Kurono Tokyo is a name that should now be familiar to the watch community. Behind this niche brand that only produces watches in limited quantities is a man named Hajime Asaoka, one of Japan’s most talented independent watchmakers. The idea behind Kurono was to offer Asaoka’s sense of design at a far more accessible price by using simpler movements combined with typical Japanese crafts – a bit of indie Presage. Last year, Asaoka launched what was undoubtedly his most personal collection, a series of four ultra-compact Art Deco models, the Kurono Tokyo 34mm. To his surprise, it was a hit. And it’s back this year with new designs but still the same approach to vintage design and size.
When he launched the inaugural 34mm models, Hajime Asaoka explained that this collection reflected his passion for compact vintage watches. “The challenge is how carefully they must be handled, which makes me nervous. So I had an idea: what if I could create something I would like that was both waterproof and robust enough for regular use?” he said. “I made four prototypes for myself. My watch enthusiastic friends wanted one when I wore them out! (…) So I made 80 pieces in each colour for those who shared my taste. To me, it is not important whether or not it sells,” he added. However, all 240 watches sold out in the blink of an eye, despite a size that feels outdated and in opposition to everything we see today.
Emboldened by this success, the Kurono 34mm dress watch is back in 2023 with four new styles, new dial designs, new and more subtle colours, yet still with the firm intention to be small and beautiful. Asaoka explains that “what I pay attention to when I (pick up my clothes in the morning) is making sure that the watch alone doesn’t stand out. From this perspective, I find the size of 34mm to be very desirable“. The first series was an experiment to confirm whether or not the 34mm diameter of the watches would be appreciated. The results speak for themselves since all the watches sold-out quickly and the demand for more was present.
The return of this Kurono Tokyo 34mm collection is a bit more subtle. The four inaugural watches were small and very colourful. However, they seemed to be compensating for the lack of confidence Asaoka had in this small case with their bright, bold dials. The new collection, in this respect, wants to reflect the idea that a 34mm watch can be worn with confidence and doesn’t need to be adorned with strong colours to make an impact.
Following the previous collection, the new Kurono 34mm collection draws on the elements we saw last year. It is housed in a vintage-inspired stepped case reflecting the design of the so-called Calatrava watches of the 1930s. Less angular, however, it is made of polished steel with curves and rounded surfaces. A box-shaped sapphire crystal with AR coating protects the dial, and the back is solid steel, screwed to guarantee a sufficient 50m water-resistance. At 9.6mm in height, it isn’t necessarily a slim watch but remains thin enough to be worn under a cuff – which will be helped by the compact dimensions.
New for 2023 are the dials. Two of them – Smoke and Darkmist – use the same design as the models we saw in 2022. This means a coloured central area framed by a chapter ring with printed and radially positioned Arabic numerals. A railroad minute track circles the dial. These two models are basically mirror images with tones of silver and grey. The two other versions of the 34mm Kurono – Midnight and Persimmon – introduce a new classic sector style design. More colourful and a bit bolder, they are either dark blue or salmon-toned with precision (medical-style) tracks on the periphery. On all models, time is indicated by steel syringe hands with blue IP plating.
At the heart of these watches, and what makes it possible for Hajime Asaoka to offer this collection at a much lower price than his eponymous creations, is an outsourced movement by Miyota. This automatic calibre 90S5 is reliable, relatively precise and easy to service. It runs at 28,800 vibrations/hour, delivers 40 hours of power reserve and features a stop-seconds device.
Availability & Price
To give them a classic, understated look, all four watches in this Kurono 34mm collection are worn on a textured black strap. As with previous models, these 34mm watches will be limited in production with 150 pieces per colourway. Priced at JPY 150,000 each (export price, approximately EUR 1,030 or USD 1,100), they will be available to order on Friday, March 10th 2023, at 11 PM Japan Time (9 AM NYC Time or 3 PM Europe Time) from the brand’s website kuronotokyo.com.