Interview with Masahiro Kikuno - AHCI Candidate

Nov 01, 2012,17:17 PM

Interview with Masahiro Kikuno - AHCI Candidate

I had an opportunity to meet him and visit his workshop (he had never invited anyone there).  We spent hours and hours talking about his history and passion, as well as his watches and philosophy.  The following interview is just a part of the conversation. 

To sum up, as an AHCI candidate, although he is still 29 years old, he sounded so matured and very solid.  I just can't help hoping a big success for his future.


His Atelier (World Premier smile)

His tools for "hand made" parts.


The object for above...

KIH (PPro): Tell me your history - how and why did you decide to become a watchmaker?

Kikuno ("MK"): I was born and raised in Hokkaido (the northern most big island of Japan).  After high school, I was really not sure what I wanted to do, so when a friend applied to join the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF), I thought I would too.  I liked mechanical stuff and gadgets that I use with my own hands; and that may attract me to it.  At the JSDF, I was assigned to the Arms (Ordnance) Department where I was in the unit responsible for maintenance of small firearms.  I picked that field as it seemed to require "using my own hands" routines.  I left the JSDF (voluntary discharge) 4 years later, when I was 22.

PPro: Had you decided to go down the watch path when you left the JSDF?

MK: Yes, I had.  During my four-year service, my senior officer showed me his brand-new Omega Seamaster Chronograph, which he paid nearly USD4000 for.  At that time, I knew nothing about watches, wearing one which had cost me about USD10, so I was surprised and got interested.  I went to the bookstore and read many watch magazines.  When I saw the Datograph movement, it was so beautiful and opened my eyes.  A tiny movement powered only by a mere spring, beautiful, and so small.  I got excited as it seemed very difficult to make such a "machine".  I bought my first mechanical watch - Oris Chronograph.  I was back then still a bit sceptical of its reliability or durability and decided to use it very roughly on JSDF training days.  I did anything with this and went anywhere on training including winter mountains at -20C, but it never broke, and just kept reasonably accurate time.  I was just a watch lover who bought watches and be happy, but I then realized that I wanted to make one myself.  So, then I finally found what I wanted to do with my life.  I decided to leave the JSDF and enter a watchmaker school in Tokyo (the school is called "Hiko Mizuno").

His actual Oris Chrono, still on his wrist everyday even when in bed.

His last year Basel piece - Tourbillon 2012 in Red Gold (Silver case - Prototype - has been sold)

PPro: How was the watchmaker school in Japan?

MK: We studied for three years (out of four) about repairing the watches.  Back then, watch repairer was so needed in Japan.  The flip side of it is that even if you learn to make watches, there are not so many places you can utilize what you learn at the school (i.e. big guys in Japan like Seiko raise their own watchmakers from scratch).  Now the repairers market is getting saturated and you see lots of watchmakers in the retailers as sales persons.  Most of the graduates find jobs at repair shops - and most of them are very small.  Japanese people have tendencies to like new ones and if it is broken, then many people don't want to pay expensive repair or servicing cost and buy a new watch.

PPro: What did you do after you finished school?

MK: School curriculum was four years.  After that, I was fortunately offered a position there as a "researcher" as well as a teacher for two years, during which time, I was able to design and make several watches at the school's factory space and also make money for teaching.  Even this workshop is actually not my place.  This is the Dean's second house and I am "renting" it for free.  I am really grateful for what he has done for me.  I owe my achievement so far to many people including him.

PPro: Then, you brought your watch to Mr. Philippe Dufour.

MK: Yes.  There is an annual festival at the school where students including the "researchers" can exhibit his/her own creation of the year.  There is a French interpreter who always accompany us when we go to Switzerland as a part of the training.  She lives in France, but when she comes back to Japan, she always stops by.  She saw my Temporal Hour Watch and recommended me to show it to Mr. Dufour.  So, I went to see him with her and show him the watch and others I had made.  He asked me whether I was interested in Basel, and I said Yes.  He then looked for someone to second my proposal to be an AHCI candidate and told me to exhibit the Temporal Watch at Basel.  That was the beginning of all.

His first creation for Basel - Temporal Hour Watch.  There are of course western version which has Roman index instead of "12 animals in Kanji" hour markers.

He will try to make it smaller next year to be available for sale.

Videos by M. Kikuno and me to show how the temporal hour mechanism works during the year.

1. How the index moves around the year - temporal hour watch shows when the sun rises and sets and devide each day time and night time by 6, naming the "hour" with animal's (just like 12 animal years used in some of the Asian countries).  So, the length of the day time and night time changes everyday.  Like Equation Of Time watches, this can be made for another place (of course the index will NOT be in Kanji, but Roman index) based on the latitude of the customer's location.

