Why this Japanese watchmaker decided to create affordable watches
For those who haven’t been able to acquire a Hajime Asaoka watch, a more accessible option is available.
Hajime Asaoka’s timepieces are known for their Art Deco style, beautiful hand-assembled movements, meticulous hand-finishing and five-figure price tags. It’s a lofty sum considering all of Asaoka’s watches – which so far only comprise a chronograph, two tourbillons and a time-only model – are cased in steel, but it’s testament to the self-taught watchmaker’s craft. Which is what makes his latest collection, Kurono, stand out: They go for a shockingly affordable S$2,360.
It’s obvious that this price cuts out Asaoka’s personal touch which, when considering any independent watchmaker, is a huge part of the appeal. By serialising production with the help of Precision Watch Tokyo Co., Ltd., which roped in the same case and dial makers that supply to brands like Seiko, fans get to reap the benefits of economies of scale at the expense of romance.
It’s a bit of a shame because Asaoka’s story is tantalisingly bohemian. With no formal training in the horological arts, the former product designer learned the ropes by reading George Daniels’ Watchmaking and watching YouTube videos. He makes all the movement components himself, except for the mainspring and balance spring (which he used to salvage from Unitas movements), finishes them on his own and gets cases from a subcontractor from the automotive industry. This artisanal approach to his business means he takes about a month to finish one time-only Tsunami watch, and three months for the complicated ones. This adds up to about five watches a year and a two-year waiting list.
But the Kurono is a godsend for fans who want a small piece of the Hajime Asaoka DNA while waiting for the real deal, as well as those who don’t have the access or means to his handmade pieces. The Kurono is still an Asaoka design, manufactured in Japan and assembled by hand – just not his. The elegant three-hand watch is powered by the automatic calibre 905S from Miyota – the Japanese equivalent of ETA – and features stop seconds and a power reserve of 40 hours. The caseback is engraved with the words Bunkyo Tokyo, a reference to where Asaoka’s studio is located.
There are two dial variations, Midnight Blue and Mystic Grey, and both are limited to just 50 pieces each. A third variant, featuring an Eggshell White dial, was produced exclusively for Sincere Fine Watches but all 50 pieces were sold out within 24 hours of its release on the watch retailer’s website on July 3. A portion of the proceeds from each Kurono sale will go to the Rainbow Centre Singapore, a non-profit organisation that works to create opportunities for children with autism and other disabilities.