Hitori Ryukyu Diver Series

The value proposition of one true independent watchmaker

Date Published
Nov 13, 2021
Author
Samuel Ng
Category
Insight
SponsoredAcme Inc.

Conceivably a double-edged sword is the fact that emerging brands like Hitori Watch Co. might be deemed a hit-or-miss thing. It is all the more true today that numerous appear in the market every other day, releasing their “hits” for everyone like a capsule collection. However, not all watches turn out to be what they are perceived as, especially in terms of the qualities and brand-building factor. Sadly for us consumers and the brands themselves, their timepieces or businesses just don’t always make the cut. Eventually, they all disappear once they are either sold out and “rug pulled” or their products don’t make the cut. But recently, at Gnomon Watches, we stumbled upon a new brand that seems unlike any of that nightmare. Hear us out here a little longer. The Maison a great offering with an uncommon, long-term vision for its community. And that one brand is known as Hitori Watch Co. 

First of all, the Hitori brand and their first offering, the Ryukyu Diver, is an appealing dive watch that stands out in the world of independent watch companies. These dive watches are a hansom fusion of sleek vintage stylings with utmost advanced specifications, named after a famous Japanese tropical island for scuba. Since their birth in 2021, where the world is in an extraordinary time, Hitori’s first parturition of four professional watches harkens back to the likes of Showa era skin-divers during the sixties. This quartet offers an unprecedented tribute to the heydays of recreational diving, where watch companies were starting to craft their first-ever diving-ready watches. 

(The Ocean Blue variant on its original double-striped NATO strap)

If you’re wondering, “Isn’t it another dive watch micro-brand?” Well, you are not wrong there. But the brand crafts on a familiar design language that towers above competitors with its suave, virile yet refined presence. In capturing the same emotions through the designs and functions, the Ryukyu Diver marked the start of Hitori’s journey to fuse prehistoric dive watches with cultural essence. Deeply rooted in the heritage and tradition of the land of the rising sun, these new offerings by an indie watchmaker bestow the foundations of many Japanese dive watches in the most modern way possible. Particularly in this first collection, these timepieces are à la the reinterpretation of those prehistoric skin-divers, encapsulating the nostalgic flair with finesse.

Therefore, in this substantive review, we felt we’d go hands-on with Hitori’s genesis collection – the Ryukyu dive watches – where we scrutinized each and every aspect of the watches from the inside out. What’s better than a hands-on experience rather than simply waxing poetry on these new watches? While at that, we thought we’d placed a top-spec Seiko Prospex and Squale Skin-diver side by side for the sake of better comparison – understanding just how well these pieces are equally produced. Based on what we could conclude from their execution and finishings, the results are surprisingly spectacular. Oh, to feed your wow factor, each dive watch comes in at the price point of less than $500USD. Now we’re in business.

(You might be surprised at how close the execution is on these new Ryukyu Diver) (Left: Retro Black; Right: Tropic Green)

Close to perfection for the form and functions, they are distinguished from their competitors by intricate details and flourishing finishes. The Ryukyu Diver exemplifies the preservation of the heritage essence, unraveling the beauty of a casual skin-diver which punches way above its price bracket, with its fit-and-finish as the testament. Also, in this article, we will touch more on what the watch company has done and what they are about to do for the watch community. Several interesting factors can be summed up through Hitori’s long-term roadmap – where it’s more than simply offering another well-done dive watch for the consumers. It’s a hell of a lot more than that. At the end of this article, we conclude with why Hitori Watch Co.’s efforts in paying close attention to watch enthusiasts – through their undertaking of cultural traditions with long-term community vision – might just be what the horology scene needs.

The “One Man” Mantra

Before we get on to the battle of “Skin-Divers,” we first need to know what’s the brand about. The indicative yet mystical name “Hitori” derives from the primeval Kanji characters spelled “ひとり.” One of three traditional writings from Japan reckons a bi-fold take on what best describes the brand: an independent watch company as suggested by the “one person” Kanji characters; and the orthodox of Japanese culture. You might guess it, Hitori Watch Co. embarks on fabricating timepieces through nifty craftsmanship, by virtue of Japan’s fine artistry.

(A watch that punches way above its price category)

Unsurprisingly, many of us would consider an emerging indie watch company like this a mere micro-brand entering the scene. While we do not criticize any of this perception (as there’s genuinely too many rising up every other day), our mentality was overturned the moment we handled their screamingly superior quality products. Furthermore, the “One Man” named Maison and their unusual doings have allowed our intuition to better understand what the brand stands for. Not only putting forth another quality product but a whole experience packaged around their own and end-consumers future. We’ll be discussing more on that precisely through the journey of this article.

Now, on to Hitori’s first watch collection: the Ryukyu Skin-Divers. Upon handling their watches for some time, we at Gnomon Watches (as well as Hitori’s consumers) could attest to the weight of the watches’ quality. Starting off with tool/dive watches as their first installment, dare we say, they remain essentially the mark of a truly accomplished watchmaker. From the axiomatic case execution to the dial works, Hitori Watch Co. absolutely nailed their first collection. And by that, we couldn’t just be chill about what they are about to ensue upon in the future! 

