Monday, 21 July 2014

Introducing The Hajime Asaoka Project T Tourbillon, Featuring Precision Manufacturing and Ball Bear Pivots (With Specs and Price)

Born of a desire to create a tourbillon chronometer made with cutting edge manufacturing but hand-finished the traditional way, the Project T is the latest timepiece from Japanese independent watchmaker Hajime Asaoka.

Self-taught and based in Tokyo, Hajime Asaoka started his career as an industrial designer but his penchant for fine watchmaking led him to create his own timepieces. Working from a small workshop in Tokyo - we visited in 2012 - Asaoka crafts timepieces with a unique blend of technology and tradition. The culmination of that vision is the Project T, a tourbillon wristwatch with Japan's leading tooling and machining specialists.

The third tourbillon model Asaoka has created (the previous tourbillon was a collaboration with contemporary artist Takashi Murakami), the Project T was a three-party collaboration.

For the tools needed to make the components of the Project T, Asaoka recruited OSG Corporation, a maker of cutting tools likes drills and taps and a world leader in its field. Amongst its products are diamond-coated drills used to machine carbon fibre into aircraft parts. Interestingly, Asaoka also worked with OSG for the glossy diamond-like coating (DLC) of the dial, which promises to retain its deep black colour permanently due to the resilience of DLC.

Many of the parts themselves were made by Yuki Precision, a machining specialist that makes components for aerospace and defence companies. The precision milling and turning are not just for the movement parts, but also the case, as illustrated by the fine hobnail pattern on the crown.

Even the tang buckle is made and finished to the same standards

But the Project T is not just about extremely precise machining, instead Asaoka has reimagined the basic construction of the tourbillon, which is mostly made of titanium, including the screws.

The tourbillon bridge and base plate are a single piece for rigidity and perfect centring of the tourbillon carriage. According to Asaoka, the conventional construction of a separate bridge and base plate can lead to an eccentric rotation of the carriage due to misalignment of the parts.

Asaoka also replaced half the jewels in the movement with ball bearings, rare but not unheard of in watchmaking. Not only are they more robust than jewels, they allow for larger and consequently stronger pivots. 13 ball bearings are employed mainly to support large components, like the tourbillon cage.

The tourbillon assembly with its one-piece base plate and bridge

The ball bearing for the lower pivot of the tourbillon

But given Asaoka's leaning towards old fashioned watchmaking - he started his watchmaking by studying George Daniels' tome Watchmaking, a lesson in traditional watchmaking if there ever was one - the Project T is also about conventional high horology.

That is evident in the hand-finishing of the movement, all done by Asaoka himself. This includes mirror polished bevels on the bridges, chamfered and polished screw heads, as well as bevelling on gear spokes.

The winding wheel and barrel ratchet both sport wolf's teeth, the elegantly shaped teeth often found in high-end 19th century pocket watches but rare in modern wristwatches. According to Asaoka and conventional wisdom, though disputed by some authorities including Daniels himself, wolf's teeth transfer energy more efficient and also last longer.

Naturally the balance wheel is free-sprung, with adjustable weights for poising and rate adjustment.

The tourbillon bridge is integrated into the base plate with a darkened insert on top for contrast

The Project T has a 43 mm steel case and a 40 hour power reserve. It will retail for 8 million Japanese yen, equivalent to about US$78,900.