The Minase Horizon is crafted in the Yuzawa Mountains within the Akita Prefecture, Japan. The watch is rich with ingenious features, intended to augment wear delight. Angus Davies recently spent time ‘hands-on’ with this highly original composition and relays his observations herein.
Extreme winters and high altitudes
In Switzerland’s Vallée de Joux, the winter months are notoriously harsh. The violent winds and freezing temperatures scythe through clothing and repeatedly nip exposed skin. The area sits within a valley, high in the Jura mountains. In the depths of winter, the ground is draped with snow, frustrating attempts to farm the land.
Unfortunately, the extreme winters and high altitude of this region preclude most forms of employment. However, in the 18th century, watchmaking became the region’s saviour. Often local residents would hibernate during the cold season and make watch movements at home. As the snow thawed and temperatures began to rise, the movements were sent to Geneva or other parts of Switzerland and sold to établisseurs. Today, many companies have established production facilities in the region, eager to capitalise on the available expertise.
Whenever I have held a Minase timepiece in my hands, I have been reminded of the Vallée de Joux. This may sound surprising as the brand is based in Japan and its products have a distinctive appearance, courtesy of their unique design language, construction and polishing. The Minase factory is based in the Yuzawa Mountains within the Akita Prefecture. As the brand points out in its literature, this elevated location ‘is a harsh, unforgiving region with long, cold winters’. The similarities between both regions are clear to see.
Having been to Japan, I can attest there is no other country more aware of nature and the seasons. Often these traits influence the nation’s products. In addition, place is another factor which imbues the nation’s products with their distinctive appearance. Indeed, even at this early stage, I can declare that Minase watches look and feel very different to their Swiss counterparts.
Kyowa Co. Ltd and the birth of Minase
Founded in 1963, Kyowa Co. Limited is known for high-quality drill manufacturing and metal cutting. This expertise came to the attention of various watch manufacturers. The Japanese brand’s ability to make efficient, highly precise metal machining tools such as drills and jigs led some watch firms to entrust Kyowa with making various components.
As time passed by, the firm amassed greater knowledge in complementary fields, culminating in it producing watch cases for both volume brands as well as for luxury marques. As part of this service, Kyowa mastered complex polishing techniques.
It was perhaps inevitable that Kyowa would diversify. In 2005, it established its own watch brand, Minase. From the outset, the firm has always been an établisseur, focussing on habillage (essentially everything apart from the ébauche) and using Swiss movements. Today, its models exhibit a unique character quite different from their European counterparts.
The first aspect one notes with the Minase Horizon, is the case. It exhibits a remarkable smoothness and incorporates a blend of satin-brushed and polished surfaces. This peerless execution is achieved 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 tin plate disc coated with a fine layer of diamond dust which bestows the surface with a distortion-free, mirror-like finish.
One of the remarkable aspects of the case is that Minase has repeatedly juxtaposed polished and satin-brushed surfaces. These contrasting finishes are in close proximity, yet remain discrete.
A different way
A conventional watch dial is stamped from a ribbon of brass using incredible pressure. Thereafter, the dial blank is tempered and then cooled to relax the metal and make it less brittle. Some dials will feature several dial patterns, hence they are subjected to repeated stamping, tempering and cooling.
Thereafter, the dial epidermis is drilled in order to accommodate indexes and a hole is created for the canon pinion. The dial is electroplated endowing the surface with colour, while decals and text are pad printed onto the dial’s surface. The feet on the underside of the dial are used to secure it to the movement.
Minase has chosen to reject this conventional process, preferring to employ a ‘case in case’ structure as a means of displaying the prevailing time. As the Japanese marque explains, “the ‘case in case’ structure does not feature a dial in the typical sense. It consists of several elements made in steel, creating the heart of each watch. The index ring, the dial plate and the case back surround the movement and create a separate entity or form that seems suspended inside the watch itself.”
The Minase Horizon is offered in five variants. My press loan paired a blue dial with a stainless steel bracelet. However, the dial of this watch cannot be summed up in a few words, the complexity of its composition necessitates much discussion.
Firstly, the dial of the Horizon, with its case in case construction, is unlike any Swiss or German watch I have ever encountered. Previously, I reviewed a Minase Divido VM04 with the same type of construction. Interestingly, this latter model featured a space encircling the display affording front to rear views. The Minase Horizon lacks this latter detail and, by comparison, it appears less flamboyant, albeit no less interesting.
A border hugs the internal edges of the case with silver-toned indexes attached. The indexes span a channel and reach over the edge of the dial plate. The centre of the circular dial plate is flat, while the edge slopes downwards. A series of squares frame the sloped section of the dial plate, delineating it from the channel. The central section of the dial is adorned with vertical brush.
The dial plate features a trapezoidal aperture, positioned on a lower level. One half of the trapezoid is presented in a glossy blue finish, while the second half features white date values presented on a black disc. The date disc sits on a slightly lower plane.
There is an obvious rationale to the dial’s complex construction method, it introduces an array of depths and textures to the horological vista, augmenting visual interest.
