URUSHI. Byakudan-nuri. Maki-e. Three traditional Japanese techniques artisans reserve for special — even sacred — objects. And it’s all three practices which Seiko have lavished on its new rendition of a Presage collection timepiece.
Called Presage Urushi Byakudan-nuri Limited Edition (capped at 2,000 pieces, and now available at select Seiko retailers), the watch depicts on its dial the color of the sky and moon just before dawn — meaning it’s dark, but tinged with rich red.
To get this color is no easy task — well, the techniques involved are laborious and require tremendous skills. Urushi, for starters, is not just painting lacquer over some surface. On this special Presage, jet-black lacquer is applied by hand on the bare metal of the dial, then dried and polished. Then the process is repeated. And then repeated some more. For good measure, all this painting and drying and polishing are done again, right up to the point when the craftsman doing it is satisfied with how deep the black paint on the dial has become.
Making the subdials is as finicky. A new layer of urushi is applied to distinguish them, and onto which still-wet surface a layer of fine metallic powder is sprinkled. The entire dial is then painted over — repeatedly — with a reddish, translucent layer of more urushi lacquer. The paint is applied and dried and polished until the desired effect is achieved, or until the subdials take on a dark red hue while the dial retains its lush black shade. This method of adorning urushi is what’s called byakudan-nuri.
Applying the maki-e touch follows next. Like with the byakudan-nuri technique, the area to be defined by maki-e — in this case the crescent outline of the power reserve meter — is coated with more urushi lacquer. While still wet, a fine, gilt-colored powder is applied on it. A craftsman then gently taps the powder to disperse it evenly across the surface, before using his preferred tool to perfect the form. The result is not only a shimmering image of a crescent moon, but one that approximates the cragginess of the lunar surface as well.
All these artisanal touches are performed by hand in the studio of urushi master Isshu Tamura in the Hokuriku region of Honshu, Japan. Tamura-san is credited for having overseen the crafting of all urushi dials in the Presage collection.
Speaking of which, the Presage Urushi Byakudan-nuri retains the rest of the Presage’s specifications. This means that beneath its 40.5-millimeter steel case covered with a sapphire crystal dome on top beats Seiko’s 29-jewel cal. 6R21, which spins at 28,800vph and has a power reserve of 45 hours. In this instance though, the movement is visible through an exhibition caseback that received an added detail — a golden crescent running around a part of its perimeter. Shoot for the moon, land among the stars.