Interview with Masahiro Kikuno - AHCI
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 )
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):
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 .
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.
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.
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
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...
What is going to come out of this base plate? - please stay tuned!
Special thanks to Kikuno-san!
This message has been edited by KIH on 2014-03-15 10:14:03