As previously mentioned, the display is blue, however, it can appear black in certain light conditions. Indeed, the surface enjoys a wonderful reciprocity with light which, put simply, makes the watch feels special.
The hour and minute hands feature truncated tips and are lined with luminescent fill. All hands, including the central sweep seconds hand, feature curved tips echoing the arcing profile of the sapphire crystal (see later). The brand’s drill-head logo sits below noon, a respectful reminder of the parent company’s origins.
While the Minase Horizon’s display brims with style, it remains highly legible.
The case is formed of 316L stainless steel and measures 38 x 51mm. With a height of 12mm, the case will readily nuzzle beneath a shirt cuff. Personally, I appreciated the model’s generous proportions, however, the Japanese firm does offer a smaller case option, the Horizon mid-size measuring 36.8mm x 45.6mm.
As I mentioned earlier, the case has been subjected to painstaking Sallaz polishing. Indeed, it apparently takes at least 15 hours ‘of remarkable craftsmanship and know-how to complete each watch’. A critical index finger can readily discern the case’s extraordinary smoothness. Indeed, it delivers an abundance of tactile delight.
The upper half of the caseband is highly polished while the lower section is satin-brushed. The top of the case repeats this use of contrasting finishes. Where the mix of finishes is most pronounced is on the 5-rows bracelet featuring the MORE concept (see later).
An elliptical recess graces the left case flank, while a crown protector hugs the right side of the case. A ‘polyhedral’ crown, embellished with the brand’s logo, provides a further reminder of Kyowa’s area of expertise.
There is nothing perfunctory with this watch. From a distance, the sapphire crystal appears rectangular, however, close examination reveals it arcs along a north-south axis and also curves from east to west. No doubt this complexity will have increased costs, but the eye-catching appearance justifies the expense incurred.
The solid stainless steel bracelet encompasses the Japanese firm’s MORE (Minase Original Rebuilding Equation) concept. This approach is inspired by Japanese puzzle constructions with numerous parts required to make one bracelet. The links shun the pinholes typical of conventional links, creating a clean, smooth appearance to the flank of each link. The bracelet is designed to be dismantled into its constituent parts, facilitating remedial polishing, repair or replacement. By adopting this approach, Minase has imbued each watch with a notable degree of longevity.
Minase is an établisseur, procuring Swiss movements, preferring to focus its attention on habillage.
The Horizon Minase is equipped with the Calibre KT7001/1, based on the self-winding ETA 2824. Personally, I am a huge fan of ETA movements as they are reliable, robust, accurate and keenly priced. Furthermore, wherever you are in the world, there is likely to be a watchmaker who is able to service or repair an ETA movement. Therefore, Minase’s decision to use this movement seems eminently sensible.
Minase has chosen to put its own stamp on the movement, suffusing the oscillating weight, bridges and mainplate with expanses of perlage.
The frequency of the balance is 28,800 vph (4Hz) and the movement contains 25 jewels. Assuming the watch is fully wound, it will operate autonomously for 42 hours.
The Minase Horizon does not seek to emulate a Swiss or German watch. On the contrary, it is unabashedly Japanese and its watches are rich in character and packed with ingenuity. For example, the case in case structure sets aside watchmaking convention. The display is formed of several parts, including an index ring, dial plate and caseback, all of which encapsulate the movement. This approach is not about change for the sake of change, it endows the display with numerous depths and textures, differentiating it from a conventional dial.
Similarly, the case and bracelet are baby-soft smooth, courtesy of Sallaz polishing. Moreover, the finish of each case facet and bracelet component is suffused with a polished or satin-brushed appearance. In most instances, these latter forms of polishing are placed in close proximity, a tell-tale indication of a brand’s expertise.
Another speciality of Minase is ‘MORE’, a concept that comes to the fore with the intricately engineered bracelet. The design of the bracelet facilitates refurbishment, repair or replacement. Clearly, the Japanese firm has considered the longevity of its products. In my opinion, when a firm considers the long-term ownership experience, it demonstrates genuine and true luxury.
Returning to the Vallée de Joux. Spending winter months in isolation with little to do other than work, instilled in the local population a propensity for patience. Indeed, there is nothing to rush for and no pressing social engagements. I am reminded of this as I look at this Minase watch. Examine each component and it is clear that much time has been expended on its creation. Indeed, patience is not merely the preserve of the Vallée de Joux, it’s also manifest in the Yuzawa Mountains.
- Model: Minase Horizon
- Reference: VM02-M01SB
- Case: 316L stainless steel; dimensions 38 x 51mm; height 12.0 mm; water resistance 50ATM (50 metres); sapphire crystal to front and exhibition caseback
- Functions: Hours; minutes; central sweep seconds; date
- Movement: KT7001/1 (base ETA 2824); automatic movement; frequency 28,800 VpH (4Hz); 25 jewels; power reserve 42 hours
- Strap: Solid stainless steel bracelet featuring MORE concept featuring a deployant with side pushers.
- Price: CHF 4,480 + VAT (RRP as at 26.10.2020)