If you’re part of the #watchfam on Instagram, you already know the Kurono Chronograph 2. This new-ish Japanese brand has become a fan favorite on social media. Making it one of the best known affordable independent brands from Asia. Founded in 2019, Kurono seemed to enjoy instant success. At launch every model sold out on the first day. Even with a delivery window many months away. As a result, prices on the secondary market are often 2-3 times above list. Does that make the Kurono Chronograph 2 the most desirable chrono under $4k? There’s some competition to be sure. But this is one watch that is definitely boxing above its weight.

From the outside, the success of Kurono seems almost unfathomable. How did a small, unknown brand gain such a passionate following in such a short time? Yet there’s more to the story here. Much more. You see, behind this rapid rise famed independent watch maker Mr. Hajime Asaoka.

Who is Mr. Hajime Asaoka?

Hajime is a legendary figure in the world of high-end, independent watchmaking. Revered all the more because he is self-taught. He is one of 31 members of the AHCI, the most prestigious association in indie watchmaking. The timepieces he creates under his name are all super high-end, and cost north of $50K. Not that the price deters his well-heeled clientele. Each of whom is content to wait years while Hajime makes their individual watch by hand. Assuming they can get on the list of buyers to begin with.

Hajime Asaoka portrait
Famed Japanese independent watchmaker Hajime Asaoka.

The only drawback of the handmade approach is that production quantities are low. And I mean single digit low. Which is fine for connoisseurs of course. But Hajime recognized that there was a wider demand for his work. So, he came up with a novel way to make his watches more accessible. Borrowing a concept from the fashion world, he created a new, affordable brand. Thus, the birth of Kurono (think “Chrono-”) in 2019.

The concept is simple. He handles design and specifications. While production is undertaken by a trusted partner. Inside the case are excellent movements from well-known brands to keep the cost down. The basic models are under $2,000 and the chronographs are under $4,000. Both have been sell-out successes

Kurono Chronograph 1

After the successful releases of several three-hand models, Kurono launched the first chronograph. The Kurono Chronograph 1. A model so popular it received nomination to the “Chronograph” category of the 2020 GPHG. (The so-called “Oscars” of the watch industry.) There it would compete against offerings from much better-established brands. Think IWC, Chopard, Doxa and Maurice Lacroix.

All the more impressive is the fact that it edged out those brands to make it into the final round. A decision based on votes submitted by the 350 member GPHG academy. At the same time, Kurono’s anniversary model “Mori” was a finalist in another category in the 2020 GPHG as well. Despite not getting the W, the status of “double finalist” put Kurono on the map. This was an up and coming independent watch brand that everyone wanted a piece of. Including this author.

Kurono Chronograph 2

Hajime announced the Kurono Chronograph 2 earlier this year (2021) with stunning photos. As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to own it. I marked my calendar and set the alarm for an early February morning in California to place an order.  A total of more than 400 pieces sold out in a mere 2-3 minutes. There were 7,212 visitors in the queue at its peak, as reported by the Kurono team.

I was among the lucky ones who completed the transaction in time. The watch arrived after 2 months in a very nice packaging with a beautiful wrapping cloth. The case is very comfortable at 38mm, and also quite versatile. Across the top of the dial is the Kurono brand name in Japanese. While on the case-back appear the words “Designed by Hajime Asaoka” and “Bunkyō Tokyo”. It is a super nice, vintage looking luxury timepiece from Japan through and through.

The Dial

Dark brown is an unusual color for a watch dial, yet it feels natural with the retro design of the watch. At first glance, the layout appears a bit busier than the Chronograph 1. Yet it remains legible thanks to contrasting colors and crisp markings. There are five hands with different shapes on a perfect symmetrical dial. The color choices of brown, black, copper and silver project a vintage look and art deco feel. For me, the aesthetic of the dial and the case design created by Hajime are what set the Kurono Chronograph 2 apart.

The Chronograph 1 includes a tachymeter scale around the periphery of the dial. For the Kurono Chronograph 2, the tachymeter scale moves towards the center of the dial. There it intersects with the 2 sub-dials in an interesting fashion. This is not only an aesthetic choice though. The move frees up space for a telemeter scale at the outermost area of the dial. A telemeter enables a wearer to gauge the distance from an occurrence far away.  One example is estimating the distance from a lightning strike. It is rare to display both tachymeter and telemeter scales on a watch. Doing it here only serves to enhance the tool watch appeal of the Kurono Chronograph 2.

The Seiko Movement

For the Chronograph 1 and 2, Hajime selected the NE86A, a top chronograph movement made by Seiko. The Japanese company has quite an interesting history with chronograph movements. Although it’s lesser known than their Swiss counterparts. Most people consider Seiko a modern brand, but this is not quite true.

In fact, Seiko was the first in the world to serially produce an automatic chronograph in 1969. The Ref 6139 “Speed Timer”. Beating out the Zenith El Primero. (Prototype in Jan 1969 but released to market in October that same year.) And the Chronomatic consortium of Heuer, Breitling, et al. (Prototype in March, market launch in June/July.) So, we can say Seiko is something of a veteran in chronograph movement development.

The NE86A is almost the same as Seiko’s most complicated, premium calibers 8R48A/8R49A. The main difference is the location of the date function. Otherwise, it is the same movement with 34 jewels and 311 components. The key takeaway here is that the NE86A is a solid workhorse calibre produced in Japan. This was a wise choice by Hajime to make the Kurono chronograph accessible to more watch lovers.

