Minase Watches’ first American tour exposes the craftsmanship of the cult Japanese brandRicardo Sime
How do you communicate true quality? It’s a question that many brands face as they try to capture the attention of collectors today. For big brands, the difficulty of such a task gets alleviated by the pull of history and immense marketing budgets. Yet, for a small brand, trying to make its mark in the horological world, such benefits don’t exist. In the face of such odds, their best bet tends to be getting their boots on the ground to spread the word. And that is exactly what Minase (pronounced me-nah-say) Watches is trying to do with their American tour; the first time the brand is visiting the U.S.
The tour kicked off in New York City at the Horological Society of New York Library. For many collectors present, this would the first time they’d see a Minase, let alone hold one. Carrying the banner for the brand and presenting were Sven Erik Henriksen as well as Kelly Henriksen, who have partnered with Minase to build their international presence. Sven brings decades of experience in the industry while Kelly manages communications and PR. In addition, James Henderson of Tempus Fugit was there to share his personal experience of the brand.
After spending nearly half a day there, I got a better understanding of what it was Minase was trying to accomplish with this tour. Essentially, this boiled down to four things:
You can talk a collector’s ear off about how great your pieces are but nothing gets the point across better than holding one in your hands. To me, that was one of the most important aspects of this tour. Over the course of a couple of hours, the assembled gathering got a chance to actually try these watches on the wrist. Sizing and wearibility were no longer questions left unanswered. Everything from the bracelets to the cases were scrutinised, with everyone looking to see if these watches were actually worth the 3,000 to 7,000 CHF range they inhabit. From my standpoint, I think the brand successfully delivered that such prices were justified.
One of the ways they justified their worth was by highlighting the watches’ manufacture. The case within a case design and use of multiple windows/crystals in their watches, establishes the complexity of their designs. The contrast between satin finishing and sallaz (what many of you know as zaratsu) polishing brings many of their pieces to life on the wrist. Furthermore, the brand’s complete openness about what they actually create in-house is a breath of fresh air. Everything, except for the rubber straps, crystal and movement is done at the factory in Minase in the Akita prefecture of Japan.
Speaking of that movement, Minase was an open book here as well. Many collectors I’ve spoken with struggle with the fact that Japanese brands often use Swiss movements. The explanation given for this actually made perfect sense. Minase started its life as a Japan exclusive brand and, for the Japanese, Swiss movements are highly regarded. It was a no-brainer for them to use a Swiss movement. Even as the brand continues to grow, the ease of service for ETA movements and the huge amount of capital needed to create a movement have become good reason to continue using them.
The story doesn’t stop there though because Minase still manages to provide a ton of value. They use chronometer-grade movements and work directly with ETA to create a highly customised and well finished version. They have also shown progression, transitioning their higher priced pieces from the KT7001 Movement (ETA 2824 based) to the KT7002 (ETA 2892A2 based) pictured above.
The final message that Minase conveyed was definitely the uniqueness of what they are offering. Nothing currently out there in the watch universe looks like a Minase. Though the case shapes are familiar (round, tonneau etc), the brand does a lot to push the limits of those forms.
And just when you think you can comfortably place them in a super modern design box, they create pieces of art like the Masterpiece models above. More than any of the watches presented that day, these truly spoke to the craftmanship of a brand like Minase.
As the day came to a close, I had to ask myself: did Minase achieve their goals? Beyond the subjectivity of their designs, would someone who likes this aesthetic be willing to spend 3,000 to 7,000 CHF for one of their pieces?
In the end, I wholeheartedly believe they would. Right now, independents are the talk of the town. Add to that a fascination with anything coming out of Japan. Then sprinkle in the fact that the brand only makes about 500 pieces a year (low quantity / high quality production watches are a collector’s dream.) Judging by my interaction with the brand on the night, it would look like Minase have all the ingredients needed for success.
If you’re interested in Minase and would like to see their pieces in person, they will be in Palo Alto and Los Angeles, California the week of December 6th. Hit the top banner on their website for more.