Naoya Hida’s eponymous brand has existed for only a few years, but in that short time he’s carved out an immaculate reputation among aficionados for a very specific type of watch. And that’s the thing – it’s very specific. Hida’s watches are decidedly not mass market products, not only because of their five figure price tag (often discussed, impossible to fully understand without seeing the watches in person), but because their appeal lies squarely in things that are difficult to see and grasp through the lens of social media. The watch’s weight, winding feel, and especially its dial finishing detail collectively add to the appeal.
Hands On with the Naoya Hida “Lettercutter” Collaboration with the Armoury
The new watch, the NH Type 2C-1, is a collaboration with The Armoury, Mark Cho’s menswear shop with locations in New York and Hong Kong. Cho, of course, is a watch collector himself, and is, to say the least, thoughtful about the watches he includes in his personal collection (you may remember the survey he conducted on wrist size preferences a few years ago – he’s highly engaged in this stuff and genuinely loves it). So a collaboration with the Armoury already has a certain specific appeal for folks who align with Cho’s taste, or at least have an appreciation for how it’s cultivated. Seeing the Type 2C-1 in person, the synergy between the two collaborators becomes very apparent.
The NH Type 2C-1 is a tweak of the Hida’s NH Type 2C, the brand’s only model with a centrally mounted seconds hand. For this collaboration, Cho has added numerals around the entirety of the dial (not just the even numbers as seen in the standard version) in a custom typeface called “Lettercutter.” The typeface is full of unexpected angles and was inspired by traditional stone cutting. All of Hida’s dials are meticulously hand engraved, so it’s fitting that the new typeface draws on this particular type of craft work.
The Armoury collaboration further deviates from Hida’s standard models by using a navy colored lacquer rather than black to fill in the dial engravings. The tone of blue is dark and presents as something close to black in certain lighting conditions, but is a great match for the silver tone of the dial.
The dial layout is reminiscent of a classic sector dial, except the “sectors” are delineated not by contrasting tones, but by distinct layers. The chapter rings are actually separate components that are milled separately and attached later, and each has a slightly different finishing technique applied to it. This presents a fairly obvious contrast when you view the watch on your wrist, but the workmanship and craft become much clearer when viewed under magnification. There’s a quality to the way the numerals and layer transitions appear under a loupe that reveals the handmade nature of the dials and recalls a type of dial fabrication process that is simply no longer done. It’s also worth pointing out that the dial is made of German silver, which has a charming natural texture and sheen, and should develop patina given enough time.
There are so many small details within these dials that are easy to overlook on a first pass, but once you start really examining them you see that every design decision was critical in shaping how the finished product hangs together. A prime example on the NH Type 2C-1 is the extension of the hash marks at five minute intervals to the edge of the dial’s perimeter. In actual terms, this is a very small amount of space, and it’s not something you’d notice on a casual first pass when initially taking in the watch. But this tiny aesthetic detail is a small part in making this design feel whole, adding coherence and a subtle sense of dimensionality to an area of the dial that is sometimes forgotten about in less deliberate designs.
The 904L steel case measures 37mm in diameter and is just shy of 11mm thick. Milled from a single piece of steel, we’re told that the degree of difficulty in machining the case is quite high, and that the finished product is extremely corrosion resistant. It’s a comfortable case to wear thanks to slightly downturned lugs that have been thinned out slightly compared to previous Hida cases and proportions that have been proven to be correct for a huge variety of watch lovers for decades. At the end of the day, Naoya Hida’s watches are throwbacks to the classic designs of the middle part of the last century, and the relatively straightforward case design is a big part of that. Like the dial, the case is all about execution. While the finishing here isn’t especially flashy, it’s perfectly precise and the watch feels great in the hand. It’s clearly a premium product, but the under-the-radar style of the piece doesn’t lend itself to attention grabbing mirror polishing or thick beveled edges, so we get fairly reserved satin brushing and tight, perfectly cut transitions which feel like the right decision for the NH Type 2C-1.
When Hida’s watches first came to market, a point of contention among many was the movement. Specifically, the movement as it correlates to the final price of the watch. All of the Naoya Hida watches use a modified ETA 7750, one of the most tried and true chronograph calibers ever created. There have been a variety of adjustments to the stock 7750, most notably the removal of the chronograph mechanism as well as its automatic winding functionality. What Hida is left with is a relatively thin hand wound watch with a high level of robustness and reliability. The winding feel was a major focus point in the movement modification process, with the end result being a feedback rich winding experience that, like everything else about this watch, recalls wearing and using vintage watches in a crystal clear way.
The NH Type 2C-1 is being released alongside Naoya Hida’s annual product launch, which includes four additional watches, all representing very slight tweaks to previous models. Other watches in the collection feature, for example, subsidiary seconds registers at 9:00 (the original reason Hida chose the 7750 as his base movement), Roman numerals, and solid gold bezels and hands. Regardless of the specific details, however, each watch in the collection is made to the same high standards and within a narrow design language that really speaks to fans of mid century dress watches. The collaboration with the Armoury represents the first time Hida has partnered with another brand, so this watch naturally has some special touches the others don’t, like the aforementioned custom typeface, and a sterile caseback that presents a great opportunity for engraving.
Whenever new Naoya Hida watches are announced, the conversation inevitably turns to the price point. These watches are not inexpensive, with retail prices approaching $20,000 (note that the Armoury’s price for these watches is tied to a conversion from Japanese Yen, which is currently favorable for prospective American buyers). There is always plenty of sniping on Instagram and in various comment sections about paying that much for a watch with an “off the shelf” movement. To that, all I can really say is that no 7750 I’ve ever handled has the winding feel of this watch, and the quality of the dial finishing speaks for itself, but unfortunately you have to actually see it in person to get the full impact.
The NH Type 2C-1 is not a limited edition, but it is limited production, with only 10 being made per year, and sold exclusively through the Armoury. Allocation will be determined by lottery, which starts today. More information can be found via the Armoury website.