Owner’s Review: Kurono Tokyo Toki

Kurono Tokyo is part of a trend that is currently one of my favorite things in watchmaking. As some might expect, I’m not a big fan of uniformity or groupthink in our hobby, but this is an area that I’d be happy to see take off in a bunch of different directions, with mass participation by literally anyone in the space. What I’m talking about is the burgeoning practice of exclusive, high end, independent watchmakers lending their design language, name, and sometimes even their branding to watches that are affordable to the average collector. 

Barring a dramatic change in my personal financial situation, I’m not likely to ever own a Vianney Halter, or an MB&F, or a watch with Hajime Asaoka’s name on the dial. I hold out hope, however, that I might own a watch like the one Halter made with Louis Erard, or something with the MAD Gallery stamp of approval on it, which is close enough (for me) to the insanity of an MB&F. And I can certainly own a watch with the Bunkyo Tokyo wordmark on the dial, a shorthand for Asaoka’s Kurono brand, which consists of watches that retail for a fraction of the price of one of the indie watchmaker’s bespoke pieces.


For fans of independent watchmaking who can only view it as a spectator sport, this is a wonderful development, and I’ve often thought about which of my favorite indie watchmakers and brands I’d like to see collaborate with a more mainstream brand or otherwise take a trip down market so the rest of us can get a taste. One of the remarkable things about the Kurono watches and some of the other similar collaborations and releases we’ve seen involving high end independents is just how much of that core design language makes it into the less expensive and more accessible product. Naturally, that is not always the case, but it happens frequently enough that I suspect these watches are often sought after not only by value conscious enthusiasts on a budget, but also well heeled collectors of the “real thing,” the watches that made these independent watchmakers so in-demand in the first place. 

That demand being transferred from exclusive, high end, and very low production watches to much more affordable but still quite limited watches has led to what can only be described as some extremely predictable results. Releases by Kurono, Louis Erard, and MAD Gallery routinely sell for over their initial retail price on the secondary market. Some watches are far over those initial retail prices, and then there’s the difficulty in acquiring them to begin with. Every brand does it a little differently, but Kurono’s model seems to be a combination of timed releases (the watch is available to order for 10 minutes, and anyone who places an order in that window gets a watch) and more traditional limited edition releases, which involve a mad rush to order as fast as possible beginning at a global on-sale time. Not surprisingly, this latter method inevitably results in Instagram griping, apologies from the brand with promises to do better next time, and plenty of cynical take artists who will tell you that the scarcity is part of the marketing, and the zoo-like atmosphere on release day is all part of the plan to hype these watches up. 


Owner’s Review: Kurono Tokyo Toki

Stainless steel
Miyota 90S5
Metallic coral
Water Resistance
3 bar
37 x 43.5mm
Lug Width

My Kurono Toki seen here was part of a timed release last year. It’s unknown exactly how many watches Kurono made to fill orders that were placed in late May of 2021, but as they began to show up on social media in the fall, I regretted not placing one of those orders on the Friday morning that they went on sale. It’s true, I didn’t follow my own advice from the post I wrote announcing the release, and failed to set an alarm to jolt me into watch ordering mode at the designated time. Truth be told, I might not have pulled the trigger even if I had managed to get one of these in my digital shopping cart on that day – I am notoriously slow to decide on any watch purchase, and deliberate furiously with myself over even small purchases these days. Having to make a decision like this in ten minutes seems like one of the most stressful watch related situations I could possibly put myself through. 

Luckily for me, many of my friends in the hobby aren’t burdened with this kind of analysis paralysis, and were able to secure their Tokis within the ten minute window. Even luckier, one such friend decided shortly after receiving his watch that it wasn’t really for him. Luckier still, when he offered up his brand new Toki with the stickers still on it in our fairly large Boston area group chat for the original retail price, I was ready to respond immediately with an “I’ll take it” before the vultures swooped in. As a big fan of the brand since its inception who has monitored their after market activity fairly closely, I figured this would be my one and only chance to grab one of these at a fair price, and I wasn’t about to hesitate. 

I’ve been wearing my Toki for a few months now and have really been enjoying it, and think that this watch and others like it are great conversation starters about the state of the watch industry and how we ascribe value to the watches we ultimately choose to own and wear. I’ll get into some of that below, but first I think a critical assessment of the watch itself is in order. 

