It’s common knowledge that the watch-collecting scene is dominated by men. In August, Japanese independent watch brand Kurono Tokyo — an accessibly priced label founded by respected watchmaker Hajime Asaoka — took an unusual step in an apparent bid to change this state of affairs with the launch of the Seiji (retail price: JPY197,000 or about S$2,336): The 37mm steel timepiece with a turquoise lacquered dial was meant to be sold exclusively to women. In a bid to be fair to its (predominantly male) fan base, though, the brand said that existing Kurono owners would have priority for 70 per cent of the pieces, but if they were men, they would have to nominate a female friend or partner.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this was met with strong reactions from the watch community, and the next day, the brand announced that the 500-piece edition would be available to all, although women, as well as existing Kurono owners, would still be prioritised. Having recently received her Seiji, watch collector Cham Gee Len shares her thoughts on the controversy over the allocation process, how watch brands should reach out to women, and of course, what she loves about this timepiece.
How I first discovered Kurono Tokyo:
“I’ve been following Kurono by Hajime Asaoka since they launched the first Bunkyo Tokyo with an ‘eggshell’-coloured dial in 2019. I got to know of this watchmaker via @aytystyle on Instagram, an account that I follow as I love Aya Kondo’s impeccable taste in clothes and watches. Around the same time, I also joined the Purists group in Singapore. They are keen supporters of independents and pretty much almost everyone there got this same first edition.
“Kurono launched several variants after, but the dials didn’t speak to me. So I did not apply to acquire any Kuronos until the Seiji. The Seiji in that celadon blue-green lacquer dial is so pretty! The moment I saw pictures of it on Kurono’s Instagram, it was ‘want-at-first-sight’. It’s feminine without being overtly obvious that it’s targeted for ladies. And, like all the previous editions, it is in the classic case size of 37mm. This kind of unisex watch attracts me. ”
Thoughts on how the Seiji was marketed:
“I love that Kurono planned the Seiji for ladies and that they are also aware that they have quickly built up quite a cult following for their timepieces. I think it is natural for any artisan to favour their earlier supporters, and hence want to set aside a big part of their production for them. At the same time, the brand wanted to reach out to a different set of collectors, and I can only presume they felt this initial method of having previous collectors nominate lady friends/partners would satisfy both their objectives of diversity and loyalty.
“I was quite excited at first because I felt it would make it easier for me to get hold of the Seiji. I know several Kurono collectors who were happy to nominate me. However, as we all know, there was enough public resentment about this gender bias that they did away with the nomination process. At the end of the day, I think it’s a very clever marketing campaign – so much talk about this ignited more interest in the Seiji! ”
How I bagged the Seiji:
“I was lucky that one of my ‘bros’ offered to apply for me under the previous 70 per cent collectors’ allocation. If he didn’t win the ballot, I would have tried via the public allocation route. He got an allocation and ta-dah, that’s how I got my Seiji.”
Why I hadn’t been buying new watches — until the Seiji came along:
“At the moment, I feel really happy with my collection of watches. It has dress watches and sports watches. It includes the chronograph, annual calendar, moon phase and hybrid electromechanical complications. Any new timepiece needs to fit my lifestyle and overall style, and it also needs to be somewhat different from the other timepieces I already have. Seiji meets a lot of those requirements. This is my first independent Japanese handmade mechanical timepiece and also my first blue-dialled watch.”
How it feels on my wrist:
“I’ve not worn it a lot yet! But whenever I take it out, I love how the celadon blue-green looks different in different light. I also love how well it sits on my wrists, and how it’s a sleeper watch. No one knows what it is. Unless you bump into a watch collector, and they of course realise how much of a cult watch it is. (Laughs.)”
How I want watches to be marketed to women:
“There are many different ladies and therefore, there are many different aspects of watches that we love. It is the same for gentlemen collectors as well. For me, I want watchmakers to make timepieces that can fit ladies’ petite wrists, but not coddle or patronise women collectors by offering ultra girly pieces with lots of gemstones and what have you.
“I love watch complications and would like to see more of them at classic case sizes. Older Pateks such as the 3940 are in a 36mm case size and it houses the perpetual calendar complication. I think if watchmakers were to revisit these elements of complications in classic case sizes again, there would be no need to market to women. We would naturally gravitate to these timepieces.”
All images courtesy of Cham Gee Len.