigious daily-beater with an equal amount of craftsmanship found on other premium mechanical counterparts.
The Watch Destined for the People
“The Citizen” series can be seen as the greater part of horology, where there are few if any watches that combine traditional craftsmanship with cutting-edge materials and technology with deft aplomb. The collection comprises the most refined mechanical and Eco-Drive movements available for the company, with reassuring qualities in case and dial works. The level of fit and finish as a whole surpasses everything else at their price points, except the G.S. 9F quartz models like the SBDX259 I personally had.
“The Citizen” Eco-Drive Sunray Blue Ref. AQ4080-52L is excellent at its price point of less than $2000, providing a value proposition for any watch enthusiast who wants a taste of fine-watchmaking with the highest level of craft and experience the established Eco-Drive movement. I can’t emphasize enough the fuss-free, accurate quartz movement that distinctly alludes to what Citizen is all about, in tandem with an enduring, clean appeal with a high-quality finish that rivals the upper echelon of the more recognized Grand Seiko.
In tangible terms, both the G.S. and “The Citizen’s” best feature is the quality-to-price ratio trait. I would strongly urge collectors interested in the Grand Seiko level of craftsmanship or who already own one to check out Citizen’s offerings as their timepieces are equally impressive. From making components to final assembly, Citizen has been manufacturing everything in-house, uncompromising in providing quality watches to the people. The dial, hands, case, and ultra-precise solar movement are all carefully assembled by the utmost skilled artisan in the company.
Forever Widely Love by the Citizen
In terms of the primary example I have stumbled upon here, the timepiece encompasses three things that formulate the term beauty, and that’s wholeness, and harmony, clarity. It paddles with enough casualness without feeling like a bold sports watch yet is surrounded by great elegance to match one’s dressy outfit. And with the super wearable case size, it can be considered as one with a unisex appeal. It is like a brilliant throwback of the glorious sixties days where there was a charm in this evergreen design code for men but now clamors with much refinements and better movements. Also, it would look equally attractive on a woman’s wrist that accentuates a little sportier look and highlights one’s taste for something exquisitely well-build yet flies under-the-radar.
If you ask me, the ideal watch to go about my every day is a time-only, highly executed watch like both my G.S. and “The Citizen” quartz, embodying the notion of absolute simplicity and is the result of the consistent pursuit of that particular craft. This could only be done with the most human skill and experience, encapsulating the vision of what the Citizen case has been all about since the beginning. This is genuinely demanding for an extraordinary skill that not many in the watch industry could provide for the consumers. “The Citizen” watch is “timeless elegance transcending fashion” where they believe in clean, simple, and practical designs will never go out of fate, regardless of transient changes of the horology fashion. And I stand by the brand’s philosophy of “simple forms never go out of style,” which is deeply rooted in the concept of “The Citizen.”
All aspects of “The Citizen” of design, the pursuit of quality and practicality are taken most seriously here. All of which are expressed tangibly, and it is indeed a visual delight for anyone who gets to try it on. On many occasions, quality works do come with a hefty price point. But not in the case for Citizen. Yes, they do have crazily priced premium timepieces out there, but in the case of this Eco-Drive Sunray Blue Ref. AQ4080-52L presents a great value of below $2500USD. Once you handle one, a question of “which enduring, fine watchmaking could be grasped at this price point?” And you might have a hard time thinking about the options that perform such a feat.
This is especially so for us fellow citizens in the world. We might be those who like a fuss-free daily watch that needs lesser attention to adjustments and servicing – a grab-and-go as well as not wearing it but still keep good time (and date) when one puts it on after several days, weeks, or month. Citizen’s Eco-Drive watches are the most ideal type. There haven’t been many choices out there, especially for mechanical watches, unless you placed it on the winder, but servicing intervals after 3-5 years are inevitable. However, in the case of the AQ4080-52L, you’re laid with longevity in timekeeping and comprehensive durability with a great sense of accurate time when you strap it on. Yes, an accuracy that’s tighter and more accurate than the G.S. 9F ones we used to know.
Although Citizen does not deliver their marketing as impactfully as Seiko, through the wearing experience I had with both, the similarities between these pieces are indeed perceptible. The two manufactures truly embody classic Japanese traditions in watchmaking that are unlike any others from the West. Therefore, I would put both brands’ pièce de résistance altogether. Both brands continuously glorify and represent Japanese prowess through their coherent crafts where they are tight with a unique tradition.
Well-built, state-of-the-art, and effortlessly wearable, the quotidian “The Citizen” Eco-Drive Sunray Blue Ref. AQ4080-52L is a compelling watch with interactive movement, arguably the quintessential finest timepiece ever in Citizen’s collection. Although it does not keep a mechanical heart, it captured the hearts of those who cherish fine Japanese watchmaking with the idiosyncratic Eco-Drive that is considered the pinnacle of the watchmaker’s art. The superfluous case execution and Calibre 060 are born from the skills and capabilities that Citizen has accumulated over their illustrious history of many interesting firsts with engineering prowess.
Because it mostly lived under the shadow of its neighbor Seiko and Grand Seiko, the premium “The Citizen” line from the well-known purveyor in Japan remains difficult nowadays. Grabbing one to check out in person might be even more challenging if you’re living outside Japan. To fully understand and appreciate watches like this comes with its own challenges. However, I sincerely hope this in-depth and exhaustive comparison of this particular Eco-Drive Sunray Blue Ref. AQ4080-52L will enlighten our readers more on when great Japanese Haute-horology doesn’t revolve only around superior Seiko’s and G.S. but could be found in an ambidextrous brand like Citizen à la offering the “perfect” all-rounder, with greater pretty and precision.
Therefore, through the brand’s vision and experience in innovation, we could not be more excited to see the amelioration of their timepieces. Who knows? They might reach a level of longevity where the watch’s life could traverse through many generations without the need of servicing while providing far greater accuracy than a typical atomic clock that does 1/15,000,000,000 of a second per year. Until then, I would consider watches from “The Citizen” and, like the AQ4080 – a complex piece of machinery in a minimalist package – the perfect daily-beater. And that’s precisely what they were made to do.
Gnomon Watches first opened her doors for business online in early 2002, founded by bona fide horology suitors who share a profound passion for watchmaking and fine craftsmanship.