The dial of the Toki is where you see most of the Hajime Asaoka design language come through, and is definitely my favorite single feature of the watch itself. If you look at Asaoka’s designs for the watches he makes under his own name, you’ll find a great deal of Art Deco inspired flourishes. The Tsunami, for example, has very small seconds markers cut directly into the ring around the small scale at 6:00. This same watch also has a clearly delineated sector layout, which is also frequently seen in watches made during Art Deco’s heyday. The clearest link, though, is with the Project-T Tourbillon, and the concentric rings cut into the dial’s interior, serving on this watch to skeletonize it slightly. The Toki has a similar ring motif of three concentric highly polished rings that connect applied hour markers at the cardinal positions. This is a lovely and well executed design detail that connects the Toki to both vintage watches and Asaoka’s more extravagant creations. 

Legibility on the Toki’s dial is straightforward and relatively easy thanks to a contrasting black minutes track at the dial’s outer edge. It’s a little difficult to see in poorly lit spaces, but comes alive (along with the rest of the dial) when you get it into natural light. If I have one complaint with the dial, though, it has to be with the hands, which are nicely made in an intricate and unique shape that’s a good fit for the style of the watch, but are just too close in size to one another. After wearing the watch regularly since November, I still get a little hung up at times, particularly if the hour hand is positioned at 12, 3, 6, or 9, as it creates the illusion that the hand is extended thanks to the hour markers that match the hand’s tip in finish and width. Look, context clues ultimately help in figuring out what time it actually is, but I’m writing this at 9:00 AM and as I check the time on my Toki my brain misfires for a split second and thinks “No way is it lunchtime,” and then I ask myself silently if it’s possible my watch stopped last night. 

Ultimately this is forgivable and a small quirk I’m willing to live with because Kurono absolutely nailed the color on the Toki. It’s in the salmon/copper family, but to my eye has a bit more red in it than some dials that have a similar tone (there have been a bunch – salmon comes in second only to green as the new hot dial color of the last few years). There’s also an extremely subtle sunburst texture applied to the dial that you need a good loupe to see. It gives the dial a very slight iridescent quality in certain lighting conditions, but mostly appears to have a matte finish. It’s very nicely done, and after spending some time with it I’ve come to understand why some collectors try to acquire each Kurono release – there’s just a lot of really rewarding detail here if you look for it. 

The Toki’s case is simple and well finished, with mirror polishing all around putting this one squarely on the dressier side. The dimensions, too, harken back Art Deco watches of a bygone era, with a case diameter of 37mm and a height of just 11mm, which includes the sapphire crystal. The lug to lug distance is about 43.5mm making the Toki incredibly compact and comfortable to wear. 

I just wrote a review of the Oris Rectangular, another small watch that spins a lot of pleasure from its diminutive size, so I won’t go on too long here about the comfort benefits of wearing smaller watches, except to say that on my 7.5 inch wrist, the Toki feels perfectly proportioned, and I wouldn’t want it any bigger or smaller. Part of designing a watch is figuring out what the right size of a watch should be for the watch that’s being made, and Asaoka and the team at Kurono have succeeded in matching the style and vibe of the watch with an appropriate case size and shape. That feeling you sometimes get with a field watch that’s too big or a pilot’s watch that’s too small is not even remotely present here, and the visual impression of the 37mm diameter on my wrist is pleasing to my eye, which at the end of the day is what matters most. It’s worth remembering, always, that for decades the standard size for a Rolex sold to the average man throughout the world was 36mm, and this case, in profile, shares more than a little in common with the classic Oyster design, so the It’s Too Small Chorus can move to the back. 


A nice bonus with the Toki is that the 20mm lug spacing will take a huge variety of straps, and the dial color is surprisingly versatile. I like it quite a bit on the blue ostrich leg strap that you see it mounted on in these photos, as I think the texture of the strap is a fun contrast to a dial that’s exceedingly clean. But I’ve also worn the Toki on gray suede (always my first stop with any new watch) and both black and blue leather straps of varying types, and they all look great. It really dresses up on black and goes into a formal mode that I frankly don’t have much use for, but almost anything else makes the Toki feel quite casual and suitable for just about anything. 

