The world lost a great statesman on the morning of 23rd March. The father of Singapore, passed away at the age of 91.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew, one of the few S.E. Asian political leader who is known for a frugal lifestyle, has been wearing Seiko’s for most of his life. However, beyond his frugality, there is good sentimental reason for his choice on Seiko.
After Singapore gaining her independence in 1965 and Lee becoming the first Prime Minister in 1970, the main focus was on rapid economical development. And the Economic Development Board has been courting Seiko, prized for its metal engineering and precision manufacturing, to invest and bring expertise into Singapore. But it was not until his trip to Japan in early 70’s that sealed the deal with the late Ichiro Hattori, Managing Director of Seiko to expand its first manufacturing facility outside Japan.
And in 1976, Singapore Time Pte. opened in its original location in Marsiling drive, Woodlands. A new town, an ideal location at the time for Singapore social and economic development. About 90 workers were initially sent to Japan trained at the Daini-Sekiosha. With a remaining of the 200 or so trained locally. Here is one the worker recalling his experience.
The plant initially only performed assembly of children, ladies and stopwatches. But the skillful men and women of Singapore quickly rose to the challenge and convinced the management of Seiko to bring in further operation after just one year. The workforce at Singapore Times quickly rose to 1,200 after 5 years of operation.
“Young men and women who joined Singapore Time (Pte.) Ltd. must show that they could achieve this international level of competence. The Singapore worker must prove that he was as good as Seiko workers in Japan”
Lee Kuan Yew: the Critical Years: 1971-1978 (Vol. 2)
Today, SII, short for Seiko Instruments Singapore Pte. Ltd., renamed in 1988 to reflect its manufacturing capability beyond watches, has expanded into the production of all sorts of instruments and devices, ranging from printers, network and scientific instruments. And it is also a partner with National Government Scientific research effort A*STAR.
It is fascinating to see how one man’s dream & dedication, together with its people, can transform a small trading post into one of the Four Asian Tiger in just one generation, and the only Asian country with a Triple-A rating from all three of the leading rating agency. I guess the union between Singapore and Seiko explain a slice of that story.
Unfortunately, unlike US presidents, not a lot of information exists documenting the make/model of his watches. I couldn’t even find one good clear wristshot after much Googling. From the research I have done so far, he should have at least 4 x Seiko’s and 1 x Rolex:
- An 18K Seiko Pocket watch given to him by Ichiro Hattori (MD of Seiko mentioned above) during the opening of the Seiko factory in the 70’s. Which was sold at a Sotheby’s Auction for S$65,000 in 2003. The same auction, led by her Daughter, Dr Lee Wei Ling, to raise fund for teenage girls, also sold a table clock, a gift from the then French president Jacques Chirac, again for S$65,000.
- The Square shape quartz wristwatch on the right, with both Digital and Analogue display, likely to be among the first that roll off the SG Seiko factory.
- One given to him by Ichiro Hattori’s family when Hattori passed away in 1987, with the inscription “In memory of Ichiro-Hattori, 26 May 1987”.
- Possible Forth, given to his daughter decades ago, Dr Lee Wei Ling mentioned in her remembrance article published on the Straits Time the day following her father’s passing, Although not likely, this could have been the item 2 or 3 above.
- Not a Seiko, but a Rolex Oyster is currently on display at the National Museum of Singapore, given to him by Postal & Telco workers after successfully representing them in a wage dispute in 1953.
#I would really appreciate if anyone can provide more information, corrections and photos on any of the piece I mentioned above, or any Lee’s additional timepiece you know of that can be used to enrich this article. Thanks in advance!. ~Bendey
As I was doing research for this article, I came across many comments on Lee’s political life and his legacy, both good and bad (mostly good). But regardless of one’s view, I don’t think even his most outspoken opponent can doubt his dedication, his drive to succeed and his relentless pursuit of excellence.
I initially wanted to end with a traditional “Rest In Peace” but I figure his quote below is probably a better closing note,
“Even from my sick bed, even if you are going to lower me into the grave and I feel something is going wrong, I will get up.”
– Lee Kuan Yew