Minase Presents Bespoke Editions Fusing Traditional Japanese Artistic Crafts
Nestled in Akita Prefecture in Japan, Minase is a remote village with a mystical resemblance to the Vallée de Joux in Switzerland. Minase is also home to an artisan watch brand unlike any other. So much so, in fact, that the eponymous boutique watchmaker’s Divido was the choice of the late Prime Minister Abe. Combining its in-house case-making capabilities and Swiss mechanical movements, Minase has created a style steeped in traditional Japanese crafts. Being so unique, Minase produces less than 500 timepieces a year and offers bespoke options in its Masterpiece series.
Handmade Japanese watches
As a spin-off in 2005 from its parent company Kyowa — a tool manufacturer in the region since 1963 — Minase is strong on Japanese traditions. The brand has inherited technical know-how and local talents that build upon the principle of monozukuri, the art of making things, particularly by hand. For Minase, that also means hiring people in the vicinity and training them to become experts in their specialized skills. To top it off, Minase regularly partners with Japanese artists to inject different art forms into its collections.
In addition to the regular collections Divido, Horizon, Windows, and the midsize range, Minase also creates bespoke timepieces for clients. This is where the Masterpiece series comes in. The Masterpiece styles are based on the 5 Windows and 7 Windows collections. As the names suggest, these rectangular watches use five or seven sapphire crystals to fit into the case-in-case construction. In doing so, they open up multi-directional views of the exquisite dials and engines showcasing superb decoration and finishing.
Tailoring a Masterpiece
The Masterpiece watches are pure works of art and available in very limited quantities, as you can see in Dave’s review of the 7 Windows here when it was added to the mix in 2021. When it comes to customizing the designs or materials, Minase can work closely with each client to arrive at the desired end result. To give you an idea, these masterpieces also feature fine Japanese crafts such as gold engraving, enamel champlevé dials, and Akita silver filigree. The one we are more familiar with is the ancient art of urushi (Japanese lacquer) performed by renowned urushi master Junichi Hakose. We have reviewed his urushi dials for the Divido collection here and here.
Urushi by Hakose
For bespoke requests in the Masterpiece series, Hakose begins with drawing sketches based on clients’ design wishes. He will then decide on the overall balance, coloring, and creative methods according to the drafts. When work commences, he applies and heats the first layer of lacquer to prevent the dial from discoloring and rusting. Hakose repeats this process two to three times before he starts decorating the dial. Various techniques and processes can happen here, such as alternating between painting, dusting metal powder on an urushi lacquer base, and laying flat gold flakes. This is extremely time-consuming work as it takes time for the paint or lacquer to dry after each step of decorating the dial.
The famous Japanese artist and sculptor Kenji Kanagawa has created some intricate engraving works of art on Minase’s cases and dial plates. Upon request, Kanagawa can turn any solid surface into a canvas with his masterstrokes. A bespoke watch can be finished off with a Japanese kanji character, a personal choice of text, or special graphics, making it a unique piece.
Enamel champlevé dial
Champlevé dials are solid sterling silver plates that are engraved and then filled with enamel. The colorful enamel layers are then successively fired in a kiln to set the design. Minase can create any dial landscape with this artistic craft, leaving it open to clients’ proof or imagination. The artist will provide a draft for client approval before the production of the watch begins.
Needle art dial
The artist first takes a stainless steel dial coated with ion plating (PVD). He will then design the pattern of the client’s choice (except portraits) by using a needle to remove the black PVD color on the dial, letting the steel base appear.
Akita silver filigree dial
Akita silver filigree is a traditional technique of twisting together two or three pure silver wires measuring just 0.2mm in diameter to form a pattern. This craft goes back ages to when Akita Prefecture used to produce large amounts of gold and silver. The region supplied more gold and silver products than any other area of Japan. Although the gold and silver mines are no longer in use, the skill of Akita silver filigree continues to be passed down through generations. Today, Minase collaborates with a highly skilled craftswoman who can create unique filigree dials in bespoke designs for clients.
The Masterpiece series is available in solid 18K yellow gold, rose gold, or stainless steel. Each timepiece comes with its own certificate of authenticity and a handmade wooden presentation box, wrapped in Minase furoshiki (wrapping cloth). In addition to the Masterpiece models, bespoke requests are also welcome for diamond decorations on all 5 Windows, 7 Windows, and Horizon models.
For further information on a bespoke masterpiece, please visit Minase’s official website.
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