Everybody knows that Swiss watchmakers represent the elite of the watchmaking world, and that used to be true for a very long time, especially since their roots run deep in the watchmaking history, but that doesn’t mean that other countries are far behind.
Japan is one of those countries that has risen to challenge the status-quo of the watchmaking industry, bringing some incredibly good mechanical timepieces to life recently. The Japanese watchmakers have started producing some of the best watches the world has ever seen, and not only that, but they’ve covered all price categories as well.
There are a few well known Japanese brands that produce watches for the mass market, like Casio, Seiko, and Citizen, but these aren’t the only ones.
Besides these big prolific companies, there are plenty of smaller, independent watchmakers that have the qualities Japan is known for, like the excellent craftsmanship and the attention to detail that have made the big brands what they are today.
Maybe it’s time to find out about some of the lesser known gems coming from the land of the rising sun. So here are 15 Japanese watch brands you should know.
15. Future Funk
Future Funk is about the quirky aesthetics, about unique timepieces that look like nothing you’ve seen before. They blend the LED displays of the ’70s with retro futuristic designs, and they do it extremely well. Their watches seem designed with the space explorers in mind, rather than your average earth inhabitant.
On the other hand, with quartz movements inside, they’re well into the affordable range, with prices going as high as $200, which means anyone can enjoy their stunning creations.
Mirco is a microbrand based in Tokyo. They take their inspiration from the golden age of the 1970s, creating watches that speak of that retro aesthetic, with bold and sporty designs, but without copying any particular model.
Mirco was born recently, so you won’t find many timepieces, as they only have two collections out so far, a chronograph collection dubbed Type 02, and a dive watch collection, called Type 03. The movements inside are sourced from Seiko and Miyota.
While their minimalistic divers share similar traits to most other divers in the watch world, their chronographs look unbelievably unique, breaking rules and going beyond your expectations.
The brand started from the idea of blending the future with the past, an idea reflected in their name, which is composed from mirai (future) and kako (past).
Kuoe comes from Kyoto and seems more grounded in the traditional, with retro inspired watch designs, pleasant aesthetics, and discreet case sizes. They source their movements from Japanese brands, and put much value on making do with everything local.
They offer a wide range of timepieces, with most of them priced around or below the $500. In fact, there’s only a handful of watches in their collection that reach price tags of $600+, which is a wonderful thing for those looking for affordable and high quality alternatives to the bigger names in the industry.
Their pieces aren’t by any means spectacular, but pleasant mechanical timepieces that are characterized by reliability and a beautiful simplicity.
12. Kikuchi Nakagawa
Kikuchi Nakagawa is another small and independent watchmaker from Japan, a shared vision of two men who started their journey in other disciplines before finding their passion for making watches.
The company was created by Yusuke Kikuchi, architect, and Tomonari Nakagawa, swordsmith. Both studied the art of watchmaking in France.
Their brand’s purpose is to create the “ideal imaginary watch” by bringing together two contradictory ideas, one being the abstractness of metal that goes beyond its functional and practical aspects, and the other being precisely the practicality of a tool watch.
Should they succeed or not remains to be seen, but it will be interesting to observe their journey. As for their present timepieces, there’s only two, both sharing a beauty and traits that characterized the watches of the 1950s.
Most Japanese watch brands strive to keep things local as much as possible, helping the local economy through using local materials or employing specific craftsmen from the respective area. Knot follows the same idea of keeping things in Japan, but without focusing on one specific area.
They try to connect the entire country in their watchmaking process, using materials from several regions and a wide variety of crafts and specialists. The result is that their watch designs are inspired by the entirety of Japan as a country and culture, without being limited to a specific region.
One thing that few watchmakers and Knot does is that it allows their clients to customize their watch as much as possible, choosing a design, case and dial colors from their wide range of watch bodies and pairing it with one of their almost two hundred straps.
In terms of movements, they do source them from the likes of Seiko and Miyota. When it comes to design, they’ve got solid choices, from automatic chronographs to solar powered pieces, Bauhaus designs, and square shaped dress watches. And the most important price is their accessibility, allowing people to enjoy unique timepieces without breaking the bank.
Kurono is a sub-brand of Hajime Asaoka, one of the high end watchmakers based in Japan. You could say that Kurono is the affordable little sister company, using Miyota automatic movements to achieve that.
In terms of design and aesthetic, you can expect some stunning timepieces here, inspired by the Art-Deco style of the high end watches from Hajime Asaoka. The way you can get your hands on one is through timed releases, an interesting concept. You’ve literally got a watch available to order for 10 minutes, and everyone who places an order during that timeframe will get one.
All Kurono watches are produced in small batches, hence the rush to get one.
9. Hajime Asaoka
Probably the most interesting thing about Hajime Asaoka is that it’s a one man show, all the way from watch design to production. The man has already become a legend in the world of watchmaking with his determination of learning the craft from George Daniels book and YouTube tutorials and with machines acquired by himself on eBay.
He went on to develop an in-house tourbillon in four years. If that’s not an impressive feat, we don’t know what is.