Watches Made For Diving

…people came from the skin-diving companies, and they said that we have problems getting a good quality skin-diving watch…

Jack Heuer, 2010

The first announcement by Hitori Watch Co. was the Ryukyu Divers. We genuinely believe there’s no better introduction for a brand in the professional dive watch genre than adhering to the inveterate first-ever fruition. And that, of course, would be the skin-divers. We have gone thoroughly through what’s proper for this particular skin-diving timepiece and its presence in-depth in the Seiko 62MAS article. Nonetheless, we’ll still briefly touch on the water-sport that led to the watch itself. 

(The quintessential look of neo-vintage skin-divers) (Left: Tropic Green; Right: Retro Black)

The prominence of skin-diving dates back to the mid-fifties, where this particular hobby was casually picked up by civilians all around the world. Undoubtedly, the heat for sports started to skyrocket. Many watch companies unambiguously decided it was time to cater to this uprising market. Similar to snorkeling, skin-diving is essentially submerging underwater but most of the time at a deeper depth. Therefore, divers need more than just an essential snorkeling goggle. Often, they’re required to suit up in their diving gear – here we’re talking oxygen tank and fins – enabling them to breathe and maneuver better underwater.

During that epoch, skin-divers were often developed to withstand the ubiquitous 150m water-resistant requirement – more than enough for one to bring it down at depth. However, skin-diving does not require one to be professional, as they do not need to work or stay under abyssal depth for an extended period. Consequently, things were kept recreational and apt for ordinaries. As such things go, Swiss and Japanese watchmakers were at the forefront of crafting good tool watches for these casual divers to bring along underwater. A hobby product for a hobbyist. 

(A modern skin-diver in underwater action) (Photo Credit: SwimPruf)

What’s notable was the unchanging silhouette of these skin-diving watches produced by every watch company in the sixties. The Ryukyu Divers’ simple yet unique case design was the first proper watch to be created for underwater activities, which many watch brands remastered in modern times. The main driving factor was the design of the strategic lugs, curving inwards on both ends where they meet at the mid-case section to form a square shape. These watches were often fitted with a slim bezel that was rotatable and equipped with a boxed-shaped acrylic crystal. The rest, as they said, is history. Design-wise the skin-diver was an instant hit, recognizable at a quick glance. These features characterized the skin-diving watches where recreational diving was essentially a popular hobby, and up till now for the office “desk-divers.” 

All those templates are carried over into the Ryukyu Divers, but now with state-of-the-art specifications and better finishings. Apart from aesthetics, the watches boast a screw-down case-back, a sizeable winding crown at 3 o’clock without any hindrance of crown guards. As skin-divers frequently come on a rubber strap (not leather as they spend much of their time in wet grounds), Hitori had thoughtfully provided a matching stainless steel bracelet for the sake of versatility and reliability. The bezel now bestows a solid ceramic insert, and the crystal is made out of virtually scratch-proof sapphire glass. These primary upgrades have already transformed what would be a classic tool watch.

(Even with modern specs, the DNA of a skin-diver is instantly recognizable)

In fact, the prominence of skin-divers can be traced back to the famous mid 50s Swiss dive watch brands like Aquastar and Squale, widely known for their dressy refined skin divers. These timepieces boast a slimmer case profile than those professional dive watches like the Omega Ploprof and Rolex Sea-Dweller, even with a screw-down case-back and usually accommodated a sizable winding crown at 3 o’clock without the hindrance of crown guards. Furthermore, the Japanese watchmaker Seiko debuted their first, the 6217-8000, which is fixed with a double sealed push-pull crown that, surprisingly, can guarantee a 150m water resistance effectively.

This template form has continued as a staple in the watch industry until today, with brands including the dress watchmaker Glashutte Original presenting their own renditions of this functional yet elegant dive watch. Now, this may be a watch designed and engineered for diving, but it is precisely these traits found on the Ryukyu Divers that beget excellent legibility and wearability. So if getting action in the sea isn’t your scene, skin-divers are broad in appeal, still stylish, and practical for daily wear.

Tropical Island In Japan

(he Ryukyu Islands)

The sobriquet might sound shtick for the introductory collection. But we’re convinced it’s actually befitting to name after an arc-chain of Japanese islands that stretch southwest from Kyushu to Taiwan. But much like an affinity for Hitori that echoes from the culture of Japan to its sub islands coastline, the ties (and dive watches) that bind are highly influential. 

(The Ryukyu Arc)

Known as the Ryukyu Arc, the tropical vibe islands are popular destinations for many recreational diving activities. The crystal-clear waters are packed with surprises – from discovering marine life to famous underwater “ruins” (around Yonaguni island) – a hot spot even for those seasoned divers worldwide. It is through this tropical underwater spirit, the Ryukyu Divers imbue their perfect persona. We could totally picture this watch in tandem with those diving gears worn throughout a diving vacation on those islands.

