June 19, 2017
by Ariel Adams
When I first put this Citizen Eco-Drive One watch on my wrist after sizing the bracelet – I had a moment of déjà vu. Suddenly I was much younger, in the college, pre-watch nerd phase of my life, and listening to a then girlfriend’s grandfather proudly showing me his watch. It was easily one of the most memorable “watch” experiences of my early life.
I don’t even recall how the conversation back then started, but suddenly this retired state Supreme Court judge takes off his yellow gold-toned watch on a matching bead-style bracelet and tells me how he recently got it upon retiring. “For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted the thinnest watch possible.” He tells me. It was a Longines actually, and I remember being fascinated by the idea that someone’s aspiration was wearing a very thin timepiece. My mind focused on all the possible practical reasons for such a long-standing desire. Perhaps thin watches were very hard to come by? Perhaps they were very expensive? Perhaps he had a particular qualm with sleeves and never liked to get anything stuck. To this day I don’t remember exactly why the honorable judge grandfather of this historical girlfriend had such a particular fetish for very thin watches, but I do remember how excited he got. Suddenly, I’m excited by a watch in the very same way.
From a sheer engineering perspective, the Citizen Eco-Drive One collection is a marvel. I was fortunate enough to be in Japan with Citizen at their Toyko headquarters when this product was officially revealed. The pride on the face of the high manager at the brand was palpable when he first unveiled “the world’s thinnest light-powered watch.” With a case that is just 2.98mm thick, it really just looked like a metal wafer attached to a bracelet. I could tell that to Citizen, this was a major achievement. Now the hard part is conveying that Citizen news to the world and why the Eco-Drive One is a truly remarkable and thoroughly Japanese timepiece. For lovers of Japan’s culture (and their watches) the Citizen Eco-Drive One is everything that is right about the country’s still important watch industry.
Wearing the Eco-Drive One is a unique experience – both positive and at times mentally unnerving. I say the latter because even though you are wearing a watch, it is so thin that it is easy to forget you are wearing a watch. Forget the relatively light weight of the comfortable, mostly steel case and bracelet, and think about what it feels like to wear a more average-sized watch all the time, and then looking to your wrist and perceiving that no watch case is there! At least that is how the Eco-Drive One looks. It just feels so impossibly thin, your brain doesn’t register the case as even being there.
With the Eco-Drive One watch on, I like to measure it up to other watches and consider how many Eco-Drive Ones I can stack in there. I have watches that could accommodate the thickness of seven Citizen Eco-Drive one cases. The in-house made Citizen Eco-Drive movement is a marvel unto itself, and about 1mm thick. In my article introducing the Eco-Drive One watch, I discussed how much needed to be packed into the case. There is the sapphire crystal, then Eco-Drive dial (a specially made type of prism plastic that allows light to enter), the photovoltaic cell, then movement, battery, and of course the case itself.
The movement is simple in purpose given the size, but it works to the watch’s advantage. Japan is a “feature cramming” culture, so when you see something straight forward and minimal like this design – you can’t help but love it. This is an old school-conceived Japanese watch. The design is all about celebrating an aesthetic which merges machine and jewelry, as well as a focus on small material details such as the finishing on the hands and the cermet material bezel. This latter element is important given that it is a stiff material and helps prevent the Eco-Drive One watch from being damaged or bent.
The Eco-Drive quartz movement offers just the time with hours and minutes – and holds 100 days of power when fully charged. That is only a bit less than the thicker Eco-Drive movements. I really like the Eco-Drive One with these hands and nothing more. This is design restraint in a way we rarely see from Citizen in products that are sold outside of Japan. If anything, the design alone is reason for enthusiasts to like the Eco-Drive One – the super slim case is just the icing on the cake.
At sizes like this, world records don’t really matter. This is the thinnest light-powered quartz watch in the world, but not the thinnest quartz watch in the world. That record likely goes to something much more delicate than the Eco-Drive one. Remember that part of the pride for Citizen isn’t just that they made a very thin Eco-Drive. It is that they made a very thin watch that is practical and meant to last a long time. Sure a thicker watch case is going to offer more durability in general. That isn’t the point. The point is that Citizen spent a lot of time making sure that their thin watch would put up with daily abuse and life like any other watch. This is a message you’ll rarely hear them articulate, but it is an important part of what makes the Citizen Eco-Drive One a special timepiece.