The Rare Special Editions from Shellman and Its Independent Brand Partners

Hidden Gems: The Rare Special Editions from Shellman and Its Independent Brand Partners

For over 25 years, Tokyo’s premier retailer of independent watch brands has delighted savvy collectors with incredible collaboration pieces. So, when I recently took a trip to Japan, how could I not pay them a visit?

By Henri Lee

I first heard of Shellman in the summer of 2022, thanks to this antique watch and jewelry store’s collaboration with Lang and Heyne.

While the high-end German independent brand launched 99 pieces of its stainless steel Hektor, a highly coveted sports model in blue, green, or gray, the Shellman Hektor boasted only 5 pieces in a stunning metallic salmon color.

That is why, during a recent trip to Tokyo, I seized the opportunity to visit two of the Shellman stores in prime locations and spoke with the General Manager and some team members. And I was blown away by the deep relationships forged by Shellman with independent watchmakers in Europe.

Within the central area of the Watch Gallery on the 6th floor of the prestigious Nihombashi Mitsukoshi department store, in the Shellman storefront (dubbed cal.BAR), there were about twenty pictures of the world’s top independent watchmakers.

On the front and side, the bench was covered in the signatures of the independent watchmakers and brand leaders who had visited the store in person, including established names and rising stars.

Of course, relationships are paramount in the watch world. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the rapport Shellman has built with watchmakers and brands (and with clients) all over the world enables them to deliver highly desirable special timepieces. What is unusual is how well they manage and grow those relationships.

Let’s delve into the intriguing history of Shellman and the fascinating special edition watches it has released in collaboration with its independent brand partners.

A Brief History

Shellman was founded over 50 years ago in Tokyo as an antique watch store specializing mainly in Patek Philippe watches. It adopted a philosophy akin to the venerable Swiss brand, centered on “passing down masterpieces to future generations.”

About 25 years ago, Shellman began tapping into independent makers and small ateliers. Attending events like Baselworld and now Watches and Wonders annually allowed them to sense the rising appeal of independent watchmaking.

Now, Shellman’s General Manager is a member of the GPHG Academy. Their close relationship with AHCI (Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants) has also been very helpful. Additionally, the increasing demand from Japanese collectors underscored the desirability of timepieces from smaller brands.

As a result of this process, Shellman has worked with over 30 independent watchmakers and small maisons to date.

Shellman has established three storefronts within Tokyo’s most prestigious department stores, including the Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi Main Store, the Shinjuku Isetan Main Store, and the Ginza Mitsukoshi Store. These locations have proven highly effective in reaching affluent clients in Japan and introducing independent brands to many watch collectors. Shellman has invited numerous watchmakers to Tokyo and organized talks and meetups with watch enthusiasts.

Shellman also operates four antique watch stores in Tokyo. Fifteen years ago, their business was centered around vintage watches, but demand for independent brands in Japan has increased, and sales are booming.

Next, let’s explore some of Shellman’s recent collaborations with watch brands that have captured the hearts of watch collectors and enthusiasts.

Habring² Special Editions

Along with his wife Maria, master watchmaker Richard Habring founded Habring² in 2004 after a distinguished career at IWC.

The Shellman team first encountered the couple at a watch show in Munich, Germany, and subsequently visited their workshop in Austria to witness firsthand the craftsmanship behind their unique timepieces. The partnership, sparked by a mutual fascination, has flourished, resulting in several remarkable collaborative timepieces.

For example, to celebrate Mitsukoshi’s 350th anniversary, Habring² made a special 5-piece limited edition of its Oskar Moon watch, featuring a unique moonphase disk that alternately depicted male and female faces and the white lacquer dial “M350” printed on it for the anniversary.

Another special collaboration is the pair of Felix and Chrono Felix designed for Shellman’s 50th anniversary. As dealers for antique watches, Shellman had a fondness for sector dials, which was their request to Habring².

The result was beautiful silver dials, blending the styles of “Art Deco” and “Bauhaus,” as Shellman had hoped. The 20-piece Felix and 10-piece Chrono Felix limited editions sold out immediately, prompting Shellman and Habring² to follow up with another pair featuring black dials and special steel bracelets.

