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The company was founded in 1881, when Kintarō Hattori opened a watch and jewelry shop called "K. Hattori" (服部時計店 Hattori Tokeiten?) in the Ginza area of Tokyo, Japan. Eleven years later, in 1892, he began to produce clocks under the name Seikosha (精工舎 Seikōsha?), meaning roughly "House of Exquisite Workmanship". According to Seiko's official company history, titled "A Journey In Time: The Remarkable Story of Seiko" (2003), Seiko is a Japanese word meaning "exquisite" or "success" ("exquisite" is usually written 精巧 from Chinese jīngqiǎo, while the meaning "success" is usually written 成功 from Chinese chénggōng).

Seiko is perhaps best known for its wristwatches, all of which were at one time produced entirely in-house. This includes not only major items such as microgears, motors, hands, crystal oscillators, batteries, sensors, LCDs but also minor items such as the oils used in lubricating the watches and the luminous compounds used on the hands and the dials.

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