Minase Divido VM04 Rubber Model
The Minase Divido VM04 Rubber Model is a highly original watch which does not plagiarise the many techniques used on Swiss watches, but instead encompasses ideas conceived in a mountainous region of Japan. Angus Davies gets ‘hand-on’ with this exemplar of ‘blue-sky thinking’.
A few years ago, I travelled from Tokyo to Morioka on board the JR Tohoku Shinkansen. As I sat in the Gran Class carriage, cocooned in absolute luxury, I gazed through the window and marvelled at the pace of the train as the scenery passed by in a high-speed blur. However, it was only by looking through the window that I was able to discern any motion.
The train scythed through the landscape seemingly in silence. Moreover, its rapid progress was free of vibration or side to side motion. Everything was comfortable and serene. It made me ponder why this train behaved so differently to those in my native England.
Firstly, the Shinkansen, typically referred to as ‘the bullet train’, runs on continuous welded tracks. This avoids the annoying noise and vibration usually found on British trains as they pass over joins in the track.
Secondly, each Shinkansen has multiple electric power units, delivering superior acceleration and deceleration. Furthermore, by employing multiple electric power units, the mass of the train is reduced, mitigating track fatigue.
Lastly, the train carriages feature air seals. When a Shinkansen passes through a tunnel at speed, the interior air pressure does not alter, heightening passenger comfort.
These are just some of the examples of why the Shinkansen is very different from the trains operating in most of Europe.
The Shinkansen demonstrates that Japan regularly approaches engineering tasks differently from their counterparts in Europe. The nation’s culture seems to embrace creativity and ingenuity. Indeed, in many areas of life, Japanese citizens choose to reject the accepted practises of the West and seek their own path to greatness. Again, this is manifest with the spectacular Nissan GTR. It is not a facsimile of a European performance car, but a wonderfully original paragon of automotive excellence.
This preamble brings me to the Minase Divido VM04 Rubber Model, a watch I have worn over the last few days. The brand is based in Akita Prefecture, Japan. This mountainous region is said to resemble the Vallée de Joux in Switzerland, a legendary area synonymous with fine watchmaking.
Minase was inaugurated in 2005 and it is a subsidiary of Kyowa, a firm specialising in cutting tools. This latter company, founded in 1963, has vast expertise cutting and drilling various metals. Over the years, it has developed its own drills and jigs and become a supplier to the watch industry, making cases, producing bracelets and polishing components. Moreover, the firm has gone on to produce private label watches. Based on Kyowa’s array of talents, the creation of the Minase subsidiary was perhaps inevitable.
Similar to the aforementioned Shinkansen and Nissan GTR, Minase does not always subscribe to convention but often chooses to explore the outer regions of its own creativity and imagination. The first example of this ‘blue sky thinking’ can be seen with the dial.
Making a conventional dial
Typically a strip of brass is fed into a machine and circular discs are stamped out. Usually, two feet are affixed to the brass prior to stamping. The disc, with its feet in place, is then fed into an alternative stamping machine in order to impart a dial pattern. Thereafter, the dial is tempered to relax the metal, preventing it becoming brittle. If the dial design features additional patterns, then the stamping and tempering process is repeated.
Various holes are then cut into the dial’s epidermis, providing a means to affix the hour markers as well as creating an opening for the canon pinion. Electroplating is used to suffuse the dial surface with colour and in some cases text is pad printed onto the dial’s surface. Ultimately, the indexes are affixed to the dial and the feet on its underside are used to secure the dial to the movement.
The Minase is different.
The dial of the Minase Divido VM04 Rubber Model is far from conventional. When holding the watch up to the light, one can readily see that the Minase has an unorthodox dial. There is a small gap between the dial and the case. The brand describes this as a ‘case in case’ structure.
The ‘inner case’ is comprised of an upper dial surface which sits upon a lower dial surface. The lower dial features a triangular index which points to the prevailing value on the date display. A holder, positioned below the dials, keeps the above parts in position along with the movement.
With regards to the ‘outer case’, the indexes are located on a separate ring affixed to the main case. Close examination of the indexes reveals they project over the aforementioned gap, seemingly resting on the upper dial surface. The caseback features four screws which integrate with the upper part of the outer case, holding everything together in steadfast union.
This ‘case in case’ structure, effectively a modular case construction, is incredibly complex, however, it does deliver a number of worthwhile benefits. Firstly, it imbues the watch with an unusual, distinctive aesthetic with numerous becoming depths. Secondly, it grants Minase the versatility to offer more variants at some point in the future. Lastly, should any parts suffer damage, small components can be exchanged, potentially mitigating repair costs.
On my press loan, the upper dial was presented in an off-white tone with a slightly pearlescent appearance. Interestingly, the upper surface features a dimpled texture which cleverly toys with light.
The hour and minute hands are silver-toned and incorporate a slither of luminescent fill. This latter treatment emits a green hue in dim light. The central sweep seconds hand is supremely slender but remains highly legible. The minute track is part of the previously mentioned ‘separate ring’ which carries the indexes.
An altimeter-type date indication is positioned adjacent to 3 o’clock. Personally, I would have preferred a simpler aperture, displaying just the prevailing date. In my opinion, this latter type of date indication invariably proves simpler to read.
