The ultimate watch that Masahiko Sakata cannot throw away and the reason why

Growing older and older, wristwatches are one of the items that slowly gain in charm and appeal to the male instincts. There ought to be one watch for each man to find, a once-in-a-lifetime piece. But, perhaps because the prices for watches are generally higher compared to other fashion items, the more time you spend in finding the perfect item, the harder it is to actually decide on the watch that is really the one for you. That is why, if you plan on finding your perfect watch, it might be good to learn about some good evaluation criteria from the masters. This time, we will hear from a creator who is famous for loving wristwatches, the representative of Archive&Style, mister Masahiko Sakata. Please share with us your personal ultimate item you wish to retain as an archive item and tell us why.


My partner, with whom I traveled (adventured) to the Antarctic
Mr. Sakata chose 《ROLEX EXPLORER II Ref.1655》


--- When was it that you started being interested in wristwatches?

“I’ve been interested in watches ever since high school, but the first time I bought one was probably when I went on my first trip abroad, to London. While on that trip, I bought my first watch in an antique shop at the edge of town, a Rolex Shock Resisting.“

--- For a 21-year old, buying a Rolex in London must’ve been a fairly big decision!

“This goes not only for watches but for all luxury items, but I’ve always been interested in the logic that goes behind them, in a way looking up to them, thinking ‘What really is it that makes this item worthy?’. Not all luxury items are expensive per say; there’s also items that have become traditional because they’ve been continued to use for a long time and have achieved a certain position compared to others. So at the time of that trip, I also bought some loafers by J.M. Weston and a Royal Airforce Blazer. It wasn’t that I had that much money at the time, really, I just felt that there were lessons to be gained from economizing to the extreme. As for me, this was the period I started heading down the path of the designer, so all of this ended up being a big investment in my future me.”

--- When did you purchase the wristwatch you just showed us?

“This is a Rolex Explorer II Ref. 1655, the first model, which I bought about five years ago.”


--- How did you end up buying this particular watch?

“The Explorer II is a longseller model, which evolved from the Explorer model of sports Rolex watches especially designed for explorers. The word ‘explorer’ really has a lot of meaning squeezed into it to me. The condition as well as the price fit just well with what I was looking for at the time as well”.


Now, let us first recall the information about this brand model, the Rolex Explorer II. As the name suggests, the Explorer I was designed especially for explorers. The Explorer II evolved as the improved version of this wristwatch in 1971, and is easily recognizable for its orange-coloured 24-hour hand display.
The model that Mr. Sakata owns, the Ref.1655, is a first model produced between 1971 and 1987. Compared to other versions, there is no round dot to be seen, and the second hand of the clock, known also as the ‘straight hand’ looks the same as the hour hand. This is commonly known as the Mark I dial and from this we can surmise that this specific watch was produced as a first model in 1973.

--- So more than the actual design, you were drawn by the concept of the explorer?

“When I purchase a wristwatch, I tend to find the background of the product very important. For example, I also very much like the design of the Rolex Submarina, but I can’t imagine myself actually using it in daily life. Basically, I feel it doesn’t suit me. I feel the Submarina in the end is a wristwatch themed after the sea, so I could never beat sea-loving people who are using a Submarina at their game…”

--- So you want to wear a wristwatch that suits yourself as a person.

“That’s right. If I wouldn’t, I would probably end up selling it either way. But then again, if you were to ask me if I was a true explorer, I feel that’s different as well. The word ‘explorer’ has different meanings to different people and is interpreted differently. For example, leaving your home town for the big city, doing something you’ve never tried before, these things could count as ‘exploring’ as well. I personally want to keep this feeling of ‘exploring’ for as long as I live.”


--- I hear you also own other wristwatches; could you tell me why you picked this specific model out of this collection?

“When I was 49, I went on a trip (an adventure!) to the Antarctic. This is the watch I was actually wearing on that trip.”


--- Hearing the words ‘a trip to the Antarctic’ does make me feel like the Explorer II was the right choice for the job. But I also wonder whether a more functional digital clock wouldn’t have been a better choice considering the strenuous weather conditions of the location.

“To me, these trips were also a huge crossroads in my life, so I thought it really important to wear this item on my trip. Even if they were to become damaged, I think I would’ve been okay with that. When I actually started the trip, I could feel the feeling of ‘I want to be a man who can keep on carrying on that explorer’s spirit’ revive inside me, and I was able to reconfirm that yes, I had made the right decision in buying this watch”


--- I guess you could say you really did experience the psychological effect of feeling stronger standing in such a place while wearing a Rolex of all things.

