There are many watch brands out there, from small to big, old to new, and price range US$100 to US$ Millions. There is also a category of watchmaker, called “Independents”. They are literally independent from the big and well-known brands but often also independently financed. Everybody can be, if properly trained, an independent watchmaker, but in order to be recognized as such, you would have to become a member of an association called “AHCI” (Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants = French: Academy of Independent Creators in Watchmaking). It is not an easy hurdle to surpass. First, you need the recommendation or endorsement from two existing members (currently, there are 33 members spread over 12 countries), then submit your own creation watch at public shows at least three times to be a candidate and finally, be voted into membership by the members unanimously.
Masahiro Kikuno, a Japanese watchmaker, is the youngest current member. He became an “AHCI candidate” in 2011 at the age of 28 years, and became a full member in 2013 at the age of 30 years. Not the youngest in AHCI history, but he is the youngest active member now.
Each AHCI member has achieved technical superiority and a unique philosophy, as well as design concept. What is so unique about Masahiro Kikuno? He tries to make watches in the same manner as watchmakers of old, from hundreds of years ago. He aims to make watches made in such a way that would surprise those historic watchmakers.
What does this mean?
It means he makes his own tools for watchmaking.
It means that he makes each tiny screw by himself.
It means that he polishes each part manually with hardwood tools.
It means that he heats the watch-hand until it turns blue, by his own hands and skilled timing (no pun intended).
To him, when power tools are used or (and quite often today, computerized) machines to make components, the result it is nothing more than “industrial products”, even if you claim “hand-made” by assembling those parts manually. He uses only machines which were used hundreds of years ago.
Although still in his early 30s, his watchmaking philosophy is mature and he is quite an artist. He does not aim to be “successful” in watchmaking business. He wants only those who understand his art of watchmaking to buy his watches. He makes only one watch per year (for the current model), but spends half a year thinking of the next step; and new things that he can do.
So, let us take a look at his current offering. He makes only one model and only one watch per year. He announced this model at the BaselWorld 2015 trade show, received orders, and finally delivered the first piece.
The concept of “Wa-Dokei” is to recreate the clocks used in Japan until the mid-19th century, also called “temporal hour” clocks, which were aligned with peoples’ lives back then – life with the Sun. Temporal hour system divides day time and night time into six epochs each. Each epoch is called an “hour” with the name of one of the twelve Oriental Zodiac animals, e.g. “It’s about half past the Hour of the Snake”.
As you can imagine, the length of each “hour” changes every day. The longest day coincides with the summer solstice and the shortest day is on the winter solstice. How could it be expressed on a small watch dial? The longest day can be expressed by widening the angle between one index and the next, it is like widening the space between the “hour” markers – which may not be easy to imagine. Kikuno tried to recreate the temporal hour system on the watch. In the past, when the temporal hour was used in real life, they used vertical clocks where a weight falls very slowly in a day and a movable index could be adjusted time to time with their “gut feeling”. Practically, day time starts when the sky gets a bit of sunlight and the night time starts when it gets completely dark. So, the days when the day time and the night time are the same length are not exactly on the equinox date.
Imagine if it could be adjusted AUTOMATICALLY without human interference? He came up with the idea to make it happen by creating a special “cam” designed to rotate once a year and control the distance of each index, widening the daytime index distance as it approaches the summer solstice and narrowing it as the winter solstice approaches. It would be much harder (I cannot imagine how) to make a variable speed watch. Needless to say, everything can be adjusted to your location because the length of the day varies by the latitude.
How he made it, and how it works….. Please see the video:
While the inside is quite “high tech” in concept, the outside is quite classic Japanese. He accepts orders after intensively discussing with the client. The clientele who want to buy this type of watch typically are picky; demanding something special and unique. The owner asked for special engraving on the case front. And “Mokume-gane” pattern on the back. Making one Mokume-gane sheet is quite a task in itself.
His previous watch model was called MOKUME as he used this “Mokume-gane” on the dial and after delivering a few, he realized that it took too much time and the price did not pay for his work. So, he stopped taking orders after just 8 pieces. But it is still his favourite, used as his daily watch, and he is thinking of, partly because of high demand, re-issuing it in future with a new look and shorter production time.
THE GYOSHO WATCH
Here are the images of the first Wa-dokei watch delivered to the owner. Thanks to the owner’s generosity, we are all lucky to be able to see it. The engraving as well as the calligraphy on the index and the back of the watch was done by his engraver partner, Keiji Kanagawa. This unique piece is named “Gyosho” or “Bell at the Dawn”. What a wonderful name for such an artistic product! Congratulations to both the owner and Masahiro Kikuno.
Now he is thinking of what to offer at the next BaselWorld show in March 2017; We can’t wait to see it!
About the Author
Ken Hokugo is a contributor to AlphaLuxe based in Japan but a citizen of the world. During his travels, he brings us tales of wine, food and other epicurean delights. He was also a Moderator-at-Large for the horology website PuristSPro.com and writes extensively about wristwatches in English and Japanese publications.