Czapek Antarctique Rattrapante Hope 8-Piece Limited Edition

Czapek’s CEO, Xavier, once recounted to the Shellman team a particular moment when he felt hope for tomorrow: At sunset because the sky displays its most vibrant colors. Hence, the theme for this special edition was “Toward the Future.”

The result is a beautifully detailed dial that captures the unique hues of that magical sunset moment. This special piece, which is appropriately named “Hope,” is also a rattrapante (a.k.a. the split-second chronograph), which means it also stands at the pinnacle of haute horology.

D. Dornblueth & Sohn 5 Piece Limited Edition

D. Dornblüth & Sohn was established in 1999 by Dieter Dornblüth and his son, Dirk. Based in Kalbe, Germany, this atelier is renowned for its traditional German watchmaking and meticulously handcrafted dials, hands, and components.

For the 5-piece limited edition commemorating Mitsukoshi’s 350th anniversary, the inspiration came from marine chronometers dating back to the 1800s, an era with which Dirk had become quite familiar through restoration work.

The dial color was reminiscent of brass, a common material used in marine chronometers of that period. The texture of the dial, particularly the vertical hairlines, was deliberately replicated to evoke a vintage aesthetic. Additionally, the year of Mitsukoshi’s founding, 1673, was delicately printed inside the second sub-dial.

Armin Strom Mirrored Force Resonance 1-Piece Limited Edition

Armin Strom is renowned for its resonant timepieces – a feat very few brands have mastered. Inside this brand’s chiming timepieces, two sets of independent, symmetrically mirrored mainsprings, gear trains, and balance wheels are connected via a resonance clutch spring, effectively averaging the timing errors of the two regulators.

The result is vastly improved chronometry and a quicker recovery from shocks for the Mirrored Force Resonance, which features two small seconds sub-dials, one ticking clockwise and the other counterclockwise, that can be synchronized by a button at 2 o’clock.

Once again, in celebration of the 350th anniversary of the Mitsukoshi Department Store, a unique piece was crafted exclusively for Shellman, which saw, for the first time, an off-center tremblage dial introduced into an Armin Strom resonant timepiece.

Moreover, this pièce unique boasts a clean dial devoid of any markings (except for the brand’s discreet logo), allowing the silver tremblage to shine. This limited edition, comprising only one piece, has already found a new home with a fortunate collector.

Pequignet Royale Saphir Perlage 20 Piece Limited Edition

Founded fifty-one years ago in Morteau, France, Pequignet stands out as one of the only truly independent Manufactures de Haute Horlogerie based in France.

At the heart of the brand lies the Royale collection, based on the versatile in-house Calibre Royal. This collection features a neatly arranged dial showing day, date, moon phase, power reserve indicator, and seconds sub-dial.

Conceived of by Shellman, the concept behind this Japan-only Pequignet was to showcase its beautifully crafted movement by eliminating the traditional dial. Thus, its discs for the day, date, and the phases of the moon are fully visible and adorned with colors reminiscent of cherry blossoms.

The indicators for power reserve, moon phase, and seconds, together with the brand name, are printed in white beneath the sapphire crystal. The mainplate is exquisitely decorated with perlage, which inspired the name of this special model. What a splendid and utterly unique timepiece that is truly in a league of its own!

Future Collaborations

I inquired about any future collaboration projects in the works. As expected, the Shellman team had to withhold details until the timepieces were ready for unveiling. However, they did reveal that around 12 projects were being planned.

That’s a lot of special edition pieces to look forward to!

For watch collectors and enthusiasts worldwide, Shellman extends a warm invitation to visit their seven stores in Tokyo. The Shellman Ginza main store has recently relocated to a new venue.

You can find all the store information on Shellman’s website (you can switch to English at the bottom of the page); however, the store’s Instagram account, @dear_watch_lover, is the best way to see the latest novelties and get in touch.

And receive each week a custom selection of articles.