Citizen Watch Review: Brand History and Highlights from the Modern Collection

Citizen Watch Review: Brand History and Highlights from the Modern Collection

How much do you really know about Citizen Watches, the tough and stylish Promaster collection, the proprietary Eco-Drive technology, and other signature innovations of the Japanese brand, like the exclusive Super Titanium and the recent series of automatic calibers in the luxurious Series 8 models? In this article, I explore the history of Citizen Watch Company from its founding to the modern day and spotlight a dozen notable watches in today’s Citizen collection that have caught the attention of the Teddy Baldassarre team.

Foundations and Early Milestones

With its very high-tech lineup and avant-garde designs, one might be inclined to think Citizen Watch Company is a relatively new player on the worldwide watch scene. One would be mistaken, however. The company today known as Citizen traces its roots all the way back to 1918, when it was founded as the Shokosha Watch Research Institute by Kamakechi Yamazaki. The name “Citizen” first appeared on the dial of a pocket watch that Shokosha produced in 1924; it is believed to have been suggested by Yamazaki’s close friend Shinpei Goto, then the mayor of Tokyo, who believed such a watch should be universally appealing and accessible to all “citizens” of Japan.

Citizen Pocket Watch 1924

Shokosha merged with the Schmid company, a Japan-based manufacturing firm founded by expatriate Swiss watchmaker Rodolphe Schmid, in 1930 to become Citizen. Joining the expertise of Shokosha’s Japanese watchmakers with the manufacturing capacity of Schmid’s facilities proved to be a successful marriage: the company grew in the ensuing decades, finishing its first wristwatch just one year after the merger, in 1931, and began producing machine tools in its own factory in 1941. In 1952, Citizen marketed the first Japanese-made watch with a calendar function, and the company started exporting its products outside of Japan in 1955. By the 1970s, Citizen’s watchmaking assembly line was fully automated; it was one of the first companies to accomplish this feat. 

Diving Pioneers

Citizen Parawater Watch

Diehards know that It was that other Japanese brand, Seiko, which released the first Japanese-made divers’ watch, in 1965. However, Citizen claims the first “water-resistant” Japanese watch, the Parawater, which preceded it to market six years earlier, in 1959. The Parawater watches (as above) were waterproof to 50 meters of depth, an impressive feat for the era. The Parawater models were the forerunners of Citizen’s contemporary line of dive watches, which kicked off in earnest with the Promaster Marine in 1982. That same year, Citizen released its 1300m Professional Diver’s Watch, its first in a titanium case, which went into the record books as the most water-resistant watch in serial production at the time.

Citizen Aqualand 1985The first Citizen Aqualand debuted in 1985 as the first quartz diving watch with a digital depth gauge. (Photo above via Analog/Shift.) Building upon that legacy, Citizen introduced the so-called Fugu dive watch in 1989, whose large bezel with alternating smooth and serrated edges made the watch’s case resemble the puffer fish that gave its its nickname (and later its actual model name). The launch of the Fugu marked the debut of the Promaster family within the Citizen portfolio, which consists of watches aimed at land, sea, and air professionals. The Promaster series continues to play a major role in Citizen’s collection today.

Titanium to Super Titanium

Citizen X8 Chronometer

In 1970, Citizen became, somewhat quietly, the first watchmaker to release a watch with a case made entirely of titanium, the short-lived, electronic X8 Chronometer. The strong, lightweight, corrosion-resistant material had gained a higher profile in the manufacturing world at the time thanks to its use in the aerospace industry, including vehicles for the Apollo missions that had recently landed astronauts on the moon. Citizen used titanium for the case of its record-breaking Professional Diver watch in 1982 and in 1987 launched its first all-titanium collection called Attesa, taking the name from the Italian word for “expectation.”

Citizen Titanium Armor

The earliest of these watches were notable for the soft, lustrous finish on their titanium cases, a forerunner of the proprietary Duratect surface-hardening technology that Citizen would begin applying to its titanium watches in 2000, starting with the Citizen ASPEC World Time. Titanium with the Duractect finish is now referred to by the brand as Super Titanium: the extremely scratch-resistant material not only has a surface five times harder than that of stainless steel, but the composition of Super Titanium allows for a variety of colors that standard titanium alloys do not, including silver, black, and rose-gold-tone. Citizen today uses Super Titanium for several noteworthy watches throughout its collection, but it still finds its primary homes in the Attesa family and in the recently released Armor series (above).

