Creativity Takes Center Stage with the Seiko Power Design Project

From creating the world’s first automatic chronograph to creating the first quartz watch, Seiko is known for its cutting edge and revolutionary timepieces. In 2001, Seiko decided to have some fun and further encourage a culture of experimentation by starting the Seiko Power Design Project, an annual opportunity for Seiko designers to, as Seiko puts it, “deeply explore the essence of watches in a style different from their regular work and to generate innovative outputs.” Each year, designers are given a different theme, with past years tackling things like the neighborhoods or districts of Tokyo or more abstract concepts, such as “rebirth” and “fascination.”

After its discontinuation in 2009, Seiko relaunched the project in 2023. This year’s Power Design Project has delivered another crop of unique watches under the theme of “incredibly specialized watches.”

The standout of the collection is the Ambidextrous, a watch that can be worn on the left hand or the right—with it appearing a different color depending on which way it’s facing. Designer Kento Ito accomplished the optical illusion with a steel case painted black on one half and a dial painted with black and white stripes that trick your eye into thinking the dial is white or black depending on the viewing perspective. Hour, minute, and second hands extend past the center of the dial, with one half black and the other white to complete the illusion. It’s the sort of fun trick that would have you wearing your watch on both wrists even if you’re not ambidextrous.


The Power Design Project features another watch that also plays with black and white: the Pandagraph, a playful take on the panda dial chronograph meant to actually look like the animal that’s given white and black chronographs their nickname. Designer Kiyotaka Sakai set out to create a “true” panda watch after his son told him his panda chronograph was not actually a panda, it was just a watch. To make a watch his son would actually consider a panda, Sakai designed a chronograph with a white dial textured to look like fur, subdials at the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock in black sections shaped like panda eye fur, and chronograph pushers at the top of the case shaped like panda ears. The dial even features a nose and the word “Pandagraph” beneath it is printed in “smiley” style to evoke the mouth of a panda. In lieu of a tachymeter, the Pandagraph features a “sasameter,” which translates to “bamboo meter.”

The Ambidextrous and the Pandagraph are the most traditional designs of the seven Seiko featured in this year’s Power Design Project. The others include more out-there designs like a watch with a built in pincushion that surrounds the dial, a watch with a built-in roll of masking tape, a watch with the recipe and instructions for sukiyaki on the dial, and a watch designed for the person who is “it” in hide-and-seek that features an enormous viewing attachment that flips open at the top and includes a bezel on the lid to keep track of how many players have been caught.

Another unusual design: the Sunny Men, a sundial that can be worn on the wrist. The watch strap features a compass, while the case has a built-in level and latitude markers to help achieve accurate measurements. A longitude marker on the back of the dial ensures the sundial can be adjusted seasonally to be accurate year round. Not the most practical watch in the world, but with smartphones in everyones’ pockets, watch fans are already known for their appreciation for obsolete timepieces and it’s hard not to appreciate the whimsy and sleek design of the Sunny Men. While being as low tech as it gets, the watch has a vaguely futuristic appearance, almost like a satellite on the wrist.

All the watches succeed in meeting the theme of incredible specialization in their own ways. It’s good to see Seiko keeping the Power Design Project alive after bringing it back last year—the project always delivers some fascinating watches. While not available to purchase, the watches will be on display through March 31 at the Seiko Seed building if you’re lucky enough to be in Tokyo during that time.

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Alec is a writer and editor based out of Washington, DC, currently working as a congressional reporter. His love for wristwatches started at age 10 when he received a Timex Expedition as a birthday present. A film buff and tennis fan, Cary Grant and Roger Federer played influential roles in continuing to develop his interest and taste in watches.