The Story of the 2024’s Habuka Deluxe Release

A full day with Hitori reveals the affairs of the indie brand’s Habuka Deluxe craftsmanship

Date Published
Apr 06, 2024
Author
Samuel Ng
Category
Insight
SponsoredAcme Inc.

You could say that Hitori, a nearly three years old indie watch brand (literally),  kind of waltzed into my life at just the right moment. It seamlessly became a part of my watch journey, almost as if it had been there since the inception of my fascination with the artistry of horology. I wasn’t actively on the lookout for something to replace the meticulous craftsmanship I’ve admired in brands like Seiko and its high-end crafts, but lo and behold, Hitori turned out to be a phenomenal source of joy and fulfillment. It brought a refreshing perspective to what could have been a challenging experience, especially given the current landscape of watch pricing. Let me backup for a moment to explain my high-praises for the oriental watch company, so much so that its a worthy contender to the Japanese Maison Seiko. As some of you might know that one of my favourite watch collections from them were those with qualities found in the higher echelons of Seiko and its “grand” brethren, in which I used to do in-depth comparison since 2020: Let it snow once again: the Baby Snowflake Story. Not to brag about my shrewd knowings on the telltales of a high polished case with incredible dial work, but when I stumbled across both the first Hitori vintage dive watch and its dressier Habuka 39 daily-beater, I was instantly sold by what Hitori had put out. 

The Hitori is one brand that I truly love

Okay, let’s take a moment to unravel the essence of Hitori, a brand that boldly stamps its identity on each dial with three distinctive kanji characters. Born amidst the chaos of a global pandemic, Hitori emerged with a simple yet profound mission—to breathe life into exceptional quality mechanical watches, each with its own captivating backstory. The mysterious brand, represented by the characters ひとり, draws deep inspiration from Japanese culture and craftsmanship which I confessed, is something that you don’t see every day in the watch world. It addresses a common dilemma faced by enthusiasts like us—coveting premium quality without wanting to bear the exorbitant premiums that often accompany it. Enter Hitori Watch Co., an independent brand committed to delivering value-driven timepieces that seamlessly blend premium materials and sophisticated craftsmanship. The brand’s dedication is evident in the excellent offerings we see today, all rooted in the fervent passion of watch enthusiasts exploring novel ideas. While many of us fortunate enough to own a Hitori timepiece can attest to its spirit and quality, many others might simply find I’m bullsh*tting away. Besides, my human cognition led me to delve deeper into how this emerging brand meticulously crafts its products.

This is the reason in 2024, I had the privilege of connecting with Hitori’s assembly site, immersing myself in the intricate process of bringing a single piece of Habuka to life, guided by the skilled hands of conscientious watchmakers. It was definitely a trip that I would not forget. Not even in the next life if there’s one.  It was an unforgettable experience, akin to a child receiving a golden ticket for a tour at Willy Wonka’s renowned chocolate factory, but in this case, a journey into the heart of watchmaking. This golden ticket allowed me to witness firsthand the behind-the-scenes artistry of how a watch is made and assembled, an experience I’m eager to share. Before delving deeper, a heads-up for fellow enthusiasts: while I can’t disclose much about the assembly line due to Hitori’s guarded prowess, I can shed light on the origins of the watches’ materials and movements. Sourced from specialists across Asia, including Japan, China, Singapore, and more, Hitori pursues the highest resources without breaking the bank—something they take very seriously.

Got the golden ticket to visit Hitori’s assembly site

Arriving At Hitori’s Assembly Ground Was The Beginning of An Adventure

Stepping off the plane around noon, I was warmly greeted by the team, and despite meeting them for the first time, it felt like a reunion due to the lasting impression their craftsmanship left on me. After a quick lunch, we wasted no time and headed straight to their assembly headquarters for the real deal. The journey led me to a quiet district with low-level buildings, which, to my surprise, housed the magic behind Hitori’s timepieces. One bungalow served as our stop, where I was led into the office to meet the team. Contrary to my expectations of a large facility, the quarter was filled with less than ten people, including administrative and management staff. I was introduced to six watchmakers, each with Hitori since day one.

