Minase, a name familiar to our Fratello regulars, is a boutique Japanese watch brand revered for its remarkable craftsmanship and quality. Its distinctive creations have been winning fans in places as high up as the former Japanese Prime Minister. But the reason we get to discover this exclusive IYKYK (if you know, you know) brand is largely thanks to H-Development for its international foray.

Based in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland, the firm has been the mastermind behind Minase’s presence beyond Japan since 2016. More than just a distributor, H-Development carries stock, employs watchmakers, and caters to custom requests for bespoke pieces. Specializing in private labels and watch engineering, H-Development has elevated Minase from a Japanese domestic secret to the global stage. Our interview with Sven Erik Henriksen, the head of H-Development, offers an insider’s look at this fruitful partnership. Let us find out what is in store from Minase outside Japan.

Minase Divido

Discovering Minase

Sky Sit: How did you discover the brand, and what made you decide, “I could make it work in Europe”? How did you get the project off the ground?

Sven Erik Henriksen: In 2016, I was still working for a watch company that was looking to develop its business in Asia and, more specifically, in Japan. To this end, we had hired a Japanese consultant. It turned out that this same person also worked as a consultant and translator for Kyowa Co., Minase’s parent company. Kyowa is a well-known manufacturer of watch cases, components, drills, and tools, working with many prestigious watch brands. In June 2016, a delegation from Kyowa, led by its president Tsuyoshi Suzuki, visited the Biel region.

Sven Erik Henriksen Minase

Mr. Hara, our consultant, asked me to join them for dinner. I suggested taking them to a restaurant in the Swiss Jura mountain range, in a place we call “métairie.” Communication with Mr. Suzuki wasn’t easy as he didn’t speak English. Mr. Hara translated. The Japanese enjoyed the fondue and appreciated the pinot noir wine from the region. Toward the end of the evening, Mr. Suzuki told me about his dream — to be able to place a collection of Minase watches at a watch retailer in Switzerland. It would be a huge honor for this small watch brand, one sold exclusively on the Japanese domestic market, to be able to unveil itself in Switzerland.

At the time, immersed in the launch of a consultancy and marketing business of my own, I saw a business opportunity and expressed the wish to learn more about Minase during a visit to the factory. On November 29th, 2016, I traveled to Yuzawa, Akita in northeast Japan for a three-day visit to the Minase factory. I was impressed by this tiny factory nestled in the mountains. I found craftspeople passionate about a job well done and employees prepared to devote hours to finishing splendid components by hand. Above all, I discovered a collection of watches that was unlike anything I’d seen in my 30-odd years of watchmaking in Switzerland. All these elements convinced me to quickly negotiate with Kyowa’s management to create a solid marketing concept around Minase and promote the brand in all markets outside Japan.

Bringing Minase to the world

SS: Since then, how has the brand evolved outside its home country?

SEH: Since its launch in Europe in October 2017, then completely unknown outside Japan, Minase has become an important player in Japanese luxury watchmaking. As such, it now enjoys a certain level of acclaim. Because of COVID, we could not attend exhibitions due to travel restrictions. Only a few people had the chance to look at the watches in person, which is necessary to see the beauty of the finishing applied to the components and also admire the unique “case in case” construction. However, word of mouth spread, and many customers took the risk of ordering unique and rare products based on photos alone. I don’t think anyone has been disappointed by a Minase watch, quite the contrary. From Europe at the beginning, sales then developed quickly in North America.

From Japan with love

SS: What is your unique proposition? Why is Minase so special?

SEH: A Minase timepiece is the opposite of a mass-produced, industrial product. It is a handcrafted watch, carefully made component by component by craftspeople who make it a rare and exclusive product. Look at the design of the watches, and that much is evident. Beyond the design, however, the brand’s technical approach and the sophistication of the watches’ construction are unique. Most brands draw their inspiration from other watches while evolving their design. Minase, however, is not inspired by any watchmaking concept. Rather, Minase draws its ideas from nature (Horizon), geometry (7 Windows), and Japanese traditions (Divido, Uruga). The brand’s philosophy is to offer a product designed to last for eternity — one that can be taken apart piece by piece, repaired, and restored to its original beauty. This is the MORE (Minase Original Rebuilding Equation) concept.

Minase Watch Case-In-Case Construction

As far as the Sallaz surface treatment is concerned, Minase goes much further than Grand Seiko, using it on various parts of the cases, the bracelet, the crown, and the hour markers. To give a few examples, the Windows case requires 127 processes, which take four hours to complete. For the Divido case, there are 148 processes, requiring five hours to complete. The Divido bracelet, on the other hand, requires 331 processes for a total of 10 hours of labor. With cases and dials engraved by Kanagawa and urushi dials handmade by Hakose, Minase offers unique pieces entirely crafted according to customers’ wishes. For many customers, such a piece is the ultimate bespoke watch. It is a product from Japan with love and a story to tell.

