My guide to used watch shopping in Shinjuku, Tokyo’s administrative and commercial hub and home to the busiest train station in the world.
Shinjuku is Tokyo’s commercial and administrative heart, hosting the largest cluster of skyscrapers in the city and the seat of government (in the gigantic neo-gothic Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building). At the East Exit of Shinjuku station, in the Shinjuku-sanchome area, is the main shopping and entertainment district, which is also where all of the good used watch shops are located.
The used luxury scene here is similar to Ueno, with numerous ‘Bag and Watch’ stores, however there are no vintage focused options. You can, however, find a soupçon of vintage in the inventories of Daikokuya, Ippukishi and Komehyo.
Here is a rundown of my selection of the best shops. They are clustered in the warren of streets between the East Exit of Shinjuku Station, in the west, and the gigantic Isetan department store, in the east.
This post encompasses visits to Shinjuku in February 2018 and April 2019.
The ever-reliable Daikokuya chain has no fewer than three branches clustered in Shinjuku-sanchome. All of them should be on the itinerary. The main branch looks like this.
The other branches look like this …
… and this.
On my last visit, the highlights included this gorgeous A. Lange & Söhne Cabaret.
I also liked this Ulysse Nardin with enamel dial.
Something a little more democratic – Orient Star GMT, a difficult watch to find used, in my experience.
The main Shinjuku branch of Ippukishi (directly across the plaza from the main Daikokuya shop) is an excellent branch of this pawn shop chain. From the outside, it looks quite low-rent and gaudy, but once inside you quickly realise it has one of the best inventories of any shop in the area and is a must-visit. Particularly impressive is its scope. Few other watch shops combine excellent collections of used Oris and Hamilton together in the one showroom with the leading names of haute horology. Unlike many other used luxury shops, it is also well-organised and pleasant to browse.
The watch floor is on 2F. For my 2018 visit, at the top of the stairs leading from 1F, I was greeted by this little cabinet of high horology dream machines.
I wasn’t brave enough to ask to try any of these pieces on, but it was certainly impressive to see three Patek Phillipe perpetual calendar chronographs in the same cabinet.
More approachable was this wonderful Patek Phillipe Ref. 5134 Calatrava travel time. This watch has been on my long-term wish list for a while now.
Just above the Patek was another watch that I consider to be nearly perfect, the A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Annual Calendar. The watch is a case study in how to convey information both legibly and beautifully.
Stepping down from the clouds, I am starting to really like these hi-beat, King Seiko certified chronometers. They represent Seiko’s pre-quartz attempts to gain parity with the Swiss manufactures. Funky cases, interesting history, good movements and (relatively) affordable. A bit hipster and inside baseball, but I can definitely see myself picking one up. A great alternative to something like a vintage IWC or JLC.
Recently, another ‘grower’ elbowing its way into my consciousness has been the IWC Ingenieur. I want a luxury integrated bracelet sports watch, but not quite enough to step up to the plate for a Royal Oak, Nautilus or Aquanaut (given the prices in the current market). The Ingenieur might fit the bill, particularly the older and more reasonably sized models.
Another IWC that I like is the old Da Vinci perpetual calendar chronograph. The lugless, pocket-watch-for-the-wrist aesthetic is striking and the degree of complication is admirable for such a compact package (approximately 39mm, I believe).
But let’s finish back in the clouds. First, a gorgeous Breguet minute repeater, yours for a bargain tax-free price of around $80k USD. I love the little touches on the dial of this piece, in particular the use of contrasting guilloché in the 24 hour subdial to denote daytime (wavy radial pattern, like stylised sunrays) and nighttime (horizontal wave, reminiscent of a closed eyelid).
Second, the Vacheron Constatntin Mercator, with engraved and enameled dial in the from of a circa 16th Century map of Eurasia, and retrograding hands (in the form of nautical dividers) used to indicate the time. A splendidly-realised ode to the age of discovery and the kind of thing that Vacheron does better than any other manufacture.
Ippukishi also has a subsidiary location a few doors further down the street. I will leave you to unravel the profundities of its English slogan – “We knight creates one wind”.
The product differentiation (if any) between the two branches is not entirely clear, but the smaller store usually has a couple of interesting pieces. On my last visit, this rare and funky Rolex OysterQuartz ‘pyramid’ Ref. 19028 caught my eye. Sans diamonds, I would have been interested. Excellent watch for a Bond villain.
BRAND OFF (3/10)
Located in B2F of the LABI electronics megastore, BRAND OFF (part of the ‘OFF’ chain of used goods stores, together with HARD OFF and BOOK OFF, among others) is entirely inessential, but the completionist can check it out in about 30 seconds. It did have a good price on a Speedmaster Reduced (which has to be the most common luxury watch in Japan), if that is your thing .
At the end of the plaza, opposite the Kabukichō red light district, is this bog-standard Bag and Watch. Last time I was there they had a couple of those Tiffany East West watches, with sideways dials (stock picture below). I’m sure they are horologically mundane, but I kind of like them.
This one is only for the watch tragics. Purveyor of colourful/bold/ugly/massive watches – think brands like Jacob & Co and the worst fashion-line G-SHOCK excesses. Still, I always pop up to the watch floor on 2F to check it out. Expecting there to be anything interesting at this shop represents the triumph of hope over experience.