If you buy a Hajime Asaoka branded watch, you’ll be getting a high end movement with elaborate finishing that’s appropriate for the five figure pricetag. For the Kurono watches, Asaoka uses off the shelf movements, but he does so with purpose, and with an end goal in mind. For the Toki (and other watches in the same “Anniversary” series), Asaoka has gone with a Miyota 90S5 automatic movement. This is in the upper tier of Miyota movements, so it should prove to be fairly durable and robust over time, even if it doesn’t trick you into thinking it’s been certified as a chronometer in a Swiss cleanroom by men and women in sharp white lab coats. The relative low cost of this movement allows Asaoka to keep the price down and squeeze more of his design language into this watch than he otherwise would. The finishing of the dial and case is of a quality that you don’t really expect on a watch under $2,000, and the use of a Swiss movement would have been likely to dramatically increase the price, not to mention make production that much more complex. 

A note on the Kurono Tokyo website explains the production, but leaves some open questions about exactly where the dial and case come from. Production is managed by Precision Watch Tokyo Co., Ltd, which is the same company backing Hajime Asaoka’s handcrafted watches. The note cagily explains that Precision Watch Tokyo has “brought together the same case and dial makers that supply to one of the most prestigious of Japanese watch brands,” which has plenty of people speculating about whether it’s that prestigious watch brand that most immediately comes to mind when those words in that combination tend to be written or spoken. Nobody is saying for sure, but one thing is clear: there’s a certain pride taken in that much of this watch seems to be produced in Japan, so a Miyota movement is not only a solid practical choice, but it’s in keeping with some of the thematic ideas behind Kurono as a brand as well. 

Since this is an owner’s review, I think it’s fair to comment on the full scope of the ownership experience, including the fact that these watches (and all watches Kurono releases) are inevitably snapped up by a good number of speculators, and that there’s an ongoing dialog in the watch community about the ethics of that. Kurono makes it very clear in their marketing communication and on their website that they want their watches in the hands of enthusiasts who intend to keep them, and not flip them for a profit. They’ve taken steps to keep flippers and the gray market away from their watches (only honoring warranty claims for the original owner for a set period of time, for example, and using technology to kick suspected flippers out of line in the electronic queue). They also tend to make an undisclosed number of watches available for current owners first, before they go on sale to the general public. The reasoning, I think, is that folks who buy more than one (and make it through Kurono’s vetting) are less likely to sell on the secondary market. If you’re interested, there’s an extensive “Terms and Conditions of Sale” page on their website, and it makes for more interesting reading than similar pages on the websites of most other brands.

I have mixed feelings about all of this. Obviously, I bought my own Kurono on the secondary market, but from a collector who was willing to sell at Kurono’s retail price, keeping up with the spirit of the original transaction. I strongly believe that once a watch is yours, you should feel free to do whatever you want with it, including selling it for the highest price someone is willing to pay, but I applaud Kurono for taking a position on the matter at all. Most brands are simply silent, but I believe Kurono (and Hajime Asaoka himself) is genuinely interested in putting these watches on the wrists of collectors at a fair price. 

One of the questions that inevitably comes up when discussing Kurono and how they release watches is how much control can and should a brand have over who buys their product? Kurono is trying to exert a level of control in this area that’s uncommon in the micro brand space, but is actually much more prevalent in the high horology world where Asaoka made a name for himself. Patek, Lange, and other brands require applications for certain high end pieces, after all. Do you think they’re inclined to sell those highly coveted watches to clients who will turn around and flip them to gray market dealers? The answer, of course, is no. What Kurono is doing is a version of that, but on a smaller scale.

After a long period of admiring the brand for afar, I’m glad to have a Kurono in my regular rotation, and I’m thrilled I was able to acquire one in a stress free fashion, after seeing photo evidence of what the watch looks like in the real world. The Toki has a ton of rewarding detail and is a pleasure to wear, and as a bonus it also happens to be an interesting snapshot of where the watch industry is at this very moment, a time when high end independent watchmakers are reaching into die-hard enthusiast circles and being enthusiastically accepted. It will be fascinating to see if other independent brands and watchmakers take a similar approach in the coming years, and what rewards might be in store for Asaoka for being early. Kurono

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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.