The Minase Divido VM04 Rubber Model features an unusual case, formed of seven different steel components. The bezel is presented in highly polished steel, produced using ‘Sallaz’ polishing. The Sallaz Brothers, a German company, made the machine that creates this type of finish. In Japan, some individuals pronounced the firm’s name as ‘Zaratsu’, a term that will be familiar to many Grand Seiko owners. The technique involves placing a part against a rotating disc, imbuing the surface with a distortion-free, mirror-like finish.
The lugs are formed of two parts, arranged one above the other. The upper lug is brushed on its upper surface and flank while sporting a gleaming chamfered edge in between. The lower lug and caseback are combined and delivered in a matte black PVD finish. The upper and lower lug sections taper inwards near the crown, forming an interesting v-shape. A large pane of sapphire crystal dominates the rear view of the watch. Adjacent this crystal, the black PVD is highly polished, delivering agreeable contrast with the muted sides of the case.
While this watch possesses a contemporary mien it does feature a domed box sapphire which was highly popular in yesteryear and is currently enjoying a renaissance. The Japanese marque has equipped the Minase Divido VM04 Rubber Model with a ‘polyhedral’ crown. Its outer edge resembles a castle’s crenellated walls. A black insert graces the vertical plane of the crown and it is embellished with the brand’s logo. Incidentally, the logo is inspired by the appearance of a drill-head, paying homage to the firm’s parent company, Kyowa.
My press loan was fitted with a modern, black rubber strap paired with a steel deployant. The watch felt incredibly comfortable to wear at all times whilst feeling securely affixed to my wrist. The brand also offers the watch with an incredibly complex steel bracelet formed of numerous individual parts. Branded a ‘MORE structure’, ‘Minase Original Rebuilding Equation’, each component is cut by hand and assembled like a jigsaw. There is a notable and welcome absence of pinholes in the lateral sides of each link. This approach is said to deliver superior flexibility, allowing the bracelet to readily articulate around the wrist and provide an impressive ergonomic fit. Furthermore, this construction technique allows easy disassembly of the bracelet, facilitating repair or replacement of the smallest parts.
Surprisingly, the Minase Divido VM04 Rubber Model does not feature a Japanese movement, but a Swiss calibre instead. Minase has selected the venerable ETA 2824-2, an automatic movement extensively used within the watch industry. While this ETA movement may lack the cachet of some haute horlogerie creations, it is renowned for its reliability and should present no problems when servicing or repairs prove necessary.
The movement has a frequency of 28,800 vph (4Hz) and features 25 jewels. The rate is adjusted with a ETACHRON regulation system which shortens or extends the effective length of the hairspring, making the watch run faster or slower. The movement has a power reserve of 42 hours.
Looking at the timepiece through a loupe, it was obvious that Minase had spent some time embellishing the plate and bridges with perlage. Indeed, perlage abounds, enriching the aesthetic appearance of the movement with delightful circular cloud-like motifs.
Minase was founded in 2005 and at first glance it may appear a comparatively young company. However, this is not quite the full story. Its parent company, Kyowa, was inaugurated in 1963 and it has been working closely with the watch industry for many years. Indeed, it has been entrusted by many firms to supply an array of products including complete watches. The expertise of Kyowa is manifest with the Minase Divido VM04 Rubber Model.
The Japanese firm has not chosen to follow in the footsteps of established watch brands in Switzerland and Germany, rather it appears to have looked at a blank sheet of paper and conceived a collection of highly innovative timepieces unlike any others. Like the Shinkansen or Nissan GTR, the Minase Divido VM04 Rubber Model delivers a refreshing alternative to western thinking. The ‘case in case’ construction and the ‘MORE’ structure found with the brand’s steel bracelets, deliver something new for free-thinking horophiles.
At the heart of the Minase paradigm is an obsession with longevity. The case and, where applicable, bracelet facilitate refurbishment and repair. This will particularly appeal to fastidious owners, eager to preserve the showroom fresh appearance of their cherished watch. Moreover, the modular construction of the case and bracelet should provide the brand with opportunities to create more variants, playfully combining different materials, colours and styles with minimal investment.
Minase upholds the Japanese nation’s obsession with hand craftsmanship. The painstaking assembly of numerous parts by hand and the brand’s prowess at polishing perpetuate the country’s reputation for artisanal craftsmanship. The fact that such time-consuming practises are employed by Minase and its watches are crafted to such exacting standards is even more remarkable especially considering the modest pricing of its models.
I would urge all westerners to visit Japan and discover a place with a culture rich in creativity, innovation, design and quality. Similarly, Minase is a brand worthy of exploration. It provides an interesting alternative to the Swiss brands I have grown accustomed to.
- Model: Minase Divido VM04 Rubber Model
- Case: Stainless steel; diameter 40.5mm; height 12mm; water resistance 5ATM (50 metres); box-shaped sapphire crystal to front; sapphire caseback.
- Functions: hours; minutes; central sweep seconds; date
- Movement: ETA 2824-2; automatic movement; frequency 28,800 vph (4Hz); 25 jewels; power reserve 42 hours.
- Strap: Black rubber strap (EPDM) paired with a steel deployant.
- Price: CHF 3,580 including Swiss VAT (7.7%) (RRP September 2018)