Many collectors, even seasoned ones, may not have heard of Campanola. It is a division of Citizen Watch company, and provides a rather interesting offering to the watchmaking industry with a blend of Swiss and Japanese tradition and technique. We attended the launch of the Campanola to the South East Asia market in Kuala Lumpur recently, and bring you the first of our reviews of the fascinating products. Presenting the Campaola Ryuga, a mechanical watch with a Swiss movement, but made in Japan with traditional urushi techniques. Intriguing? Read on!
Campanola: who is that?
Campanola is a division of Citizen Watch company, and represents their dream of reaching haute horlogerie levels with the creations. It started life as Citizen Campanola, and have always prized themselves in the magnificent dials, often with multi-layers, and usually coupled with traditional Japanese crafts like urushi. They recently (2012) acquired La Joux Perret, a Swiss manufacturer of watch movements, and began to use the La Joux Perret movements in their mechanical line of watches. Our review subject is the Ryuga, a fusion of Swiss traditional watchmaking by La Joux Perret and the very traditional Japanese craft of urushi.
Interestingly the name Campagola has Italian origins. It is not clear why a Japanese brand should choose to call their line after the region of Campagnia in Italy, and the town of Nola. The logo of a pair of bells is representative of this Italian town, which is within the Municipality of Naples.
The Campanola Mechanical watches
Campanola became a brand within the Citizen group, and the brand have collections:
- The Mechanical Collection, featuring La Joux Perret mechanical movements
- The Complications Collection featuring Citizen quartz movements
- The Eco-Drive Collection featuring Citizen Ec0-Drive movements
The main design elements running across the entire brand is the DNA of multi layered dials, of curved glass surfaces, and unique hands. We focus on the Mechanical Collection, which itself comprise of a standard line of three hand watches and a line of chronographs. The standard line currently comprise of four watches, two with electroformed dials and two with urushi dials. This review is of one of the urushi dialed standard line called the Ryuga.
The Campanola Ryuga NZ0000-07F
The subject of our review is from the urushi collection which is part of the standard range within the Mechanical Line of Campanola. The watch features a hand made urushi dial made by a traditional Japanese urushi master – Master Tetsuo Gido.
The dial is the piece de resistance of the Ryuga. The dial starts as a brass base, and is hand treated with the most traditional of Japanese urushi from the Aizu city in the Fukushima prefecture. The technique of the urushi has over 400 years of tradition and today only 39 official artisans of this artform exist in Aizu. Campanola uses Master Gido to provide all the urushi work on the dials. Each dial is hand crafted by Master Gido, and is also named by him using a technique while traditional, is adapted with innovations by Master Gido.
We will cover the manufacture of the dial in a separate article soon (watch this space!), but for now, it is a complex, time consuming, highly artisanal method using a very rare urushi. Urushi is lacquer from tree sap of the Japanese Lacquer tree. The sap is tapped from a tree which has taken 20 years to mature, and can only produce sap for about 6 months once the tapping begins. After that period, the tree is exhausted and dies, and is cut down and another is planted in its place. Each tree can only produce about 200-300 ml, and the annual production of Aizu urushi tree sap is only about 8 to 10 kg.
The dial is truly a work of art. Master Gido carefully places up to 5 layers of lacquer on the base, which is electroformed brass. Each layer is left to dry before the next layer is applied. This process takes up to a whole month. The next step, Master Gido applies each piece of the Mother of Pearl by hand, selecting the shape, colour and creating the pattern. When he is satisfied with the layout, the entire dial is once again coated with urushi. As traditional urushi is black, it completely covers the patterns, and the dial looks a uniform black at this stage. He then polishes the surface urushi by hand until the Mother of Pearl just shows, and evens the dial surface out. Then he applies a thin clear coat, and this is the final product. The entire process takes about 4 months of elapsed time to complete.
The case and hands
The case follows the dictates of the design language of Campanola. The base of the case is slightly rounded to hug the curves of the wrist, allowing even large watches sit nicely. The Ryuga is not very large at 42mm in diameter with a 14mm case thickness, so no additional features are fitted. For larger Campanola cases, two small curved articulating flaps are fitted on the underside of the case, to provide a smooth, curved transition between the case bottom and the lugs to improve wearing comfort. This is not essential in the Ryuga, the gentle curved case bottom is sufficient to feel comfortable on the wrist.
The urushi dial forms the central part of the dial, and several concentric rings surround this lacquer medallion. From this central urushi dial, a ring is attached which bears the seconds markings. This ring secured to the dial by another Campanola signature: four screws holding the seconds chapter ring to the dial. Further outwards of this ring is another bowl shaped ring bearing the 5 minute markers. The tens are marked in Arabic while the others are with bars.
