In December of 2023, Japan’s Citizen Watch Group opened up its first flagship store in the United States, located at 605 5th Avenue in New York City, adjacent to the popular Rockefeller Center, and it is only the second such flagship store of its kind (the first Citizen flagship store is in Tokyo). I recall the first time I experienced Citizen watches in a retail and showcase environment — and it was nothing like this. The new 5th Avenue Citizen flagship store is a space that finally allows the majesty of each individual watch to shine — no matter if it is an entry-level or more exclusive high-end model. In the past, consumers would often find Citizen watches crowded together in display cases with no ability for any one piece to stand out. Changing times and luxury watch retail expectations have led to this point, and now Citizen has an impressive space where its finely made and engineered products can enjoy a shrine of their own.
The 5th Avenue store might have “Citizen” on the sign outside, but the space also carries four other Citizen Group brands. Located on the three-story store’s second level, shoppers can browse the latest Bulova, Accutron, Frederique Constant, and Alpina brands in their own dedicated spaces. These are entirely distinctive brands from Citizen (with their own histories and manufacturing), and an excellent supplement to the lower level of the store, which is currently dedicated to Citizen model watches.
Like other popular Japanese watchmakers, Citizen, for a number of years, has produced high-end watches that rarely left the domestic Japanese market. Encouraged by the global sales success of higher-end watches produced by rivals Casio and Seiko, Citizen has now implemented an impressive strategy to not only introduce more of its elite models globally but also to focus more on world products as opposed to specialty models made for niche markets (like only for home in Japan). That means a lot more high-end quartz and mechanical Citizen watches are headed to markets like the United States, and, moving forward, more of the high-end Citizen watches will be produced with the United States in mind. This is actually not new, but many of Citizen’s past higher-end watches (from Signature to Campanola) seemed ahead of their time in the United States and did not enjoy a market that particularly knew about or understood those products. Today things are different, especially for Citizen.
With the Swiss, as well as competitor Seiko, increasingly exiting certain price categories (such as the $500 – $3,000 range), Citizen now has wide open market spaces in which to produce competitively priced products. Increasingly price-conscious, albeit watch-hungry, consumers will inevitably appreciate Citizen’s mixture of quality and value as part of its legacy appeal to fans. Grand Seiko in particular has largely left the $2,000 – $5,000 price category that it was so strong in about a decade ago, opting instead to increase prices in hopes of the perceived luxury status for the brand. It also alienated a lot of fans who enjoyed high-end Japanese watchmaking but who were not willing or able to spend double, triple, or more the average price they once did for a Grand Seiko watch. But Citizen, between its highest-end Eco-Drive quartz models and its mechanical Series 8, is now rapidly developing impressive watches with excellent features and designs at prices that will feel highly competitive. Citizen has always known it had to make finer watches, and now the time has come when it can invest more in particular watch models because consumers are increasingly choosing Citizen as design and fashion pieces, in addition to seeking pragmatic and highly reliable wristwatches.
Nevertheless, Citizen watches are still tech- and novelty-heavy. Eco-Drive light-powered watches may have been around for a few decades now, but Citizen keeps refining and adding to the technology. In addition to creating thinner and more accurate quartz watches with an Eco-Drive system, Citizen recently introduced the Eco-Drive 365 with a year-long battery life (several months improvement from before). Looking at some of the Citizen watches I photographed for this article, you can see a focus on exceptionally purist timekeeping, but often with an artistic twist. Super Titanium is easily the most impressive-for-the-money titanium in the wristwatch market — many of them in high-end form are polished to look nearly identical to steel (but far lighter as well as scratch-resistant).
Given that America is the largest market for Citizen, the Japanese giant is now also giving the United States market more say in product design. This has certainly made the specialty Citizen watches more interesting for global collectors but has also allowed Citizen to work on one of its more vexing issues: That many of its watches are simply too perfect. Like wristwatch versions of Toyota Camrys, the typical Citizen watch-wearing experience is so straightforward and without hassle, that you barely remember it is there. The challenge for Citizen is an interesting one. It must of course maintain the incredible dedication it has to practicality and pragmatism in wristwatch design, ergonomics, and pricing. It must also, however, make them imperfect enough to give them personality and cause for commotion. Citizen learned an incredible amount of this over the years through brands like Accutron and Bulova, as well as through its ownership of Swiss brands and manufactures. The average consumer is just that, average, and needs to relate to things with flaws. Citizen watches tend to be pretty good at not having them, which means they can miss the mark with consumers who aren’t (unlike a larger volume of shoppers in Japan) seeking perfection in their product choices.
For watch lovers, it couldn’t be a better time to get into Citizen. With a renewed interest in enthusiast-grade products as well as a general uplift of the brand, Citizen should now be seen as the pragmatist’s choice when seeking a serious watch experience from a major brand, but not wanting to pay for added pretension. You can see an appreciable quality boost in its products at around the $1,000 (and up) price point, and its current flagship pieces are stunning and surprisingly affordable. Also important is that many watch collectors still haven’t discovered modern or older high-end Citizen watches, so there is a real sense of being able to be part of a novel trend and discover the models that work for you. In my opinion, all timepiece enthusiasts should experience at least one high-end Eco-Drive Super Titanium watch. While most of these watches are still hard to find offline, at least now you can personally play with an excellent assortment of them at the Citizen flagship store on 5th Avenue in New York City. Learn more at the Citizen website.