What is urushi lacquer ?

Urushi is a special lacquer fabricated from the sap of the Urushi tree, which is native to Japan, China, and Korea. Lacquer sap (which happens to have some pretty nasty toxic qualities in its “raw” state) is frequently used as a lacquer in Japan because of its very resistant properties. Indeed, it contains a resin that becomes very hard, durable, and plastic-like when exposed to moisture and air. Owing to its potential toxicity, it is not the easiest or most forgiving substance to work with.

Minase’s shibo-urushi dials

Minase pays tribute to Japan’s finest traditional crafts. With the shibo urushi technique, urushi laquer is mixed with paint and egg white. This gives the mixture a viscous consistency and allows the artist to play with the puddle-like color spots. Minase offers three types of urushi makie dials:

  1. Urushi dials by Hakose (with paint, makie and gold flakes)

  2. Plain urushi makie dials

  3. Shibo Urushi dials

Handcrafted in the studio of Urushi master Hakose,the shibo-urushi dials display a unique look and each piece is unique.

Minase Divido shibo urushi

Minase’s shibo-urushi dials – the process

After blending and straining the Urushi, the brass base dial is painted with a first layer of lacquer. Urushi lacquer is applied with a brush to the dial. Traditional Urushi brushes were made out of human hair because its texture was found to be just right. It is hard to find this kind of brush today even among traditional artisans. They mostly use brushes with mice or cats hair.

As the urushi lacquer hardens, it absorbs moisture from the air which makes the dial perpetually shiny and slick. It isn’t really useful for a dial that’s inside a watch case, but the Urushi lacquer also withstands erosion from water, acids, alcohol and changes in temperature.

For Shibo-urushi dials, Hakose mixes urushi laquer with color and egg whites. It makes a special and viscous structure that enable the artist to play with the motives of color.

Urushi Lacquer’s Origin

The traditional urushi lacquer comes from the sap of the Asian lacquer tree – toxicodendron vernicifluum, also called Urushi tree. It is not easy to cultivate as it is highly allergetic. A couple of slashes are made in the tree and the freshly collected sap (called “arami”) is grey-brown in color and includes impurities that need being removed. Hence, the sap is filtered several times through layers of paper.

Unique Dials

Shibo Urushi dials are unique. Every piece is hand-made and the viscous material makes it very difficult to replicate a same scheme.

Urushi Master Junichi Hakose

Junichi Hakose is one of the most internationally acclaimed Japanese lacquer artists. Minase dials are the first horological artworks he’s sone so far. He runs his workshop and always trains several apprentices to pass on his knowledge.