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Japanese Giant Goes Missing: Ricoh Watches

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(With thanks to stromspeicher for his Watch Forum topic - 1970s Ricoh Strangeness)

On 28 February 2010, gsaronni posted a query on the Ricoh Forum asking whether anyone owned a Ricoh watch. His question received no really positive or interesting answers and the thread died almost instantly. This thread came shortly after a 2009 query on Watchuseek, this time asking about the history of Ricoh watches, and although there were a few interesting facts provided on this thread, it too died a death pretty soon. So, what is going on, and why does this matter?

As members of the Watch Forum, we are probably all familiar with Seiko and Citizen, together with their subsidiaries, and the same can be said for Casio. And yet, there is another Japanese giant out there, whose history has somehow been almost lost for posterity, with no firm attempt to remedy this deficit. That giant is Ricoh, a successful and important Japanese company which has a long history of manufacturing watches right up to the present time. And indeed, the number of pre-owned and vintage Ricoh watches for sale on the internet indicates that the company was an important player in the watch market. Nowadays, Ricoh is most closely associated over here with cameras and other imaging equipment, as well as office machinery.

Once I had reacquainted myself with Ricoh, thanks to the stromspeicher topic mentioned at the top of this article, I set about collecting and collating the necessary research material I needed to write a history of Ricoh watches. However, the more I looked, the more I understood why no-one has provided a decent history of Ricoh watches, and the more I regretted the lack of solid historical material. The most galling fact about this is that Ricoh themselves, on their extensive website and timeline, fail to even mention their watch history, and we are provided details only of their most recent watch innovation. For a large and successful company with a long and distinguished history, this ommission seems extraordinary, and is a real barrier preventing one from having a decent basis for writing a history. As for other sources of information, all we have really is a group of isolated facts and suppositions, including one (difficult to understand) brief account charting the development of Ricoh automatic watches. It should also be noted that the Wikipedia entry for Ricoh also fails to mention watches, and a subsidiary problem about Ricoh is that, over the years of its long history, the company has become complex with different parts and branches making up the overall business. 

Given the problems associated with providing members with a decent history and timeline for Ricoh watches, I have to admit that I have failed on this one, and the missing Japanese giant will, to a large extent, have to remain missing, with just a shadow picture of facts to go on. Rather than try and make sense of this material myself, I present here below the various references so that interested members can look them up, and I do hope that some members will be interested, as Ricoh has been an important player in the watch game, manufacturing its own movements which are unique to that company and producing some interesting and very nice watches from 1962 onwards. There is even some debate over certain model types as to whether Ricoh or Seiko got there first, in cases where the Ricoh and Seiko models are nearly identical. It is not clear whether or not there was a gap in watch production at Ricoh from the late 1990s, but what can be said is that Ricoh are still making innovative watches today, pioneering rechargeable watches using an "Electro Induction Charging System", and these watches are currently on the market. One of these watches, on Amazon, is branded Ricoh, while a rugged version, that appears on the "Ricoh Imaging Company website, is branded "WG".

The most useful references for Ricoh watches are as follows:

1) http://forums.watchuseek.com/f6/ricoh-watches-303377.html

2) http://japanesevintagewatches.com/ricoh-vintage-watches

3) http://seikoholics.yuku.com/sreply/389/RICOH-Branded-Watches#.VY74i_IViko

4)http://www.ricoh-imaging.co.jp/english/products/wg-watch

5) http://www.ricohelemex.co.jp/en/products/req/

Obviously, there are also other mentions and illustration s of Ricoh watches on ebay and other pre-owned watches for sale sites.

 

Finally then, I must apologise for my failure to deliver a history of Ricoh watches, and leave you with a couple of tantalising picturers of Ricoh watches. As for my own collecting, I am now definitely on the lookout for an inexpensive Ricoh mechanical watch. Surely, prices of good Ricoh watches can do nothing but go up, especially if interest in this missing giant reaches a level appropriate to the importance of the company's watchmaking heritage.

 

Ricoh Wide Automatic Day/Date Diver (pic from bbwatches.info):

ricohdivegreensteel_01.jpg

 

Ricoh "tv screen" style 21 jewel mechanical; wrist watch. Notice the Sakura flower emblem on the face which denotes that this is an export model (pic from 70s-watches.com):

ricoh3.jpg

 

Colourful Ricoh 21 jewel automatic world timer watch (pic from thewatchsite.com):

RicohWTdial1.jpg

 

 

 

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Hamilton and Ricoh had a short-lived, and unsuccessful, collaboration between 1962 and 1964:

Hamilton Ricoh Electric; All Stainless Steel; Ricoh 555E; 1973

 

 

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Another well written piece, with inbuilt frustrations! I only have a Ricoh 35mm camera of excellent quality, and a restored Ricomatic 6x6cm twin lens reflex - but no watch. One thought occurs - have you e-mailed Ricoh in Japan about their omission?