2. Vidoe by K Hokugo - How it works.

3. Video by M. Kikuno - Making a key component with fretsaw.

From the thesis document found on the internet.

The hand-made special gear with an oval "guide" with eccentric center.

Information from the Internet - Thesis on the Temporal Watch (Wa-Dokei)

Base caliber is Unitas

One of his notable creations during school days (also shown to Mr. Dufour):

Double-Axis Tourbillon

PPro: How long did it take to make this Tourbillon 2012?

MK: I could make only two pieces last year.  A few months were spent for designing.  So, it may be 400 to 500 hours, but it will be shorter next time.  I could make it much faster if I use computerized machinery to make parts, but it is not my style now.

PPro: Although you have made only a few models, is there any "Kikuno DNA" you put in each model?

MK: Honestly, I am still searching for it.  For now, I make what I want to make or think is interesting.  Which function or complication I would like to try, and then design follows - where to put the hour/minute dial, seconds, and other parts.  So, I am sure that nobody thinks that my 1st one (Temporal Hour Watch) and the second one (Tourbillon 2012) were made by the same watchmaker.

PPro: Is there any "principle" that you would never do or you would definitely do?

MK: For high-end models, I would like to stick to the "all hand made" way.  Of course, it would take much longer and the parts may not be perfectly precise, but I would keep challenging to make the parts as precise as humanly possible by hand.  The value or attraction of mechanical watches is the "warmth" of the hand-made machine.  The watches have been made by hand for a few centuries and those watches are still working with surprising accuracy.  Of course, if we use computer controlled machines, we can make the precise parts and achieve the very high accuracy, but I would like to stick to the warmth of the human touch, hand-made watches.  It has been done in such a way for such a long time and it should be possible.

His microscope with Exilim camera and high-speed video mode.


Video to show the slow-motion of the balance wheel.

PPro: What do you think is the main difference between Japanese watch and Swiss/German/British watch in terms of style, design, or uniqueness?

MK: Japanese watch brands have been making watches as accurate as possible and at the same time as affordable as possible to make it available to as many people as possible.  Quartz is one of them.  They (Japanese watch brands) did not have the objective to make expensive watches that only a handful people can afford.  I think that it is one unique aspect of Japanese watch, in terms of its history.  So, very high-end watch is not what they are good at and movements are made, relatively speaking, easy to make.  It is a good thing that many people can buy a Seiko, for example, at around USD100 which has very reasonable accuracy.  But, the research to make high-end watches may have been a bit behind European counterparts.  I think it is changing now, though.  I am expecting the high-end watches from Japan will emerge sooner or later.
Also, Japan has its own watch manufacturing history, but when European watches came to Japan, people modified it to fit the time system (temporal hour) of its own culture back then while other Asian country didn't really pay attention to it, because it is not practical as a watch, but as an art or something.  Japan's uniqueness is to always try to adopt or improve whatever/ whenever they acquire from outside.

PPro: Does the nature and Japanese philosophy to "craft something" show in watchmaking as well?

MK: I believe it shows in the historical direction of the Japanese watch brands where they make and sell accurate and affordable watches to everyone.  "High quality products to everyone" - this is one important aspect of Japanese philosophy in crafting things.  Also, as I said above, Japanese like to make efforts to improve things all the time - not only copying things.  I am talking in general, and not talking about watchmaking of myself smile.

PPro: Do you have particularly favorite complication and why?

MK: I just can't forget the Datograph movement that I saw in the magazine.  I like chronographs, but I like perpetual calendar, minute repeater, etc.  Having said that, most of all, I like vintage or antique complication watch - makes me think of how it was made by the watchmaker in the past.  I am so attracted by an old complication watch, which, I can only imagine, who and how they designed it without computer and how they made each parts so accurately and such.  It is so fascinating.

PPro: How much do you put yourself into finishing?

MK: My goal is Mr. Dufour's finishing.  I am impressed that he did it 200 times.  I am trying to achieve that level - but as you may see, not quite yet.  In my "Herring Bone" finishing (like cote de Geneve) is done by a very old way which I found from Mr. Daniel's book.

The latest one (last year Basel) creation - Tourbillon 2012

This is his original what he calls "Herring Bone" pattern finish.

And the tool to make it.

Taken from....

Video to show how he does it.

PPro: Would you tell us about your business plan, if any?

MK: I know it is very difficult.  I am still a candidate for AHCI and I have to focus on becoming the member first, which hopefully will be the next Basel or a bit after that.  Right now, I don't have anybody who works for me or have 100s of thousands dollar equipment, and someone wanted to buy one of the Tourbillon 2012, so I am fine at the moment.  I know I will have to plan how many to make what kind or or how many models are appropriate.  But for now, honestly, I haven't given much thought about it yet.  But I have decided to make a living as an independent watchmaker, I will work on that aspect as well.  In the meantime, I would sell my creation so far to those who are interested, to have more "solid" financial ground.