“I would wake and sleep every day inside a boat, and so evidently I would never actually meet anyone. But exactly because of that it felt odd to go into that experience wearing rough outfit, like for example a sweatshirt and a fleece jacket. I personally want to ‘always look like my best’. If you compromise on your standards, I feel I would have to compromise on a part of myself.”

--- Choosing what you want without compromise, now there’s a wonderful thought. So was there any specific reason you ended up buying this first model?

“This goes for wristwatches but just the same for denim, but I feel the first model of a series has a sort of specific charm that only the first model has, of not being completed just yet. It will continue to evolve after this. Of course, the finished model is amazing as well, but there’s a difference in creating one from zero and creating nine from one. As a person who has experienced that process themselves, there’s a special feeling to be gained from looking at things from that perspective.”

--- For a lot of wristwatches, there’s a story behind them, like it being that one watch that one actor was wearing in the movies; do you look at things from such a perspective as well? For example, the story that Steve McQueen loved the Explorer II model is fairly famous.

“No, I don’t think I really appreciate this item from that perspective. I’m not really the age to be influenced by other famous people anyways. In a way this is more abstract, but for example when I bought this Jaeger-LeCoultre, I was trying to become a ‘man who would look good wearing gold items’. I think that perspective to me is more important.”


--- That’s the other watch you brought with you for us today, yes?

“This is a Jaeger-LeCoultre watch, Reverso Grand Date Pink Gold model. I bought it when I was 33 years old, carrying the idea of wanting to become a ‘man worthy of a golden watch’. These days golden wristwatches are a fairly popular choice, but back seventeen years ago that wasn’t quite the case yet. It would strike an image of the wearer being new rich, and was seen as unstylish.”

--- So how did you yourself end up buying such an ‘unstylish watch’?

“At the time there was a period I was living in London for a while, doing a job for Harrods. I felt inspired by the way the English dressed themselves. At the time, the stylishness of those people wearing clothing together with precious metals seemed beautiful to me. Because of that, I bought this item almost immediately after returning to Japan.”


Let us once again look at the brand model of another watch, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso. The store itself was started by Antoine le Coultre in 1833. The word reverso, meaning ‘to revolve’ in Latin, carries back its roots until the early 1930’s.
Back when sapphire glass was not yet a workable material, an English army officer, while playing polo, started looking into the creation of a wristwatch that would be able to resist the shocks it received during the match. From this, the idea evolved for a watch where the case was able to be reversed, to be able to hide the dial from damage and from sight inside the watch itself; this was the special characteristic which created the Reverso. It is the watch the insanely rich Bruce Wayne wears in ‘Batman: The Dark Knight’, and is also said to be Quentin Tarantino’s favorite watch. The model that Mr. Sakata prefers is the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Grande Date.

--- It seems like this watch is the exact opposite, more leaning towards elegance instead of the manliness found in the Explorer II.

“When the Reverso model was created in the 1930’s, the new popular mannerism of design was Art Deco, which included architecture as well as art. Looking at it knowing this historical background, you can see elements of this being used in the design.”

--- I also love the story about it being designed like that to be able to be used in a polo match.

“At the time, there were a lot of people similar in stature to the nobility who would throw out ideas like ‘would it be possible to make a watch like this?’. There would be a surprising amount of creators and artisans who would actually complete a watch based on those ideas. This is a lovely example of great teamwork between the customer and the artisan. Thinking about it that way, it reminds us that this connection between the two kind of people is something to be held dear. Especially for me as a person actually working in the business.”


--- Listening to you talk about these items makes it sounds like to you, these aren’t mere watches, not just fashion items but something more, something special.

“That might be true. I didn’t bring it with me this time, but there is this other watch I bought when I was 25, around the time I decided for myself I was going to be a designer. In that way, you could say I have a habit of buying a new watch when I’m at a crossroads, when I’m looking up to someone or something and need that one more push to convince me I can become that man. It sounds kind of bombastic, but to me this action is a way to put my own decision into shape.”

--- I see.

“The expression itself is not that great, but I think some women believe that if they buy a good pair of shoes, those shoes will carry them to the better place they want to go. It’s a sort of excuse, really. For me, it’s not shoes, it’s wristwatches. They’re the guiding principle for deciding my own style.”


In 2004 he started the design studio Archive&Style and has since directed many brands from this position. From 2006 to 2013, he ran his own vintage store, Archive&Style, whose motto of ‘Not second-hand closes, but clothes with value’ is very close to our own thoughts about clothes.

Photo_ Takaki Iwata / Masahiko Sakata(Antarctic exploration)
Text_ Hisanori Kato