Naoya Hilda & Co. is a Tokyo-based watch atelier producing a small number of watches with classic design elements and modern construction. The eponymous company was founded by an industry veteran who was inspired by fine Swiss dress watches from the “golden age of mechanical watches.” Naoya Hilda has a unique annual sales approach and recently introduced its 2022 lineup, which includes 5 models.
In this first article in our series on Naoya Hida’s watches, we will meet Hida-San, learn of his inspiration, and take a look at the various Naoya Hida & Co. references. We will follow with a closer look at each annual wave of watch designs, since they share so much.
Classically-Inspired But Not Classic
Naoya Hida often points to the classic watches of the 1930s through 1960s as his inspiration, but his watches are not reproductions. Indeed, close examination reveals a very modern aesthetic despite Hida’s focus on historical elements. It is undeniable that the gestalt of the three “NH Type” watches suggest classic European styling, but the details, and thus the watches themselves, are more “neo-classical.”
The production methods employed by the watchmakers of Naoya Hida & Co. are a mix of old and new, just like the design. The company uses modern tools and classic hand techniques to create a watch that never could have existed in the so-called “golden age.” The intention is clearly to deliver modern craftsmanship rather than to simply reproduce classic techniques. It is also very Japanese, with lacquer-filled markers and a focus on texture and surface finishing.
The result is a decidedly modern watch with a mix of historic elements, notably the Breguet and Roman numerals on the Types 1 and 3, the Lépine small seconds on the Type 1, and the Calatrava-style case. But no classic watch had hand-carved lacquer-filled markers exactly like Hida’s watches. Even the case (and new 2022 screw-down caseback) are modern in terms of construction and decoration. In fact, the distinctive carved and textured dials and cases have a lot more in common with Jony Ive’s unibody Apple MacBook Pro than they do with a Patek Philippe’s Calatrava Ref. 96!
A closer examination of the Hida references to date reveals a fanatical attention to the smallest details. Although each year’s watches share the same case band, each uses a different bezel and case back to accommodate the varying thickness of the three movements. Beyond the obvious complications, numerals, and handsets, the smallest details have been adjusted for each reference, from the bezel and caseback to the placement of the numerals and logo. This obsessive focus is the signature of Naoya Hida as much as any other element of the watch.
Naoya Hida’s Inspiration
Naoya Hida founded his eponymous company in 2018 with the goal of producing high-end watches in limited numbers with consistent design. Hida previously represented F. P. Journe in Japan and worked for Ralph Lauren Watch and Jewelry. This experience is apparent in the organization of the company and its target market, as well as the design and craftsmanship of the watches.
Today, Naoya Hida & Co. (technically NH WATCH Co., Ltd.) consists of Hida himself, along with watchmaker Kusoke Fujita and engraver Keisuke Kano. Fujita joined in 2020, having previously worked at Journe as well as Seiko’s service center. He is a graduate of the Hiko-Mizuno Watchmaking School in Tokyo. Kano also worked for Seiko, producing jewelry watches for Seiko Epson before moving to Tiffany as an engraver. He joined Hida in 2022 and handles dial engraving.
Hida chose to introduce himself to the world in February, 2019, with a tour of his own watch box. Looking back, this collection of wrist shots shows his style and inspiration, as well as his priorities: Most of the models chosen are classic dress watches with a special twist. But the collection is not exclusive or even particularly coherent. Rather, it reminds me of the collection someone like me would put together, buying whatever meaningful watch appears.
Browsing through this list, presented here in the order he revealed them and with his own words, one can see his NH Type watches emerge. We notice a large number of dress watches in the list, most of which distinguish themselves with a twist on the classic forms. Some specific cues that found their way into Hida’s offerings to date include the Roman numerals on his Ralph Lauren, the outer “dot” chapter rings, Genta’s Polerouter case, and the stepped dial on his Aureole.