Mike

Edited by dobra

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Here is an excellent general reference on the early history of Ricoh -

http://www.network54.com/Forum/621198/thread/1240984817/Ricoh+Watch+History+%2B+Japanese+Watch+Production+Figures

I can fill in some further gaps on this subject.... I'm afraid I'm away from home (...and my watch collection) for the next few months so I can't punctuate this post with photos - perhaps I can do an illustrated post on early Ricoh quartz watches in a few months....

My collecting interest is mainly early Japanese electronic and quartz watches and Ricoh's efforts in that area were quite interesting. It is also often very revealing to see what specific watch companies were doing during the quartz revolution of the early 1970s as in many cases right or wrong decisions eventually made the difference between survival or oblivion....

Before the 1970s there were basically four Japanese companies producing mechanical and automatic watches - Seiko Citizen, Orient and Ricoh. All of these companies had to transition their businesses during the quartz revolution. Some of the other Japanese electronics firms also got into the quartz watch business as watch manufacturers and/or as suppliers to other manufacturers - Casio, Sanyo, NEC, Toshiba and others. It is worth noting that Japanese domestic markets were key for all of the main four watch manufacturers before the quartz revolution. During, and to a greater extent afterwards watch markets became significantly more global than they had been before, further complicating strategic marketing decisions.

It has already been noted that Ricoh made an early entry into new watch technologies with the Hamilton-Ricoh partnership in the early 1960s. The Japanese public had little appetite for it - particularly when marketed by one of the small players - and it failed within a few years.

The next two moves by Ricoh were also made possible by partnership with an American company - this time Hughes Aircraft, who were actively developing electronic watch technologies in the early years of the 1970s. The first Japanese LED watches were produced by Ricoh using the Hughes Aircraft 29mm LED module which was something of an early industry standard. These watches wore the Riquartz sub-brand and were produced c1973.

The other product that Ricoh produced with the help of Hughes aircraft was their first analogue quartz watch - the cal550. This was a large, two-battery dinosaur. It is not as elegantly executed as its contemporaries, but it was produced in 1971 - meaning it was around at the same time as the first Seiko 38xx and some Beta21 models. Like most very early quartz watches it was not produced in high volumes. It preceded Citizens and Orients first quartz watches by more than a year - a long time during the race for new products in these early quartz years. It is claimed to be the first quartz watch with day and date mechanism.

Ricoh didn't produce much in the way of early LCD watches - its first efforts being the simple cal811 and related cal812 watches. A number of unimpressive LCD models were however released and the early Hughes LED models were also eventually replaced with interesting Sanyo module variants (Sanyo incidentally also produced modules and components for Citizen and some of the later Pulsar watches...) LED died its inevitable death around the world in the mid-1970s and by about 1977 LCD was becoming a high-volume, very low-cost market that Ricoh's Japanese competitors were dominating.

By the middle and later years of the 1970s, volume demand was for cheap, reasonably accurate quartz watches with long battery life. Ricoh was still producing quite a few more expensive quartz watches, often with cut-stone dial and carbide cases, some of these models being on sale as late 1977. There were three basic Ricoh quartz movement developments during this time -

The first volume movement was the cal570, a conventional looking quartz movement, well executed and rather similar to its contemporary Orient cal52950 - perhaps a sign of cooperation or plaigiarism between the two companies. Watches with this movement date from the start of 1974 to perhaps 1976.

The cal570 was eventually replaced by the smaller and cheaper cal590. However, compared to competitors offerings the watches were still often housed in relatively expensive casings and carried premium prices. Watches with this movement date from 1976 to perhaps 1978.

Ricoh also developed a range of unusual movements around 1976 - the cal510 is the best known, with two setting buttons as featured in my recent post on this forum. There was also a similar cal530 with a single setting button. And there was a cal(forgot the number - perhaps 520??) with the two setting buttons on the back - this movement seems to have been used in watches with two movements and two analogue faces together in a single watch head.

In about 1978 Ricoh started producing much cheaper models with the cal580 watches, often though not always with an additional setting push button at about 2 o'clock. There doesn't seem to have been huge sales of these later models.

It would be easy to criticise Ricoh's quartz development strategy as being at odds with the development of the market, but the reality is that they were always a small player in the Japanese market and so were really forced to try and find niche areas where they could actually compete with Seiko and the other companies.

