Jiro Katayama Brings Back the Ōtsuka Lotēc No.6 Watch in New Dimensions

In an exclusive Hypebeast interview, the independent watchmaker discusses the challenges with the new No. 6 watch ahead of its release.

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Ōtsuka Lotēc is an independent Japanese watch brand that has remained mostly under the radar even among some of Japan’s most avid and local collectors. Founded in 2008 by Jiro Katayama, a product designer turned self-taught watchmaker, where every piece is crafted and assembled by the founder himself in a small Tokyo atelier.

Katayama has previously worked in the automotive industry where he thought his passion for cars would be fully realized. Naturally, Katayama’s admiration for automotive is evident in his time-telling creations – an aesthetic that amalgamates Katayama’s interests in mid-century engineering and machinery, all imbued with a touch of retro-futurism.

From No. 5, No. 6, No. 7 to No. 7.5, every Ōtsuka Lotēc timepiece boasts a prominent industrial look all the while being identifiably different. These past models were all ultra-limited both in terms of quantity and availability, as they were exclusively sold in Japan within a dedicated release timeframe. Earlier on in the year, a re-release for the No. 7.5 was announced. First unveiled in 2021, the jumping-hour model features an off-center design that’s inspired by an 8mm handheld movie camera. Two years into the future, Katayama has reworked the reference with new specifications and materiality, where refinements were added to the design as well as the manufacturing process.

Following suit is the No. 6 reissue, which will soon be unveiled at the turn of the new year. Characterized by its analog meter that arrives in a fan-shaped, retrograde display, the watch’s face design is also reminiscent of an air pressure gauge. With the new release, Katayama is committed to retaining the original 40mm-wide model’s distinctive appearance, while tweaking the entire structure to fit a slimmer, 11.8mm-thick watch case. Technical upgrades were implemented in order to achieve this without  distorting the No. 6’s proportions, this includes affixing the dial directly onto the watch’s MIYOTA 9015 automatic movement to match up the dial with the bezel more seamlessly.

Ahead of the No. 6 watch release, Hypebeast linked up with Katayama to discuss Ōtsuka Lotēc’s plans for the near future, as well as details on the new timepiece.

Can you share the story of Ōtsuka Lotēc? What made you decide to start your own brand?

I always wanted to create things myself. Around some time in 2008, I acquired a lathe through an Internet auction. It’s difficult to make large objects, but I thought I could make watches by myself, so I decided to make them. My father is a wholesaler of wristwatches, so I’ve been familiar with watches ever since I was a child. It was also around that time that I started making a number of watch prototypes while working at my day job as a designer. In the end, I managed to sell the product which then marked the beginning of my brand, Ōtsuka Lotēc.

How did you come up with the name of Ōtsuka Lotēc?

Ōtsuka is the name of the neighborhood where my Tokyo workshop is located, and Lōtec is derived from my favorite word, low technology (low-tech). It’s something that’s now considered low-level technology in our current world, but I like old engineering from the past a lot, and so my watches are built in a similar way.

“I like old engineering from the past a lot, and so my watches are built in a similar way.”

Your watches all have a prominent industrial feel and look. Knowing that you’ve previously worked as an automotive designer, the aesthetic makes sense. How long did it take you to develop this style?

It took me 4 years to finally feel confident enough to release my creations. In 2012, I decided to start selling the No. 5 watch to the general public, as I finally felt that I had established what I could call my own. Before then, from 2008 to 2012, I was searching for a direction all the while making prototypes of No.1 to No.4. In fact, the case of No. 3 is different in size from that of No. 5, but the shape is essentially the same. No. 5 also marked the first defining start to Ōtsuka Lotēc’s current style of incorporating an in-house module on a movement that’s off-the-shelf.

Right now, every piece is handcrafted by you at your Tokyo workshop. On average, how much time does it take for you to create a new watch?

From conception to prototyping, it’s usually about six months. Of course, some ideas are still under conception and may take much longer than that.

Was this process different for your new No. 6 model?

The old No. 6 was sold until 2022, so the new No. 6 is more like an improved version with updated specs rather than an entirely new watch. In the latter’s case, I usually think about the concept all alone, but this time I had many opportunities to discuss the project with a team that included watchmakers.

What made you decide to revisit the No. 6?

I wanted to take advantage of my new environment, and the increased number of things I could do within it. In terms of exterior materials, the original stainless-steel case is now changed to 316L, while the old mineral glass is upgraded to sapphire crystal. The dial is now rhodium-plated, with both sides of the hour and minute hands, as well as the heads of the screws beveled. The parts used for the module have also been machined with greater precision and reliability.

“I had a very difficult time with this project. It’s not only in the design and manufacturing aspects but also in securing stable suppliers for the materials I need to craft the watches in Japan. ”

What are the key lessons you learned from developing the new No. 6?

Since I have drastically changed the manufacturing method for the No. 6, I had a very difficult time with this project. It’s not only in the design and manufacturing aspects but also in securing stable suppliers for the materials I need to craft the watches in Japan.

However, I also saw possibilities. In discussions with various manufacturers, I found that there are a wide variety of ways to express colors and shapes. For example, I produced a prototype with ion plating on the case which I would like to use in the future.

What are your hopes and aspirations for Ōtsuka Lotēc in the near future? Any hints on projects for 2024?

To gain Switzerland, the home of watchmaking’s recognition is something I would strive continuously for. For the coming year, I plan to give lectures to students at watchmaking schools in Japan and also to open up more opportunities to interact with watch enthusiasts. At the same time, I’m also preparing a new watch model that will feature an in-house module on its base movement.

If you could only use three words to describe Ōtsuka Lotēc, what words would you choose?

Analog, Mechanical and Town Factory.

Priced for ¥385,000 JPY (approximately $2,725 USD), the new No. 6 will be available to order exclusively in Japan starting mid-January. For more details regarding its exact release date and other order requirements, visit Ōtsuka Lotēc’s official website.

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