This week, I look at a watch. Before digging any deeper though, it's worth providing some context:
If you didn’t know, Issey Miyake is one of the most distinguished fashion brands in the world. Many product designers have very little interest in fashion due to a philosophical disagreement but Miyake is often an exception; his work is technology driven and comes off graphical rather than stylistic. Sony’s corporate uniform was once designed by Issey Miyake and on a visit to Japan, Steve Jobs was so impressed that he wanted the same for Apple. Due to the unpopularity of uniforms in the US, it didn’t take off so Jobs instead asked Miyake to create a uniform for just himself. The resulting work was the iconic black turtleneck.
Tokujin Yoshioka is a Japanese designer that dances eloquently between the line of design and art. I don’t necessarily love all of his work but I’ve gained great respect for him ever since I saw his window display for Maison Hermès. In response to a woman’s blow in a digital projection, a physical Hermès scarf sways in the air. I think it’s an absolutely brilliant piece of work. Tokujin is one of the few designers endowed with an exceptional clarity in visual articulation that I envy greatly.
If you’re interested in looking at more of Yoshioka’s work, Tokujin is a pretty good collection of some of his most poetic pieces. I included it in a post about some of my favorite books last year.
While most of Yoshioka’s work is in the art and installation world, he does design a few products now and then. One of his most iconic work is the TO watch he designed for Issey Miyake. There are multiple incarnations of this design but this is my favorite (silver dial with black leather strap) and is called the SILAN003. Due to import fees, most sellers sell the watch for around $500 but if you look around, you shouldn’t have to pay more than $400.
Issey Miyake watches universally have impressive packaging and this is no exception. Tokujin Yoshioka approaches design by first selecting a material and finish he really likes. In terms of TO, it’s clearly spin brushed metal as deliberately established by the unboxing experience.
I’m pretty picky about spin texture because so few companies get it perfectly (even B&O). The two things that bother me most are lack of consistency in texture and the presence of rainbowing in the pattern. The packaging has some issues in brush technique but I’m not too bothered. After all, it is just the box.
The lid simply slides off and reveals the watch nestled in simple black foam. In terms of presentation, it’s thoroughly impressive, especially when you consider the fairly affordable price of the watch and Issey Miyake’s brand prestige.
The internal surfaces aren’t finished. By looking at the markings, it looks like it was made using deep drawing, not unlike the Apple Mac Pro.
Like any decent watch, it includes a card guaranteeing its authenticity.
And a Japanese/English manual is included in the box.
In typical Tokujin Yoshioka and Issey Miyake fashion, the watch’s concept is presented in a concise manner. There’s no pondering about what the intentions were here: it’s all about a sense of solidity and the deliberate use of spin brushing.
In an effort to continue this concept of solidity, the crown of the watch integrates seamlessly into the body. Of course, it’s also has a spin treatment.
Though it looks fiddly, using the crown is a painless experience; it turns without much resistance when you run your finger over it.
The TO has an unconventional band system that is a hybrid of a leather strap and a clasp. It’s common in many rubber bands but I find it to be just adding complexity here because you’re still left with an extra bit of tongue. Issey Miyake offers models with stainless steel straps which might be better functionally.
The strap on the SILAN003 model is black and made from Japanese calf leather.
As I’ve said before, I think this model with the black leather strap is the most attractive looking option. The band has a super-matte texture that feels synthetic. I’m guessing that it’s been painted with something like a urethane paint. As you can see in the photo, the finish of the strap does wear fairly quickly making me further think that the steel strap is really the smart buy here.
Looking closely at the strap also reveals a few imperfections. This is no Ikepod - and thankfully the price reflects that.
Now let’s get to the meat on the bone. The TO’s face is perfectly circular in shape and is composed of concentric circles. Instead of having dials that move on top of a face, the face itself has become the dials here. I love the intention of making it look like it’s been carved out of a single pice of metal. Also, loads of swag from the shiny brushed texture.
There’s a catch though. Because the dials wouldn’t be mechanically sound without it, a glass window was added for protection. It breaks the illusion of solidity and hurts the flow of the design. Design is like a song and this window is someone missing a note.
My biggest complaint though is how the inner dials are slightly warmer in color. It’s much less noticeable indoors but becomes clearly evident in direct sunlight. It really is unfortunate that such a small detail is preventing this watch go from a good to an incredible object.
As it says on the back, the TO is developed by Seiko. It uses a simple quartz movement. An automatic TO does exist but I find that its design compromised by the larger movement. Buy the quartz TO, it’s what Tokujin intended.
Though no anorexic, the TO is a reasonably compact watch. I had worried that the sizable dials would result in some extra Z-height but that’s not really the case.
The watch has a 38mm face, comparable to the popular Braun BN0032 (40mm).
The TO is relatively small for a men’s watch but petit size comes with comfort. I’ve been wearing the TO daily for the past two weeks and haven’t had any issues. The stiff band does need some breaking in though and did feel awkward at first. I did have one instance of the clasp coming lose during a intense concert with a lot of flailing but it seems like an atypical incident.
The Issey Miyake TO isn’t without faults. I wish the spin brushing on the face was better and had a more resolved window treatment. The strap also has a few issues though I’m looking the other way because it looks so nice. All things considered though, I’m really happy with the watch. It’s one of Tokujin’s most iconic work and that in itself is worth the price of entry. I also love how TO reveals Yoshioka and Miyake’s similarity in sensibility. Most importantly though, it’s not easy to buy timepiece of this design caliber at this price. All the watches I lust for are thousands of dollars and the fact that this is accessible is worth praise in my opinion.