 

 

 

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THANK YOU SO MUCH everyone for the additional material about Ricoh, especially you stromspeicher. If you follow up my reference to the Seikoholics forum, you will find a short but interesting account of the development of Ricoh automatic movements, from the early 1960s, and this complements your own excellent input here. I do feel that Ricoh have been unjustly "left on the shelf" historically speaking and I intend to contact the company to ask why they themselves have ignored their own horological history. I must admit though that I have attempted in the past to obtain information from watch companies prior to writing about them but with little success. I think that there is a sort of inbuilt suspicion on the part of companies who are still in business towards members of the public who ask for information that is not already in the open, and in the case of Limit, whose watches I collect, I was told that all the old company records were destroyed or went missing in the transition from independence to being a subsidiary brand - what a pity!

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Thanks for all of you,

I was searching for the details and history of Ricoh Watches Company.

I've a my father's watch (Ricoh Automatic 21 Jewels)  and I love it too much but currently it is damaged. I'm searching for Service center to make it working for me and may be for my son after me.

Wish to continue my father's watch forever...


 

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Ricoh riquartz cal 580. This is mine without the extra push button for seconds zero -ing, infact thanks @stromspeicher for the article above saying some 580s came without this facility.

looks a well built movement and in modular form so sections can be replaced easily.

 

IMG_2381_zpsg84ml7wx.jpg

 

 

IMG_2396_zpshmufil93.jpg

 

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One problem is the large number of RICOH coming out of India with diffy-dodgy re-dials. Even though RICOH (like Orient) produced some very COLOURFUL dials and combos, the re-dails seem to stretch wildest imaginations. For un-initiated, ebay offers need to be well investigated, as I see ones obviously bought in good faith from India being advertised on ter bay when they are too obviously poor and impossible colour combos that never really existed.:thumbsup:

Thanks for the oroginal article Honor, I'm still looking for a really good one, maybe a good Worldtimer or similar.

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I've only owned one Ricoh but it was an extremely nice one - this here Ricoh Oceanmaster. This was an automatic with an internal rotating bezel operated by the screw down crown. Needless to say I sold it in the heat of watch madness. I'd like another but can't find one now :( 

Ricoh%20Oceanmaster_zpsmgp3xxyf.jpg

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Many thanks for all this information putting Ricoh watches firmly on the map for collectors. Interestingly, I have not come across one for some time now, and I am always on standby for this brand.:)

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Sorry to bump up this old thread but I was just wondering if anyone knew what batteries the Ricoh 530 movement takes? I recently found this Ricoh two time watch at a flea market and would like to see if I could get it running :)

2yyy3q8.jpg

 

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I've not been in this part of the forum before!

It actually made me dig out a Ricoh auto that i've had for years, It was forgotten about until I saw this thread!!

I found it, Pickicked it up and it burst in to life without even touching the winder!! :thumbsup:

The old watches dial has suffered but is exactly the same now as it was when I bought it about 25 years ago!! :swoon:

 

rKxsOyt.jpg

OOlyLx7.jpg

cJZZpV0.jpg

 

I also have this RiQuartz but the cell was left in and leaked so it's kaput now!!
K6NDXgP.jpg

tSRdR8m.jpg

kY9lRcA.jpg xKzzl1u.jpg

 

I have no idea where the RiQuartz is now but i'll still have it somewhere, I think I also have a Ricoh LCD watch somewhere too that's a non runner!!

 

BTW, I've had the auto Ricoh on for forty five minutes now and it's still going well!! (Had to take a couple more pics!)

 

John :)

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I love this topic. I've seen a few Ricoh's on eBay and didn't really know anything about them but after reading this I feel a little more educated. So thank you all for this interesting read

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I have a couple of Ricohs both bought from India and with very bright dials. They were ridiculously cheap and both function fine and keep good time.

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This may be a stupid question but do you add your research findings and references to Wikipedia?

It might be a way for other researchers to build on your work and develop a body of crowd-sourced knowledge on these lesser-known brands.

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Thought I'd add one to the list! I bought this 1970s Ricoh Automatic yesterday. I'm new to the watch world but have been told it's design is probably based/copied from an old Rolex. Really nice, although the face is more metallic like that 2nd photo as opposed to a sunburst brown/black like I thought. Currently googling how to read the number/serial so I can find out a bit more about the history of the watch.

TMz7M3y.jpg

korFgIy.jpg

 

 

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Ricoh Riquartz, the Hisonic killer - Ricoh really were pioneers in the Japanese quartz revolution and it was only when the massive size and resources of Seiko and much later, Citizen came into play were they eclipsed. 

Seiko famously released the Astron Quartz in late 1969, priced at 450000 yen. Even with the introduction of this first 'mass-produced' quartz watch there was an apparent reluctance within Citizen to accept the revolution, assuming that quartz would remain very expensive and hence niche. Against this background Bulova and Citizen joined together in 1970 to further develop tuning fork watches. In 1970 there were no quartz models below Seikos 150,000 yen cal 38xx watches so Citizen figured that a decent tuning fork watch in the sub 100,000 yen range would be viable even if slightly less accurate than quartz(Citizen themselves didn't produce quartz watches until 1973, partly because they invested their efforts instead with their Hisonics).

