Seiko and Radical Design

The Sottsass Collection

With an anarchic and sensual approach to design, Ettore Sottsass is one of the most celebrated and formative designers of the late 20th century. His bold patterns and colorful functional designs—from the iconic Olivetti Valentine typewriter to the Carlton bookcase and beyond—helped to usher in the postmodern aesthetic.

Ettore Sottsass' Valentine typewritter for Olivetti, 1969
Ettore Sottsass' Carlton bookcase for Memphis, 1981

The world of watches, too, was graced by the radical vision of Ettore Sottsass. In 1992, Seiko released the Sottass Collection featuring a selection of meticulously crafted watches and chronographs. The designs featured reliable Seiko movements and stainless steel cases with short, squared lugs but the faces—dials, crystals and hands—were given a bold new look. Sottsass employed colorful dials and multiple thin layers of crystal with screen-printed numerals and markers to achieve a floating affect. And the hands, either block-like and thick or gracefully thin, as seen here on these chronographs. The overall effect reminding us that functionality need not be boring!

Ultimately, the production of the Sottsass Collection was limited due to the cost of the complex design. Seiko would later modify these designs and introduce the Sottsass Spirit Collection but the rare examples offered here are the original and real deal. 

When I was young, all we ever heard about was functionalism, functionalism, functionalism. It’s not enough. Design should also be sensual and exciting.

Ettore Sottsass


Japanese Design and Modern Influence

Kintarō Hattori opened a watch and jewelry shop in Tokyo in 1881, focusing on unique imported timepieces rare in the Asian market. His retail enterprise soon transformed into the production of clocks initially producing pocket watches and eventually the more modern wristwatch. In 1924, with the building of a new state-of-the-art factory, he launched Seiko competing with Swiss watchmakers in superior accuracy and cost. While most Swiss Watchmakers were reliant on movements and parts produced by different manufacturers, Seiko relied on vertical integration. By 1956, Seiko designed and produced every part in-house including the oil used in the movement, and within just a few years, Seiko was producing some of the most accurate, modern, and reasonably priced watches on the market. Seiko watches are true icons of Japanese design and modern influence.