In the treasure box - these MAY BE completed in the future.

1. Perpetual calendar with mechanism on the back - to show the perpetual module which is more interesting.

The dial side of it.

10-second tourbillon...

PPro: Thank you very much, Mr. Kikuno and good luck for the next Basel Show.  If possible, I would love to go there.  Let us see you soon and talk a bit more.  We need more time and things to discuss smile


Where were you seven years ago?  Many of you were already "here" discussing watches? - while he started studying watchmaking and chosen as AHCI Candidate.  How about five years ago?  It took him just five years from ZERO watch education to meet and show his own creation to and impress Mr. Dufour....

He was a very humble guy who wants to do almost everything by hand with what he can afford to have, yet easy-going mind set with perfectionism and attention to details as we see in many great watchmakers.

Wrist shots of Tourbillon 2012



Hope you enjoyed the interview and I am looking forward to his 2013 Basel creation.  He gave me one hint... smile
What is going to come out of this base plate? - please stay tuned!  

Special thanks to Kikuno-san!

Thank you!



This message has been edited by KIH on 2014-03-15 10:14:03

More posts: DufourMasahiro Kikuno

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Addendum - how he made Tourbillon 2012

 By: KIH : November 1st, 2012-17:18
Addendum - for those interested. The photos (from his iPad) to show how he made Tourbillon 2012... Tourbillon parts Balance wheel inside tourbillon cage Hand made with fretsaw The "second hand" of tourbillon Again, hand made with fretsaw Branch of hydrang...  

is the chinese timepiece a 24hr watch?

 By: lien : November 1st, 2012-23:43
Cause that's how it should be as each character accounts for roughly 2hrs of time lapsing when using for telling a day's time how much r these AHCI candidate's prototypes r going for? they r quite interesting:) cheers, Ed

Yes, indeed, 24hrs watch, it is.

 By: KIH : November 2nd, 2012-07:16
As for the temporal hour watch, he will make it smaller and available for sale next year, so there is no price set. One Tourbillon 2012 has been sold and this pink gold one is available for sale, but he doesn't even have the box or paper yet...... He will... 

Wishing Kikuno-san all the success!

 By: nitediver : November 4th, 2012-06:11
thanks for this wonderful post, Ken. I had the pleasure to talk to Kikunosan at Basel 2012 and was impressed with his Tourbillion 2012 and his nice and modest personality. It was wonderful for me to learn and see more abou this work through your report an... 


 By: KIH : November 4th, 2012-09:06
.... he would like to speed up making process, but not easy... Yes, best wishes for his success from me, too. Ken

Very interesting!

 By: patrick_y : February 13th, 2013-19:51
Very interesting and definitely unique. Thank you Ken for introducing us to this talented young man. Looking forward to his future and career with great interest!

Great report. Thank you.

 By: VMM : November 1st, 2012-18:08
It's always nice a bit of fresh air, specially when it's pure. Vte :)

Absolutely fascinating!

 By: dxboon : November 1st, 2012-21:50
I am really rooting for him to succeed! He has some great ideas and a unique perspective, based on the pieces that have already been created! Thanks for the introduction to Kikuno-san! :-) Few things are more exciting than a new young independent watchmak... 

Great report Ken!

 By: takashi78 : November 1st, 2012-23:47
I like how his watches has a different portray of the Japanese culture in the index. Does he make watches in SS? I always wonder, why wont independents publish retail price for their watches on their website or FB page. Then one would know how much to sav... 

SS cases...

 By: KIH : November 2nd, 2012-07:12
... I think he will make one someday when he starts the commercial line. For now, he focuses on the third Basel and to become an official member of AHCI.... As for the price, he doesn't show simply because he doesn't think his works are for commercial pur... 

Very, very, very interesting

 By: RobCH : November 2nd, 2012-04:06
Will definitely make a point of catching up with Kikuno-san at Basel 2013. Thanks, Ken !

Yes, please!

 By: KIH : November 2nd, 2012-07:19
He will surely be happy to answer any questions, but pardon him for not being too fluent in English :-) He should do fine, though. Thank you! Ken

Great report!

 By: aaronm : November 2nd, 2012-08:14
If you could suggest one thing to Masahiro that might make his work "translate" better to people not fluent with Japanese timekeeping, a video of the Temporal Hour watch in operation, with the blocks moving around the dial. It's one of those things that I... 

Oh, you mean....

 By: KIH : November 2nd, 2012-09:08
... the actual move of the index with hour and minute hands fast forwarding? I saw it in the atelier, but didn't take video... Sorry...... But it takes 365 days (or rounds of the hour hand) to show the full cycle of the index "shift", so I hesitated :-) M... 


