Hajime Asaoka released yet another of his tourbillons. This time in 37mm with the same Art Deco aesthetic with a black lacquer dial.
Review: Hajime Asaoka Tourbillon Noir (new for 2023)
We have always loved the works of Hajime Asaoka. This adoration extends not only to the modestly priced mainstream watches made under the brand name Kurono, but more importantly, the work he does under his own name. These masterworks are always impressive pieces. Each designed, hand made and finished in his atelier in Japan. We visited his atelier in 2018, then located in the quiet suburb of Shibuya in Tokyo. He has since moved, but we have not visited him since he has.
Click here for our introductory article with Asaoka’s debut with the Project Tourbillon, here for the Project Tsunami, and here for the Chronograph. And most recently, with the Deluxe Tsunami.
After these masterworks, he turned his focus on the Kurono project. And now, we finally see a new watch from him – the Tourbillon Noir. The watch bears the label “No.0 Prototype”, hinting at a series production. But this is not immediately clear if this new Tourbillon Noir which we examined and photographed in Geneva in late March 2023 will be one. In any case, even if it is a series watch, the production numbers will be very small as all are hand made by Hajime himself.
Case, dial and hands
The case looks very similar to the one used in the Deluxe Tsunami, and it probably is. Hajime has chosen to retain stainless steel as the case material and for the diameter to remain at 37mm, a good middle-ground size for a dress watch. The case material is perhaps unusual for a dress watch, notwithstanding one with a tourbillon, but is an indication on the technical emphasis on the watch rather than a more traditional precious metal with its more luxurious leanings. And the Tourbillon Noir does not disappoint on that front.
At first glance, the dial itself looks rather simple. But on closer examination, it is highly nuanced with lots of fine detailing. A base is a black multi layered lacquer. The black lacquer has a particularly attractive lustre and a sense of depth, emphasised by rings cut into the edges inward of the steel chapter ring at its peripheral. This chapter ring has a circular grained finish and engraved with round dots for the minutes and square cuts made on the inner edge for 5 minute intervals. The cardinal markers of 3 and 9 feature square teeth and the 6 o’clock marker is a V shape notch which protrude from the outer edge of the ring. A second, thinner ring bridges the chapter ring to the engraved rings on the main dial. At 12, a much larger marker, also in stainless steel and highly polished in the Art Deco style used by Shreve, Lamb and Harmon for the design of the Empire State Building in NYC. The hands are hand made, stainless steel syringe shape, with black polish on the curved upper sides. As is typical of the Asaoka style, two highly polished screws are shown exposed at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions.
Taking center stage on the lower half of the dial is the aperture which displays the tourbillon. The tourbillon carriage is carried by a massive bridge. This bridge is held in place by two prominent and highly polished screws. The screws are attached through the chamfered and polished sinks on the bridge’s round studs at its tips. The bridge and the round end-studs are black polished as is the circle shaped center carrier stud for the tourbillon carriage’s jewel. The tourbillon cage’s pinion sits in the jewel, which is encased in the beautifully polished bowl in the middle of the circular stud. The perlage finish of the dial side of the mainplate is visible through a gap in the cutout.
Not only the watch looks and feels good on the wrist, the design approach taken by Hajime is also interesting. The entire focus of the watch, especially the movement, is based on the concept of modularity. The concept existed to some extent since Project T and Tsunami, but in the Tourbillon Noir, the idea is pushed to what he believes to be the ideal form. For example, the dial can be disassembled without removing the hands. The movement is also modularised. This simplifies maintenance, as working on one part does not require the watchmaker to disassemble the entire watch. The concept is explained in the video Hajime made, available on his YouTube channel:
The display case back shows the movement in its full glory. The movement is designed so that the train is held in place by 1 central bridge and 2 cocks. This design is deliberate with the aim of easing maintenance. The main plate holds the flying barrels, with the keyless works is then secured under the first cock, and easily be can be removed for maintenance with only disassembly of this cock. The main bridge holds the jewels for the pivots of the third wheel, the stationary fourth wheel and the tourbillon carriage, which itself is a module which can be removed. Once removed, the tourbillon module can be adjusted in a separate jig which carries a reference movement at the test bench. This apparatus is also used in the assembly of the tourbillon carriage and dynamic poising before it is inserted into the movement. A separate second cock holds the second wheel stylised in the shape of the topping tool and its canon pinion. All the plates are in maillechort, Hajime’s preferred material since his early works.
“The movement train is a module which can be removed with the hands still in place. This plate also contains the bearing for the winding stem, so that in the unlikely event that this bearing wears out, it can be simply and surely repaired by replacing the plate. There is also a jig provided for accurate removal and reattaching of the cannon pinion, allowing for easy removal of the center wheel.”Hajime Asaoka
Finishing is top grade. The bridges all feature magnificent anglage. The jewels and screws are held in countersunk, beveled openings which are highly polished. Each screw head is mirror finished. And the main bridge is embellished with a black polished steel cap which runs along one edge.
The fauss côtes which adorn the bridges are wide and even, and catch light to show a warm spectrum on one angle, and a cool silver on others. Observe also, in the photograph above, the finish on the curved arms of the second wheel and the anglage applied to it.
Overall, the look is very impressive. The level of finishing bordering on the compulsive obsessive, which is what we like to see on a watch of this caliber.
As you may have noted, we intentionally left out the Competitive Landscape section. Just how does one characterise a watch like the Tourbillon Noir? It is conceived by the master himself, and lovingly and painstakingly made by his own hands in his atelier in Tokyo. The aesthetic itself is rather unique. The bold Art Deco styling with the magnificent Tsuikoshi lacquer finish contrasting with the brushed finish the chapter ring and the brilliant shine of the main index , the hands and the tourbillon bridge. The entire watch is a sight to behold.
When we examined the watch, discussed it with Hajime, and photographed it in the Geneva, we were mesmerised, and did not even ask the intended retail price. A later enquiry revealed that he has yet to set the price. We expect it to be circa CHF 120k, but this is pure speculation on our part. A ransom which is not small by any means, but eminently reasonable for a watch of this caliber. Hajime has always resisted the urge to price his watches to what the market to bear, but rather he prices his work by the time, skill and inventiveness that goes into the piece. And to that, we say Bravo! 頑張って (ganbatte!) Asaoka-san!
Hajime Asaoka Tourbillon Noir Specifications
MODEL: Tourbillon Noir
DIAL: Black lacquer dial with a multi-layer finish
CASE MATERIAL: 316L stainless steel
CASE DIMENSIONS: 37mm (diameter) × 12.3mm (thickness)
CASE BACK: Sapphire
MOVEMENT: In-house tourbillon caliber — manual winding, 18,000vph frequency, 40-hour power reserve, 17 jewels
WATER RESISTANCE: 3ATM
STRAP: Hand-stitched leather
FUNCTIONS: Time only with tourbillon regulator