Initially puzzled by the small number of watchmakers, the team explained their deliberate choice. Hitori hires only those who genuinely believe in their skills, ensuring consistent and exceptional assembly operations. The emphasis on “CONSISTENT” was intentional, reflecting their commitment to quality. Moreover, the watchmakers must have a proven track record of delivering high-quality executions to even qualify for a job interview. With just a handful of them, both the management and watchmakers maintain a familial atmosphere, overseeing operations meticulously. Hearing their insights and having experienced their products, everything fell into place, and I gained a deeper appreciation for Hitori’s approach.

Each Hitori is meticulously manufactured and fitted

Upon receiving a brief overview of the three-story building, I quickly grasped its overall layout. The top floor housed a large meeting space, seemingly providing a panoramic view of the surroundings. As I descended to the second and first stories (yes I know, I literally started from the top), it became evident that these levels were the heart of the operation, where the magic unfolded. The ground level, in stark contrast, served a more utilitarian purpose, primarily designated for neat modern stockrooms and packaging shipments, with spaces dedicated for the staff’s breaks.

Yet a notable observation was the unfamiliarity of the entire infrastructure. Despite its serene and cozy ambiance, exuding a distinct lo-fi vibe unlike any watchmaking sites I’ve seen, my attention was piqued when I gazed through the expansive glass doors and windows. The atmosphere transported me to a realm reminiscent of a traditional watchmaking venue. The absence of long assembly benches and the absence of the bustling, industrious scene of watchmakers working side by side marked a departure from the conventional setting. Instead, what unfolded before me were clean, single-unit desks illuminated by professional lighting. Each desk was meticulously organized, featuring a specific set of machines and equipment tailored for the unique tasks of individual watchmakers. This departure from the conventional setup underscored a shift towards a more focused and specialized approach, highlighting the precision and attention to detail required in the craft of watchmaking within this distinct environment.

A shot of one of the few watchmaker attaching the hands of Habuka Deluxe Aoki Lake

Entering The Assembly Space 

I wasted no time in delving straight into Hitori’s modus operandi on the second floor. A senior watchmaker, defined by experience rather than age, handed me a watchmaker’s coat, cap, and matching shoe covers. Dressed as one of them, I underwent a cleansing process at the entrance before entering the actual workspace. Three watchmakers were already at their desks, assembling and checking the uncased Hitori timepieces. Boy, was I in for a treat for the first time seeing the professionals at work on the all new Hitori Habuka Deluxe.

The all new 2024 Habuka Deluxe Series – Left: Aoki Lake, Right: Hakone Green

The senior watchmaker guided me to his desk, where the first step of the Habuka Deluxe assembly awaited. With a tray of Seiko’s NH35 on the table, he explained that he would check each movement’s accuracy before placing the heated blue customised rotor onto the caliber. Intrigued, I observed him place a movement on a Witschi timegrapher, monitoring each position to ensure it beat within -20~+40 seconds per day. Despite meeting the threshold, he adjusted it for better tolerance, emphasizing their consistent practice of adjusting each movement for Hitori to beat within +-20 seconds since the brand’s inception three years ago. His dedication to tight tolerance and quality checks resonated with me. He highlighted, “We have tight tolerance and quality checks on everything we do because we want to maintain our tenacity at that level in the long run. When craftsmanship is approached with a slip-dash attitude at any point, consistency defoliates, and recovering takes a long time. We don’t want that scenario; it doesn’t benefit any of us.” The consistency in Hitori’s assembly practices became evident, explaining how they nail every detail without falling short – its in the watchmaker’s natural disposition.

Starting with the movement, after adjustment the watchmaker inserts the heated blue rotor

After adjusting the movement, it was time to screw on the rotor, and the senior watchmaker did it with finesse. He would then use his gloved index finger to rotate the rotor slightly, feeling the tactile winding process to ensure it was rightfully in place. Moving to another bench, I examined the empty shells of the new Habukas with separate trays of different Habuka Deluxe dials. Before continuing to the second step, I took a moment to appreciate the improved quality of the case and case-back. The bezel and mid-case were slimmed down without compromising ritzy appeal or balance, giving the case a refined and slimmer appearance.  “The polishing on each of the sides are done with our multi-process polishing techniques through several machines. It is also where each master focus on one machine or tool, making sure that each polish surface are executed crisply and to perfection.” Explained the senior watchmaker while I handled him the watch parts, allowing him to case up the movement and dial within. 