His eponymous company is based in Tokyo, where he has built himself a little portfolio with the meticulosity and attention to detail you’d expect from such a man. On the other hand, you shouldn’t expect a timepiece of his to be done quickly or to be anything close to affordable. It won’t.
8. Naoya Hida
Naoya Hida is similar to Hajime Asaoka in that it’s a high-end independent watchmaker that brings to life excellent handcrafted timepieces in very small batches, only that it’s a lesser known name in the industry.
Naoya Hida has learned the trade and honed his skills working for the likes of Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre, F.P. Journe, and Breguet, before launching his own company in 2019.
His creations are incredibly well made, taking design cues from the watches of the 1930s, boasting that old school elegance and beauty that contemporary watchmaking has almost lost.
Credor is a name few have heard of. But their creations are some of the best kept secrets of the Japanese watchmaking industry. The brand is actually part of Seiko, and it’s their show-off child, born in 1974 from a desire to display the best of Seiko’s craftsmanship and horology know-how.
Their original designs boast a rare elegance that betrays the delicate precision in manufacturing, astonishing attention to detail, and the best of the Japanese artistry.
The technologies used in the creation process are nothing but high end as well, and the brand simply represents the best of what Seiko’s over a century of experience in watchmaking has to offer.
A new boutique watchmaker based in Japan and born in 2005, Minase’s story began as a machining workshop and continued with making watch cases for other brands before making the leap into watchmaking and starting creating their own timepieces.
The parent’s company experience in precision machining and engineering allowed Minase to quickly become a respected watchmaker, prized, as you might expect, for their stunning cases, which stand out through their high end finishing.
The cases of their watches are incredibly complex and superbly finished, and house sourced Swiss made ETA movements further customized by themselves, but don’t expect their timepieces to be cheap.
Orient is one of those big and well known Japanese watchmakers. It’s on par with the likes of Casio in terms of production capacity, only that Orient creates mechanical watches, and not digital ones.
The name of the brand is associated with the Eastern countries, as seen from a European perspective, mostly referring to the Asian continent and the coveted treasures that used to come from there in the past.
Their collections are large and diverse, with a big focus on the vintage and the classiness that watches of the past boasted. They tend to be more conservative than other well established brands, but they do have their particularities, the little details that Orient fans are always expecting from their watches.
Citizen is another one of the big four watch brands of Japan, a watchmaking powerhouse the world knows so well. The probably less known thing about them is their philosophy that every citizen of the world deserves to wear a high quality watch on their wrist, which is what the brand’s name stands for.
They are well known for their Eco-Drive movements, powered by the light of the sun and never needing a battery change. It’s a practical thing to have, but they also put a lot of effort into creating impressive timepieces from a design and engineering point of view.
Citizen is among the most powerful watchmakers of Japan, winning its place during the ’70s, when they became one the few to produce inexpensive and highly accurate quartz watches, offering them to the entire world.
Founded back in 1946, Casio might be an old company, but they didn’t produce any watch until the 1970s. They started with a quartz one, called Casiotron, and quickly began producing a more varied range, with all kinds of interesting functions.
Their inexpensive watches were also tough and resistant to the every day wear and tear, a quality much appreciated all over the world. You surely remember your first childhood watch. If you had one, it was probably a Casio. And very likely one with a calculator. Later on, everyone would want a Casio watch with a digital calendar, which the brand was the first to create.
Recently, they’ve started another craze with their extremely rugged G-Shock collection, which eventually transformed into a brand of its own. The G-Shock has become a synonym with watches that could take a beating.
2. Grand Seiko
Grand Seiko was Seiko’s attempt to prove they could create watches as good as the well known Swiss luxury watchmakers, and even better ones. The brand started its journey back in 1960, but it wasn’t until 2017 that it became a completely separate entity from Seiko.
Grand Seiko watches include some of the greatest marvels of the mechanical watch world, and are certified with a standard of precision that exceeds even the Swiss COSC in its strictness.
Their prices also reflect the excellent craftsmanship, meaning that you won’t find anything in their collection priced below a few thousand dollars.
Seiko is probably the most renowned Japanese watchmaker, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s our number one entry. They were the first to built a quartz watch, leading the quartz revolution, and offering the world a more affordable timekeeping tool, so that everyone could put one on their wrists.
But that wasn’t their only impressive feat, as Seiko was also the first watchmaker to create the first automatic chronograph watch in the world, the Seiko 5 Sports Speedtimer, beating bigger names in the industry, like Breitling, Zenith, or TAG Heuer.
Today, Seiko is one of the biggest watch manufacturers in the world, with the capability of producing their own movements, parts, and components, something few brands can actually do.
Japan is well known for their amazing craftsmanship in almost all areas, and the watch world makes no exception. Japanese watchmakers instill into their watch collections the same values that Japan’s culture instilled into its people a long, long time ago.
It’s no wonder they have more than a few gems when it comes to the watchmaking industry, some of them maybe even exceeding the quality of Swiss watchmakers.