Jiro Katayama’s Otsuka Lotec brand is perhaps one of the lesser known independents from Japan. Coming from a design school background, Katayama indulges in admiring cars of many kinds, and such a passion would eventually lead him into working in the automotive industry, and later becoming an product designer, focusing on transportation at large, as well as household appliances. The watch brand is actually not a new venture, having been founded in 2008.
In the midst of his design career, Katayama began experimenting with a small bench lathe that he won at an online auction. Watch cases were among some of his first inspirations, and to no surprise Katayama quickly found his fascination with watches similar to cars. Since then, he began to research more on machining and watchmaking, using the time outside of his day job as an industrial designer, during which he came across several independent watchmakers from around the world. By imitating their components, mechanisms, and techniques, Katayama eventually completed a few prototypes until the model No.5, the first commercial model, introduced in 2012.
The watches created by Katayama depict a very consistent and distinctive industrial aesthetic, expressed mainly through contours and finishing contrasts on the case, in combination with time displays such as jump hours and retrograde, with deliberate design cues for a rather unique look less commonly found in the approachably-priced market segment. Take the model No.7.5, for example: the distinctive three aperture design takes inspiration from the 8mm movie camera popular in the 1930s, specifically the asymmetrical design of interchangeable lenses. The apertures, to display the jumping hour, minute, and running second, are all in different diameters and heights. Together with a case finished with a sandblasting and brushing technique, the dial side has plenty of depth and contrast despite being constructed out of just one material. The hour aperture is fitted with a fisheye lens to enlarge the disc below. Through the minute aperture, on the other hand, there is the minute disc and indicator, while some of the components, as well as part of the perlarge finishing on the plate are also visible beneath. The second aperture is the smallest of all, showing only part of a running seconds disc with minimal scale, while the brand name is engraved at its periphery.
Model No.6 shows a strong resemblance to analogue metres, and the retrograde time display is therefore quite fitting for the watch. Unlike the No.7.5, the dial presence on this watch is relatively large, making the brushed finish even more pronounced. And despite including the various Japanese engraving at the periphery, the time information is still clearly delineated, partly due to the hands overlapping the hour and minute scale for an accurate and easy reading. There is also a date aperture sitting below three o’clock, and a cut-out near the bottom of the dial to showcase, again, a running seconds disc. Part of the retrograde mechanism and plate is also visible from this opening. In terms of size, it is measured at 42mm, 2mm larger than the No.7.5, though the thin, tube-like lugs reduce its presence on the wrist, making the watch quite versatile.
Both of the models feature a transparent case back, showcasing the demure appearance of the Miyota movement, nothing too fancy but coherent to the overall aesthetic of the watch. All watches created by Jiro Katayama thus far employ a Miyota calibre as a base movement, with the additional complication module developed and manufactured in-house by Katayama. For those who are curious about the mechanisms, Katayama posts some videos about the inner workings of the watches on Instagram. Within the profile there is also a teaser showcasing a work-in-progress tourbillon calibre, something worthy of attention in the future.
The annual production at Otsuka Lotec remains relatively small. For the past 10 years, Katayama was able to deliver slightly more than 400 watches, including the four core models, No.5, No.6, No.7, No.7.5, and some special editions in bronze cases and meteorite dials. Starting this year, he is increasing the rate of production with the help of more watchmakers, in collaboration with Precision Watch Tokyo, a company owned by independent watchmaker Hajime Asaoka, though it would seem the demand has already outweighed supply since purchase can now only be made through raffles on the official site (not to mention that he focuses on the Japanese market alone). On top of quantity, Katayama also recently introduced upgraded materials, to enhance the durability of the watches, including the use of sapphire crystal instead of mineral glass, a custom-made sapphire lens instead of the acrylic fisheye lens, a higher grade of SUS316L instead of the original SUS303L stainless steel, and refinements on buckles, straps and packaging.
While the above photographed watches are both early models, the new version of No.7.5 is priced at 297,000 yen (approximately CHF1,750) at the time of writing, a sound value nonetheless for what the watch has to offer.