David Edwards, Seiko UK Ltd
Angus Davies talks to David Edwards, Seiko UK Ltd and learns more about the various Seiko brands and the marketing of them within the UK and beyond.
During this interview with David Edwards, Seiko UK Ltd, the Welshman reveals his professional background and how the company manages its various brands, including Presage, Prospex and Grand Seiko. The Managing Director of Seiko UK Ltd also discusses the watch firm’s efforts to convey Japanese craftsmanship and the technical excellence of its Grand Seiko products.
In the esoteric world of watchmaking, many horophiles direct their gaze towards Germany or Switzerland in order to sate their passions. However, those individuals who are well informed about fine watches will increasingly look to Japan and the mechanically virtuous Credor and Grand Seiko watches.
Regular readers of ESCAPEMENT will be aware that I have a strong liking for Grand Seiko. This horological marque is synonymous with delivering peerless readability, excellent precision and handsome aesthetics.
However, Seiko is a diverse company, offering some incredibly affordable watches that deliver an impressive blend of attributes as well as keen pricing. Two brands which have come to the fore are Seiko Presage and Seiko Prospex.
Seiko Presage has astounded the watch world with its blend of Japanese craftsmanship, manifest with its artisanal Urushi dials, technical merit (e.g a column-wheel chronograph with vertical coupling) and affordable pricing.
In the domain of underwater exploration, Seiko Prospex is highly regarded. The brand has a long history of engineering timepieces capable of deep-water exploration. However, these watches have also proved incredibly popular with stylish wearers who appreciate lucid dials and robustness even if they seldom stray from terra firma.
With a diverse portfolio to manage, I was keen to learn how David Edwards, Seiko UK Ltd prioritises his resources and what aspirations he has for the brand.
Interview with David Edwards, Seiko UK Ltd (DE) by Angus Davies (AD)
AD: What makes Seiko special?
DE: Having worked for Swatch Group, with its impressive vertical integration, I have found Seiko has exactly the same commitment to in-house manufacture – actually even more so if I think about in-house quartz and springs. It has similar capabilities and strengths although Seiko has a very different approach.
It’s also very clear that Seiko has an incredibly loyal and knowledgeable fan-base covering everyone from Collectors to Watch Journalists – they have a real passion for Seiko
Seiko Prospex 1968 Automatic Diver’s Re-creation Limited Edition SLA025
AD: I know you worked for Richard Mille. I would have thought that Seiko must be a million miles from working for Richard Mille.
DE: Yes, I don’t think Seiko could be any further from Richard Mille, but then so was my time with the Swatch brand! There are lots and lots of people within the Seiko organisation and relatively few people at Richard Mille. There was a strong emphasis on marketing and emotion at Richard Mille based on a seemingly never-ending stream of interesting, new calibres and materials.
However, one thing both companies share is an incredible attention to detail. You cannot sell high value, fine watches without having that. This attention to detail also extends to the marketing, events, retailing and how you conduct business. Everything has to be consistent and done very well. If you compare both businesses, they both share this approach.
AD: The product portfolio of Seiko is diverse, ranging from accessible solar and quartz models, costing just a few hundred pounds, to high-end mechanical and Spring Drive Grand Seiko watches. Are there any challenges or problems which come as a result of this diverse product portfolio?
DE: The ‘brand stretch’ of the Seiko mother-brand is quite wide with some products costing a few hundred pounds, to those costing several thousands of pounds. What has happened in recent years is the introduction of a ‘sub-brand’ approach with the advent of Presage, Prospex etc. Today, those sub-brands are treated internally as Global Brands in their own right with a unique story and a distinct positioning in terms of product offer and price.
Grand Seiko Calibre 9S 20th Anniversary Limited Edition Homage to V.F.A
AD: The new boutique in Knightsbridge provides a wonderful retail experience. You have an extensive collection of models, some of which are rarely seen outside of Japan. Could you envisage opening any additional boutiques in the UK?
DE: If you look at the US or Europe, there is usually more than one boutique in each market and all of them are what I would term, ‘AAA’ locations. Clearly, we are here in Knightsbridge (the location of the interview). Would I want another boutique at some point? Yes, I would. Is it part of the short term plan? No. However, I do believe the UK could certainly cope with another boutique. In the future, I do envisage seeing more ‘Grand Seiko’ mono-brand boutiques.
Seiko Boutique, Knightsbridge, London
AD: We have seen a growth in online sales. Do you envisage Seiko following this path?
DE: Ultimately, we’re aiming for a consistent global experience, whether via our stockists or our end consumers, no matter which channels they interact with us through. Developing our web presence through retailers and our websites is key to telling the Seiko story.
AD: In the last few years, Seiko has launched some stunning Presage models, including a few column-wheel chronographs. The prices of these watches, considering their impressive specification, is amazing. I believe these models sell out very quickly. Is availability likely to improve?
DE: Yes. Presage has a fantastic position and it is a very strong offer. It hasn’t always had the pizzazz and the marketing budget of Prospex which has been around for longer and already has significant brand equity and a huge fan base. In terms of the UK, we will be pushing Presage forward as it is simply a fantastic product. Moving forward, Presage is absolutely a key brand for us, along with Prospex and Grand Seiko.