Importantly, none of these watches has even a passing resemblance to the NH Type 1B that would be introduced the following month, or the NH Type 1A he had already constructed. The intent seems to have been creating something new that would fit into a watch collection that also included these classic models. We also see a curiosity and openness to go beyond the staples of “golden age” watches and an understanding of important but forgotten brands like Büren, Universal, and Eterna.
The Three Naoya Hida Watches
As of 2022, Naoya Hida & Co. have produced three different watch models:
- NH Type 1: Small seconds at 9, Breguet numerals (2019, 2020, 2022)
- NH Type 2: Central seconds, Arabic numerals (2020, 2021, 2022)
- NH Type 3: Moon phase at 6, Roman numerals (2021, 2022)
Each model is produced on an annual schedule, with a release announced in the Spring and production continuing through the rest of the year. All models in a given year share the same case band but use a unique case back, bezel, dial, hands, and strap. Hida has used three different movements to date, all hand-winding and based on the ETA/Valjoux 7750 ebauche but extensively modified. I’ll dive more into the movements later on, but should note that the apparent lack of finishing to the ETA base is perhaps the most controversial aspect of an otherwise impeccable attention to detail.
Not counting the original prototype NH Type 1A, the first reference and model released was the 2019 NH Type 1B. This model combines many traditional styling cues to suggest a pre-World War II look. The most obvious element is the small seconds subdial at 9, which recalls so-called Lépine “marriage” watches of the 1910s. This contrasts with the Calatrava-style case and lugs, appeared after the depression. A closer look shows Breguet-style numerals with “dots” in the chapter ring, a style reminiscent of turn of the century pocket watches that was revived in the late 1930s. The hands are an unusual tapered leaf style in heat-blued steel that serve to unite these various elements nicely. The overall look of the Type 1B is surprisingly cohesive despite the seemingly incongruous combination of styling elements from different periods. Just 7 examples of NH Type 1B were produced and sold.
Hida returned in 2020 with a new model featuring a central seconds hand and Arabic numerals. This NH Type 2A has a three-step dial, with an outer chapter ring resembling the seconds subdial on the Type 1 and a sunken inner space containing the hour hand, with the minute hand riding over the numerals. The hands are wonderfully-clever semi-cylinders of polished steel that must have been a real challenge to produce. A blued steel seconds hand with a paddle counterbalance is another lovely post-war touch. The overall look of the NH Type 2A is reminiscent of the 1940s and 1950s, when “3-6-9-12” dials were popular and Calatrava cases were produced by many companies. The 2020 case is shared with a slightly-modified NH Type 1C, which most notably adds a “lollipop” to the seconds hand like the prototype NH Type 1A.
In 2021, Hida added a third model with a lovely golden moon phase disc. The Type 3A featured Roman numerals and a deep cut-out dial that resembles a clock or historic pocket watch more than any classic wristwatch. It shares an updated Calatrava-style case with a revised Type 2B. The Type 3 features a stepped dial similar to the Type 2, but the Type 1 style dotted chapter ring is produced as a separate component for greater depth. New leaf-shaped hands are used, and it lacks a seconds hand entirely. The Type 2B has six even numerals instead of the “Explorer” dial from the previous year. Production of the 2020 Type 1C may have continued through 2021 but a new Type 1 model was not introduced this year.
The 2022 Hida range was announced on May 12, and includes no less than five different references, with all three models updated. The most important change to these models is an entirely new case with a screw-down back. Along with the thinner lugs, this new case back changes the feel of the watch and is reminiscent of the waterproof watch cases developed in the 1950s. The other surprise of the 2022 line is a pair of “-1” models of the Types 1D and 2C. The Type 1D-1 features a gold bezel and hands, giving it a 1950s two-tone look like the new Rolex Explorer. The Type 2C-1 is produced in collaboration with The Armoury and features a “lettercutter” font for all 12 numerals. Speaking of numerals, the new Type 2C also features six even numerals like the Type 2B instead of four at the cardinal points like the Type 2A.
Naoya Hida Watch Production and Sales
The initial production of 7 NH Type 1B watches took a while to sell and longer to produce. But the publicity of Naoya Hida’s watches brought greater interest from buyers. The addition of Fujita and Kano allowed the company to deliver many more watches in 2021 and 2022, though total production is still quite low.