Eco-Drive: Harnessing Light

Citizen Crystron

The origin of Eco-Drive, Citizen’s most influential and well known technical contribution to watch history, begins in 1976. That was the year the company introduced the Quartz Crystron Solar Cell, the first watch with a quartz movement whose rechargeable battery could be powered by any light source, from natural sunlight to a lamp on a nightstand.  The battery life of the analog-digital Crystron was very low, so Citizen continued upgrading the light-charging technology, releasing a watch in 1986 that could run on a single charge of light for eight days and another in 1995 that ran for six months on a single charge (the modern standard). 

Citizen Eco-Drive diagram

The first Citizen Eco-Drive watches, powered by the Caliber 7878, were launched in 1996, equipped with the groundbreaking technology that is still at the heart of the Eco-Drive movements today: light passes through a translucent dial with a solar cell mounted directly underneath it, which supplies power to the lithium ion battery of the movement below. From an environmental standpoint, this also means the wearer almost never needs to discard old batteries and replace them with new ones. Eco-Drive has become the tentpole technology around which Citizen has built much of its modern collection.

Citizen Eco-Drive Caliber 0100

In the 21st century, Citizen continued taking its emblematic light-powered technology to new levels of precision, first with the integration of radio-controlled timing technology into its Eco-Drive calibers in 2002, then augmenting that technology in the first GPS Satellite Wave watches in 2011, which received time synchronization signals from GPS satellites. The most significant advance came in 2019, with the introduction of Caliber 0100, a quartz Eco-Drive movement that calibrates time to an astonishing accuracy of +/- 1 second per year. The watch that contains it is the current record holder for the title of “world’s most accurate watch.”  Caliber 0100 achieves this unprecedented feat without relying on synchronized data from satellites or radio-controlled clocks. Instead, Citizen equipped the caliber with new AT-cut-type crystal oscillators, which vibrate at a frequency of 8.4 MHz, in place of the tuning fork-shaped oscillators used in most quartz movements. The former’s frequency is more than 250 times higher than the latter’s. Citizen also devised clever power-saving strategies for the movement while also ensuring the entire mechanism is resistant to outside influences such as temperature variations, gravity, and age degradation. The result is dependably stable operation for up to six months on a single light charge, or eight months in its power-save mode. The watch will even automatically correct the hand positions after the watch is subjected to shocks.

Growing a Group

La Joux PerretThe company that makes Citizen watches is larger and more diversified than many casual watch enthusiasts are probably aware. In 2008, Citizen bought America-based Bulova Watch Company, a firm to which it had already been providing watch components since 1960; many of Bulova’s more recent technical breakthroughs were made possible by the technical expertise of the Japanese parent company. Citizen made an even bigger move in 2012, acquiring La Joux-Perret, a venerable Swiss high-end movement manufacturer, as well as its subsidiary, Arnold & Son, a high-horology Swiss watch brand.

Frederique Constant In 2016, the company, now called the Citizen Group, expanded its footprint in the traditional Swiss watchmaking world with the acquisition of the Geneva-based Frederique Constant group, which consists of Frederique Constant (above), Alpina, and Ateliers deMonaco. Rounding out the group is Accutron, a sub-brand of Bulova that launched as an independent firm in 2020, and whose avant-garde electrostatic movement was developed in close collaboration with Citizen’s high-tech braintrust in Japan. The Citizen watch brand continues to be the flagship, cultivating an international profile with partnerships such as the brand’s longtime sponsorship of the U.S. Tennis Open and, as of 2018, a major long-term collaboration with entertainment giant Disney and its megapopular Marvel and Star Wars franchises. 

10 Standout Citizen Watches

Citizen’s modern watch portfolio is vast and diverse, and choosing just a relative handful of highlight pieces is a monumental task. However, here are the models currently in the collection that we feel offer the most appeal to connoisseurs and reflect most strongly the strengths of the Citizen brand.


Citizen Garrison

Price: $275 - $375, Case Size: 42 mm, Lug width: 21.5mm, Crystal: Mineral, Water Resistance: 100 meters, Movement: Eco-Drive Caliber E111

Citizen’s answer to a classical field watch, the Garrison lives up to its military-inspired name with its adoption of mission-ready details like an inverted orientation triangle at 12 o’clock; large, legible Arabic hour numerals; and an inner 24-hour scale within the main 12-hour track to display military time. The big case adds to the rugged, no-nonsense look with a brushed finish and fastens to the wrist with a brown calfskin leather strap with contrast stitching, a la early aviation watches and their modern descendants. The Garrison is also one of the very few Citizen watches that offer the light-powered Eco-Drive movement at a price point under $300.

