A Month on the Wrist: Hand’s-On Review of the Hitori Ryukyu Diver in Tropic Green

Our beloved friend goes hands-on with a Skin-diver from an Outlier

Date Published
Oct 14, 2023
Author
Thomas Stover
Category
Gnomon Viewpoint
SponsoredAcme Inc.

The idea of the quintessential dive watch can be different things for different people. But there’s a good chance that — for most people’s definitions — it includes straightforward design, solid functionality, and not much else. Of course, there are dive watches that one can buy for many thousands of dollars. But I’ll argue that above a certain price point, dive watches cease being tool watches and become luxury watches that look like tools. The Hitori Ryukyu is not a luxury watch. It’s a dive watch, and it comes closer to being a quintessential dive watch than many examples I’ve seen.

The Hitori Ryukyu is a refreshing and economical take on the skin diver motif of the 1960’s. It’s no accident that the Ryukyu resembles Seiko’s 62MAS skin diver, first released in 1965. The 62MAS still exists today in Seiko’s catalog in part because of how excellent a design it is. And when one is trying to strip back all unnecessary elements to create the perfect dive watch, I imagine it would be difficult to not arrive at something that at least vaguely resembles that classic. For that reason, I don’t fault Hitori’s Ryukyu for its proximity to a classic, and I applaud it for the ways it’s different.

I had the opportunity to wear the Hitori Ryukyu diver in Tropic Green for a few months. It’s a watch I was excited to have the chance to review, as I’d long appreciated the product photography at GnomonWatches.com and wondered how it measured up in the metal. The watch itself is pleasant, though I take issue with some aspects with the brand.

Where Hitori distances itself from other brand’s skin divers is in the use of color and subtle design elements. For review I had requested either the Tropic Green or Coral Blue. Both watches, but really almost all watches from Hitori, make excellent use of color and dial finishing. The Ryukyu in Tropic Green has a sunburst dial upon which the applied indices and date frame sit, and indeed visually pop from the rich green dial surface. The dial itself ranges from almost black through verdant green to aqua depending on the light it’s in. The ceramic bezel insert is a well-matched almost “Hulk” green that sits between the darkest and lightest shades of the reflective dial. The color makes for a “warm” wearing experience that, coupled with other elements, adds to the playfulness the Ryukyu imparts.

The applied steel hour indices are filled with blocks of lume. I appreciate how the lume tapers in shape on all indices except 6, 9, and 12’clock. That’s a subtlety that isn’t immediately apparent but nonetheless adds to the overall feeling of quality. The rectangular hands are lume-filled as well, and are immediately recognizable by anyone with a knowledge of vintage Japanese skin divers. But if it fits, it fits, and the brushed center surface of the hour and minute hands complement the radial brushing of the dial.

My favorite elements by-far of the Hitori Ryukyu is extensive use of Japanese writing throughout the watch. The brand name Hitori is written in Hiragana as “ひとり”. “200 Meters” above 6’clock is translated to “200 メートル”. The crown is engraved with the first character from the Hiragana “Hitori”, the “ひ”. This is a trend we’re beginning to see from some small independents from Japan, and I applaud the move. Even Seiko’s and Citizen’s JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) exclusive watches use the Latin alphabet used throughout the West. For a country with such a strong cultural identity and watchmaking history, I think it’s by far time for watches that unapologetically use the native writing.

But here’s the kicker: there’s no evidence that Hitori is a Japanese watch company. Yes, the design borrows heavily from Seiko’s 62MAS skin diver. Yes, the brand and model names are Japanese, as is the writing on the watches’ dials. But the watches themselves aren’t indicated as being made in Japan. Only the movement within, the SII NH36A, is Japanese made, and that particular movement finds its way into many notably non-Japanese watches, particularly because of its reliability and economy.

So, what makes a watch Japanese? Entry-level G-Shock Squares, the DW-5600 variants, aren’t made in Japan, yet I still consider them to be Japanese watches. The parent company, Casio, *is in Japan though, and that’s what counts. Hitori, for all of its Nipponophillia, is not a Japanese brand. And thus, in my mind, neither are its watches. It seems Hitori exists to play off of enthusiast’s fascination with Japan and its watches, without actually delivering on the goods. That’s disappointing to me, and to some extent depletes the enjoyment I get from the strong Japanese motif. However, that doesn’t stop the Ryukyu from being a decent watch besides.

The Ryukyu is comfortable on the wrist. The lug-to-lug measurement of 46.5mm and diameter of 40.7mm make the Ryukyu accessible to most wrists and is in keeping with its vintage origins. Visually I very much appreciate the primarily brushed surfaces of the 316l stainless steel case broken up with polished bevels. The screw down case back features a lazer etched wave motif and protrudes slightly below the line of the mid-case, making for a “softer” and less angular wearing experience despite the sharp appearance of a skin diver case.

The brushed steel bracelet is nothing special. It works, visually, with the watch, though the end links are a little awkward. The stamped metal fold over clasp is branded with another “Hitori” in Hiragana. If this were a watch I owned, I would quickly swap the bracelet out for a quality strap. It’s no secret that skin divers make excellent strap monsters, and I expect the Ryukyu is no different with its 20mm lug width. However, for the price — $388 USD — one can forgive the Ryukyu for a less than perfect bracelet.

It’s in moving, tactile parts that affordable watches unfortunately betray their economy. Like the bracelet, the action on the unidirectional rotating bezel is not great. In my hands, the action is soft and a little sloppy, without the reassuring and resounding “click” other bezels provide. It does click, but softly, and I feel like any knock or bush against the bezel at the right angle would rotate it further. I would trust it to time a parking meter or cooking eggs, but not with my life.

However, the Hitori Ryukyu employs quality materials. As mentioned before, 316l stainless steel is used throughout and the steel bezel has a ceramic insert. The crystal is sapphire with inner anti-reflective coating. The NH36A movement from Seiko Instruments within is a well-known and widely employed economical automatic workhorse with a 21,600-beat rate and 41-hour power reserve. It’s the appropriate movement to use in a watch of the Ryukyu’s value.

Overall, I found Hitori’s Ryukyu in Jungle Green an enjoyable, playful, and comfortable take on a Japanese classic dive watch. The quality to cost ratio gets a thumbs up from me. However, I wish the Japanese motif had legitimate pedigree. To have Hitori’s watches at least assembled in Japan would’ve made all the difference for me and placed the brand at the top of my list for iconic Japanese economical workhorse watches. As it stands, I can recommend the Hitori Ryukyu to anyone looking for a classically if subtly playful take on Japanese skin divers at a price that leaves no doubt that it’s a watch meant to be worn fully, no matter how you’re playing. There’s no shortage of options and price points for skin divers. Hitori is doing something with the Ryukyu that no other brand is doing and I see room for growth in the market for stylistically Japanese watches, especially ones that are actually Japanese.

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.

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