The NE86A combines traditional chronograph features like a column wheel and vertical clutch.  There is a magic lever winding system that starts, stops and resets all three wheels.  This system allows for all the counters to advance continuously.  Meaning the counters don’t move forward only at one-minute intervals. This automatic movement runs at 28,800 bph and offers at least 45 hours of power reserve.

The timing accuracy is about +7.0 seconds per day for my personal watch measured over 48 hours. I performed the test at home using the “WatchTracker” mobile app on iOS.  The time/dating setting is very smooth, and the operation of the chronograph is firm and crisp. The winding of the crown is more audible than some other watches, but I like it this way as it seems more responsive to me.

Price & Availability

To ensure quality, every Kurono watch collection is a limited edition. The downside of this of course is that all watches sell out immediately upon opening for orders. In the case of the Kurono Chronograph 2, pricing was set a tad below $4,000 with a 500-piece limited production run. There were some watches reserved for Kurono contributors. While the rest of the more than 400 pieces were available for pre-order in Feb of 2021 and sold out in 2-3 minutes. 

That left a lot unmet demand. Which has pushed up the prices on the secondary markets. How much of this is being driven by flippers it’s hard to say. Likewise, what the longer-term value of the Kurono Chronograph 2 might be is anyone’s guess. At the moment, prices range from US$5,500 to US$8,300 depending on condition.

Is It Collectible?

There are few modern chronograph watches priced under US$4,000 anywhere today. Not to mention that the design of the Kurono chronograph is the work of a top AHCI watchmaker. With execution managed by a capable and dedicated team. And, of course, limited production numbers. These factors alone may well make it the most collectible modern chronograph under US$4,000. 

That said, the list price is a fair price for an excellent watch. I would not encourage watch lovers to go get one at the elevated market price though. I have not bought any watches over list prices, as I don’t want to encourage the flipping of ‘hype’ models in any way. Plus, this is not a vintage watch we’re talking about. There will be another Kurono Chronograph. Which means collectors and enthusiasts can still get new models at list prices. To give yourself the best chance, follow the advice below.

How To Get Your Own Kurono Chronograph

If you missed out on the Kurono Chronograph 2, don’t despair. The brand has told fans that the plan is to release one chronograph every year. There’s no official word on the Kurono Chronograph 3 yet, but it’s definitely on the horizon. As such, I would plan for a pre-order in early 2022. It will be a new design again and the production run should be at least 500 pieces.

Here’s 5 steps I recommend toincrease your chance of getting this very collectible model:

Step.1 – Follow Kurono on Instagram (if you don’t already). The brand often shares any new news and updates here first. Including the schedule for new releases.

Step. 2 – Create an account on the Kurono website. People ran into issues with credit cards failing to charge on an international order. So, it is best to confirm with your credit card company that overseas charges will go through.

Step. 3 – Do a test run. I purchased a strap as my first order from Kurono. I wanted the strap, but I also wanted to verify that my order would go through without any hiccups. This also has the added bonus of putting you on the existing accessory customers list. Kurono always allocates a set amount of the production run for existing customers. So, this will also increase your chances of success in buying the new model.

Step. 4 – Make a note (or several) of the date/time the new model opens for pre-order. Kurono always announces new watch pre-order dates 2-3 weeks in advance. Accompanied by detailed info and photos. Giving you have plenty of time to determine if the watch is right for you.

Step. 5 – Prepare to act fast. On the day of pre-order, there is usually enough time to complete your order in 1-2 minutes if you are well prepared. If you don’t have your credit card details saved in your browser, write them down in a Word doc. That way you can do a quick copy and paste, saving precious seconds.

Best of luck in ordering a Kurono Chronograph 3 or any other new model you may like.

Final Thoughts

I was happy to add the Kurono Chronograph 2 to my collection, as it ticks so many boxes.  The biggest delight is the classic aesthetic with a vintage, tool-like look and feel.  This derives from the DNA common in Hajime’s creations. The build quality of the watch and the tasteful packaging are also very impressive. Hajime put his heart and name behind the Kurono brand to produce the best quality products for the money.

The best evidence of that is the fact that Hajime has said that the Kurono watches are for himself too. All the high-end pieces he creates under his eponymous brand go straight to customers. As such, he often shars wrist shots of his personal Kurono watches. He makes these watches for his fans and himself to wear and enjoy. As a watch lover and collector, it feels good to be supporting an independent watchmaker. To be part of his success and get a great product in return as well. And one that seems set to only appreciate in value over time.

 Technical Specifications: Kurono Chronograph 2

  • Case: 38 mm x 13.8mm (including sapphire) – 316L stainless steel – high-polish finish – solid, engraved caseback – waterproof to 100 metres / 330 feet.
  • Dial: gloss brown/black with copper and silver contrasts – central time display with chronograph seconds – twin sub-dials – tachymeter – telemeter – date via an aperture at 6 o’clock.
  • Movement: Seiko NE86A – Japanese made – self-winding – column-wheel chronograph with vertical clutch – 45-hour power reserve.
  • Price: USD3,993 ex taxes / sold-out

Henri Lee on Instagram
Henri Lee
Henri Lee
Henri Lee is a watch enthusiast and collector living on the west coast of the USA. Passionate about watch collecting, he is a member of the HSNY and loves to share his experience and joy with fellow watch lovers. You may find him on Instagram @sfwatchlover.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *