Japanese watch companies make strategically baffling moves with some regularity. The new circa-$6,000 automatic watch from Citizen doesn't seem to fit with the brand's familiar character or affordable positioning — but it does fit into an overall trend of once primarily inexpensive Japanese brands moving significantly upmarket.
Indeed, thanks to its high-end execution from its case through to a movement developed with its subsidiary Swiss company La Joux-Perret, this new automatic is far more than a watch you can simply write off as an "expensive Citizen."
Before asking "what's Citizen playing at?", take a look at the watch itself. It's simply called The Citizen Mechanical ("The" being a distinguishing part of the name). At 40mm wide and 10.9mm thick in steel, it has an angular case with sharp facets and contrasting finishes, including the famous zaratsu technique.
It also has an "integrated bracelet," which is something of a buzz term in the watch industry. It actually refers to a case design without traditional lugs, which requires a proprietary bracelet. The new watch finished to luxury standards, with a chronometer-beating accuracy of -3 / +5 seconds per day and 60 hours of power reserve.
It certainly looks more refined than your typical Citizen watch at first blush — but a view of the movement through the case back tells you right away that there's a lot more going on. This is no basic Miyota with a stamped-out rotor; the automatic movement in question is called the Caliber 0200, and it was produced in collaboration with the high-end Swiss movement manufacturer Citizen acquired in 2012.
But wait, as they say, there's more. It's not simply a movement produced in Switzerland and purchased for Citizen watches; although we don't have all the details, the manufacture, assembly and finishing of most components is said to take place in Japan — La Joux-Perret primarily provided design and expertise help.
For most people familiar with Citizen, solar-powered watches in myriad variations costing a couple hundred dollars come to mind, not automatics priced to compete with Rolex and Omega. The price point of this The Citizen Mechanical isn't totally out of the blue for the brand, however, with examples like record-breaking solar powered watches and an upscale Citizen sub-brand called Campanola preceding it. (They even made a circa-$90,000 tourbillon watch.)
Watch industry-watchers have expected more interesting examples to result from the integration of its Swiss movement maker, but it's not clear what will stick as part of the brand's longterm image and collections.
So who's spending $6K on a Citizen watch? Maybe speculative collectors who see the brand going the way of Grand Seiko. For now, the The Citizen Mechanical will be part of the brand's permanent collection, and is expected to be available for purchase in the fall of 2021.