The hands are also manufactured in-house in the Campanola facilities in Japan. Unlike most Swiss manufactures, where the case, dial and hands are made by specialist contractors, Citizen craftsmen manufacture these themselves. The hands are made by hand by skilled artisans in the Citizen factory. The minute and hour hands are lancet shaped, but faceted and polished. The minute hand features a cutout to lighten the look as well as the weight of the hand.
A power reserve indicator showing the 42 hours in an arc is placed below the central pivot of the hands. The second hand is central and slender and elegant. An outsized double framed date adorns the dial at 12 completes the look.
The movement is Swiss…we find it a bit uncharacteristic of the Japanese to use a Swiss movement. But as Citizen owns La Joux Perret, the use of the base caliber 3513 is perhaps logical. The La Joux Perret 3513 is a workhorse base movement with a 28,800 bph escapement and features a big date, a power reserve, a hacking central seconds hand. The movement has a power reserve of 42 hours. It is graded at a basic -5s/+10s a day.
It is neither particularly spectacular nor plebeian to look at, but the movement is made in Switzerland, and finished in Japan by Campanola craftsman. Campanola re-designates the movement caliber as Y513, As observed from the case back, the movement is smaller than the 42mm caase diameter would require, and we suspect a movement ring is used to affix it to the case.
We judge the finishing through the sapphire case back as competently engineering level of finishing. We fail to observe any artisanal finishing typical of haute horlogerie watches in the Swiss or German genre. The plates and rotor is finished in fausse côtes, and look like the variant which is created by diamond paste paper cutting the plates mechanically. As a mitigation, the pricing of the Ryuga is not priced at the typical haute horlogerie levels of the Swiss or Germans, and perhaps justify this level of engineering finish.
The competitive landscape
The Campanola Ryuga is currently only available in Malaysia (not in Singapore yet), and retails for approximately RM 30,000 (about S$10,000). The Japanese retail is ¥ 800,000 inclusive of Japan tax. This makes the watch highly competitive in the Métiers d’Art arena, where often, the Swiss products command a huge premium.
As an example, Vacheron Constantin introduced a lacquer collection in 2010 called “The Three Friends of Winter”. This was a limited edition set of three watches, decorated with pine tree, bamboo, and plum tree designs, all symbolizing longevity and loyal friendship in the face of adversity. Each watch has a double face, lacquered using the maki-e technique. The main design of the tree on the front of the watch is matched by a bird design on the back, facing the wrist. The pine is matched with a crane, the bamboo with a sparrow, and the plum tree with a nightingale. The retail pricing was S$435,000 for a set.
But perhaps closer in price bracket is the Seiko Pressage series which is available with enamel dials, or as urushi dial. The Seiko Pressage 60th Anniversary Automatic Limited Edition Chronograph Urushi (sold out, but at introduction in 2016, the recommended retail was €2,800 before taxes) is perhaps an approximate inhabitant in landscape. The case is also 42mm, and in stainless steel. The black lacquer dial is made by Isshu Tamura, also an urushi master. Master Tamura works in the city of Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture . The Pressage is also a chronograph and features an in-house Seiko manufactured column wheel chronograph.
Chopard Year of the Monkey Urushi (S$ 30,900 incl GST in 2015). Chopard has elected to work with the house of Yamada Heiando who are the official purveyor to the Japanese imperial family. The dials are deigned by Master Kilchiro Masumura who also supervised the creation of all the dials. The dials are executed by Master Minori Koizumi. The difference between the Chopard piece is that the urushi is used to create a picture with the monkey motif, instead of a geometric pattern in the Ryuga. The watch features the exquisite L.U.C 96.17-L, manufactured in-house in Chopard facilities in Fleurier.
Other inhabitants in this landscape is perhaps Campanola’s own Beniake, which features a maki-e technique also executed by Master Gido, using urushi and gold flakes. The Beniake is equipped with the same caliber as the Ryuga, and retails for ¥ 750,000 incl Japan taxes, a tad below the Ryuga.
We found the urushi dial to be extremely intriguing. The author met Master Gido in Tokyo in an earlier personal trip, and is impressed with the quiet demeanor of this great artist. As urushi is a very caustic compound, and indeed poisonous, Master Gido’s fingers are devoid of finger prints, as they have been eroded away with the years of working with the material. We will carry a detailed article to show how the Ryuga dial is manufactured soon.
The dial is truly magnificent, and a work of art. Some will judge it as worthy the price of entry, a modest RM 30,000 (S$10,000). Some will feel that the La Joux Perret movement perhaps is interesting and justifies this entry price, as the same movement in a Swiss brand watch will be definitely priced higher, even one without any Métiers d’Art components. In our eyes, the aesthetics of the Ryuga is beautiful, and a nice play of the elegant with the traditional in a contemporary design. And we applaud Citizen for being serious enough to embark on this Campanola journey, and look forward to more interesting and artistic products.