(The tropical spirit is seen in this diver)

With each diver updated and reinterpreted while still preserving the essence of the sixties skin-divers, we knew we’re in for a treat to review these new arrivals, embodied with the dexterity and flavors of Japanese craftsmanship. Without further ado, let’s get down to the watches themselves.

Aesthetic Overview

Ryukyu Divers

  1. 40.7mm in diameter, 47.50mm lug to lug, 11.7mm thick.
  2. Entirely done in 316L stainless steel.
  3. Multi-finished in satin-brushed and high polished, both case and bracelet
  4. Runs on the NH36A automatic caliber – 24 jewels, 21,600BPH, power reserve of 41 hours.
  5. Retro Black: Matte black w/ vintage markers / Coral Blue: Sunburst blue dial / Ocean Blue: Matte blue dial / Tropic Green: Dark green dial

Made from 316L stainless steel material, the Ryukyu Divers come in four different variations while staying true to the look of the original sixties examples. If you’d find it familiar, that’s because they closely resemble the 62MAS reissues of the first-ever Seiko divers that shook the watch industry 60 years ago. Yet, Hitori’s selections distinguish a refreshing look that’s simultaneously in-tuned with today’s market for such. With wearable dimensions and compelling 200m water-resistant, these watches couldn’t further emphasize more on robust versatility – a perfect all-rounder in this case. One can wear it on casual or sporty occasions or in the office where another form of desk-“diving” is the concern with your formal attire.

(Modern materials with sophisticated fit-and-finish)

The series includes a classic matte black dial with vintage markers; two blue dials where the lighter sunburst variant resembles offshore vibe, while the matte bold blue one reflects the color below the surface; and lastly, a trendsetting green tone that carries the spirit of the Japanese tropical islands’ landscape. Each comes with an iridescent ceramic bezel material in which the individual markers glow, matching with the dial in the dark. For better reliability, a domed sapphire crystal sits flush oh-so-well with the rotating bezel, accentuating the fluid case flow. Speaking of the bezel, the polished grooves allude to an alluring contrast with the primarily satin-finished mid-case and rotating it anti-clockwise, bringing a more refined element with its solid crisp action.

(Ceramic bezel insert, polished grooves, and domed sapphire crystal)
(Inner AR-Coating on the sapphire crystal)

Back to the design, Hitori nailed something we would like to call a home run of a well-made form that follows exceptional function. For instance, the L-shaped lugs, which almost make the watch a skin-diver themselves, get drilled lug-holes on each side. This not only allows the watch to grasp a retro aesthetic but is a treat to wearers who love to swap with their array of straps. Let’s scrutinize things a little more here. When the bracelet is released, one can find heavy-duty spring-bars (like those on Seiko’s or Dievas) that are thicker and stubbier than those found on most watches out there. This, in fact, prevents the bar from an impairment, causing your watch to fall off your wrist during activities – especially those dealing with high impact or force.

(Drilled lug-holes)
(A heavy-duty spring-bar)

Onto the case’s technical aspects, to enable a trustworthy 200m water resistance, each Ryukyu comes with three different rubber gaskets at each opening point. One for the sapphire crystal, one more for the beautiful engraved screw-down crown, and the last one for the screw-down case-back. Flipping the watch over, you’ll find a familiar case-back design. Indeed, it’s decorated à la the vintage dive watches from Japan – where essentials are engraved within arc boxes surrounding a beguiling emblem in the middle. In this case, a wave pattern delineating this watch befits the dive watch genre. 

(Solid rubber gaskets for each opening point)
(Old-school Japanese-diver’s decorations on the case-back)

These four models are considered the kick-starters of Hitori’s oriental reissues, revitalizing the iconic silhouette with distinctive traits in execution. How so you might prompt. All four stand out with a much-elaborated case construction compared to many other reissues and vintage, similar to those of the premium 62MAS Prospex. Both offer an excellent fit with a sporty metal bracelet, offering seamless fitting compared to most counterparts produced between the $500 to $1000USD price point. But wait for a second here, a Ryukyu Diver is priced below $500USD! And it might sound offensive to compare these watches to those above their price points, but once we place them side by side later on with some higher price tickets, you will get what we mean. 

(Impeccable case finishing and execution)

Battle of Case Works

All of the Ryukyu Divers flaunt a multi-finished case, executed meticulously with a contrasting satin-brushed finishing on both top and case sides, only to be separated by distortion-free mirror-polished bevels. The phenomenal satin-finishing on the case surface is seen to be done flawlessly through intricate circular manner, mirroring the utilitarian looks of those vintage skin-divers – but executed to a much higher degree. The addition of these polished bevelings simply reveals the commendable details by Hitori’s team, putting attention into their crafts and workmanship. 

(The phenomenal bevelings and polishings on Ryukyu Diver are noteworthy) (Top: Tropic Green; Bottom: Retro Black)

Speaking of good craftsmanship, we’d find them closely resembles those of the SBDC105 (latest 62MAS reissue). It might be hard to distinguish the third generation of Seiko 62MAS and Hitori Ryukyu Diver if both monikers are removed from the dial. Both brands have a close similitude in terms of the case design, unveiling an impressive set of modern skin-diver recreations – done in a perfect size (40mm is a sweet spot), built stylishly yet simple enough to be enduring for watch lovers. Overall, both brands are visually similar, except for a few details that set them apart. 

