Monday, 5 January 2015

Hands-On With The Hajime Asaoka Project T Tourbillon, Where Japanese High Tech Meets High Horology (With Live Photos)

Japanese watchmaker Hajime Asaoka is a singular artisan who works solo, creating some of the most impressive timepieces made anywhere by an independent watchmaker. The latest timepiece to emerge from the apartment-workshop is the Project T Tourbillon, bringing together cutting edge manufacturing and painstaking hand-finishing.

Hajime Asaoka is a self-taught watchmaker who got his start reading Watchmaking by George Daniels. He converted an apartment located in the fashionable neighbourhood of Aoyama in Tokyo into a workshop (which we visited in 2012), where he makes nearly all the parts of a wristwatch himself, even to the extent of printing his own dials.

For his newest creation, the Project T Tourbillon, Asaoka recruited two of Japan's leading engineering outfits, machine tool maker OSG Corporation and Yuki Precision, a machining specialist. 

The Project T Tourbillon is a manually wound wristwatch with a tourbillon regulator and a 40 hour power reserve. Two features of its movement make it extremely unusual, the first being the use of ball bearings in place of jewels.

13 ball bearings are found in the movement, primarily to support large components like the tourbillon cage. Because ball bearings are stronger than jewels, they allow for larger and stronger pivots and also last longer, according to Asaoka. 

Even more novel the movement construction, which has the tourbillon assembly as a module unto itself. Both the tourbillon bridge and base plate are a single unit made by Yuki Precision, to ensure that the tourbillon is perfectly centred. 

Yuki Precision made several of the movement components, as well as case parts like the crown. Finishing, both inside and out, is all done by Asaoka himself. The movement finishing is impressive - the bridges have the soft golden hue characteristic of untreated German silver - evident from details the beautiful bevelling and the polished wolf's teeth on the barrel wheels.

Equally impressive, perhaps even more so, is the finish achieved on the steel case. Asaoka achieves the mirror finish on the case, crown and buckle by hand, with a variety of tools, including a hand-held drill similar to what a dentist uses. The resulting mirror finish is extraordinary, with the steel surface reflecting the surroundings perfectly, with nearly zero distortion at the edges.

Asaoka also used a mirror finish for the dial, which is coated with a glossy black diamond-like carbon (DLC) coating that is so deeply black it looks almost like the surface of a liquid. DLC was the choice for the dial treatment as it will never fade, even when exposed to the sun. 

Thanks to its experience in precision tooling - OSG makes DLC coated drill bits to machine carbon fibre into aerospace parts - OSG Corporation did the DLC coating for the dial, in addition to making some of the precision tools Asaoka used to manufacture the watch.

The Project T Tourbillon is priced at 8 million yen (equivalent to about US$67,000), with more information available from Hajime Asaoka.