Sunday, November 1, 2015

350 years of tradition going into a Watch Winder

Japanese Master Craftsman Shoichi Inoue has mastered the art of Butsudan making. He intends to preserve the 350 year old craft of handcrafting and lacquering and has expanded his craft into watch winders too.

Butsudan are household Buddhist alters and they can be very elaborate. Inoue-san has taken his craft to another item - watch winders and watch racks. Incorporating his craft in making butsudan, Inoue-san had found new inspiration in watch winders. Urushi (Japanese word for lacquer tree) is an age-old lacquering technique of using the sap of the lacquer tree which in its liquid form is toxic. But once applied and hardened, the toxicity is no longer there. And the results of the final product is a highly glossed product that is also very durable. Traditional lacquerware comes with three layers of lacquer - the undercoat, middle and final coat. The final coat is the clear lacquer that seals the decoration.

According to Inoue-san, the making of a butsudan involves seven stages. The following is narrative from Inoue-san.

The Kijishi

The Kijishi craftsman, who makes the main body of a butsudan altar, is responsible for the first important step in crafting the butsudan. Starting from carefully chosen wood pieces, he builds the butsudan body with the mortise and tenon joint technique, which requires very high artistry to join the wood pieces together precisely without the use of nails. Because of its nailless structure, the body of the butsudan can be disassembled later on.

Notice the high gloss finish of the winder which is made with Japanese cypress wood.

The Kudenshi

The Kudenshi craftman, known as the palace maker, creates each of the small details by hand to make up the roof of the butsudan, called the kuden. Similarly to Kijishi craftsman he uses the mortise and tenon joint technique which allows for disassembly into smaller pieces. To make this possible, he never ignores even a 1mm inaccuracy of measurement.

Inside the box is a Kubik winder. Inoue-san chose Kubik for the quietness of the motor.

The Sculptor

The sculptor choses the design and carves the sculptures out of wood (commonly hinoki cypress or pine) using small chisels and knives. Starting from a sketch on a wood base block, he carves out vivid three dimensional depictions of plants or animals.

The Lacquerer

The lacquerer manually applies urushi lacquer after treating the surface of the already carved wood pieces. The urushi application process takes much time and effort. Depending on the product, not only does he apply it using a brush, but he also polishes it with a premium technique called roiro finishing to give the work a deeper hue and lustrous mirror-like surface, the trademarks of quality urushi lacquer work.

The Gilder

The gilder, who is responsible for gold leaf stamping, applies each individual sheet of pure gold leaf using special lacquer glue. This gold leaf sheet is extremely thin, about 0.0001mm, so it will blow away with even a slight breeze.

The Chaser

The chaser uses a tagane, an engraving tool, or a hammer to create different shapes of decorative fittings by carving, cutting and bending copper and other metals. He then finishes it with a coating of either urushi lacquer or gold plating.

Notice the round hole at the top of the box? Well that is to connect a rod to make it a double winder. And notice the intricate workmanship and the glossy finish on the box. Truly a work of art!

The Makieshi

The makie artist designs and paints various types of objects, traditionally natural landscapes or flowers and birds. He first sketches the design using lacquer paint, then sprinkles gold or silver powders, or inlays mother-of-pearl pieces. Finally, he touches in the finishing details to complete the polished look of the butsudan altar.

Inoue-san also showcased his triple watch rack. The Kubik winder fits perfectly within the rack creating a triple winder. But the rack could also function as a static display - for manual winding timepieces too.

On top of creating these winders, Inoue-san can also make watch boxes - mostly highly customised pieces. Depending on the amount of work done, precious metals used and complexity of the design, each winder can take up to six months to complete and costs upwards of US$20,000.

You may find out more about Inoue-san from this weblink. Or you may write to him at Many thanks to Peter@Deployant for setting this up and to Momoko-san who translated the session.

Photos taken with an iPhone 6.

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