Rotating the rotor to check the movement winding manually
A tray of Habuka’s mid-case and bezel

Its All In the Details

Transitioning to the dial, I aimed to shed light on the meticulous process of integrating the hands and movement, a task that symbolizes the dedication and resilience of Hitori’s watchmakers. During this exploration, I seized the opportunity to scrutinize bare, Sugi, Hakone green, and Aoki Lake dials using the loupe provided at the venue. An experienced watchmaker approached, sharing insights that each dial features an actual snowy texture when touched. The tactile experience reveals pronounced details on the surface, including the applied hour markers, date frame, and text above the mesmerizing texture. He expressed, “I hope people who wear these timepieces take the time to absorb the quality of the case, bracelet, and, more importantly, each element on the dial.” Taking the dials from my hand, he skillfully assembled the adjusted NH35A caliber using a special holder. Running the date three to five times, he then delicately placed each mirror-polished hand onto the dial side. Witnessing this process of ensuring perfect synchronization for each hand was a revelation for me.

Simply mesmerized by the excellent dial
Adjusting the date before placing each hands onto the dial

Seizing the opportunity to showcase the meticulous craftsmanship, the watchmaker delicately arranged each hand, taking them out of their trays and laying them out with precision, preparing for the final assembly. The polished facets of each hand gleamed brilliantly, reflecting the ambient lighting in a way that immediately drew my attention. The quality of the surface polishing was so outstanding that neither the watchmaker nor I felt the need to scrutinize them through a loupe; the excellence was evident to the naked eye, leaving us both in awe.

Just look at that polishing works on the hand
Adjusting till the date jumps near 12 ‘o clock in order to attach and align each hand

The subsequent task involved the placement of the flat sapphire crystal onto the case, assigned to the third watchmaker who had been engaged in the process since my arrival in the room. While the crystal setting may seem straightforward, utilizing a setting bench tool and inserting a gasket before the crystal, it requires a high level of expertise to execute flawlessly. Any slight error in the process could result in the crystal being set unevenly or, in the worst-case scenario, forced and cracked. Having attempted this task myself in the past, I understood the precision it demanded. The watchmaker skillfully completed the job, handing over the finished mid-case to his team for the final casing up, bringing the Habuka to life.

The watchmaker skilfully insert the sapphire crystal into the case

Before setting everything into the case, the seasoned watchmaker meticulously examined each component on the dial side using his loupe, simultaneously employing an airbrush to remove any small particles or dust. But that wasn’t all—he proceeded to scrutinize the metal indices, hands, date frames, and the overall dial for micro marks. This additional step allowed him to identify any issues before casing up each watch. The entire procedure left me utterly flabbergasted by the level of care and precision involved in crafting a Hitori timepiece.

Double checking if there’s any flaws or dust particles simultaneously before casing the dial and movement

Following a meticulous examination of the dial and the empty case, the watchmaker carefully placed the dial on its holder on the desk, covering it with the mid-case from above. Once this step was completed, the watch was flipped over to accommodate the insertion of both the screw-down crown and the open case-back. With precision, the watchmaker aligned the dial with the opening crown position, effortlessly threading the screw from the crown in a single attempt. Clicking it into place, he proceeded to fit the rubber gasket for the case-back. Using the air-blower once more, he ensured the case-back was devoid of any dust particles. With adept hands, he effortlessly screwed the case-back into place and then moved to the side where the case-back opener/closer tool was located. Tightening the watch further, the watchmaker proceeded with this final step. Before anything else, he took the cased-up watch and settled back at his desk, delicately adjusting the time and date through Hitori’s crown. This meticulous process ensured the hands were perfectly aligned, and the date flawlessly flipped around midnight.

