The opulent aesthetics and lengthy heritage of mechanical watches serve as inspiration for certain watch designers. For Tokyo-based watch designer Jiro Katayama, however, the gears and pinions—parts of the industrial world where he started his career—are everything.
Growing up in the car-crazy 1980s Japan, his work experience with Lexus and other Japanese automakers, and the instruments he encountered in automotive design school all had an impact on Mr. Katayama, who founded Otsuka Lotec watches in 2000 as a part of a design business before focusing solely on watch production in 2012.
He created 400 watches over the course of the following ten years, including the internal workings, casings, hands, and dials, but buyers had to wait up to two years for their orders to be fulfilled.
This year, Mr. Katayama, 52, teamed up with Precision Watch Tokyo, which helps watchmakers with sales, production, and repairs, in an effort to increase his output. In an effort to meet the demand for the brand’s two current models—updated versions of his No. 7.5 and No. 6 designs—he is currently working with three of its employees to make roughly 15 watches every month.
New York-based visual artist and watch lover Phillip Toledano said via email that Jiro “hits multiple spots in the Venn diagram of horology.”
“In my opinion, he is a one-man show who creates intriguing designs at an almost unbelievable price, using amazing typography.”
The font used by the company is a component of its overall industrial style. Mr. Katayama stated that he utilized a typeface from German engraving machines from the 20th century for the company’s emblem, and that the letters on the No. 6 dial were influenced by highway signs in Japan.
Although the strategy might appear unconventional, he clarified, “I’m not from a watch background.” “I draw more inspiration from mechanisms, including cars, trains, airplanes, and other vehicles and objects, rather than from vintage watches.”
After graduating from the Tokyo Communication Art Training School with a vocational degree in automotive design, Mr. Katayama spent many years working in the automobile business, most notably at Lexus, where he contributed to the design of the Lexus IS from 1998 to 2000. In addition, he created home goods for other businesses and motorcycle helmets for the Japanese firm OGK.
Then he remarked, “I wanted to create something new, so I bought a bench lathe machine in 2008.” “I realized that although I couldn’t create a car by myself, I could create a watch.”
The name of his business, Otsuka Lotec, combines the terms for low-tech in Japanese and Otsuka, the neighborhood where his workshop is located.
During the early stages of the brand, Mr. Katayama only created some visible elements, such as the hands, and only produced single copies of his No. 1 through No. 4 designs. Then, starting with No. 5, which was also released in 2012, he started to create internal components, a laborious process that greatly slowed down manufacturing.
“After joining Precision Watch Tokyo, I wanted to improve the quality of my current designs,” he stated. “I want to gradually start working on new models starting next year.”
The updated No. 7.5 was introduced in June and featured a jumping hour module designed by Mr. Katayama. This innovation allows the hour hand to “jump” to the next numeral instead of moving slowly through the period on the Miyota 82S5 movement of the watch. Additionally, the brand’s emblem was etched on the strap clasp, and a sapphire glass was used in place of the original mineral glass crystal.
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