For 2022, Hida instituted a two-phase sales process, accepting applications from current owners through May 22 and new buyers from May 24 through May 29, 2022. The Armoury used a lottery system for their Type 2C-1. Once the applications were received, Hida selected buyers for the 60 examples of the four references remaining, with an announcement June 6, 2022. Hida confirmed to Grail Watch that this process was intended to limit sales to “avid watch lovers” and we anticipate some controversy about it. Allocation of in-demand watches is the primary challenge for low-volume watchmakers these days, and companies large and small, from Audemars Piguet and Rolex to Ming and Kurono Tokyo have been experimenting with various approaches.
Until the 2022 lineup was announced, just 79 watches had been produced by Naoya Hida and company. This number includes one prototype Type 1A and 1-2 prototypes of each of the other five references. In total, Hida has delivered 72 customer watches up to the 2022 release. This was confirmed by Hida to Grail Watch in May 2022.
Naoya Hida Watch Movements
All of Naoya Hida’s watches produced to date rely on movements based on the classic ETA 7750. Designed by the legendary Edmond Capt, this movement originated at Valjoux and was released in 1974. It was an influential and popular automatic chronograph and served as one of the primary engines of the resurgence of mechanical watchmaking in the 1980s. Indeed, look inside the legendary IWC Da Vinci and later grand complications and you’ll find Capt’s 7750 ebauche!
Although it might seem odd that Hida would use an automatic chronograph ebauche for his simple hand-winding watches, it is in keeping with watchmaking tradition. The 7750 provides a reliable and easily available base and this will ease concerns about serviceability in the future. And many other movements use the Cal. 7750 wheel train, including ETA’s own Valgranges family and quite a few column wheel chronographs.
The use of the 7750 ebauche is popular among makers of fine independent watches as well. The Hida movement is especially reminiscent of the Habring² Felix Cal. A11, which uses this base for their hand-winding time-only movement with a custom balance bridge and plate. But Habring also uses an in-house escapement and hairspring. Most other independent watchmakers use ETA and Sellita ebauches with varying levels of customization or finishing, though some have adopted more specialized movements, especially in this price range.
Hida obviously omits the automatic winding and chronograph components when his Cal. 30xx series movements are constructed, but there are many other changes besides. Notably, each movement is fitted with a Glashütte-style 3/4 plate, which sandwiches nearly the entire movement apart from the balance wheel and Hida-specific balance bridge. The plate does not use chatons, which traditionally made it easier to assemble 3/4 plate movements, but the chatons on most modern Glashütte movements aren’t functional so this is not that odd.
All Hida movements use a proprietary click mechanism to improve the feel when winding by hand. Good winding feel is curiously absent from many high-end watches, so I applaud this change. The wheel train, assortment (balance and escapement), and mainspring are held over from the 7750, as are the springs and shock absorbers. Thus, the movement operates at 4 Hz (28,800 A/h) and has a power reserve of around 45 hours. Without the chronograph components, Hida’s movements have 18 or 22 jewels.
The movement plate is decorated with a concentric pattern of overlapping spirals. Given the resources of the company, it is likely that this plate and the balance bridge are produced by an outside company, but it is nicely decorated, with engraved gold-filled lettering. The main plate still retains the ETA cloverleaf and “775x” stamps and does not appear to be re-worked or finished at all.
This is one key criticism that has been leveled against Hida’s watches: That the finishing of the ETA components is not up to his standards and thus de-values the entire watch. Given the widespread use of off-the-shelf timekeeping components, especially among independents, movement finishing is one element that often draws attention from critics. Indeed, one would hope that Hida and his staff could finish the ebauche to a standard that matches their bridge and plate at this price point. The same criticism can be leveled against some other independent watchmakers, but most are meticulous about finishing their movements.