Minase Watch Bracelet MORE Structure

Minase’s clientele

SS: Have there been any surprises regarding the types of customers who have bought Minase watches?

SEH: Honestly, I had no firm expectations when we first presented Minase outside Japan at Munichtime in October 2017. It was completely unknown to the visitors at that time. Since then, the brand has attracted the attention of collectors and lovers of fine watchmaking, and they have not failed to see the very special side of this small brand.

At present, our target customers are predominantly men between the ages of 40 and 60 with above-average incomes. Most are engineers, lawyers, or doctors, employed or running businesses of their own. Many of them are collectors, and most own watches from very famous brands. Minase is not their first watch. Initially, I found it surprising that many of them did not want to wear the same watch as their neighbor. Rather, they want to talk about a watch that is so different, and Minase offers that. I am also pleased to note that we enjoy several loyal customers who have acquired two or three different Minase watches either for themselves or for relatives.

Japanese watches that speak to a global audience

SS: What are the quirks or faux pas in dealing with a Japanese brand, especially when explaining what Western customers want but hearing it’s muzukashii (meaning “difficult,” a Japanese way of refusing without saying “no”)?

SEH: Frankly, I have to tell you that there have never been any. Minase’s management understood that if the brand was to have any success in Western markets, it had to look Japanese from a Western point of view. That’s why we developed the Minase marketing concept in Switzerland. We worked with graphic designers and photographers from the Biel region. We developed the product environment, produced catalogs, and created social networks, a new website, and so on. This work took more than 10 months and was possible thanks to the full support of Minase in Japan.

Minase Japanese Independent Watch Brand

SS: We’ve surely been seeing a lot of Minase, particularly in the last couple of years. Do you curate or tailor the collection for markets outside Japan?

SEH: No, all the models in the Minase collection take inspiration from Japanese crafts and traditions. However, the collection is designed with an awareness of the overseas markets, especially the limited editions with urushi (lacquer) dials. The brand also accepts commissions for bespoke products, whether for particular colors of dials and straps, etching of cases and dials, or patterns and designs created using the Ginzen silver wire technique or urushi. In doing so, Minase offers its customers the chance to order one-of-a-kind pieces customized to their tastes.

Minase Horizon

The best of both worlds

SS: Even Hajime Asaoka and Max Büsser are happy to use Miyota movements (high-grade 8 and 9 series) for their more accessible watches. Will Minase ever work with Japanese movements?

SEH: Minase wants watches to be easy to service and repair anywhere in the world. What’s more, in the minds of the Japanese, the best watch movements in the world are Swiss. In the early 2000s, as a brand exclusively for the domestic market, using ETA calibers was a logical choice. Additionally, the customization options for Swiss movements are far more extensive than those for Japanese movements. Minase brings together the best of both worlds — a high-quality Swiss movement encased in exceptional Japanese-made components. But to answer your question, perhaps Minase will use Japanese movements at some point in the future…

What does the future look like for Minase?

SS: Are there Minase JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) watches that are not on our radar yet? What is the future direction of the brand’s products for us?

SEH: There are two collections sold exclusively on the Japanese market — the M3 (occasionally offered internationally through Fratello) and the quartz Luna Arch line. Thus far, Kyowa (Minase) has been manufacturing watches with designs and structures that take advantage of cutting and polishing techniques (Sallaz) developed during its time as a case maker. Going forward, Minase is also considering simple watches that are the opposite of what the brand has been producing.

SS: What is your long-term vision or ambition for the brand? Is it a passion project or a growth-driven business, especially given the limitation to production capacity?

SEH: Today, Minase produces around 700 watches every year. The brand’s ambitions are to produce up to 1,000–2,000 watches annually, a goal to be reached within the next 10 years. It will be difficult to increase these figures given the long working hours required to finish the cases or produce the urushi dials, for example.

What Minase is

SS: How do you want the market and your customers to perceive Minase as a brand?

SEH: Minase is a “boutique” luxury brand from Japan. We want people to recognize that these are not simple watches that just tell the time. Rather, they allow the user to wear a tiny piece of Japan on the wrist. The brand offers an exceptional quality of its components, which are manually finished by craftspeople with the purest respect for Japanese traditions and art. It is contrary to mass production. Minase’s watches are rare and sophisticated, with an unconventional design, construction, and level of finishing unseen today. But Minase is not just about watches. It is a whole universe — one of traditions, craftsmanship, passion, and Japanese spirit.


Special thanks to Sven Erik Henriksen for taking the time to share his insights and thoughtful answers, and thank you for reading! To learn more about the Minase universe, please visit Minase’s official international website.

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