At the Intersection of Art and Mindfulness: The Timepieces of Masahiro Kikuno

Time.

It’s something we’re all aware of. It’s something that causes us stress. We try to save time (as if that’s even possible) and we try to master it (to no avail).

We’re obsessed with time. We all realize that time passes, often far too quickly for our liking. We want to control time, to harness it, to manage it. I’m not sure, though, whether that’s possible.

That said, I do believe it is possible to have a fuller relationship with time. All it takes is paying attention to time.

But do we really pay attention to time, beyond watching clocks and glancing at our watches? There has to be more than that to our relationship with time. There should be more to that relationship. And I think there can be.

I started seriously thinking about the idea of becoming more connected with time at the end of 2015. In the afternoon of December 31st of that year, I tuned into Al-Jazeera. I caught the tail end of the news and stuck around to view a promo for an upcoming programme. After that, a short feature began. That feature focused on Masahiro Kikuno, an independent watchmaker from Japan.

I’m not one who fetishizes or obsesses over watches. I’m not really interested in them. I continued watching the feature, thought. Why? I was drawn in by not only the quality of Kikuno’s work but the ideas and philosophy around time that he wraps into that work. It was those ideas and that philosophy that started the gears in my mind moving, that sparked thoughts about time and mindfulness and art.

When I first started pondering his work, I considered Kikuno to be a master craftsman. He’s that, and more. Kikuno is an artist. Time is his canvas, and his paints are wheels and springs and dials and cases.

Artist is an often-overused term, but it fits Kikuno perfectly. Kikuno is meticulous in creating his wares. The design and assembly of each watch is a painstaking, methodical, and slow process. He only creates, for example, only one of a particular watch each year each year. His is the kind of craftsmanship and care, attention to detail and the embrace of a philosophy of life, that seems so passe in our age of mass-produced timepieces and smartwatches. Or anything mass produced, for that matter.

More than that, Kikuno’s watches and his devotion to the idea of time intersect with the concept of mindfulness. Mindfulness, according to Wikipedia:

is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment

The owners of Kikuno’s timepieces need to use their senses to ensure that their watches stay accurate. This forces the owner of one of Kikuno’s watches to be more aware of the passage of time. They need to be more aware and more mindful of how the passage of time affects not only the timepiece but also the world around them. Without that mindfulness, the owner of a watch would need to do quite a bit of fiddling to get the timepiece back on track. And, by extension, to get themselves back on track.

It’s that kind of awareness, that kind of mindfulness that’s lacking in many of our lives. We turn our wrists to cast a glance at our watches. We look at the clock on the wall or on our phones or in the corner of a computer screen. We see a representation of time. We know that time is passing. But I think we fail to understand time. We fail to understand how to live with time.

With one of Kikuno’s watches, you’re forced to live with time. Not in the abstract, but in the concrete. A watch made by Kikuno develops a symbiotic relationship with its owner.

In Kikuno’s own words, his watches go on a journey with the owner. There’s a symbiotic relationship between the timepiece and the person wearing it. Kikuno’s watches need to be wound every couple of days to remain accurate. His watches don’t emit alerts. They don’t send reminders to your phone. They stop without giving any indication that they need attention. You need to pay attention to the watch in order to get the most out of it

Kikuno’s watches, as I’ve stated before, are works of art. That elevates them from being mere devices for keeping time to something more. Those watches cause a shift in one’s relationship with time, forcing the owner to be more mindful. Those watches are also something that owners can pass down from generation to generation. They’re something that resists the constantly shifting tides and winds of style and fashion. In that respect, Kikuno’s timepieces are of time but they also transcend time.

Kikuno admits that you can buy cheaper, more accurate watches than the ones he crafts. His wares will set you back well over $100,000 (USD) — hardly the type of watch you’d wear to the gym. Kikuno’s watches are beyond the means of most of us. That doesn’t take away from their beauty and the craft that went into creating them. And it doesn’t move them from the intersection of mindfulness and art. It doesn’t change that those watches take mindfulness and morph it into a beautiful form.

If you’re interested in Masahiro Kikuno’s work, he has a small photo gallery at his website (with descriptions in English and Japanese) that’s definitely worth a look.

by: Scott Nesbitt


This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
Creative Commons License