Finalising the whole case by inserting the gasket and screwing down the case-back
And we’re about done here

Taking A Break 

Before embarking on the final phase of assembling a complete Habuka timepiece, the watchmakers and I took a moment to pause and catch our breath in the watchmaking room. It was a rare opportunity to engage in an intimate conversation with the individuals who dedicated most of their time to assembling and meticulously inspecting these timepieces, ensuring that each one is finalized to perfection for its eventual owner to enjoy without any concerns. During this brief respite, which lasted approximately 15 to 20 minutes, I had the privilege of gaining firsthand insights from the talented craftsmen behind the scenes, reminiscing as we shared our experiences. We exchanged mutual admiration for our respective crafts, and I expressed my gratitude to them for consistently delivering such exceptional quality products to Gnomon Watches, always striving for improvement without compromising on quality or design.

Each of the component is incredibly crafted

In our discussion about the meticulous quality checks conducted on each watch, there was unanimous agreement among the watchmakers that all components, from the inaugural Ryukyu divers to the latest Habuka Deluxes and Yoshinos, were of impeccable quality. Their pride in their work was palpable as they shared this firsthand insight, further solidifying my own pride in the Hitori timepieces I’ve owned. They emphasized the meticulous manufacturing process undertaken by the specialists responsible for producing each component for Hitori, ensuring that the assembly process was equally meticulous and painstaking. “Seeing each part meticulously crafted fills us with motivation and satisfaction to assemble them into the final product,” remarked the senior watchmaker. As a brief aside, I must clarify that I refrained from mentioning their names simply because none of them wore name tags; instead, they referred to themselves as “watchmakers” or “specialists.”

I can vouch personally for the Habuka’s quality

The Final Check

Water-pressure checks done by Hitori

After a brief hiatus in the assembly process, the watchmakers resumed their work, marking the finale act of performance for a watch enthusiast like myself. As they meticulously cased up another five Hakone Green timepieces, I took the opportunity to capture some photos and marvel at the process once again. Then came the moment to venture into the adjacent room, where larger machines awaited. Here, they aimed to demonstrate how Hitori conducts water pressure checks, prompting us to follow them. We entered the room to find two imposing blue water pressure machines awaiting our inspection. “We don’t conduct actual pressure checks with water,” the senior watchmaker explained, “as it can be primitive and prone to liquid penetration. Instead, we use technologically advanced machines that simulate the process using air pressure, ensuring safety and effectiveness, with measurements of up to 500 meters of water resistance.” With that simple explanation, he proceeded to line up the five Hakone Green timepieces in each chamber, setting the water pressure to approximately 12 atmospheric pressure, equivalent to about 120 meters of depth underwater. The process, efficient and precise, lasted around three minutes, during which none of the watches exhibited any signs of leakage or damage. Once the process was successfully completed, indicated by a reassuring beep from the machine, the watches underwent a second final check. Surprised by the additional step, I inquired about its necessity. The watchmakers clarified that they intentionally execute this “two-step pressure check” to ensure the watches thoroughly withstand the required pressure, up to 100 meters in the case of the Habuka series. The initially passed Hakone Greens were then subjected to further testing in a digitally calibrated chamber, where they demonstrated their ability to withstand slightly more than the declared 100 meters of water resistance—an impressive feat considering Hitori’s original intention was not to create a dive watch series, yet it serves as another testament to the brand’s commitment to watchmaking excellence.

After a few minutes, all of these Hakone Greens had passed the first test, so onto the second one
The second test had also went smoothly with another professional test equipment

Amidst the bustling activity with a few more batches, we got back into the watchmaker’s workspace to finished up the assembly. One of the watchmakers retrieved separate trays containing Habuka Deluxe bracelets and clasps. Placing them on the desk before me, I immediately noticed the upgrades and modifications made to the bracelet and clasp. Firstly, the bracelet featured a new quick-release spring bar system with screw links where both sides clads an opening for effective adjustment This design allows users to attach or remove both the bracelet and links effortlessly. The fit and finish of both the case and bracelet were impeccable, as demonstrated when the watchmaker effortlessly inserted the spring bars into the lugs’ holes in a single attempt. Upon completion on both the watch’s lugs, there was no play or loose ends as he meticulously tested the bracelet to ensure it was securely fastened to the case. Secondly, they attached the new shortened clasp in which befits the whole Habuka’s theme. It doesn’t look and feel bulky like a sports clasp anymore, yet is still robust and sturdy while handling it. The logo on the locking clasp was significantly more pronounced that before, and I love the subtle slopped at the tail side resulted a sleek look. The watchmaker tested the clasp mechanism after attaching to each side of the bracelet. 