Seiko Presage Urushi Byakudan-nuri Limited Edition SPB085
AD: Personally, I am a huge fan of Grand Seiko and I actually possess two Spring Drive models. Grand Seiko models are simple to read, highly precise, reliable and prove very comfortable to wear. Unfortunately, I have met many watch enthusiasts who are unaware of these attributes and foolishly think only the Swiss make superb watches. What steps are you taking to educate the watch buying public about the merits of Grand Seiko ownership?
DE: I think it depends on the type of end-consumer. If we are talking about a customer who is coming at things from a technical perspective, we know that we have a fantastic story. The customer may or may not be aware of our story, but it is a relatively straightforward story to tell.
If we are talking about individuals who are coming to the brand with very limited knowledge of either watches or, specifically, Grand Seiko then the advertising alone won’t tell that story. Therefore, what we are doing is upscaling the brand conversation. For example, if you look at FT.com you will see there are three sponsored stories. These are engaging stories about the Japanese watch industry which is predominantly about Japanese craftsmanship which links into what Seiko does. Therefore, with an educated and wealthy audience we are trying to have a more engaging conversation with them rather than just a piece of advertising which you may flick past and which doesn’t change your opinion. So, that is the important part, the storytelling aspect of the brand.
AD: I once visited the Seiko museum in Japan where I saw some fascinating historical watches. Do you envisage bringing some of these museum exhibits to the London boutique at some point?
DE: Yes. In Tokyo, there is also small collection which can be used for regional events. The public love to see the company’s historical pieces.
AD: There were many Grand Seiko models in the past that were only sold in the domestic market. Is this still the case?
DE: You can’t get every reference. There is still a fair proportion of models which are Japanese only products. There are also regional special editions, such as those recently launched in the US. Currently, there are no European editions, however, I would like to see this happen in the future.
AD: I know that from time to time you have had some of the company’s über high-end, Credor watches in the London boutique. Could you envisage bringing over a watchmaker from the company’s Micro Artist Studio at some point and allowing them to demonstrate first-hand some of the high-end finishing techniques synonymous with this brand.
DE: If I can talk about Grand Seiko, we recently held an event at ‘Japan House’ in South Kensington. We have a relationship with Japan House and a ‘Spring Drive Master’ came over and gave live demonstrations. This was watchmaking rather than finishing. The presence of the Spring Drive Master proved very interesting to the guests attending the event. It was unusual to see him outside of Japan. Increasingly, he will be used for these types of events.
Spring Drive Master at Japan House in South Kensington
Credor Eichii II in 18-carat pink gold
AD: Quite often in watch companies, staff are issued with a ‘wear watch’. Have you got a ‘wear watch’?
DE: I’m fortunate enough to have several wear watches! I will often choose a particular watch such as a Presage, depending on the event I am attending. However, sometimes I simply wear a particular watch to match what I am wearing!
Seiko Prospex Limited Edition Black Series Solar Divers (SNE493P1)
The watches I currently choose to wear include a Prospex Limited Edition Black Series Solar Divers (SNE493P1), a Presage Automatic Gents Watch (SPB045J1), a Seiko Conceptual Gents Kinetic (SKA791P1) and, lastly, the iconic Grand Seiko ‘Snowflake’ (SBGA211G).
Seiko Presage Automatic Gents Watch (SPB045J1)
Seiko Conceptual Gents Kinetic (SKA791P1)
AD: What are your aspirations for Seiko UK Limited?
DE: I want to bring Grand Seiko to a wider audience. Those who know our story, know it well, but there are many people who are not familiar with the brand. However, when these individuals discover our brand and experience our products, they are blown away.
In a world of luxury watches, seemingly dominated by the Swiss, we have a fantastic story. We are different. It is not about saying we are better, just different.
With regards to Prospex, it has huge legitimacy and it has significant growth potential.
David Edwards, Seiko UK Ltd was very candid about his professional remit, managing Seiko UK Ltd. His role encompasses responsibility for selling a broad array of timepieces, each with their own strengths and corresponding market position.
In some respects, Seiko could be likened to Volkswagen. The car giant owns affordable brands, including Seat and Skoda, middle of the range products such as Volkswagen and Audi and high-end cars, including Bentley, Bugatti and Lamborghini. The target audience of each is different, however, each product is imbued with notable quality.
Personally, I am drawn to Seiko Presage, Seiko Prospex, Grand Seiko and Credor timepieces. Each of these brands is distinct and has its own personality. Those brands which succeed have a clearly defined character which the watch-buying public can identify with. Clearly, Seiko is aware of this and has already put in place the foundations for the aforementioned brands to prosper.
Aside from keen pricing, Seiko is conveying the attributes of its models not just through numerous conventional adverts but also by engaging consumers through meaningful brand stories. In particular, the company is seeking to convey the savoir faire synonymous with its watches, including the traditional craftsmanship and impressive technical capability for which Seiko is known.
However, beyond the business discussions and marketing strategies, are the products. Seiko is fundamentally a ‘product company’, where the firm imbues each timepiece with its in-house expertise and, in so-doing, delivers an incredible blend of technical virtue, design prowess and impressive value.
Grand Seiko ‘Snowflake’ (SBGA211G)
Quite simply, my respect for this company remains undiminished and my chat with David Edwards, Seiko UK Ltd vindicates my own decision to acquire two Grand Seikos a few years ago. However, unlike David, I would prefer, albeit selfishly, for Grand Seiko to remain the chosen watch for those ‘in the know’.