My guide to used watch shopping in Shibuya, Toyko’s neon-lit wonderland.
The major transport hub connecting downtown Tokyo with its sprawling South-Western suburbs, Shibuya station is famously home to the busiest scramble crossing in the world, and is perhaps the paradigm example of the kind of urban futurism which typifies Tokyo in the popular imagination – television screens several stories high, looming buildings festooned with neon lights and thousands upon thousands of people weaving in and out of labyrinthine streets.
While Shibuya will, undoubtedly, feature prominently on any well-composed itinerary for a visit to Tokyo, as a watch shopping destination it is inessential. I am only really aware of two good shops. Helpfully, they happen to be right next to each other.
The local branch of the Daikokuya is to the right (the watches are on B1F) and HOUSEKIHIROBA is on the left (the watches are on 3F). The closest exit from Shibuya station is exit 3. If you are walking from Hachiko square (the traditional Shibuya meeting spot), you need to cross the street and follow the road which passes to the right of the Shibuya 109 shopping mall until you see the shops appear on your right.
While the watch floor is not huge, it always has at least a few interesting pieces and overall this is one of the best outposts of this reliable chain. My wife purchased a Lange Arkade here back in 2017.
When I visited in 2019, the highlights (apart from the usual Omega and Rolex options) started with this Zenith DEFY EL Primero 21, one of the key watches in Zenith’s recent Jean-Claude Biver-led mini renaissance.
While I’m not crazy about the open-worked dial on this watch (in particular, the ‘squashed’ sub-register for the running seconds at 6 o’clock), this really is innovative watch making. There are two escapements – one for the time (beating at the classic ‘high-beat’ 5 hz cadence of the El Primero) and one for the chronograph (beating at a mighty 50 hz). This enables true measurement of hundredths of a second, a capability that Zenith has exploited for maximum precision and visual impact by having the centrally mounted ‘1/100th second hand’ complete a full rotation every second. There is also extensive use of new materials, including a proprietary carbon nanotube material for the balance springs. Last but not least, for those of us who care about such things, this is the first El Primero I am aware of that ‘hacks’ when the crown is pulled out. A real accomplishment, and available at a reasonable price too.
I loved the dial on this Audemars Piguet chronograph, especially the large numerals used for the base 1000 tachymeter (although I always prefer a pulsation scale!). What I didn’t like was the word ‘automatic’ – in my imagination, holy trinity chronographs should always be manual wind!
Finally, sticking to the theme of fine chronographs, how can you go past the Datograph, especially in this most-classic platinum/black dial variant (403.035)? One day it will be mine.
The other shop on my Shibuya hitlist, HOUSEKIHIROBA (which apparently must be all-caps and all one word) far outstrips Daikokuya in range but falls slightly behind because of its fullsome prices. While Daikokuya is 100% used, HOUSEKIHIROBA is 60:40 new:used.
The shop always has some uber haute horology pieces in stock and is worthwhile visiting simply to ogle them though the display cases (or, if you are brave, ask to try them on). And it doesn’t get much more ‘haute’ than these two JLC ‘gyrotourbillons’ sitting side-by-side, each with a used price north of $200k USD.
These iPhone pictures, taken through reflective glass, do little to capture the extraordinary three-dimensionality of the gyrotourbillon assemblies. While I will never be a customer for a watch at this price point (first world problems!), it is admirable that JLC is capable of producing such watches.
And in any case, HOUSEKIHIROBA had an alternative for the budget-conscious watch collector seeking a tourbillon – the Chronoswiss regulateur tourbillon (in stainless steel), a snip at about $12k USD.
I was actually interested enough by this watch to do a little googling. While I admire Chronoswiss’ attempts to offer complications at relatively reasonable prices, I feel that their utilitarian finishing often lets them down. I am happy to say that this is not the case with this tourbillon – the finishing I have seen in photos posted online is quite nice, in particular, the deep anglage work on the movement plates and the jewels held in gold chatons. I also think that the regulator dial configuration is an excellent fit for the tourbillon complication.
The other watch that really caught my eye was this Breguet La Tradition Ref. 7027. I feel that this design, which has been cited as an inspiration for the watch-as-micro-machine designs of the independent watch brands that sprung up in the noughties, will be looked back on as a modern classic. It is a beautiful fusion of classic (Breguet pocket watches from the 18th century) and contemporary (hi-tech materials).
While I definitely see the appeal, and I love some of the places within easy reach (Yoyogi Koen to the North and Daikanyama to the South), Shibuya is not somewhere I go frequently. The area around Shibuya station is in the midst of a once-in-a-generation redevelopment ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, so that may change in the future.
For a meal that fits the futuristic vibe, my recommendation is a visit to Genki Sushi, up the hill from the station towards the nightclub/love hotel district, particularly if you are travelling solo. This is the dining experience fully automated – you order your sushi from a little touch screen (in your preferred language) and it is dispatched to you, individually, by means of a tray that whizzes on rails above the counter. Any human intervention in the food preparation and delivery process is scrupulously hidden from view. The sushi is also pretty good value, if not of the highest quality.