A Closer Look at the Minase Divido Urushi Maki-e
The Japanese watchmaker perfects the practice of monozukuri with these amazing hand-crafted dials.
In our super-sized world, it’s good to be reminded that small can be just as beautiful. That’s why we appreciate artisanal brands like Minase.
This Japanese microbrand was founded in 2005 as part of Kyowa Co., Ltd., a Japanese specialist toolmaker well known in high-end watchmaking circles for its skills in drill manufacturing, metal cutting, and watch case polishing.
And the Divido Urushi Maki-e is Minase’s best expression to date of its dedication to the watchmaking craft.
To Cut A Long Story Short
Minase is named after the village in Akita Prefecture, some 500km north of Tokyo, where the manufacture is located.
After working with Swiss and European luxury brands for almost 50 years, Kyowa’s manager, Koichi Suzuki, decided to create an independent brand. But instead of taking the easy route and recruiting watchmakers from the big city, the brand set about training locals in the concept of monozukuri: Achieving mastery by doing something again and again.
As a result, each Minase watch bears the registered label “HiZ,” a concept inspired by the Japanese words hizu (which means “exceptional”) and Hi Izuru Kuni (which translates to “Land of the Rising Sun”). Think of the “HiZ” label as akin to a denominazione di origine protetta (protected designation of origin) designation for Italian olive oil; the quality and characteristics of Minase’s handmade watches depend on the place where they are made.
Minase produces fewer than 500 watches each year. With its facilities located underneath a series of elevated railway tracks, guests are invited to observe the brand’s artisans at work. For enthusiasts, there’s a whole kid in a candy store vibe.
The Divido Urushi Maki-e is an excellent example of this energy. The most striking feature is the dial, which comes in three great colorways (red, green, and blue). Each is painted using the urushi lacquer technique. This varnish is prepared from the sap of the urushi tree, which is native to Japan, China, and Korea, and – in the hands of skillful artisans – transforms into a durable resin.
Minase takes this finish to the next level by layering on a glittering embellishment called Maki-e or “Sprinkled picture.” This thousand-year-old technique uses bamboo tubes and fine brushes to apply tiny particles of gold or silver in between layers of urushi lacquer. The result is a dial that only a few remaining urushi masters, like Minase’s Magumi Shimamoto, are capable of making.
Something Old, Something New
However, although the brand’s respect for these ancient techniques are much appreciated by Minase fans, the Divido Urushi Maki-e never comes off as nostalgic.
The round yet angular two-piece 40.5 mm case is bright and shiny with Sallaz (a.k.a. Zaratsu) polishing and a modern Japanese aesthetic. I mean look at that wedge-shaped date window! Or the way the indices float above it and the dial. Or the lugs that look like they are hugging the case. We can honestly say that we have never seen a display like this before.
It is also powered by a contemporary Calibre KT7001/1 automatic movement with a 38-hour power reserve. It has an ETA 2824 ébauche, but Minase makes this mechanism its own by adding perlage in the workshops. Meanwhile, this detail can be admired through a display caseback.
(Photography by Kat Shoulders)