Seiko Presage × Matsumoto Koshiro Exclusive Interview
Beauty and artistry in step with Japanese tradition
vol.3 Enamel Dial - Ultimate white rendered by the world of craftsmanship
“As a member of the world of traditional culture, I feel really encouraged,” says kabuki actor Matsumoto Koshiro as he looks at a Seiko Presage watch on his wrist. 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 third in a series of four interviews Koshiro has had with master Japanese artisans who are preserving traditional craftsmanship. The first and second articles covered the Arita porcelain dial model and the shippo enamel dial model, respectively. This article features the horo (porcelain enamel) dial model whose color does not fade over time.
Porcelain enamel is called “horo” in Japanese* and is created through the process of fusing vitreous glaze to a metal surface under high-temperature firing. As an enamel coating is resistant to chemical damage, enameled materials are used for daily necessities, such as kitchen utensils and bathtubs, housing equipment as well as whiteboards. In recent years, consumers, especially young ones, have appreciated enameled kitchen utensils anew because of a sense of warmth they give. Koshiro appears to be thrilled by the glossy-white enameled dial of the watch.
(*) The meaning of the kanji characters of “horo” (琺瑯): “ho” (琺) means “glaze” while “ro” (瑯) means a pebble with a perfectly clear color.
Realizing the accuracy of 0.01 mm to bring new life to enamel
Matsumoto Koshiro: The elegant white color of this dial is quite impressive. It doesn’t give a feeling of coldness — rather, it gives a sense of warmth. When we think of horo (porcelain enamel), we readily link it to daily necessities. So, it is amazing to learn that you have applied horo to such a precision machinery component as a dial.
Mitsuru Yokosawa: When I began working on this project, Seiko told me that the company manufactured Japan’s first wristwatch, the Laurel, in 1913. To my surprise, horo was used for its dial at the time. As a craftsman, I felt convinced that it would be worthwhile giving new life to the century-old technology. The dial of the Laurel watch hasn’t faded at all despite more than 100 years elapsing. I was enthralled anew by the charm of horo.
Matsumoto: It’s natural for you to get fired up because your mission was to create a new watch face. What part of the manufacturing process was the most difficult?
Yokosawa: The dial is just about 30 mm in diameter. What’s more, it has [two] sub-dials. Therefore, I concentrated on continuing to always apply an even thickness of glaze to the metal surfaces with the utmost care and attention. When producing enamel tableware, different thicknesses of glaze may be passable to a certain extent. In the art of watch manufacturing, uneven thicknesses of glaze can never be acceptable because hand movements may consequently be hindered. As such, I needed to follow a set of strict requirements that specified the exact thickness of the glaze layer to be fused throughout the manufacturing process. On the other hand, to get a distinct white color, I had to melt and fuse the glaze securely with the metal surface each time. To that end, when I sprayed the glaze, I had to keep adjusting the thickness with the accuracy of 0.01 mm. In the finishing stage of glaze treatment, I usually found myself immersed in a world of senses.
In the project, I strained every nerve to deliver what I had been asked to achieve while unfailingly doing high-quality work. Such craftsmanship, I think, is akin to what you, as a kabuki actor, do in every monthlong run — you need to play the same role in the same way basically true to what has been set in advance.
“This dial gives a sense of warmth,” says Matsumoto Koshiro, wearing a Seiko Presage watch. “Amazingly, its white color won’t fade for a long time.”
Improving craftsmanship religiously to deliver changeless accuracy
Matsumoto: Your craftsmanship requires constant accuracy. In that process, like kabuki performances, experience matters. When I play the same role in a monthlong run, how I feel physically and how audiences react to my performances vary every day. I know that it’s very demanding to keep playing the same role in exactly the same way over a monthlong period.
Yokosawa: I know what you mean. I, too, make every effort day in, day out — through trial and error — to deliver identical products. The finish of a product is prone to be affected by weather. Even within a factory equipped with a state-of-art air conditioning system, the humidity goes down on a sunny summer day, a situation that causes the state of dryness of the glaze to change. Although we have scientific data to deal with such a situation, we still have to fine-tune adjustments during the final part of the glazing process by gauging subtle changes in moisture levels, especially when it suddenly begins raining. Furthermore, I think that the finishes inevitably change, depending on how I feel on a given day. Anyway, nothing can be perfectly accomplished according to a manual. The sure solution is to keep gaining experience.
Matsumoto: The outbreak of COVID-19 has made it difficult to offer usual performances in theaters. We alternatively provided the first-ever online kabuki program named “Zoom Kabuki ‘CHUSHINGURA,’” which was streamed this summer. We utilized the Zoom video communications app to enable both performers and audiences to avoid the so-called 3Cs — closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings. Indeed, it was an unprecedented challenge for us to apply the video communications technology to the kabuki world. At the end of the day, I think, it turned out to be a good opportunity for us to explore the potential of kabuki to change with the times. As you show how wholeheartedly you have devoted yourself to the application of the tradition-rich horo enameling technology on the “Presage” stage, I’d also like to keep carving out the future of the kabuki world.
The worlds of kabuki and horo at first glance appear to be different from each other. But this dialogue has led me to realize that they have much in common in terms of “preserving traditions.” At the same time, this dialogue has also enabled me to conceive anew that it is not enough for us to preserve them and that what we really need to do is to pass them down to future generations by always giving new life to them.
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.
Mitsuru Yokosawa, Enamel craftsman (right)
Born in Fukushima Prefecture in 1952, Yokosawa joined Fuji Porcelain Enamel Co., Ltd. in 1971. At the company, he has been engaged in the manufacturing of horo products as well as product development. He is one of a handful of horo specialists in Japan who are capable of realizing glaze layer thicknesses with an accuracy of 0.01 mm. Now with the company’s Tsukuba factory in Ibaraki Prefecture, he is also devoting himself to developing young craftsmen.
Seiko Presage Enamel Dial model
Seiko brings a new vigor to century-old watchmaking technologies. This Seiko Presage watch with an enamel dial is reminiscent of Seiko’s landmark creations. They include Seiko’s and Japan’s first wristwatch, the Laurel, which debuted in 1913 with a porcelain enamel dial, and the Roman numeral hour markers used in Seiko’s 1895 pocket watch, the Time Keeper. In tandem with the nostalgic dial appearance, the model features the pinnacle of more than 100 years of watchmaking craftsmanship of Seiko as in the case of its high-accuracy caliber 6R27 movement. The Seiko Presage with a horo dial is a perfect fit for those who are particular about a watch that is good for practical use on the one hand and narrative-rich on the other hand.
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