(They closely resemble the apogee of Japanese Skin-divers) (Left: Retro Black; Right: Tropic Green)

We included an additional one from the most prominent skin-diver pioneer: Squale and their 50 Atmos collection to make a fair and square comparison. Placing a Squale 50 Atmos next to them, we could quickly draw up both Japanese-oriented dive watches that are more delicate and well defined, whereas the 50 Atmos excels in actual vintage format. Although the 50 Atmos lacks a multi-finished case, its 42mm case wears incredibly well like the other two brands but visually sits a tad higher than both. Apart from drawing on the same vintage cues, the dial works and case slightly differ. For instance, the polished case sides have more facets, and the crown position is located at 4 o’clock (which Seiko adopted later for subsequent models). 

(From these trios, one is easily distinguishable) (Left: Retro Black; Center: Tropic Green; Right: 50 ATMOS Black)

The mid-case of the 50 Atmos felt slimmer thanks to the exaggerated curves from top to bottom, relenting a sexier appeal compared to Seiko’s and Hitori’s. Whereas the other two both get beautiful bevelling to break out the chunkiness of the case. Each surface is executed to be flat (a traditional doing for Japan’s watchmakers), resulting in a more rugged appeal. In addition, the satin-brushed strokes exude the true tool watch ethos on the 62MAS and Ryukyu dive watches.

(The mid-case of the 50 Atmos is less rugger looking as compared with the other two)
(More rugged appeal for the oriental divers) (Left: Retro Black; Right: Tropic Green)

Therefore we’d spent more time putting the new contenders against the 62MAS. For a start, both watches are utilitarian in design. As described above, they don’t appear overly brash nor too elegant. Instead, both brands hit the perfect balance between sportiness with a dash of ritziness. When viewed head-on, we had a pretty hard time deciphering who had better casework. Starting with the casework. The edges for both are really refined. Now, how refined, you might ask? Just take a look at the photos below.

(The refined satined case sides on both 62MAS (top) and Ryukyu Diver (bottom) are exceptionally well done)
(Well-defined edges on the case of Ryukyu Diver)

Closing up on the sides, we can genuinely see the significant casework, where the transitions of each side are just sharply defined, especially so at each of their lugs, which are crisply executed, accentuating their uncomplicated intricacies within an anachronistic vintage appeal. Although the 62MAS are done in the typical “Grand Seiko” finishing style, the Ryukyu’s casework is no slouch upon close comparison.

As mentioned earlier, both watches have a stunning combination of high polishing on the entire case and circular satin-finishing on their top and side surfaces, complemented with a thin mirror-polished bevel across and in between the mid-case. Focusing on the satined strokes, the intricate brushings on both are done at their highest apogee, as things go for a tool watch. 

The L-shaped lugs are sized appropriately on both, resulting in better fittings on most wrists without feeling stubbier (in most cases when brands tried to downsize their watches). Also, both inner lugs are mirror-finished for a coherent look – another trait of the Japanese eye for details.

(One with a “Grand Seiko” finishing style and one that resembles closely) (Left: Retro Black; Right: Tropic Green)

The bezels are similar where there’s a concave step right after the bezels’ groove, which creates some pronounced depths for a utilitarian skin-diver. The main difference is seen here. The bezel grooves are slightly more prominent on the Ryukyu Diver, alongside a full mirror-polished bezel, instead of satined finishing like on the 62MAS. Speaking of which, we have to give Ryukyu Diver the edge here as the watch clads a ceramic bezel insert with complete luminous markers. Surprisingly, Seiko only has the 62MAS with a scratch-resistant coating steel insert and a luminous pip at the 12 o’clock triangle. So kudos to Hitori Watch Co.

(Different in bezel execution)
(Both glow incredibly well in the dark while Ryukyu Diver gets extra affair on its fully luminous bezel)

Moving onto the screw-down crowns, both Seiko and Ryukyu get multiple finishings and surfaces, making them feel substantially built. Both are well-sized and have sturdy grooves for manipulation. After adjustments, the crowns sit fluidly within the mid-case, though both are sans any crown-guards. Another distinction on the Ryukyu is its oriental ornamentation of an engraved “ひ” initial, while Seiko keeps a sterile crown for their 62MAS. 

(Extra point for the beautifully engraved crown on Hitori’s)

The Ryukyu diver has more vintage characteristics than the Seiko, while both are emblematic generally. Intriguingly, both screw-down case-backs allude to Japanese flair at the core. Seiko went with more modern aesthetics with the engravings and patterns (although they have been using it for quite a while), whereas the Ryukyu Diver draws back directly to the sixties appeal.