Promaster Eco-Drive Dive 200m

Citizen Promaster Dive Eco-Drive

Price: $300 - $395, Case Size: 44mm, Thickness: 11.6mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Crystal: Mineral, Water Resistance: 200m, Movement: Citizen Eco-Drive E168

The Promaster Diver models equipped with the proprietary Eco-Drive technology, have proven to be among the most popular of the Japanese brand’s vast portfolio of timepieces. This model’s 44mm steel case features a 60-click rotating bezel made of aluminum (here in maritime blue) and a screw-down crown positioned at 4 o’clock. The blue dial sports wide hands and large applied hour markers, all generously lumed for underwater visibility, and a date window at 4 o’clock. The prominent minute hand with its orange detailing adds another layer of contrast, and hence legibility, to the dial. The Eco-Drive movement offers six months of power on a full charge and boasts an accuracy of +/- 15 seconds per month. 

Promaster Diver Fugu Automatic

Citizen Promaster Dive Fugu

Price: $595, Case Size: 44mm, Thickness: 12.8mm, Lug-to-Lug: 50mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 200m, Movement: Automatic Miyota 8204

Deriving its nickname from the Japanese word for a puffer fish — a reference to the distinctively grooved shape of the rotating divers’ bezel — the “Fugu” model from Citizen’s first Promaster Diver family in 1989 was revived for modern audiences in 2018. The green dial on the featured model is framed by a matching green dive-scale bezel. The hefty steel case (44mm) features a textured screw-down at the unusual position of 8 o’clock, which prevents it from poking into the small of a diver’s wrist. The hands and hour indexes are thick and brightly luminous-coated for underwater legibility; at 3 o’clock, the hour marker gives way to a day-date window. A Japanese-made, self-winding movement, the Miyota 8204, ticks inside, providing a 40-hour power reserve.

Promaster Diver Orca 

Citizen Promaster Dive Orca

Price: $323, Case Size: 46mm, Thickness: 14.6mm, Lug-to-Lug: 50.5mm, Crystal: Mineral, Water Resistance: 200m, Movement: Citizen Eco-Drive Caliber E168

With its massive 46mm steel case, whose bulging contours were inspired by a killer whale, and a unidirectional ratcheting bezel with a coin edge and deep notches for gloved fingers, the “Orca” version of the Promaster Diver is built for serious deep-sea exploits. The dial’s stylized curving indexes also evoke the silhouette of the eponymous sea mammal while the distinctive hands are coated with Super-LumiNova. Inside the thick, antimagnetic case, which resists water pressures down to an ISO-compliant 200 meters thanks to its sturdy build and screw-down crown, is an Eco-Drive caliber, which will run for 180 months on a single charge from any light while also boasting a +/-15-second monthly accuracy. An image of a swimming orca graces the solid steel caseback, and a raised ridge in the center of the black rubber strap evokes the whale’s dorsal fin.

Promaster Eco-Drive Aqualand Divers 200m

Citizen Promaster Aqualand

Price: $750 - $975, Case Diameter: 47mm, Thickness: 16mm, Lug-to-Lug: 52mm, Crystal: Mineral, Water Resistance: 200m, Movement: Eco-Drive J250

The big, rugged, multifunctional Aqualand edition is perhaps Citizen’s most utilitarian dive watch, with analog and digital displays including the signature depth gauge feature that distinguished the original model back in 1985. A wristwatch that can be ably pressed into service as a reliable backup to a dive computer, the recently released Ref. BN2039-59E has a 47mm steel case and a color-coded analog dial display, beneath and impact-resistant mineral crystal, with separate hands for time and depth tracking, all driven by the Eco-Drive movement inside. The depth gauge can display readings up to 70 meters and incorporates an electronic memory for maximum depth reached. Rounding out the well-organized dial, framed by a 60-minute rotating diver’s bezel, are a power reserve indicator and a date window at 3 o’clock.

