Earlier this week, the world witness a historical event in Japan. On Wednesday, Emperor Naruhito ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne to become the 126th monarch of Japan – bringing the end of the Heisei era and the birth of the new Reiwa era.
The outgoing monarch of Japan – Emperor Emeritus Akihito – is a well-respected figure in Japan. But besides that, Emperor Emeritus Akihito is also known for his sartorial style. In a previous article, we have highlighted the various bespoke suits that he was seen wearing on different occasions. We do believe that the new Emperor follows suit as well.
One of the more interesting things that we have highlighted in the previous article was how Emperor Emeritus Akihito was seen wearing a presumably white gold dress watch with a black alligator strap, but we were unable to ascertain what exactly was the timepiece in question. We do reckon that it might perhaps be a timepiece from a Japanese watch manufacturer, considering that the Japanese are extremely patriotic and proud of their local products. This can also be observed from the royal family’s official choice of transport, which is the evergreen Toyota Century.
Given that the Japanese watch manufacturing industry had grown in prominence over the last few decades, as well as the fact that there are many outstanding independent watchmakers from the Land of the Rising Sun, a classy dress watch from Japan might just be the watch of choice for the new ruler. What are some of the options available? Let’s take a look!
Citizen AQ 4020 – 54Y “The Chronomaster”
We begin with one of our favourite timepieces from Citizen: AQ 4020 – 54Y, or also known simply as “The Chronomaster”.
Citizen may not be a brand that is typically associated with high-end watch manufacturing, but it is definitely short-sighted to write them off before getting to know the brand better. The Japanese watch manufacturer – which recently celebrated its centenary – has a deep and rich history in watch making, and there were pioneers in several innovations.
The Chronomaster is perhaps one of Citizen’s finest works. The 39mm super titanium timepiece might look simple, but the attention to detail is amazing. The case and bracelet, for instance, features the “Zaratsu” finishing with gives it a mirror-shine effect. The Washi paper dial also gives the watch an interesting texture and appearance as well. Finally, the watch is powered by the Calibre A060, which is one of the two ultra high precision quartz movements that Citizen produces. The combination is simply phenomenal.
Priced at ¥330,000 (approximately S$4,040), this Citizen is tad more expensive that its usual offerings. However, this is a very well-made and reliable timepiece, and we reckon it will look extremely stately when it is fitted with a nice black alligator strap. It will be an apt choice for a daily beater.
Naoya Hida Type 1B
Naoya Hida is one of the latest independent watch manufacturers from Japan, but the latest kid on the block is certainly not just another watchmaker per se.
The inspiration behind the watch was to create an ultra classical piece which embodies Naoya’s ideas of old world charms and aesthetics. The Type 1B certainly displays Naoya’s ethos, in which the 37mm features a design that is not dissimilar to timepieces that were produced between 1930s and 1950s. We particularly like the hand-engraved textured dial, as well as how the engraved bits were filled with synthetic urushi to create contrast. The Breguet-styled numerals are definitely an icing on the cake as well.
Interestingly, the watch is based on a Valjoux 7750 movement. The calibre is modified with the removal of both the chronograph and self-winding mechanism, and the barrels and balance bridges were replaced. This allows Naoya to produce a manual winding timepiece, which tallies with watches of the yesteryear. The Type 1B is currently in its prototype stage as we speak, but it is slated to be launched soon with a retail price of ¥1,800,000 (approximately S$22,040).
Grand Seiko SGBD001 Spring Drive 8 Day Power Reserve
Over the last few years, Grand Seiko had been fascinating us with some of their novelties. However, in Baselworld 2016, Grand Seiko had simply blown many of our minds away with one of the most expensive offerings from their line-up. Cue the Spring Drive 8 Day Power Reserve, or the SBGD001.
This Grand Seiko, unlike most of the other offerings, is a little special. The watch is the first Grand Seiko to be produced by the Micro Artisan Studio, which is known to produce the highest grade watches under the Eichi collection (as well as the Sonnerie and Minute Repeater). This can be observed with the attention to detail on the SBGD001 – both the dial and its movement are examples of how the artisans manage to attain what is physically possible in terms of perfection.
The 43mm platinum watch is priced at around ¥6,000,000 (approximately S$73,466). To put it into perspective, that is slightly more than 18 times of what the Citizen Chronomaster is priced. However, while the Citizen is a nice watch, the SBGD001 is certainly in a league of its own. This is, in our opinion, one of the best Grand Seiko watches that the manufacturer had ever produced.