(Same Japanese vibe for both case-backs)
(Proudly made in Asia)

Through verifying all these details, we can indeed see how Asian manufactures could strive when producing premium-feel watches at this level. Both watches are made from the East, and the craftwork is exceptionally phenomenal. It is especially so when we placed the price of both brands into consideration – where this further elevates the value proposition of Hitori’s offerings. The qualities are undeniable at this point. We firmly rounded up the Ryukyu Diver getting an overall 95% in the polishing and case execution. With that, the Seiko and Hitori models stand out with their svelte, more delicate, and well-packaged build in the modern skin-divers.

Dial Works

(Blue dial matching my OOTD)

Moving on to the dials, we’ve got four unique variations from Hitori’s stable. These are where the brand goes full throttle with their cultural affections in the Japanese spirit – bestowing vintage aesthetics with domestic elements. Let’s start with the ubiquitous traits of all four models. The Ryukyu Divers have gotten an excellent upgrade by hooding them with scratch-proof sapphire crystals (same as the new 62MAS and 50 Atmos), which sit flushed with the bezel. 

What’s more, the inclusion of an additional anti-reflective coating applied underneath the glass allows for less distortion from lights and better readability.

(Most robust crystal to date, the domed sapphire glass)

Moving right within, the anachronistic markers are applied, reminiscing those found on those Japanese skin-divers – in tandem with several like the 62MAS heritage spiritually. But the Ryukyu Divers get more dramatized ones, where several of them consist of block-shaped framed markers, decorated with dramatized trapezoid-shaped luminous filled within each. Hitori went with the whole block-shaped markers at the cardinal points, with the largest at 12 o’clock, to accentuate readability for better orientation. 

(Check out the insane dial works)

All three skin-divers from each brand are true to vintage cues, with no minute markers on their chapter ring. Instead, all the minute markers are printed neatly on the dial’s periphery, flanking the hour markers legibly. This means the chapter ring is beautifully polished up, respectively, with the two Japanese-styled divers in satin-polished and Squale’s matching mirror-polished.

(Minute markers are on the dial itself, with the internal case neatly finished as the rest)

At the same time, the quality of the dial works is unmistakable and adds to the appeal. The romance and craft that are expressed ultimately belies the multi-faceted handsets. We should certainly not overlook their beauty. They feature identically intricate satin-finished at the top for both hour and minute hands. They are only flanged by mirror-polished sides designed to reflect even the slightest ray of light to create a crisp and precise aesthetic.

(The handset is equally well done with several finishings and facets)

Each hand stretches out perfectly to its respective markers, allowing excellent precision reading and maintaining a balance on the dial. The applied markers and handset both closely resemble the 62MAS yet are also on par on execution. We’d leave out the 50 Atmos as the current versions are coming in with painted round hour markers – which are period correct to some of their vintage Ref. 1521s – and works great for readability.

(Everything on the dial is carefully thought through)
(The 50 Atmos uses different hour markers and handset)

On the date display subject, Hitori nailed more details with extra steps to apply a full convex metallic window frame. The inner edges are matte, serving as prevention for reflection surrounding the date numeral while having the other edge polished to match the rest of the hour markers. Through this, we can deduce great effort was taken here. All show the side of Hitori’s adeptness in capturing the thought that goes into their first design, where others often find it less valuable.

(Just look at the detailed data frame)
(This is not seen on the Seiko 62MAS)

The expansive date window not only exudes an elegant touch and mirrors the craftsmanship of high-end watches, like those found on “The Citizen” and some of Seiko’s premium Presage models. In comparing up close with the 62MAS and 50 Atmos Polished Black, none have applied date frames, although Squale ornate with a painted white border. Therefore, the new contender Ryukyu Diver takes the lead here.

(We can’t emphasize more the nifty dial works)

Overall, all four models are visually similar, except for the dial color tones. Two of which radiate a sunburst finish, while the other two are in matte tones. Consequently, each stands out with its own charisma, though all are well packaged and built. Starting with the sunburst variants, the Tropic Green and Coral Green Ryukyu Divers are a treat to the wearer’s eyes. Similarly to the 50 Atmos Polished Blue and 62MAS SBDC105, all of which displayed individual brand’s expertise in the dial-works and attention to detail. 

(Each variant with its own charm)

Remember, Skin-Divers back then came in all sorts of colors where some were more vivid than the others – they tended to match the anachronistic popularity during the epoch. Therefore, the Tropic Green and Coral Blue are not excluded here. Even more relevant today is the dark British green hue, considered the new “black” in today’s time. The blue and green dance beautifully in different lightings, shifting from lighter shades to darker moods at different angles. We know Seiko and Squale are nifty with their sunburst dials, and through the side-by-side comparison, the Ryukyu ones are meticulously executed also. 

(Seiko perpetually nail their sunburst dial)
(And Ryukyu diver can be similarly perceived)

While we understandably focus on the more attention-seeking sunburst dials due to the romance and extras they express, we should certainly not let the beauty of matte dials unnoticed. Both the Ocean Blue and Retro Black dials are resplendent in their own ways, all in the name of more excellent legibility. Yes, a matte dial (or less shiny surface) offers better readings at any point in time, giving both the watches an element of sporty virility. Of course, compared to the 50 Atmos Polished Black, where legibility is placed at the forefront due to its full matte dial and hands, the Ryukyu Ocean Blue and Retro Black both have elements of sporty virility and elegance. That said, the influential design on all models aid visibility despite their respective colors. 

