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December 12, 2022

Hajime Asaoka, Contemporary Master Craftsman of Japan

In depth New York Times article short: Asaoka is the first independent watchmaker ever to have been awarded this title.

From the Times piece:

Mr. Asaoka comes from a different background than most of his peers, who went to watchmaking schools. "I'm a designer," he said.

After graduating from the Tokyo University of the Arts in 1990, he founded his own business two years later. "As a product designer, part of my job was to design watches," he said. "But I was never satisfied with the quality of the watches. Details are so important, and I wanted to make a watch by myself — not just design it."

So in the early 2000s, Mr. Asaoka taught himself to make watches, buying models to take apart and reading "Watchmaking," by the celebrated British maker George Daniels. "Since I was a child, I was very good at engineering," he said.

He even learned to create his own parts: "At that time, a few Japanese craftsmen could make watch parts, so I just tried to learn from them, and I repeated the process by trial and error."

In 2011, he began selling his own watches, under the name Hajime Asaoka Tokyo Japan. He has developed four models — Tsunami, Project T Tourbillon, Tourbillon Pura and Chronograph — each priced at around eight million yen ($57,200).

But he works alone and can make only about five watches in a year — a pace, he estimated, that would take him about eight years to fill current orders. So he recently started to decline new requests.

Mr. Asaoka's handmade watches are in such high demand that he doesn't wear one himself and none were available to photograph when I visited his workshop in November.

Mr. Asaoka does everything here, from designing the programs for parts to the watch assembly. And while some things can be done with machinery, "some things can only be done by hand," he said, such as creating dials, hands or balance wheels: "When creating a balance wheel, which is the heart of the mechanical movement, a difference of only one micron is very big. It's difficult to adjust the weight with a machine, so it's impossible to create that part with a machine." He tried machine polishing a watch once, but decided it wasn't precise enough.

For a dial, he uses German silver or brass, then lacquers the piece and prints his name using a machine that he created himself. Mr. Asaoka posted a how-to video [top] about the process on YouTube that has gotten more than 145,000 views and created quite a buzz.

This month Mr. Asaoka plans to open his first store, a combination of boutique and gallery called the Kurono Aoyama Salon, in the upscale Aoyama district of Tokyo.

December 12, 2022 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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