 By: aaronm : November 2nd, 2012-09:10
it'd make a great stop-motion video, a pic every time the hands are at 12 o'clock, at 30 fps would be a 30 second clip....but I'm 9000 miles away, so not on the hook to take 730 pictures ;) A

Okay, okay....

 By: KIH : November 2nd, 2012-09:22
... probably next year when he finished the smaller version of it. But not 730 shots :-) Just a few days or perhaps a week worth of fast forwarding. That would be enough to break my fingers..... Hey, he can make one for Boston version, too, with Roman ind... 

That would be too easy

 By: aaronm : November 2nd, 2012-11:29
all the numbers fall to the bottom to cover the months where we never see the sun! A


 By: cen@jkt : November 2nd, 2012-09:25
Another independent from Asia :). Will wait for future watch, as his current watches are all too big for my taste. cen@jkt

Give him a few years....

 By: KIH : November 2nd, 2012-09:30
... he will start making the right size for the Asian wrists :-) Ken

Great report as always Ken!

 By: andrewluff : November 2nd, 2012-12:11
I was lucily eniugh to see the piece and chat to him last year at Basel. I must say I was impressed by the 2012 tourbillon and especially liked the curves of the case and lugs. I did raise the issue of purchasing one of his pieces (for myself) but I remem... 


 By: KIH : November 2nd, 2012-17:19
... he hasn't had time to produce enough for sale (busy for Basel 2013 to become the official member of AHCI), let alone preparing the proper box and paper, he really did not want to promote his product. But I know one person purchased anyway (without B&a... 

This is a great article

 By: japandeals : November 2nd, 2012-21:02
I loved reading this. One of the best articles on here I have seen. I split my time between the US and Japan and feel this was really well done. It covers the cultural differences in watchmaking without fetishizing the Japanese aspects as often happens or... 

Whoa, thank you, sir!

 By: KIH : November 3rd, 2012-01:49
I am very flattered. Maybe because I am already Japanese, I didn't pay too much attention on the Japanese side of his works. Thank you! Ken

A great interview!

 By: Pulli : November 3rd, 2012-08:36
Thank you. I would love to know more about Hajime Asaoka as well. Two great talents from Japan, that have the passion!

Original discovery for me...

 By: Mark in Paris : November 3rd, 2012-15:32
I know the world hides many other Indies here and there and I'm glad you can present another one to us. His work is original and I'm curious to see how it will evolve. Thanks for the long report Ken. Cheers, Mark

As you put it well...

 By: KIH : November 3rd, 2012-20:35
.. he is still evolving. Let's us expect great collection from his atelier going forward! Ken

Great Report and very Impressive

 By: SALMANQ8 : November 3rd, 2012-22:43
I am really impressed with how much he has achieved so far. Look forward to seeing his progress. S

Thanks, so do I! [nt]

 By: KIH : November 4th, 2012-08:59

So much fun to learn about these new watchmakers.....

 By: Darren : November 4th, 2012-08:05
and I find it particularly interesting to read about indies from parts of the world where we haven't seen many to date. Amazing what he's been able to accomplish at such a young age, and bodes well for what we might expect in the future. Thanks for a wond... 

Handcrafting has been one strength...

 By: KIH : November 4th, 2012-09:04
... here, and big watch brands have been very strong as well. So, it has been the matter of time :-) But, there are lots of hurdles to many young watchmakers..... including but not limited to the lack of parts suppliers. Big names such as Seiko and Citize... 

Well done, Ken!

 By: Echi : November 6th, 2012-01:49
You have a knack for interviews, Ken. I enjoyed this one very much. I also enjoyed the Japanese perspective as articulated by Mr. Kikuno. One of your best, Ken :)

Hi Echi!

 By: KIH : November 6th, 2012-06:52
Nice to see you here and my apologies for my absence from the Photography forum. My bad and my bad elbow... Thank you! Stay tuned for more! Ken

It is so impressive!

 By: mark_third : November 6th, 2012-14:32
Thanks for the report!

There are some hidden gems here and there....

 By: KIH : November 6th, 2012-19:24
I just hope the best for all the watch industry.... and watch lovers like us. Ken

You are very welcome! I am lucky...

 By: KIH : November 12th, 2012-22:27
... to get to the interview. I just hope to help those young watchmakers, for the whole industry in the future. Ken

So much info...

 By: BDLJ : November 12th, 2012-22:32
...and detail. And great to see a young guy get the exposure. Great job.

Thank you!

 By: secretlife : March 14th, 2014-23:21
He has picked a challenging path and I would like to wish him every success! Thank you for this wonderful report to bring him to the world's attention!

Thanks. For him, it's so simple...

 By: KIH : March 15th, 2014-00:20
.. great watchmakers 300 years ago could do it and why not the great watchmakers today? I totally agree with him on that. Thank you! Ken