Let’s not forget the Retro Black (above) and Ocean Blue (bottom) have unparalleled matte dials, which are the charm too.

There’s also a sensible subtlety to the usage of each color by Hitori Watch Co. The colors are nods to the nature of Ryukyu Islands, each representing the typical landscapes. What we love are the most is how the Retro Black Diver is given the vintage luminous to spice up the monochromatic look; the Ocean Blue just pops with so much wrist presence with its matte “tiffany” blue hue.

More Japanese Traits

Interesting would be the texts on Hitori Ryukyu Divers coming off more “Japanese” than the Seiko 62MAS. The reason behind this was quite apparent when we saw those Kanji letterings. From here, we’d believe the brand wants to round off these oriental skin-diver reissues with the full flavor through incorporating the native language of Japan.

(The Japanese Kanji characters on the dials are the icing of the cake)

First, we get the brand’s original logo in Kanji characters at the top of the dial. Beautifully spelled “ひとり,” each character embellishes the Japanese calligraphy tradition – every single stroke seems to be written with an ink brush. At the bottom, the water-resistant texts are applied in the same Kanji character manner to balance the dial off. Although right above we have the “Automatic” text, it’s still appropriate here.

(The water-resistant texts are done in Kanji characters too)

This is because many Japanese watches back in the day use the “Automatic” word to indicate the rotor-winding inside to market towards a wider audience. As such, the mix of the English text with Kanji characters is both artisanal and chic. It also represents an overarching artistic and craftsmanship philosophy of what Hitori watches are, striving for a certain sense of harmony through intense attention to detail.

Supplementary Metal Bracelets  

All four models come with their original stainless steel sports bracelets, which are a great value proposition to the offering. Who doesn’t like a complimentary yet well-built metal band for their watch? It simply adds to the charm. And since we are on this topic, we thought it would be good to dive further into its build and design. As the SBDC105 and 50 Atmos Polished Blue do not come with a compatible bracelet on their own, we’d decided to compare Seiko’s equivalent SBDC107 and its supplemental bracelet.

(Battle of the bracelets)

Before the comparison, it bears mentioning that Ryukyu’s bracelet by itself is worth a feat. Most of the time, metal bands for Skin-divers, L-shaped lugs, in particular, are usually an afterthought. Evidently, it can be seen even on brands like 50 Atmos, where Squale’s retro Milanese mesh bracelet is designed for it, but never with it. This is not the case for Hitori. The bracelet is well-thought-out and has gone through several prototypes with the watch, ensuring the fit and finishes do not look out of place. The solid end-links are well ergonomically crafted to perfectly fit the skin-diver case (similar to Seiko’s and Glashutte Original’s), with the ideal curvature allowing the links to wrap comfortably around one’s wrist without feeling obtrusive.

(From the end links to the individual links, we could see their exceptionally crafted)

Placed side by side with the SBDC105’s M197213H0 bracelet, we quickly note the excellent quality of both brands with great attention to detail. As exemplified before, the new Seiko Prospex bracelet found on the more recent models like the 62MAS is superior to their previous models. However, the clasp on Seiko felt more intricate and modernly designed, while Hitori’s execution comes closer to the ones found on the last 62MAS generation (SBDC051). This could be said for Ryukyu’s. Although the polished finishing is not as “grand” as the Seiko’s, the Ryukyu’s bracelet does come really close. Just take a look at the combination of satin-brushed top and mirror-polished sides. Each finishing is a nifty execution that guarantees smooth and even surfaces, from the end-links until the clasp.

(The fit and finish come close to Seiko’s premium M197213H0 bracelet)
(Kanji signed clasp on the Ryukyu Diver)

The Ryukyu clasp is signed with its signature Kanji character and features a bi-fold locking system. The logo is lasered neatly onto the fold, as like the ones on Seiko’s M197213H0. When clapping and uncapping both buckles, both exude quality and superiority in functionality at the folding parts.

(Ryukyu Diver’s bracelet uses screw-type for easy sizing by oneself)

In summing up the bracelets, Hitori might have the edge here. All of their bracelets are using screw links in which are easily accessible and sized by oneself at home. Compared to utilizing more tools and, of course, more dexterity and patience thanks to the pin-and-collar system applied by Seiko, a simple flat-head screwdriver would just do the trick for all Ryukyu’s bracelet. If you wonder how to re-size, you can read about our sizing article.

The Workhorse From Japan

While in ETA or Sellita movements we talk about the ease and accessibility of service costs, a box-fresh NH movement can be bought for half the price of a service.

Thor Svaboe, Time and Tide Watches

The movement found inside all of the Ryukyu Divers comprises yet another element of Japan’s horology affair: the trustworthy NH36A automatic caliber. Those who have heard or fiddled with other micro-brands might be familiar with this no-frills movement series, and if not, let us break down the specifications for you. The NH36A (AKA NH36) is a 24-jewel 12′ lignes mechanical movement, which beats at 3Hertz, 21,600BPH. It has an ample power reserve of around 41 hours and winds up really quickly thanks to its bi-directional “magic lever” winding-rotor system.

