Orient Place

Orient Place

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Royal Orient, Rest In Peace


Orient was established in 1950 (although it only got the Orient name a year later). Seven years later, the moniker Orient Star came to be, representing the manufacturer's finer watches, and in 1958 Royal Orient was presented, the next in a line of upscale models.

Over the following years, the Royal Orient name was being used rather inconsistently, as was the case with many Japanese manufacturers (Seiko were often just as vague in their use of sub-brands and model lines). At some point, Orient Star took center stage and "Orient Star Royal" was some kind of a sub-sub-brand, denoting the more expensive Stars. In 2003, towards the end of that chapter in the life of Royal Orient, regular OS were priced below 100,000 Yen (at a rate of about 115 Yen, give or take, to the US dollar), whereas Royals were priced above the 100K mark.

The following year, in 2004, the last reincarnation of the Royal came to life – the name now being, once again, "Royal Orient" – and the cause for celebration was a brand new high-end movement, the 28,800 BPH, COSC-rated caliber 88700.


Some fine changes in the logo took place later on – well, you can't be too consistent with your branding, can you? – and "Orient Star Royal" were still to be found on the shelves well into 2007 – but still, the positioning of Royal Orient was more or less stable, as the top-of-the-line Orient, Until it came to a sudden, unannounced death in 2017.

Why did Royal Orient go away? Should Orient fans mourn its demise? Well, here are my thoughts – all are based on my personal opinion, so I'm more than happy to read your perspective in the comments below!

From a marketing perspective, it makes sense for manufacturers that are not luxury-brands per se, to maintain a certain presence at higher price-point than their main products. Like the R8 you'd see in the Audi showroom when you go buy your A4, these higher-end products make the mainstream consumer feel just a little bit more special. They can also prove very profitable, if the premium in pricing exceeds the additional cost of production.

Was the Royal Orient the R8 to Orient's A4s? Unfortunately, it most likely was not. Primarily because 99% of the people who'd buy a standard Orient Mako or Bambino, have never even heard of the Royal – let alone see one.

Was the Royal Orient a money maker for the brand? Again I believe chances are it was not, and not because of premium asked – but because of sale volumes required to produce the profits. See for example these two retrograde models, Orient Star and Royal. Would you pay 4 times more for the Royal version?



List price for the Star – around 80,000 Yen; The Royal ticket was more than 300,000. Yes, the Royal Orient does look more nicely finished, and rumor has it that the famous Zaratsu polishing was used in its production. But – and it's a big but – was that ever advertised anywhere? Seiko never misses an opportunity to brag about the techniques used in the making of Grand Seiko. Bragging makes marketing. No bragging, no selling.

And then, Orient Stars were getting closer to what seemed to be the top prices consumers were willing to pay for Orient. Behold the following Skeleton models:



This Orient Star retailed at close to 200,000 Yen. It looks fantastic (in real life much more than in these official photos) – almost as good as the more expensive Royal Orient, despite using a more common movement that probably cost much less to produce. Many Orient fans did find the Star attractive enough to purchase. Probably not that many would have paid more for the Royal.

And, the Royal Orient was quite difficult to find, even by those who may have been seeking it. Grand Seiko, for instance, achieved cult status way before it became officially available in the US, and many people had their GS shipped from Japan. How many would have bothered to pay and have a Royal Orient shipped over from Japan? Again, probably not enough.

So in conclusion, it seems that without a major investment in re-branding, advertising and logistics, it made no sense to keep the Royal Orient line alive. We are lucky, however, that the Orient Star is very much alive and keeps producing wonderful new models!

(and, I'd be posting some articles about my Orient Stars, in the near future J)

4 comments:

  1. New member here, new watch collector. I am an Orient Fanboy - why else would I be here. I am also one year late to this party but I have some questions relating specifically to this post and I hope someone sees them and responds.

    In the post, Mr. Orient asks if someone would pay more than 4 times for the Royal version of watches above. Maybe, if the quality of the watch was 4 times better. However, I do not know enough about the Royal brand to answer that question. So I ask, was Royal Orient better quality than the Orient Star? If the Royal Orient was better, did Orient compromise the overall quality of its current watches by eliminating this tier? Or did Orient just throw in the towel and concede it will never compete with the Grand Seiko and other high end brands?

    ~ John




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    1. Hi John, welcome to the party!

      To your question - let me comment (and them, I'm happy for any other readers to add their comments):

      Yes, RO was better quality than OS. Movements were more finely finished and adjusted to higher precision; cases and other visible elements polished to higher degree; packaging was more luxurious. The main issue was, were consumers willing to pay the extra for this additional quality when all they wanted was "a decent watch by a value-for-money brand".

      As for whether any compromise on current products quality - well, you're still getting Orient Stars that feature very good quality, and even improved movements nowadays (by natural evolution) compared to a 5-10 years ago. You probably won't be getting state-of-the-art quality as Royal provided though anytime soon from Orient.

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  2. Thank you for the informative reply.

    I am curious about the statement that all of Orient's customers wanted "a decent watch by a value-for-money brand". Was Orient's business plan to become a value brand as opposed to a luxury brand? Did they market the company as a value brand? Or did Orient's customers' tastes caused Orient to produce "value" watches? Though this discussion is academic, I find it very fascinating.

    On a more practical level, I have three Orient watches, all of them cost me less than $200 USD. I have been super impressed by the quality and design of the plain o' Orient. I love my watches and think they are better looking than many much more expensive watches. Of course some may say I am easy to please. :-)

    Based on what I read here and on other forums, I have thought about adding a fourth watch. I was considering another brand, but now it looks like I should be shopping on the used market for a RO watch, or an OS that has been produced in the last 5 years.

    Cheers,

    ~ John

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    1. John, of course Orient will not disclose its business plans to us, so it is very much a case of interpreting their actions. However it is clear that Orient did not aim at becoming a luxury brand, at least since the 70's (before, the segmentation in the watchmaking world was not as clear as today, price ranges were a lot narrower with very few exceptions). Orient Star too, is not a 'luxury' sub-brand, it is definitely 'quality' but does not usually carry itself the way 'luxury' brands do - which has a lot to do with marketing and less the product itself.

      Regarding your next watch - sounds good! A pre-owned OS in good condition is superb VFM; a pre-owned RO would cost more but bring an unusual combination of excellent quality and exclusivity.

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