The timeless appeal of Riki Watanabe – the godfather of modern Japanese design | The artistry of Japanese watchmaking

Riki Watanabe, pioneering designer

Japanese industrial design takes many forms, from stark and functional to complex. However, the contributions that the pioneering Japanese designer Riki Watanabe made to the movement overall cannot be overstated. Considered the godfather of modern Japanese design, Watanabe created beauty through minimalistic, accessible design, which has inspired a collaboration with Seiko Presage.

Sometimes referred to as the Charles Eames of Japan, Watanabe applied traditional Japanese aesthetics to everyday interior design. Having founded the Riki Watanabe Design Office in 1949, during the 1950s he worked with inexpensive materials so his products would be available to everyone, with pieces such as his 1952 rope chair and 1956 Torii stool bringing affordable seating into households whose residents had previously sat on tatami-mat floors.

He soon became a leading figure in Japan’s industrial design field, and his artistic and cultural contributions were recognised far and wide. In 1957, his Torii stool and circular centre table were awarded a gold medal at the Milan Triennale, an influential international exhibition of art and design. His pole clock, created that year for the Dai-Ichi life insurance company in Tokyo, is seen as one of his major works and became the standard by which public clocks were measured, thanks to its striking yet practical design. For his contribution to the arts, Watanabe received the Japanese Medal of Honour with purple ribbon.


The artistry of Japanese craftsmanship

Watanabe’s clocks offer a thoughtful marriage of form and function. They feature simple, classic designs that are easily legible and that suit any interior. Watanabe seemed to understand that they should not be intrusive or difficult to decipher. Yet, the delicate visual balance that informs so much of modern Japanese design is clearly present in each of his pieces, most notably in the widely mimicked Riki steel clocks that sell to this day, and in the beautiful wrist watches he designed for Seiko’s Riki Watanabe line in the 2000s. Watanabe collaborated with Seiko several times during his lifetime, having sealed his reputation as a master timepiece designer in 1972.

Even seven years after his death in 2013 at the age of 101, the impact of his talent is still tangible. Having made an indelible mark on Japanese design history, it’s only natural that Seiko’s Presage collection would honour him – after all, the Presage collection is based on the artistry of Japanese craftsmanship. The Riki Steel Clock, one of Watanabe’s most famous creations, has been used as a source of inspiration for Seiko’s Presage Prestige Line – both the Enamel Dial Spring Drive and Enamel Dial Automatic watches.

Seiko Presage has also added a new line to celebrate the designer in 2020, the Riki Watanabe collection. Made in collaboration with Watanabe’s team to celebrate his lifework, its simple yet modern design reflects the designer’s ethos. The multi-hand calendar variation follows the beautifully simple, functionally modern design of the popular Riki Steel Clock within the enamel dial series, while combining traditional Japanese Takumi (artisan, skilful) craftsmanship to ensure precision and long-lasting performance.

The influence of the Riki Steel Clock is seen in the watch designs

The influence of the Riki Steel Clock is seen in the watch designs

The enamel dials are notoriously difficult to produce. They require skill, patience, and a process that involves firing at high temperatures. Master craftsman Mitsuru Yokosawa, who has worked with enamel since 1971, makes the enamel dials in these Presage timepieces. The material’s subtle imperfections make each watch unique, while the way the dial reflects light gives it a precious warmth of character.

In the chaos of modern life, Watanabe’s designs offer a daily comfort. Just as Watanabe helped define modern Japanese aesthetics with his accessible yet beautiful designs, Seiko brings these designs into the present with a series of watches that are built to last. The Presage collection brings Watanabe’s timeless design legacy to your wrist, with quality timepieces that remain simple and reliable even when your schedule does not.

Though elevated to the pinnacle of modern Japanese aesthetic culture, Watanabe’s clock designs have always had a sense of down-to-earth friendliness, inviting use by all who need them. Combined with Seiko’s technological prowess, his striking yet practical designs have changed the face of Japan – as well as the faces of Seiko’s Presage watches. The legacy of the godfather of modern Japanese design lives on.

Explore the Presage collection to discover how you can own a meaningful piece of Riki Watanabe’s design legacy. Follow Seiko on Instagram and Facebook to keep up to date with its latest releases

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