(Japanese workhorse NH36A)

By now, this should be a tell-tale sign of where this movement comes from, as there’s only one brand that produced the ingenious “magic lever” system. And yes, you guessed it, it’s from Seiko. The NH36A caliber is basically the unbranded Seiko’s 4R36 movement (essentially a 4R35/NH35 but with the day-display function) that’s sparingly used in many Seiko’s watches. Released circa 2011, it is found in the iconic Seiko Turtles, the Seiko 5 Sports, Monsters, and many more.

(The 4R36 (above) and NH36 (bottom) are equivalent)

Being reliable workhorse movements that have powered so many Seiko sports icons and indie brands, thus it is safe to say the unbadged NH36A could take a good beating within the watches. Although the spreadsheet states that the movement’s accuracy varies between +40/-20 seconds per day (according to Seiko’s specification), we could vouch that Seiko is being meek here, as the robust caliber often ticks more accurately than on papers.

(This movement is proven a workhorse)

Similarly, the NH36A is not only a solid mechanical heart, but a cost-effective movement belies the ease and accessibility to service it – just like the Swiss workhorses ETA 2824 and SW200. This will only increase the longevity of an already well-built tool watch, destined to last both inside out for a long time. Besides, they are indeed a value proposition for watch aficionados, from the movement choice to the whole watch design. 

(Easily serviceable by most watchmakers)

Upon comparing the 4R36 and NH36A calibers, we’d find the finishing and execution identical, all the way from the industrial brushings to the placements of bridges, escapements, and gears. These elements might not get a big slice of adulation most of the time. Still, we have spent much of our time enlightening on these workhorse movements that are destined to work like the “people’s” engine, where the “don’t fix it until it’s broken” mentality is working in our consciousness. That’s to say, the NH36A caliber is considered a state-of-the-art engine – an excellent, no-brainer choice for this Japanese-oriented dive watch – restating Hitori’s savoir-faire.

Those Extra Touches

Hitori’s offering of their debut collection goes beyond the watch itself, with a complete experience to behold by their ownership. Firstly, the watch is kept securely in a traditional Japanese-looking presentation box. Although boxes typically are one of the last things buyers ever consider, Hitori acknowledged owning a great-looking box can be an unexpectedly satisfying and rewarding experience.

(Traditional looking box for one definitive looking diver)

Everything should come in packaging this good.

Ben Clymer, Hodinkee

It’s definitely a great idea that the Japanese-influenced skin-diving watches of the 20th century are accompanied by an equally well though-out, period-correct presentation box. Hitori offers their watches in a box made out of a mixture of materials, while it somewhat resembles those of vintage Grand Seiko’s blue box. Uncovering the outer blue box, what lies within is a grained leather-textured watch box with the signature Hitori Kanji characters.

Flipping it open, the oriental flair is further elevated through the light brown wooden interior. The Skin-Diver is then covered serenely by the velvet envelop-styled cushion in matching blue tones. In this way, the spirit of the box is a natural continuation of the philosophy behind how the watch is housed. Both are true in the same oriental artisan spirit.

(A complete package for its wearer)

There’s not all. Hitori further provides an array of strap combinations, including NATO and rubber straps for wearers to dress up and down, depending on one’s mood and usability. These straps are handpicked and designed meticulously – making sure they are reliable in real-life scenarios – and are signed with the brand’s logo. We’re pretty sure our members at Gnomon would throw some vivid NATO on when they go about their activities.

(An assortment of rubber straps to match up your Ryukyu Diver)
(Quick-release Spring-bars)

Specifically, Hitori provides some fantastic design and quality to mix and match those skin-divers on the rubber strap selection. The team placed so much emphasis on these accessories that each of them comes with quick-release spring bars, allowing the wearer to swap their straps with ease. Not stopping here, some of the rubber straps have curved ends on them, allowing your watch to wrap around more fittingly on the wrist.

(Curved ends for better fitting, with signed buckle)

Another notable, or would we say, unique service provided by Hitori Watch Co. is their customizability for each of their watch owners. Yes, you heard that right. The company envisions their watches to be a long-term affair by building a solid community through unique perks like this, allowing customization to be their first step. Each owner of any Ryukyu Diver would be granted access to different accessories to style up the watches.

(More assortments and plans coming up for Hitori’s community)

As of now, the brand provides several bezel variations to style up your skin-divers, with many more down their pipeline, all at a valued price point just like their watches. Therefore, this allows its wearer (excluding serial number) to have a fully personalized dive watch that one could only imagine. And with that, we’re excited to see what more the brand could bring for its community in the near future.

(Can’t wait for what’s up to their sleeves for the future)

Through the new directions and accouterments proffered for their community, we find Hitori’s doings are genuinely for people who want not only a watch but one inundated with utilities that make the whole experience one of a kind in a satisfying way. This might be deemed an authentic luxury experience not found in a price bracket below $1000USD (the watches and accessories), manifesting great opportunities for newcomers in watches and those dyed-in-the-wool collectors who seek great products and services.