Seiko Credor Eichi II
Following the SBGD001, we have yet another masterpiece from Seiko that was born out of the Micro Artisan Studio. The name’s Credor Eichi II, and it is probably somewhat a lesser-heard collection as compared to its other brethren.
The Eichi II is another simple timepiece, but this is Seiko’s way of letting the finishing shine. The Eichi II features an impeccable porcelain dial, which was produced by Noritake (a Japanese porcelain house which supplies bone china to the Japanese Imperial family) and hand-painted by the artisans back at Seiko’s Micro Artisan Studio. But the pièce de résistance lies in its Calibre 7R14 movement. The contemporary-looking movement is finished to the highest quality – which includes convex bevelling, anglage, and linear brush finishing. It also features a 60-hour power reserve indicator, as well as Seiko’s proprietary Spring Drive mechanism.
Sized at 39mm, the Eichi II is an excellent dress watch for numerous occasion. It is subtle, simple, but yet very elegant at all angles. The Eichi II is a strong competitor with the SBGD001 above, and we reckon that the Eichi II might be a better option if one’s looking for a more traditional looking timepiece with an interesting heritage (via its porcelain dial). The Eichi II is available in many variations, with the platinum version pricing at ¥4,300,000 (approximately S$52,650).
Daizoh Makihara Kikutonagimon Sakura
When it comes to traditional craftsmanship, the previous few watches have showcased what the Japanese are capable of in terms of watchmaking. But Daizoh Makihara, with the Kikutonagimon Sakura, is a bold showcase of the combination between traditional watchmaking and the vanishing craft of Edo-kiriko.
The main highlight of this piece, similarly, is the finishing. First, the kiku pattern on the dial – which is a coat of arms of chrysanthemum and cherry blossom – is done with a traditional art technique called Edo-kiriko. This is made from cutting the glass surface of the dial, in order for the artist to create the patterns as seen on the timepiece. On the flip side, the movement also features stunning hand engravings of cherry blossoms on the bridges. The engravings are done by Daizoh himself, and it is complemented with a hand hammering pattern that is similar to the tremblage used in Lange’s Handwerkskundst editions. The end result is simply sublime.
While the Kikutonagimon Sakura is a gorgeous piece of art, it might necessarily work as well as a dress watch if one compares it with some of the other watches that we have selected. However, for a more casual setting, this is certainly a conversational piece that will shine at many functions. It is priced at ¥4,900,000 (approximately S$59,997), and we think that this might be a perfect piece for the new Emperor – considering its values and the design motifs that are present on this watch.
Hajime Asaoka Project Tsunami
Finally, we round up with possibly the most iconic independent watchmaker from Japan: Hajime Asaoka.
Following the creation of a special tourbillion in 2014, Hajime Asaoka decided to shift his focus back on perfecting three-hand watches – hence leading to the birth of the Project Tsunami. The 37mm watch follows an art deco style, with an emphasis on the use of clever machining and innovative materials to push beyond the boundaries of traditional watchmaking. One example is the use of Extra Super Duralumin (ESD, or also known as aircraft grade aluminium) in the centre dial construction, so that it can be thin enough to accommodate the large 16mm balance wheel.
The watch is powered by an in-house manual-winding movement, with a myriad of finishing techniques. The other interesting touches includes the giant 16mm titanium balance wheel that oscillates at 18,000 bph, as well as the well-polished mainspring barrel teeth at the 1 o’clock position. It retails at ¥2,500,000 (approximately S$30,610), and it is an interesting option from a top Japanese watchmaker.
When it comes to Japanese watchmaking, we have got to say that they have been overlooked for most of their lives. It is only in the advent of the internet that saw the rise of Japanese-made timepieces. And until today, it is still predominantly the big names (such as Grand Seiko) that gets the bulk of the attention.
Even though we have introduced six impeccable watches from Japan, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. There are still some independent watchmakers that are not highlighted in today’s article, and there are certainly many other collections from these watchmakers that are worth a shout as well. What makes the Japanese special is the fact that they really do take great pride in their work, and the results show. We dare say that most of the watches on the list today are comparable to their Swiss and German counterparts, and some of the offerings might even beat the Europeans at their own game. That is the level that we are talking about.
Are these watches fit for the new Japanese emperor? We would like to think so. After all, these are probably some of the finest timepieces from Japan, with fine craftsmanship and traditional Japanese techniques and motifs in their offerings. We can’t think of many other options that will exude such principles in their products.
So, what are your thoughts on Japanese watchmaking? Do these options deserve a spot on the wrist of the new Japanese emperor? Let us know in the comments section below.