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BaselWorld2014: Belles of the fair: Introducing Hajime Asaoka

by Peter Chong on April 28, 2014

Hajime Asaoka is the hot new candidate for the esteemed Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants (AHCI) started out as a product designer, and learnt watchmaking from reading George Daniel’s Watchmaking.

 

The Deployant team caught up with the young man in Basel recently, and managed to photograph his latest work. A new tourbillon, called Project T that is designed and manufactured from ground up, a la Daniels. We are curious how he read the book, given the rather terse language that Daniels used in the book. And that his English was practically non existent and we had encountered great difficulty understanding each other…of course our Japanese was even worse than his English, so we needed help. Which came in the form of our good friend, Prof Masanori Kondo. We are greatly indebted to him for helping liase the discussion of the technical aspects.

 

Asaoka himself does not make any press material available, neither in English, nor even in Japanese. The sum total of information is only made available on his Facebook page and a special Project Tourbillon Facebook page. Needless to say, both are only in Japanese.

 

Hajime Asaoka, and his latest creation, a new tourbillon which is totally designed and made from ground up.

Hajime Asaoka, and his latest creation, a new tourbillon which is totally designed and made from ground up.

 

Asaoka designed and does all the finishing, while his partners OSG, a toolmaker produced the tooling needed to make the watch. Some parts are fabricated by Asaoka himself and some parts made by the third partner: precision manufacturer Yuki Precision. The names of all 3 partners are engraved on the movement sealing the partnership.

 

The design is simple, but effective, with elegant design elements reminiscent of the Art Deco era. In particular, we note the dial, indices and hands are made in-house from stainless steel, and we find the design to be very fetching, and execution to be very well done. The large marker at 12 and the shape of the hands taking design cues from the art deco Empire State Building.

 

Even the printing of the maker’s name “HAJIME ASAOKA, Tokyo Japan”  is done with a special silver ink, and painstakingly applied on the dial by hand.

 

The watch is a piece unique, which are the case of the earlier tourbillons made by Asaoka,  with a case diameter of 43mm.

 

 

Hajime Asaoka Tourbillon. Hand made in Japan. With a unique take on the design of the indices and hands which are unmistakably art deco style. Note also the tourbillon bridge also in art deco style. Interesting is that the tourbillon bridge is secured by a screw on one side, and what looks like a ball bearing set on the other side. Curious.

Hajime Asaoka Tourbillon. Hand made in Japan. With a unique take on the design of the indices and hands which are unmistakably art deco style. Note also the tourbillon bridge also in art deco style. Interesting is that the tourbillon bridge is secured by a screw on one side, and a ball bearing on the right side.

 

The finish of the movement is rather good, with all the standard finnisage is performed very well. In design, the bridges are nicely designed, and well executed. The bridges offer a beautiful aesthetic, following the curves which reflect the curves of the tourbillon cage. The barrels feature wolf’s teeth, and all the profiles of the teeth used in the wheels are beautifully made.

 

The movement of the Project T.

The movement of the Project T. Note the large tourbillon bridge, in particular, the shape of the bridge which is echoed by the other bridge. Note also the use of wolf’s teeth on the barrel and second winding wheel. Also of note is the fact that the gaps between bridges are consistently close to each other, though never quite touching, and very well finished with polished anglage.

 

 

The use of ball bearings in the pivots of the entire wheel train is quite interesting as Asaoka had sought to make a more robust movement. A total of 13 ball bearings and an additional 13 rubies are used in the movement. This is a highly unusual arrangement. The location of the bearings and rubies are as follows (in Asaoka’s own words, translated from Japanese): “third wheel (two pieces), forth wheel (two pieces), fifth wheel (two pieces), carriage (two pieces), round wheel with hole (one piece), winding wheel No.1 (one piece), winding wheel No.2 (one piece), Barrel (ratchet wheel) (two pieces) – total thirteen pieces

Rubies – second wheel (two pieces), inca block (four pieces), pallet stones (two pieces), impulse pin (one piece), pallet (two pieces), escape wheel (two pieces) – total thirteen pieces”

As we understand it, the “round wheel with hole” is the crown wheel in the keyless works, interesting, as this wheel in a classical wristwatch is rarely jewelled as friction is minimal and only felt when winding and setting the watch.

Movement train of the Asaoka tourbillon.

Movement train of the Asaoka tourbillon. Note additional wheels labelled 4 and 5. In a classical Breguet styled tourbillon, the 3rd wheel drives the tourbillon carriage’s pinion, and the fifth wheel (escape wheel) engages the fixed 4th wheel.
In this tourbillon, the tourbillon carriage is driven as a wheel, with more teeth than a pinion. To provide the correct drive speed, two additional wheels are added, these are labelled 4 and 5. Note the 5th wheel now engages the tourbillon carriage wheel. The escape wheel is now re-desginated as the 7th wheel, and engages the stationary 6th wheel. Note also that the fifth wheel which is used to drive the tourbillon carriage runs on two ball bearings, of which one is visible on the dial side as the anchor for the right tourbillon bridge.

The movement ‘s power train is also quite unusual. The tourbillon is not driven at the pinion, but the carriage is attached to a wheel instead. This wheel, labelled tourbillon wheel is visible in the diagram supplied by Asaoka above. The reason for this is Asaoka wanted a tourbillon which is thinner, and decided to eliminate the pinion drive in favour of a wheel. The ball bearings he had selected were already increasing the thickness, and further increases by using a classical pinion would make the watch aesthetically too thick for its diameter. Interesting way to solve a problem.

 

The tourbillon bridge nicely finished.

The tourbillon bridge nicely finished, with what seemed like a two piece bridge design. The bridge is in blued steel with a brushed finished steel insert. Quite a handsome arrangement. While not clearly visible in the photograph, the balance wheel uses gyromax stylled slotted weights for regulation.

 

The tourbillon carriage is in titanium and is nicely designed and constructed. As far as we can tell, this is a traditional tourbillon, with a standard lever escapement. The balance wheel uses slotted weights for regulation, a system which strikes us as similar to what Patek Philippe uses in its Gyromax.

 

The tourbillon bridge from the back, showing the ball bearing pivots, and nicely finished arms to support the ball bearing assembly.

The tourbillon bridge from the back, showing the ball bearing pivots, and nicely finished arms to support the ball bearing assembly.

 

We think this is a brilliant design and execution. The use of ball bearings, other than in the winding rotor for self winding movement is unusual,  The only other watch we know to use ball bearings are in the tourbillon carriage of the JLC Hybris Mechanica 11. And the Asaoka Project T uses ball bearings in numerous other locations within the wheel train as well. What are your thoughts?

p.s. Apologies for the dust on the watch. The watch was photographed in the very small AHCI booth, and it was very crowded when we visited Asaoka-san.

Many thanks to Prof. Masanori Kondo for his help in translation and liasing with Asaoka-san to clarify the technical specifications of the watch.

 

 

 

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