There is no obvious reason why this ordinary looking Bag and Watch should be better than its peers, but it is. Life is inexplicable sometimes.
I liked this quartz Grand Seiko (SBGV013), with a very interesting case which tapers almost to a knife-edge on the sides. This model is Japan-only and, so far as I can tell, has received minimal coverage in English.
Another sign that this shop is above average was the presence of a used NOMOS, suggesting that the shop’s buyers have some knowledge and imagination.
BEST ISHIDA (8/10)
The biggest watch shop in the area, it has five floors above ground selling new watches from the world’s top brands. The used watches are in the basement (B1F). They reliably have an excellent inventory of used watches, including all of the typical names. On my 2018 visit I tried on a lovely Ulysse Nardin San Marco GMT +-, which really is one of the most user-friendly travel watches out there, with the hour hand being advanced and retarded from the pushers (stock picture below – my iPhone had died by the time I reached the store on my last visit).
In 2019, I tried on this lovely hand wind Zenith El Primero, from the early to mid noughties.
While the removal of the rotor risks giving the watch something of an identity crisis (after all, the El Primero is most famous for being the first Swiss automatic chronograph movement), I actually really like it in this configuration. It is, first, significantly thinner than the standard automatic El Primeros and, second, you get to see more of the movement. While it is not decorated to holy trinity standards, it certainly is interesting to look at, particularly observing the engagement and disengagement of the chronograph via the column wheel.
In 2018, Komehyo had two locations in Shinjuku, both of which are absolute must-visits. The location closer to Shinjuku station specialises in used menswear, including shoes, formal and casual clothes and, of course, watches.
The watch selection in this location is small, but obviously well curated. On my last visit I tried on a lovely little 34mm Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra-thin in pink gold …
… and a 39mm H. Moser & Cie Endeavour that was equally ravishing.
If you are in to fine men’s clothes, the selection boasts many of the great tailoring houses.
I saw a great deal on a stunning Loro Piana suede jacket on my last visit, but it would have been far too warm for Sydney’s mild winters, so I had to pass on it.
Komehyo’s main location opposite the Isetan department store (a few blocks away from the other shops mentioned in this article) used to boast a very large floor entirely devoted to used watches.
In April 2019, however, Komehyo opened a third location devoted entirely to watches. The main location now does not carry watches – the watch floor has been replaced by an additional jewelry floor.
I was at the new location mere days after the ‘Grand Open’ (openings of commercial enterprises invariably being labelled ‘grand’ in the Imperial capital). There was an impressive range, with a much-improved haute horology selection up on 2F compared to the old watch floor at the main store. It is, in particular, a treasure trove of Omega. I have never seen so many attractive, well-priced Speedmaster ‘Reduceds’ (a label I apply indiscriminately to all 38mm-39mm automatic Speedmasters) gracing a single cabinet as I did here. My personal favourite of the genus is this model (the Mark 40 – perhaps not a ‘reduced’ to the purists), with triple calendar, 24-hour register at 9 (co-axial with the running seconds), attractive dial furniture and colour combination (red, blue and yellow highlights on ground of matte black).
Pleasant and well-sized, though I am put off by the pedestrian, modular movement, in comparison to the Speedmaster Professional (which is just a tad too big for my taste – there really isn’t a ‘Goldilocks’ Speedmaster for me).
Staying in the mid-range, I also liked this salmon dial Grand Seiko Spring Drive (SBGA371), though the watch could do without the ‘9 o’clock’ being emphasised in red, in my opinion.
Or how about this Japan limited edition IWC Mark XVI. I like the contrast between the overall purposeful sobriety of the dial and the (slightly) whimsical font used for the roman numerals and the spade-shaped hour hand.
But I have saved the very best for last. And it simply doesn’t get better than a Lange chronograph, in this case the 1815 in rose gold/black dial (401.031).
The 1815 has the same base movement as the Datograph, without the module for the double-aperture large date. While that is, in my opinion, a large loss (you also lose the beautifully tactile pusher for advancing the date), one upside is that the watch is slightly thinner than the Datograph, which is sometimes called ‘pot-bellied’ (to me this is simple desperation – what else could you possibly criticise that masterpiece for?). This is a trade-off that has led some to choose the 1815 over its more famous stablemate, notably Hodinkee’s tastemaker-in-chief, Ben Clymer (see write-up here). In any case, observing a Lange chronograph movement ‘in the metal’ is a rite of passage. It is a movement that was designed from the ground up to be admired as much as to measure increments of time. I couldn’t resist having the salesperson drag this one out of the cabinet for a closer inspection.
Shinjuku provides plenty of fodder for at least a half-day of watch hunting. When you get hungry, I would recommend stopping by Nabezo, which is an all-you-can-eat nabe (Japanese hot pot) restaurant with excellent buffet. It has two branches, both conveniently located to the used watch shops.
In terms of sight-seeing, my tip is to go to the free observation deck at the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building out at Nishi-shinjuku. This is one of the best vantage points in central Tokyo to get a sense of the immensity of the city.
My next guide will detail watch shopping in Ginza, which trades the commercial hustle of Ueno and Shinjuku for the ’boutique’ experience.