Introducing the Kurono by Independent Watchmaker Hajime Asaoka

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When you hear the phrase, “Japanese watchmaking,” what springs to mind? My guess is that most people, at least most watch enthusiasts, immediately jump to Seiko, and probably Grand Seiko as well. Casio also weighs heavily in the world of Japanese watches. And, of course, there’s Citizen. All of these brands, in different ways, are uniquely Japanese. They take elements of traditional craft, efficiency in production, and a highly specific aesthetic, and combine them all to create things — watches — that are easily distinguishable as objects that are Japanese in their nature.

But these brands don’t tell the whole story of Japanese watchmaking. For those that are truly interested, and happen to have deep pockets, there’s a small world of artisans creating timepieces that are at once very much in the tradition of what we think of as the highest end of Swiss watchmaking (an entire watch, made from scratch, by one person), and also firmly planted in traditional Japanese craft traditions.

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Hajime Asaoka is one such watchmaker. His watches aren’t the type we typically cover on Worn & Wound. They start at around $40,000, and each timepiece is a collaboration between Asaoka and his client, and might take a year or more to produce. Each watch is a truly one of a kind creation and a work of art.

Now, in a move that’s sure to excite fans of his work, Asaoka has decided to produce a watch serially for the first time. It’s affordable, and makes use of a mass produced Miyota movement, but it shares a ton of design DNA with Asaoka’s much more expensive pieces. Asaoka’s aesthetic can be summed up by an adherence to simplicity. His designs, regardless of price point, are clean and straightforward, with an undeniable Art Deco inspiration. You won’t see a lot of ornate dial or case work on an Asaoka designed watch — he takes an idea and seems to continually reduce it down until it reaches a type of minimalism that is still distinctively his own. 


Kurono by Hajime Asaoka

  • Case Material: Stainless steel 
  • Dial:  Mystic Gray, Midnight Blue, Eggshell White (for Sincere Fine Watches)
  • Dimensions: 37mm
  • Crystal: Sapphire 
  • Water Resistance: 3 ATM
  • Movement: Miyota 90S5
  • Strap/bracelet: Calf leather 
  • Price: $1,750
  • Availability: Currently sold out

The Kurono, the watch in question, is very much a traditional dress watch. Measuring 37mm in highly polished stainless steel, the watch has a refined look. There are two primary dial variants available, each limited to 50 pieces. Both the Mystic Gray and Midnight Blue dials are sleek, dark, and extremely elegant. There are no numerals of any kind on the dial, just large stick markers at 12, 3, 6, and 9, with a railroad minutes track and a distinctive circular design connecting the larger hour markers around the dial. Looking at the Asaoka’s previous work, particularly the Tsunami, there are clear design parallels.

There’s also a third variant with an Eggshell White dial, an edition made for Singapore’s Sincere Fine Watches. It strikes me as somewhat vintage inspired, the off-white shade of the dial resembling the hint of patina that might be present in a watch from the 1950s, but not in a “faux-patina” manner, as you see with the application of radium-colored lume on so many modern watches.

Asaoka was able to create and sell Kurono pieces at scale by leveraging the relationships he has built with his existing contract suppliers, who are familiar with his high standards and able to produce the necessary components at scale at an affordable price point. The use of a mass produced Miyota movement also contributes to the lower cost of the finished watch. Production is managed by Precision Watch Tokyo Co., Ltd, the same parent company that runs Asaoka’s custom made business, and the closed caseback bears Asaoka’s name along with “Bunkyo Tokyo,” which is the neighborhood where Asaoka’s workshop is located.

Miyota caliber.

While Asaoka is rightly revered for his craftsmanship, and high end watch brands are certainly not immune from manufacturing issues, it is perhaps notable that according to the Instagram account set up for the Kurono’s release, some issues with dial production are causing delays in getting these watches to their future owners. Fans of the enthusiast focused brands we cover at Worn & Wound will certainly be familiar with many of the common manufacturing and QC issues seen with small batch watchmaking at this price point, and it will be interesting to see how Asaoka and Precision Watch Tokyo Co. proceed. Judging by the way these problems have been documented on Instagram, it seems they’ve elected to be quite transparent, a good sign.

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Although the current run of Kuronos is sold out, Asaoka’s decision to make his designs even marginally more accessible should be something to celebrate in the watch community. It’s something that just isn’t done a lot — the artisans who make their watches completely by hand understandably don’t want to dilute their brand with a mass market item, and Asaoka notably doesn’t sign his name on the dial of the Kurono. Similarly, Stepan Sarpaneva, the Finnish independent watchmaker known for his distinctive moonphase complications, also runs the S.U.F. brand, which brings elements of his unique design language to watches that are considerably more affordable than those bearing his own name.

Hajime Asaoka’s Tsunami.

Watches like the Kurono, and watchmakers like Hajime Asaoka, are a reminder of just how big the world of watchmaking is, and how much watch lovers have to discover once they start going down this rabbit hole. We’ll probably always go to Seiko first when we think of Japanese watches, but the story certainly doesn’t end there. Kurono Tokyo

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Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.
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