The all new well-manufactured sports bracelet now comes with a new quick-release springbar system,  allowing it to fit flawlessly

I’d like to share some thoughts on metal bracelet like this Habuka Deluxe’s bracelet. Personally, I’ve found no issues with its design and fit on the wrist, especially for an all-rounder watch like this. Often, we critique bracelets for looking “cheap” because they may not have the flashy appearance of others, leading us to assume they feel “cheap” too. However, I beg to differ on this perception, having handled several bracelets throughout my watch collecting journey. I always encourage others to try on the bracelet before passing judgment, as dismissing a well-built bracelet without giving it a chance would be a missed opportunity to appreciate something like the Habuka’s. The 3-link design of the Habuka Deluxe feels robust, with several nice details, particularly the softly polished edges that match the case’s quality. The clasp, in particular, is extraordinary without being overly flashy. Apologies for the digression, but I felt compelled to share these thoughts. 

And a whole new sexier clasp as well

Once everything was in place, all the watchmakers continued fitting the rest of the batches. They mentioned that they needed to conduct a timing check for a day or two before packing and shipping them to us. We shook hands, and I thanked them wholeheartedly for inviting me to witness the inner workings of Hitori. They patiently explained each process to me and displayed exemplary dedication to their craft. Now, I have the privilege of sharing this incredible journey with all of you here, hoping to inspire a deeper appreciation for the craftsmanship behind an indie watchmaking company. Hitori continues to uphold the artistry of watchmaking, leaving a lasting impact on my personal watch hobby.

I love to see those watchmakers going by doing their stuffs

Final Thoughts

The whole experience simply seals my beliefs in good watchmaking that doesn’t cost an arm

The introduction to the assembling process stands as one of Hitori’s most significant achievements. Having experienced it firsthand, I witnessed a unique set of practices emphasizing stringent quality checks and maintaining consistency with integrity. Echoing the ethos of top-tier Japanese watch brands, Hitori operates on a smaller, more artisanal scale as we have seen here, with only a select few watchmakers entrusted with the task. In just a few years since its commercial debut, Hitori has become a beacon for watch enthusiasts who appreciate unpretentious craftsmanship and value. Thus, it feels imperative to unveil the story behind the brand, sharing this extraordinary insight with those fascinated by its journey, even if they haven’t acquired one of its timepieces.

Now it makes me love my Hitori even more, and I hope it helps you too

The conscientious effort to provide such expertise serves as a testament to an emerging watchmaker and its team, showcasing a dedication to crafting high-quality mechanical timepieces with a human touch. Despite boasting unique oriental designs and impeccable finishing, it’s astonishing how these watches remain such a steal in terms of pricing. The adeptness demonstrated by the watchmakers during my visit evoked a special connection, affirming my belief not only in the oriental-inspired styling, but also the intricate details that define all Hitori models. Moreover, while the Habuka series serves as the “entry” point into Hitori’s world, I hope this new Deluxe generation represents a spiritual continuation of the brand’s expertise in watchmaking, staying true to its original sentiments and offering a singular perspective on what a wristwatch can be.

The amount of effort and finesse behind each Hitori timepiece cannot be overstated

Ultimately, the people behind Hitori epitomize the brand’s commitment to delivering remarkable watches that are not only visually stunning but also meticulously crafted inside and out. They maintain a standard of unquestionable precision and reliability without imposing exorbitant costs, ensuring that enthusiasts can enjoy their timepieces without breaking the bank. I’m so glad you found some time to read my experience with a small indie watchmaker, now be sure to share to your most favorite peers who are in this rabbit-hole, and then again only those who appreciate the crafts. Only the true enthusiast has the moxie to trade a fortune for a trinket, and we’re the sort who squeeze pleasure from the finest details of life.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Gnomon Watches first opened her doors for business online in early 2002, founded by bona fide horology suitors who share a profound passion for watchmaking and fine craftsmanship.

More Stories
May 2021 Lookbook // Best-Loved Dive Watches Of All Time