On June 23rd 1970, a very large factory was set up by the Bulova-Citizen JV in Yamanashi Prefecture with a capital investment of 90 million yen. In 1971, a further 270 million yen was invested and hisonic sales began st the end of 1971 at a price of about 50,000 yen much cheaper than both quartz watches (over 100000 yen) and Bulova Accutron models (about 90000 yen). At this stage upto 500000 hisonics were produced a year by a workforce of over 300 people.

Two months after the hisonic release in December 1971, Ricoh released the Riquartz 550 which at 90000 yen was the first quartz watch below 100000 yen. Seiko chased the Riquartz prices but in 1972 were still at 100000 yen with their cal 39xx models. Citizen did eventually bring hisonic prices down to about 20000 yen with mass production economies, but their efforts were matched by both Ricoh and Seiko with their quartz watches and by the mid-1970s prices were more or less the same for quartz and hisonic watches. The writing was on the wall and Citizen, by this time was piling resources into quartz and digital development.

There was no possibility of improving the performance of the tuning fork technology upto the sub 1 minute a month accuracies of mass-produced quartz and with price parity, Hisonic sales crashed. Despite their massive investment in the project, Bulova and Citizen were forced to abandon the project in 1977.

[Ricoh 550 advert - circa 1972 showing 550002 and 550003 models]

Riquartz%2055.jpg

[Second generation Riquartz 570 watches including models below 50000 yen]

Ricoh%20570%20Print%20Ad%20A.jpg

 

[A couple of 550003 watches from 1972 on the right including one of the signature stone-dialled designs. On the left is the daddy-the original Riquartz 550001 from 1971]

Ricoh%20550%20x3.jpg

 

Ricoh%20550001%20-%20D.jpg

 

Ricoh%20550001%20-%20A.jpg

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7 hours ago, stromspeicher said:

Ricoh Riquartz, the Hisonic killer - Ricoh really were pioneers in the Japanese quartz revolution and it was only when the massive size and resources of Seiko and much later, Citizen came into play were they eclipsed. 

Seiko famously released the Astron Quartz in late 1969, priced at 450000 yen. Even with the introduction of this first 'mass-produced' quartz watch there was an apparent reluctance within Citizen to accept the revolution, assuming that quartz would remain very expensive and hence niche. Against this background Bulova and Citizen joined together in 1970 to further develop tuning fork watches. In 1970 there were no quartz models below Seikos 150,000 yen cal 38xx watches so Citizen figured that a decent tuning fork watch in the sub 100,000 yen range would be viable even if slightly less accurate than quartz(Citizen themselves didn't produce quartz watches until 1973, partly because they invested their efforts instead with their Hisonics).

On June 23rd 1970, a very large factory was set up by the Bulova-Citizen JV in Yamanashi Prefecture with a capital investment of 90 million yen. In 1971, a further 270 million yen was invested and hisonic sales began st the end of 1971 at a price of about 50,000 yen much cheaper than both quartz watches (over 100000 yen) and Bulova Accutron models (about 90000 yen). At this stage upto 500000 hisonics were produced a year by a workforce of over 300 people.

Two months after the hisonic release in December 1971, Ricoh released the Riquartz 550 which at 90000 yen was the first quartz watch below 100000 yen. Seiko chased the Riquartz prices but in 1972 were still at 100000 yen with their cal 39xx models. Citizen did eventually bring hisonic prices down to about 20000 yen with mass production economies, but their efforts were matched by both Ricoh and Seiko with their quartz watches and by the mid-1970s prices were more or less the same for quartz and hisonic watches. The writing was on the wall and Citizen, by this time was piling resources into quartz and digital development.

There was no possibility of improving the performance of the tuning fork technology upto the sub 1 minute a month accuracies of mass-produced quartz and with price parity, Hisonic sales crashed. Despite their massive investment in the project, Bulova and Citizen were forced to abandon the project in 1977.

[Ricoh 550 advert - circa 1972 showing 550002 and 550003 models]

Riquartz_55.jpg

[Second generation Riquartz 570 watches including models below 50000 yen]

Ricoh_570_Print_Ad_A.jpg

[A couple of 550003 watches from 1972 on the right including one of the signature stone-dialled designs. On the left is the daddy-the original Riquartz 550001 from 1971]

Ricoh_550_x3.jpg

Ricoh_550001_A.jpg

Ricoh_550001_D.jpg

 

Hmmm, haven't really posted in a while... nice of Photobucket to unilaterally destroy years of useful information. I couldn't work out how to edit the image links in my original post to imgbb. I guess all of my old posts are broken now as well :angry:

 

 

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