Credor Eichi II
It’s very unlikely that you’ve ever seen a Credor before. It’s also very unlikely that you’ve ever even heard of Credor before. Yet this simple, unknown watch from this unknown Japanese brand costs a whopping £50,000. What on Earth are they thinking?
You may not have heard of Credor, but you’ve most certainly heard of Seiko. Yes, the same Seiko that makes cheap, quartz watches, the same Seiko that toppled the mighty Swiss watch empire. Back in the seventies, when quartz was really taking off, when lashings of gold was the symbol of success, Seiko had an idea: it would try and move the brand upmarket with the creation of a collection of high-end watches.
To understand this mentality, it first needs to be understood that back then, quartz wasn’t generally considered to be a bad thing. Quite the opposite, in fact; it was an exciting new technology, boasting incredible accuracy, futuristic circuitry—and everybody wanted one. Traditional mechanical brands died because, let’s be frank—the public wasn’t interested anymore.
Look at it like this: when mobile phone screens went from black and white to colour, nobody wanted black and white anymore. When they went to touchscreen, nobody wanted buttons. The Swiss watch industry was stuck somewhere between protecting tradition and accepting reality, and in the case of brands like Omega that tried to do both, the results were catastrophic.
For Seiko, however, times couldn’t have been better. Quartz was booming, Japan was booming. Seiko was the face of the future, and Seiko was to become the biggest watchmaker in the world. So, it makes sense that Seiko would also try to corner the premium end of the market with its fancy new quartz technology, and that’s exactly what it did with a selection of gold pieces in 1974. These watches were still branded as Seiko Quartz, but with one subtle addition: the words Crêt D’Or. These words weren’t printed on the dial, or on the case back, but on the advert.
Think of the ice cream manufacturer Häagan-Dazs. It’s a name that implies exquisite European taste, luxuriously creamy texture, all carefully crafted in an idyllic wooden shack high up on some snowy mountain top somewhere. Founders Reuben and Rose Mattus, Polish immigrants living in the Bronx, New York, however, did not conjure that image. So, they faked it with a name that did.
And so too did Seiko with Crêt D’Or. It’s French for golden crest, and is exactly the association you’d want with your new luxury arm if you were a Japanese manufacturer of affordable quartz watches trying to break into the luxury market. Crêt D’Or makes you think of Parisian fashion, beautiful azure oceans, effortless cool. As far as Seiko was concerned, they did not have any of those things going for it, and so they decided to fake it until they made it.
And boy did they go all out with it. Gilt catalogues with embossed filigree presented a world of luxury that borrowed from the tradition of Swiss high watchmaking to the point where it was hard to discern the difference between a Patek Philippe Calatrava and a fancy Seiko.
Up until very recently, however, Crêt D’Or watches have not been available outside of Japan. This luxury campaign was an entirely domestic thing, a step too far for the rest of the world to accept. But the brand has evolved, been refined to the single word “Credor”, gaining the addition of a logo that takes the Japanese symbol for mountain and stylises it with the addition of three stars. That all sounds like the part, but is Credor really ready for the big, wide world? How much does this new Credor, the Eichi II, compare to the originals? Well, it’s still Japanese, still Seiko-branded, still made with precious metals, and it’s still regulated with a quartz crystal. It’s also £50,000. That’s a bold move for a brand that’s a subset of a huge conglomerate better known for its affordability than its luxury.
It’s almost like Seiko wants to fail. You know when you have a crash and the insurer phones up a body shop that goes and quotes three times the value of the car to polish out a dent, just because they don’t want the business? That’s what this seems like. Three hands, a quartz movement and a price that’ll get you a Patek Philippe annual calendar and a Calatrava? It’s quite simply bananas, pretty much delusional.
Tangent time: have you heard of a watchmaker called Philippe Dufour? If you haven’t, here’s what you need to know: Dufour is widely considered to be the greatest watchmaker of our time. If you buy a Dufour watch, it’s Dufour who made it, from start to finish. If you want one of his watches—and it’ll be whatever it is he’s making, you don’t get a choice—well, tough. He’s got enough orders to last him many lifetimes. You won’t find him online, he doesn’t have a website—his work speaks for itself.
Why bring up a Swiss-born watchmaker in the riddle of the Credor’s existence? Credor watches are made at Seiko’s Micro Artist Studio in Shiojiri, founded at the turn of the new millennium as a congregation of the very finest watchmaking talent in the world. And who better to help establish the studio? Oh yes, Mr. Philippe Dufour. Right down to the type of wood used to polish the bevelled edges of a movement, Dufour assisted Seiko in laying a foundation for Japan’s—and perhaps the world’s—most incredible watchmaking.
For the Eichi II, it all starts with the dial. Fired in pure white enamel by Micro Artist Studio craftsman Mitsuru Yokosawa—who, with forty years’ experience, is the only man in Japan capable—it’s a canvas of the most delicate nature, considered to be watchmaking’s most difficult dial type to manufacture. With multiple fine layers applied by hand and seared in a furnace, every step is just moments away from failure. Dials that crack and shatter outnumber those that don’t by an order of ten.
And I called the dial a canvas not to be flowery, but because it quite literally is. Where most dials receive their markings via a pad printing process, the Eichi II gets an altogether more hand made approach. Every hour marker, every letter, is applied by hand with a brush. It takes a whole day to complete a single dial, the resident artist—that’s singular, there’s only one person in the world who can do this—having undertaken three years of training with Japan’s finest ceramics makers before being allowed to work on the Credor’s dial.
This level of excellence continues in the back with the calibre 7R14, a Spring Drive movement capable of a sixty-hour power reserve thanks to what’s known as a torque return system. By the way, if you’re wondering why the quartz Eichi II has a power reserve in the traditional sense, that’s because it’s still driven by a mainspring, which spins a magnetically controlled glide wheel that’s regulated by a quartz crystal, which itself derives a current from the mainspring. Complex, yes. Clever, very much so.
The torque return system is even more so. When the watch is fully wound, it generates more torque than it needs, but rather than waste it, it’s redirected back into the mainspring to extend the power further, giving the watch a healthy reserve from what is an otherwise very compact movement.
And not only is it compact, but beautiful too. That wood Dufour suggested to polish the bevelling with? It’s hard to get in Japan, so the Micro Artist Studio struck a deal with a hospital growing the plant for research in order to get hold of some, and that’s what’s been used here to get the immaculate, distortion-free finish. The whole thing is assembled by watchmaker Yoshifusa Nakazawa, who’s been with Seiko since 1978. You’ve probably seen pictures of him. Seiko may be a huge company, but with Credor and the Micro Artist Studio, like with Philippe Dufour, you know exactly which craftsman’s hands touched your watch.
The Credor Eichi II is everything watchmaking should be. It’s technical yet traditional. It’s simple yet complicated. It’s designed with robotic precision yet executed by the hand of a human. You think this is an expensive, obsolete Japanese watch? Not at all. This is the cheapest Philippe Dufour you’ll ever find.