A Brief Encounter with the Naoya Hida Watches, Including the New Type 4

It’s hard to imagine how fine a more or less simple steel watch can be. You’ve likely encountered high-end steel watches from the typical luxury houses that come to mind. For example, Omega, Rolex, or Grand Seiko make stunning steel watches with excellent finishing. It’s fair to ask yourself, how much better or different can finishing get? And then, if you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity, you get to see Naoya Hida’s watches, and you realize that a seemingly simple steel watch still has plenty of room for elevation.

The difference isn’t in broad strokes, it’s in the minutia. “Fit and finish” turned up that much more. Details are finished by hand for that wabi-sabi effect of subtle variations and vibrations that add life. I once heard a person refer to something as having “gravity” to define the “X” factor that sets something of quality apart. As a physical, unavoidable force of attraction, this makes sense. While it might take a loupe to truly appreciate the subtleties of the finish on a Naoya Hida watch, it pulls you in with a force beyond your control.

I’ve had the experience of seeing the Naoya Hida watches twice now, about a year apart from each other, both times at Mark Cho’s Armoury location in NYC’s Tribeca. The first time was certainly exciting, but the second, which was just a few weeks ago, was revelatory. Perhaps that is because Mr. Hida, and his engraver Keisuke Kano, came to the US to present the watches in person. The added excitement of hearing the creator of the brand explain his vision, as well as his master engraver explain the extraordinary effort each watch takes, added levels to the “gravity” of each watch seen.

The presentation began with a tour of the existing models, many of which had slight alterations made from the previous year’s versions. For those unfamiliar with the brand, given the labor of creating the hand-engraved German silver dials, each model is limited to around 10 – 20 pieces annually. As such, making minor changes annually isn’t a matter of retooling or major visual modifications, so much as learning from their own process. Lines or type might get wider or deeper, fill colors slightly altered, different straps in use, etc.

The Type 3B
The Type 2C-1 Lettercutter
The Type 1D-1 two
The Type 2C

The existing collection ranges from the Breguet-inspired Type 1s, to the mid-century Type 2s, which includes the Armoury’s Lettercutter collab, to perhaps my reigning favorite of the collection, the Type 3, which features a solid gold moon phase (with a face designed by Mr. Hida) and Roman numerals. All 37mm and milled from 904L, they are perfectly refined packages. Modest but rich in detail, from the proportions, which allow them to sit perfectly on the wrist, to the special luster that only German silver gives off. They aren’t watches designed to match current trends, though I do think they satisfy such tastes, but rather watches that will always exude a confident style.

After reviewing the existing line, we got to take a look at the new Type 4 line. A slight departure from the others, they feature a new case design that is a millimeter smaller at 36 but features a more robust, or even “sporty” design. Broader lugs give it a more muscular stance on the wrist, as well as allowing for a beveled edge, which grants a somewhat more modern (if still 20th-century) style. The dial layout is simple and understated, with an emphasis on a mid-century sans-serif font that is once again hand engraved into German silver and then painted.

A standout element of the design is the diamond hands. Hida’s hands are not stamped, but rather milled, allowing for greater three-dimensionality. The strong diamond shape pops off of the understated dials beneath, appearing thicker than they really are. Like the face of the moon on the Type 3, it adds unexpected personality. Another new element of the Type 4 is a second dial color. Though both made of German silver, one is available with a dark gray DLC coating and “cashew” paint fill. Only 20 Type 4s will be produced this year, presumably split between the two colors.

In addition to the Type 4 Hida unveiled a deployant clasp. While not something that I would typically include in a write-up, Hida’s approach was quite different from the norm. Designed from the ground up, rather than using a sizing mechanism, the deployant comes on a strap that has been pre-sized to your wrist. This is done in his atelier by trying on a set of 32 samples, picking the perfect combination of half straps for your wrist. The fully milled clasp then sits perfectly under your wrist for comfort. For the first year, the D-buckle is limited to just the Type 4 watches.

In terms of pricing, the Naoya Hida watches start at around $16k for the Type 1D, and go to just over $21k for the Type 4A-1, which includes the new buckle. While certainly expensive steel watches and one could price compare easily with precious metal watches by the likes of Lange (particularly pre-owned Saxonias), the price is a reflection of various factors the first of which is the incredibly limited nature of the watches. At just a handful per model each year, exclusivity is certainly part of the plan, but also a result of the next factor, labor. Each dial takes roughly two weeks of time to engrave and finish, not to mention movements, cases, etc.

For me, I go back to that feeling I had when I saw them again. The sense of gravity that the watches had. The inexplicable aspect of wabi-sabi gives each watch just a bit of a hand-made feel, that would justify, if it were in my budget, these watches regardless of price comparisons. At a certain point, watches are just reflections of our tastes, and when you see something that really resonates with you like the Type 3 did for me, the price is almost irrelevant, if not an unfortunate hurdle. Naoya Hida

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Zach is the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of Worn & Wound. Before diving headfirst into the world of watches, he spent his days as a product and graphic designer. Zach views watches as the perfect synergy of 2D and 3D design: the place where form, function, fashion and mechanical wonderment come together.
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