On the other hand, it would not be fair to criticize Hida’s choice of the ETA 7750 ebauche. It is a well-respected and widely-used timekeeper, from IWC’s Il Destriero Scafusia to Omega’s Speedmaster Racing to most of the Habring² line. And nearly every member of the AHCI has worked on an ETA ebauche. Indeed, it will be easier to maintain and repair the ETA components than those from a more-exclusive maker.
The Grail Watch Perspective
Independent watchmaking is a difficult game, and we salute Naoya Hida for his efforts to create a truly unique line of watches. In an age of grab-bag mushroom brands and kickstarters, it’s nice to see a designer so focused on uniting so many varied design elements into a cohesive whole. Although the decoration of the base movement plate is disappointing, the rest of the watch is an impressive example of the kind of fanatical attention to detail that we expect from an independent watchmaker.
Of the three references, the Type 2 is the most harmonious, cohesive, and attractive. It definitively recalls the styling trends of the best “golden age” watches of the post-war period, jet brings important new touches thanks to a deeply-dimensional dial and unique hands. Although we appreciate the details of the Type 1, especially the hands, the design is not as coherent. And despite the lovely gold moon, the Type 3 dial is simply too busy, with thick Roman numerals crowding around the deep moon phase aperture.
This article was held until after the release of the 2022 lineup by Naoya Hida & Co. since the new line was on the cusp of release when we began our research. A deeper dive into each year’s release is in the works and will likely be published in the coming months. Full disclosure: The author applied to purchase an NH Type 2C on May 29, 2022, and hopes to be able to pick up the watch in person during an Autumn 2022 trip to Japan!
Note: Instagram images are used by permission from Naoya Hida
- Naoya Hida Introduces the NH Type 1C and NH Type 2A, SJX
- Naoya Hida Debuts with the Uber-Classical NH Type 1B, SJX
- Naoya Hida Unveils the Type 3A Moon Phase, SJX
Naoya Hida Movement Details
All three Hida movements to date have a similar appearance, and all are based on the 7750 ebauche, wheel train, barrel, balance, and escapement. The small seconds and moon phase movements likely share the same balance bridge and plate, and both feature 18 jewels. But the central seconds hand on Cal. 3020CS is driven using a rear-mounted wheel, as evidenced by the taller case back used for the Type 2. A close examination of the plate shows that it is indeed thicker and has an extra jewel visible at the center, for a total of 22.
Cal. 3021LU, used in the Type 3, uses the moon phase mechanism from ETA’s Cal. 7751 but omits a seconds display entirely. Like Cal. 7751, the moon phase indicator is adjusted with the crown in position 2. It would be interesting to see the dial side of these movements to compare the main plate with ETA’s.
Naoya Hida Production Details
In all, there were 37 Type 1, 20 Type 2, and 15 Type 3 watches produced and sold to customers between 2018 and 2022, with another 35 Type 1, 20 Type 2, and 15 Type 3 promised for 2022-2023. This would total 72 Type 1, 40 Type 2, and 30 Type 3 after 2022 production is completed.
|NH Type 1A
|NH Type 1B
|March 3, 2019
|NH Type 1C
|April 4, 2020
|NH Type 1D
|May 12, 2022
|NH Type 1D-1
|May 12, 2022
|NH Type 1 Total
|NH Type 2A
|April 4, 2020
|NH Type 2B
|April 18, 2021
|NH Type 2C
|May 12, 2022
|NH Type 2C-1
|May 12, 2022
|NH Type 2 Total
|NH Type 3A
|April 18, 2021
|NH Type 3B
|May 12, 2022
|NH Type 3 Total
Italic = Estimate – Asterisk = Unfulfilled
The initial Type 1B was announced in March of 2019, with 7 sold to customers. The 2020 models were released in April, with a total of 40 watches sold of Types 1C and 2A. The 2021 models included Type 2B and Type 3A, with a total of 35 sold. On May 12, 2022, Hida announced five new models, with 70 more promised to customers. Hide will presumably produce one of each of these new references for his own archives, as well as one more of the Type 2C-1 for The Armoury.