It is not often that a ultra high end independent watchmaker is compelled by compassion to make less expensive watches so that his admirers can afford to own them. But Hajime Asaoka is not your regular high end independent. And he has created such a collection. Here is a detailed look at the Kurono Classic in Midnight Blue and Eggshell White.
“It has always been my wish to make my designs more accessible to a wider audience, and especially those that are just starting out in watch appreciation, or as a complement to their existing handmade Hajime Asaoka atelier watch.”Hajime Asaoka
Branded Kurono, the series is designed by Hajime Asaoka himself, but manufactured by his partners at Precision Watch Tokyo Co., Ltd, the watch bears a Citizen Miyota automatic movement in a case made by the same suppliers to Grand Seiko. We had the opportunity to examine two samples, differing only in the dial – the Midnight Blue and Eggshell White. Both are limited editions of 50 pieces per dial variant, and as we understand it, is currently sold out.
The case, dial and hands
At first glance the Kurono Classic looks like a variant of Asaoka’s Project Tsunami. The design elements, seem to be a simplified version of the Project Tsunami which was released in 2015. We also carried a Watchscapes article on the Tsunami here.
The case remains the similar shape going from Project Tsunami to Kurono. Crafted in 316L Stainless Steel with very high polish finishing, the case measures 37mm in diameter.
The dial on the Project Tsunami is a three part dial with applique markers, while the Kurono is a two piece dial with appliques only at the meridian points. The dial layout is simple but effective and elegant. Concentric circles, finished in a mirror like surface is circumnavigated by a railroad track to mark the minutes. The 12, 3, 6, 9 markers are long bar appliques, which are also in a high polish. The hands are a combination of swallow for the hour and a highly stylized syringe type minute hand. The seconds hand is a long needle with an elegant tail of a counterweight. All the hands, appliques are in very high polish.
The sapphire glass is has a box shaped design, with a near 90-degree angle at its edges which is raised to allow for slight illumination and magnification of the dial’s periphery. This – coupled with the watch’s highly-polished case and hands – provides an interesting study in terms of how light hits the watch from different angles.
The movement – Miyota 90S5 Premium
The dial and caseback is signed “Bunkyō Tokyo” – referring to the special ward in Tokyo where Hajime’s design studio is located. As can be seen the back is closed.
Hajime chose the Miyota calibre 90S5 Premium as the movement. This is Citizen Miyota’s highest end movement from its Premium series. A good balance between affordability with over-the-top construction quality, the cal.90S5 is made in Japan, features a stop-seconds automatic mechanism with a 40 hour power reserve.
This is an excellent, robust workhorse of a movement, finished to and adequate level of good engineering. And will promise to be operate flawlessly in years to come.
The competitive landscape
The S$ 2998 retail price is a knockout price for this level of watchmaking. The competition all lie with mass produced watches, made in the series of thousands, and not limited editions of 50. None will feature the delicate eye of Hajime Asaoka’s design sensibilities. Examining both Kuroyo we have on hand and comparing to other samples, the build quality is consistently excellent, with attention to detail being very clear. Despite its under S$3k price tag, it looks and feels like a more expensive watch. Most of the competition at the price bucket are more sporty watches than elegant, classic pieces.
At the price point, we might perhaps consider Rado Tradition Golden Horse Limited Edition, or Longines Heritage 1945. Even the various Nomos, by way of illustration let us take the Tangente, or Junghans which at first glance might offer some competitive challenge, at least in terms of design spirit and aesthetics, are more than 50% higher in price.
The Kurono Tokyo Classic watches, either in Midnight Blue or in Eggshell White are beacons in the world of watchmaking. Here a ultra high end independent watchmaker is doing his part to spread the cheer of beautiful watches at an affordable price. Of course, the watches are a compromise against the Hajime Asaoka branded watches. The biggest is the the use of a respectable Miyota movement in place of the hand made Asaoka movement. The simplification of the case and dial is the other. But overall, the Kurono retains the DNA of the Asaoka watch.
Both watches are very beautiful to look at, we have a slight preference for the vintage looking Eggshell White variant, and your taste may take you to the Midnight Blue, but there is no denying that the aesthetics are exemplary. Hajime’s eye for design shines through and it is well balanced visually, but also on the wrist, where it is very comfortable. The Miyota movement will “guarantee” good performance as it is a workhorse movement with no pretensions of high horology. And though both these versions are sold out, no doubt Kurono will release future versions in other dial variants soon. And when that happens, we advise you to drop whatever you are doing then, and make the order for one IMMEDIATELY.
Despite the relatively accessible retail price, the a portion of the sale of each watch goes to a charity. The Eggshell White version, being a Sincere Watch special edition has proceeds going to the Rainbow Centre Singapore. We understand the Midnight Blue will be in favour of the Ashinaga Africa Initiative.
Kurono Classic Specifications
- Limited to 50 pieces per dial variant
- Mechanical automatic winding
- Unique two-process dial in metallic and solid finish
- Sapphire glass
- Solid caseback design – signed by Hajime Asaoka
- 24 jewels, 28,800 vibrations / hour, power reserve 40 hours
- Waterproof to 3 ATM
- 316L high-polished 37mm stainless steel case, hands & indices
- Black alligator leather band (20/18)
- Made in Japan
MSRP at SGD 2,988 [US$2,190 excl. applicable taxes]
Not a bad looking watch. However $2190 usd for a watch with a sub $100 movement, no thanks. The case and dial are not That special.
I enjoyed the review! Thank you.
I really like the watch and agree that it is great value. The 37mm size makes it very suitable to wear for all occasions. It also keeps excellent time. I didn’t realise this particular Miyota was a premium one.
I have a few comments:
1. I think this is probably just me, but in daily wear, when one has a quick glance at the time, it’s not terribly easy to distinguish between the hour and minute hands even though they do have different shapes. See the photo with the ceramic cat- the thin end of the minute hand is not easy to see because it’s so reflective, while the hour hand extends almost to the first of the concentric circles. This means that a quick look presents two hands of apparently the same length.
2. It is perfectly functional and is fine considering the price, but I think the leather strap is a little on the basic side. Changing it will bring added pop to the look of the shiny metal.
3. If the watch is also meant to encourage one to spend life savings on a full hand made Tsunami, that’s not possible because Asaoka isn’t taking any more orders!
Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Daryll.
The image with the ceramic cat is a bit unusual, I must say, as the top quarter of the watch caught the reflection of the flash, which rendered the overexposure on the tip of the minute hand. In regular use, it appears to be reasonably legible.