Automatic NJ015 “Tsuyosa”

Citizen Tsuyosa yellow

Price: $450, Case Size: 40mm, Thickness: 9.1mm, Lug to Lug: 45mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Automatic Caliber 8210

Joining Citizen’s lineup of mechanical timepieces in Spring 2023 is the NJ015 automatic series, nicknamed “Tsuyosa,” a Japanese word meaning “strength.” Speaking to the contemporary trend towards eye-catching colorful dials, the Tsuyosa models offer five, all with a subtle sunburst finish: blue, yellow, green, turquoise, and black. The round, chamfered steel cases measure 40mm in diameter and 11.7mm thick and feature a combination of brushed and polished surfaces along with an unconventionally positioned crown at 4 o’clock for better ergonomics on the wrist. The bracelet has what Citizen describes as a “mountain-shaped” design thanks to its individually curved links; the center links and the bezel are both sleekly polished. The self-winding movement inside is Citizen’s own Caliber 8210, ticking at a frequency of 21,600 vph and storing a 40-hour power reserve.

Promaster Nighthawk

Citizen Promaster Nighthawk

Price: $391, Case: 42mm, Lug Width: 26mm, Crystal: Mineral, Water-Resistance: 200m, Movement: Quartz Eco-Drive, Water-Resistance: 200m

The Citizen Promaster Nighthawk is busy but balanced, taking its dial’s design inspiration from the instruments in the cockpits of U.S. military helicopters. The 42mm case is made of blackened stainless steel, matching the black dial with its array of aviator-friendly scales in contrasting white, including the circular slide rule printed on the ion-plated, bidirectional rotating bezel. The local time is displayed on two luminous-coated hands  while an airplane-tipped smaller hand points to the time, in 24-hour format, in another time zone; the date at the local time appears in a rectangular window at 3 o’clock. Powering the Nighthawk is the Eco-Drive equipped Caliber B877, which allows constant recharging under any light source.

Promaster Navihawk A-T 

Citizen Promaster Navihawk

Citizen added the multifunctional, Eco-Drive-powered Promaster Navihawk to the Promaster range in 2021. The Navihawk stands out among the brand’s aviation-styled watches with its unique aesthetic, inspired by a jet pilot’s heads-up display (HUD) in the cockpit. The watch uses the Atomic Timekeeping system for worldwide synchronization, ensuring superior accuracy and no-hassle time adjustments in 26 time zones. It’s packed with useful functions, including a chronograph, perpetual calendar, 12/24-hour time, day/date, and power-reserve indication. To make room for a dial where all of these displays are readable, the Navihawk’s stainless-steel case is massive, measuring 48mm in diameter and 14mm thick; its rotating bezel has an engraved compass for navigation, complementing the rotating slide rule scale on the flange.

Promaster Skyhawk A-T 

Citizen Promaster Skyhawk A-T

Price: $750, Case Diameter: 45mm, Thickness: 15mm, Lug-to-Lug: 52mm, Water Resistance: 200m, Movement: Eco-Drive U680, Crystal: Sapphire 

The most recent version of the 1989 Promaster “air” model is the Citizen Promaster Skyhawk, which takes its vibrant blue and yellow colorway from the Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy’s elite flight demonstration squadron. The 45mm stainless steel case houses an Eco-Drive caliber with Atomic Timekeeping (the “A-T” in the model name). The blue analog-digital dial, with yellow highlights and a Blue Angels insignia, was inspired by the coordinate axis on the radar screens found in airplane cockpits. Its multiple functions include a dual-time UTC display, a 1/100-second chronograph, a perpetual calendar, two alarms, and a rotating slide rule bezel for calculating flight times. The Blue Angels insignia appears in full color on the watch’s solid caseback, behind which beats the light-powered Eco-Drive Caliber U680, which runs for nearly 1.5 years on a full charge.

Series 8 880 Mechanical GMT

Citizen Series 8 GMTPrice: $1,695, Case Size: 41mm, Thickness: 13.5mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 100 meters, Movement: Automatic Citizen Caliber 9054

Proving its current collection isn’t all about Eco-Drive, Citizen introduced the Series 8 collection in 2021, a series of watches equipped with in-house, mechanical automatic movements and targeting a more luxury-oriented segment of the market. The “8” represents the symbol for Infinity, hinting at the collection’s “infinite” possibilities. In Fall 2023, the family welcomes its first model equipped with a GMT function, which enables its wearer to view up to three time zones simultaneously. In addition to the classical bicolor 24-hour bezel and arrow-tipped GMT hand, the dial features a distinctive checkered pattern that takes its inspiration from the Tokyo skyline at night, with its grid of windows. The two-part steel case has an array of mirror-polished and brushed finishes and includes a transparent sapphire caseback to proudly display the movement, the self-winding Caliber 9054, boasting a power reserve of 50 hours and a daily accuracy of -10 to +20 seconds.


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