Seiko Presage × Matsumoto Koshiro Exclusive Interview
Beauty and artistry in step with Japanese tradition
vol.2 Shippo enamel dial - An azure sea spreads across the watch face
“I feel there is much in common between our worlds,” says kabuki actor Matsumoto Koshiro as he wears a Seiko Presage watch. He is referring to the connection he senses between his endeavors to convey to the world the appeal of the traditional Japanese theatrical art of kabuki, and Seiko’s history of showcasing the finest Japanese aesthetics through its watchmaking craftsmanship.
This is the second in a series of interviews Matsumoto has had with Japanese master artisans who are preserving traditional craftsmanship. This article covers the shippo enamel dial model, which has a watch face reminiscent of an azure ocean, something only possible when vitreous glaze is baked onto a metal surface.
Shippo — which literally means “seven treasures” — involves baking vitreous glaze onto metal surfaces at high temperatures. The origin of shippo, known abroad as “enamel” or “cloisonné,” goes back to ancient Egypt. The Japanese enameling method first drew international attention late in the Edo period (1603–1868). Kaji Tsunekichi (1803–83), a samurai in Owari, now Aichi Prefecture, discovered a new cloisonné production method and became the “father of modern shippo.”
Ando Cloisonné Co., Ltd. in Nagoya, which has produced the shippo enamel dial, carries on Kaji’s “Owari Shippo” craftsmanship. In the Meiji era (1868–1912), shippo enamel products were so highly praised abroad for their delicate yet striking colors that exports boomed. Lately, shippo works have become popular especially among young people, who appreciate shippo enamel patterns as art achievable only through super-fine craftsmanship.
Matsumoto has kept an admiring eye on the shippo enamel dial with its exquisite transparent-blue, wavelike pattern.
Shippo enamel dial: A transparent-blue wavelike pattern
Matsumoto Koshiro: It looks like an azure ocean is spreading across this tiny dial. It’s so beautiful. The coloring has both transparency and depth. How did you create these color tones?
Wataru Totani: I applied a thin layer of specially developed glaze by hand to the metal surface and fired it in the kiln. Actually, I had to repeat that process a number of times. Every time, I kept polishing the surface to gradually realize the precise intended coloring. Color tones tend to change elusively and delicately, reflecting even slight differences in firing temperature and duration. Therefore, to achieve identical color tones, I had to fine-tune one piece after another by hand.
Matsumoto: I didn’t imagine that you did everything yourself — not just glazing but also blending the glaze in advance. I understand that only a lot of work by hand makes it possible to create this particular kind of coloring. When you undertook this watch dial project, I think you had difficulties different from those in producing one-of-a-kind shippo enamel works.
Totani: For ordinary shippo enamel products, we apply glaze to create a layer that is usually 1 millimeter to 1.5 millimeters thick. However, this project required me to limit the thickness to 0.3 millimeters and even make the final product express the deep blue of the ocean. At the same time, I refrained from using lead — which accounts for about 40% of ordinary glaze — so as to comply with Seiko’s strict in-house ecological and safety standards. Lead-free glaze is prone to bubbling. Also, I had to make a set of identical shippo enamel pieces. In other words, I had to do something I’d never experienced before. It took me a considerable amount of time to be confident, to feel “This is something I can do.”
Totani chose to enter a new world of craftsmanship, accumulating new experience and expertise instead of relying on formulaic solutions and the wisdom of the past. Matsumoto thinks the shippo enamel artisan and he have similar attitudes toward their work.
Matsumoto, wearing the Presage watch, says, “The color tones change delicately depending on the way the light hits it. I never get tired of looking at it.”
Constant goal: Improve product quality every day
Matsumoto: In the kabuki world, when we have a month-long run, for example, I usually play the same role 25 times a month. There are times when I can’t perform very well at all, despite trying my best. Sometimes I find the solution then; other times it takes much longer, say, 10 years.
I have repeatedly experienced this in my career. I’ve never told myself: “I’ve finally done it perfectly!” If I became self-complacent enough to say, “I did it perfectly,” I’m afraid there would be no point in continuing kabuki performances or that I might even choose to quit my current career. I know such experiences cannot necessarily be easily explained and solved in logical terms. Totani-san, I think you’ve had experiences similar to mine.
Totani: I have made it my regular practice to try and solve one problem after another as I encounter them in everyday work life. This approach really strengthens my motivation for work. My motto is: Today, I will create a better product than yesterday and, tomorrow, I will create a better product than today. From that perspective, I’m sure that my participation in the Presage project has led me to look at myself in a different way and venture into a new realm.
Matsumoto: In addition to classic kabuki plays, I’ve been actively using innovative forms of performing overseas, such as putting on a new play at a skating rink instead of a theater, and adding video projections to a kabuki work. Tradition is always of great importance to us, of course. Nonetheless, I’m really looking forward to broadening the possibility of kabuki instead of resting simply on its traditions. I feel really encouraged by you, Totani-san. You’ve been endeavoring to widen the possibility of the traditional shippo method of cloisonné enameling on a special stage named “Presage.”
The kabuki actor and the shippo enamel artisan have experience in different environments. Yet, they definitely have something in common: both of them have gained tradition-rich skills in their respective fields, tirelessly exploring new realms by accumulating new experiences and expertise. The shippo enamel dial model of the premium Presage watch collection distinctly illustrates how vast the potential of humanity is — this model could have been realized by neither precision machinery nor artificial intelligence.
Matsumoto Koshiro, a kabuki actor (left)
Born in Tokyo in 1973, he debuted at the Kabukiza Theatre in Tokyo in 1979. He assumed the stage names of Ichikawa Somegoro VII in 1981 and Matsumoto Koshiro X in 2018. He performed a kabuki version of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and a kabuki adaption of Chaplin’s “City Lights.” He won the 2019 Japan Art Academy Award.
Wataru Totani, a glazer at Ando Cloisanné Co., Ltd. (right)
Born in Aichi Prefecture in 1985, he was interested in creating things from his childhood. He attended Aichi Prefectural Seto Pottery Senior High School and during a second-year work experience program, he came into contact with shippo enamel for the first time at Ando Cloisonné. He intuitively thought the company would be a good place for him to work. At Ando, he has been a glazer, working in the most important part of the Owari Shippo enamel manufacturing process.
Seiko Presage shippo enamel dial model
The shippo enamel dial model has a transparent-blue oceanlike depth thanks to the art of fine shippo enameling. It adopts the dial layout of the 1913 Laurel, Japan’s first wristwatch and the very origin of Seiko. The model’s box-shaped sapphire crystal case emphasizes its thinness, while the breathtaking beauty of the shippo enamel dial stands out with its color tones changing delicately depending on the way the light hits it.
The model has the caliber 6L35, a high-end slim movement, so its specifications should satisfy mechanical watch lovers. The complex mechanical system of the watch is visible through the transparent back, and it has a glossy brown crocodile leather band. This limited-edition model will surely be coveted by collectors, as it combines the finest traditional craftsmanship and more than 100 years of watch manufacturing experience.
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