From Sheet Metal to Movements: Minase
If I were to say Japanese watchmaking I don’t doubt that Seiko would be the first name to leap to mind. I wouldn’t blame you, they’re a titan of horology from Prospex to Credor. Despite appearances, though they’re not quite the be all and end all – and no I’m not talking about Citizen and Casio, but something a lot more artisanal: Minase.
That said, it’s perhaps not unfair to compare Minase to the inimitable Grand Seiko. They both entered watchmaking with the single goal of making the best watch possible… they just came at it from different directions. For GS it was off the back of Seiko; for Minase it was step drills.
You know step drills, right? The ones that look like they should be used for mining out an evil villain’s lair, scaled down for sheet metal. Well, until the mid-2000s that was what Minase did. Glamorous. However, like any good industrial metal specialist, they also had a little sideline building components for the watch industry. It started as simple, frill-free cases but quickly moved to more complicated work like bracelets and cases for serious haute horology pieces.
So, in 2005 they took a leaf out of the six million dollar man’s playbook: “We can build watches; we have the technology.” The result was the Akita-based Minase.
If you’re imagining a little Japanese workshop in the mountains well… you’re not far off actually. Akita prefecture is snowy, remote and mountainous. It also has one of the most awesome dog breeds named after it. That has nothing to do with watches; I just love the things.
Anyway, after setting up shop in what could quite easily pass for the Japanese Valle de Joux, Minase set about the serious business of watchmaking, releasing their Master Craft Series in 2005. Yeah, they didn’t mess around. Then came 2011’s HiZ series.
The Five Windows HiZ is still the basis of all Minase watches and it’s not hard to see why. Each watch – other than perhaps the round Divido – has a similar rectangular blueprint, albeit playing on the theme. Whether open-sided like the Seven Windows or the seamlessly curving Horizon, their cases are simply magnificent. They do also like to use round dials, proving that you can, in fact, fit a circular peg into a rectangular hole. The space around the edge is certainly a novel design feature.
With the HiZ, Minase considered their work done. Well, ‘done’ might be a bit of a stretch. In terms of the cases and finishing, I can see what they mean. Sallaz polishing, case-in-case structures, substrate-preparation and a whole lot of other technical nuances I only vaguely understand made it a stunning watch. It was however lacking an in-house movement.
Normally I’d not consider that a problem, except when it comes to Japanese Monozukuri – the Japanese art of making things. The connotations of the phrase are uncompromising, a kind of quiet search for perfection that doesn’t really gel with bought-in movements. Apparently, Minase agree as, in 2017, they launched their first original, in-house movement. Break out the Sake.
Minase will be joining us at the Watchmakers Club event in November.