Up There with the Elites

It has been more than 50 years since the inauguration of the very first proper dive watch coming into this world. The enduring appeal of skin-diving watches has a prominent place in the horology realm. And the introductory release by Hitori Watch Co. defyingly lives up to the vintage look. Yet, the Ryukyu Divers distilled defining toughness of modernly built watches today, enlivening tradition with innovation. The design and styling marry winning approaches in terms of execution and finishing, offering at a pocket-friendly price point that places the watch in a category of its own. Evidently, through the side-by-side comparisons with counterparts from different manufacturers, all these traits are undeniably prominent tangible essence.

(Tradition with innovation)

It is especially so when we handled both the Seiko 62MAS and Ryukyu Diver. The timeless no-frills look Ryukyu Diver embodies a combination of utility and excellent aesthetic finishing, in tandem with the SBDC10X – serving as a premium accurate throwback of those Japanese skin-divers’ heydays. A bevy of details found on them will remind you of the dawning of Hitori watches and a source of inspiration. Another worthy mention would be both brands exemplified prowess in manufacturing impeccably built sports watches with impressive finishing quality that enables these timepieces to compete with renowned brands selling at a much higher priced range, if not better. 

(Through the comparison, we’d know both are really well-build inside-out) (Top: Tropic Green; Bottom: Retro Black)

Conceptualizing Japanese artistry and heritage is pretty similar in both, flaunting purposeful and robust builds that are already hard to find these days below $1500USD. That said, what placed the Ryukyu Divers in the highly sought-after realm would be their price-point at only half of that new generation 62MAS. It’s a thoughtful touch that you don’t see much or ever at this given price point. Nothing about these well-valued dive watches from Hitori felt low-cost, and this whole article fits.

(For below $500USD, this is truly exceptional)

Hitori managed to secure a strong statement by spicing things up with refreshing yet befitting color themes that celebrate the natural state of each inspiration. From the no-frills black dial with vintage luminous to the aquatic sunburst blue Coral Diver – representing both their sober take on the legendary dive watches with toned-down versions, along with the multi-colored variations adding vibrance to the genre.

(Everything is on point about this first release)

The re-envisioning of an iconic genre through Japanese cultural filters this effort reveals the thoughtful consideration and planning done by Hitori perfectly cater to the preferences of any watch collector. Both the visual elements and materials of these debuting pieces are overall affable and well-balanced. Each of which is historically relevant, dressed in contemporary garb and unequivocal Japanese style.

Personal Thoughts

We know we have been babbling the phenom watchmaker’s watches repeatedly throughout this article to make our empirical point. Yet we couldn’t emphasize enough on their elan. Why? Simply because the Ryukyu Divers have got something that all watches enjoining your hard-earned money should have. They are, in fact, more than a bargain. In today’s era, the charming anachronistic elements and vision constantly overflow with their new offerings soothingly perceived and set Hitori apart from the rest. 

(A true value proposition offered by Hitori Watch Co.)

Sure, they might not have in-house calibers with a new DNA, but persevering through and coming out on top through exemplary executions on what an already popular dive watch brings a lot to the table for their price. In the instance of those strong lines, sharp facets and angular surfaces, robust lugs with the different germane dials and the incredible alternating polished and brushed surfaces are well taken care of, when this is only for their preliminary offering. It is as if they nailed everything when it comes to reissuing a classic dive watch, period.

(What’s not to love about this reissue)

While the quality is beyond reproach, Hitori allowed a broad audience to get on board and have a taste of what a well-built and value-for-money everyday watch could be like, and that’s not the end of the engagement. Their intention to build longevity peculiarly among their community and followers is in parallel with their watches. Therefore, these outstanding reissues grant access to watch enthusiasts at their own level, all in the name of vintage dive watch street cred. 

Conclusion

(Different shades of different blue vibes) (Left: Coral Blue; Right: Ocean Blue)

This concludes our sojourn on the virtuosity of a budding brand called Hitori Watch Co. and their beautiful transcending objet d’art that is the Ryukyu Divers. The writing of this in-depth comparison has, in many ways, been eye-opening for ourselves and, hopefully, you as our readers. Each Ryukyu Diver bestows many qualities that make a great dive watch, making it a perfect all-rounder for a wide range of activities. Upon scrutinizing, it illustrates that point with aplomb. Especially when “better quality” means higher pricing becoming the norm, it is, therefore, cathartic to see someone like Hitori bringing true value proposition once again.

(The last pocket shot to finish things up here)

The Ryukyu Divers elevate the idea of a majestic repository of horology’s most significant tool-watch forms to the highest apogee, intersecting with engineering, heritage, and art. With Hitori’s pieces representing a direct aspect of oriental horological heritage and technicality, these reissues reveal the importance of high quality and unpretentious designs at incredible price points that few brands can offer. Hence, these exquisite reissues showcase the watchmaker at their twentieth-century best. 

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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