“Curiosity is What Drives Human Evolution.” Astronomer Eiichiro Kokubo’s Thoughts on the Mysteries of the Universe and Orient Star’s M Collections.


This autumn, Orient Star released M Collections, a design collection encapsulating the brand’s technologies and sensibilities. The “M” preceding each of the three collections’ names is an astronomical symbol used to identify star clusters and nebulae, and an expression of Orient Star’s desire to continue to explore unknown creative realms. Why are people in astronomy and watchmaking, two very different fields, equally captivated by the universe? The keyword that emerged from the conversation between astronomer Eiichiro Kokubo and Tetsuya Miyake, Planning Manager at Orient Star, was “curiosity.”

Text: with ORIENT STAR Editorial Team

The Universe is What Gave Humanity an Awareness of Time

Tetsuya Miyake (hereinafter “Miyake”): Hello. I would like to begin by talking about the aim of M Collections. Orient Star was born in 1951, and is currently one of Epson’s many brands. Seiko Epson has accumulated a vast range of technologies and knowhow over a span of more than eighty years since its founding. We wanted to draw upon this technology and knowhow in a more active way. Also, to ensure that people can use the watches for a long time, we decided to be selective about what elements we change and don’t change; rather than tampering with the basic design which determines the impression of the watch, we opted to create something that could stand the test of time and become the “face” of the brand. These ideas were what inspired us to launch M Collections. The three collections are each named M45, M34 and M42, which as an astronomer I’m sure you will know are taken from the Messier Catalogue (*1). Again, this is an expression of our wish to create watches that continue to shine tens of thousands of years into the future just like star clusters and nebulae.

*1: A catalogue of nebulae, star clusters and galaxies created by the French astronomer Charles Messier.


New models from M Collections that launched this year. The model in the centre is M45 which expresses an autumnal scene at the famous Lake Tazawa in Akita Prefecture. The model on the right is M34 which depicts an aurora, and the one on the left is M42 which is a divers' watch made with titanium for the first time. All three models explore new creative expressions through their dials and materials, without changing the basic design of the watch.

Eiichiro Kokubo (hereinafter “Kokubo”): As a watch company, I think it’s great that there is a company like yours that are trying to create a watch that will never change. A watch is something that, if used correctly, you can pass onto future generations. I think many people appreciate the fact that your watches remain largely unchanged across multiple generations, and that the company is still able to repair watches that are decades old. These are mechanical watches, right?

Miyake: That’s right. In a topic related to astronomy, we have something called a Moon phase display which is an important part of our watches. This display is all mechanical, too.

Kokubo: That’s great. I prefer mechanical systems over battery-operated ones. There’s this machine that I particularly like, called the Antikythera mechanism made in Ancient Greece (*2). I believe it was a device used to identify and understand the movements of planets, the Moon and the Sun, by creating a mechanical model of them. People back then must have had an inkling that the universe consisted of moving parts, and tried to understand how the world worked by using cogwheels in place of the various elements.

*2: An Ancient Greek artefact discovered in a shipwreck off the coast of the island Antikythera in the Mediterranean. It is assumed to be a hand-powered orrery used to calculate astronomical positions.

Miyake: Antikythera is something I’m interested in, too. They were able to create a model of the universe out of cogwheels because there’s a regularity there, right?

Kokubo: Yes, I think this kind of mechanism is suited to understanding the universe because it creates regularity and periodicity. I’ve always loved cogwheels, and when I was a child, I used to dismantle objects and take out the cogs for fun. I guess you could say I geeked out over them [laughs]. My parents often scolded me for not putting the objects back together. By the way, even Newton had a sort of mechanistic view of the universe and believed you could explain planetary movements with a gear-like mechanism.

Miyake: I see.


Eiichiro Kokubo. Professor, Division of Science, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. His field of research is the theory of planetary system formation. Through theories and simulation, he aims to clarify the elementary steps of planetary system formation and explain the origins of diverse planetary systems. His hobby is scuba diving. Born in 1968 in Miyagi Prefecture.

Kokubo: When Orient Star approached me about this assignment, I got into thinking that calendars and clocks are very closely related to the movement of celestial bodies in the universe, as the Earth’s rotation determines the length of a day, and its orbit determines the year. Both are rotational motions. I like rotating celestial bodies. When I saw the rings of Saturn for the first time as a child, I thought they were so cool. Even now, one of my research topics is rotating celestial bodies. It’s only recently that I realized how fond I am of the beauty of rotating celestial bodies, though [laughs].

Miyake: Apart from rotating ones, what other kinds of celestial bodies are there?

Kokubo: There are largely two types of celestial bodies in the universe: those that rotate, and those that move around a lot. A celestial body is defined as an aggregation of various matter in the universe that exists as a finite-sized mass. The universe’s gravitational pull means that, if left unchecked, matter will continue to stick together until they form a black hole. To prevent this from happening, there needs to be something that offsets the gravitational force. The latter of the two celestial bodies I just mentioned are able to move around like crazy without sticking to anything. For example, the Sun is composed primarily of hydrogen, and the reason why it won’t collapse is because hydrogen is moving around in there at high speed.

Miyake: So, you’re saying the other type of celestial body also won’t be defeated by gravity because it rotates.

Kokubo: That’s right, because of the centrifugal force. The Earth rotates around the Sun, and centrifugal force is what prevents it from becoming attached to the Sun. Many celestial bodies are like that. This is where it leads to watches. Rotation is a cyclical process, which creates periodicity. In other words, it established order which could be used to measure time. The periodic motion of the celestial bodies’ rotation and orbit is what enabled humans to conceive the notion of time.

How Did the Earth’s Rotation Reach Its Current Speed?

Miyake: One of the collections from our newly launched M Collections is M45. This collection is inspired by the open cluster in the constellation Taurus (Pleiades star cluster). Since the star cluster has always been familiar to the Japanese as “Subaru”, one of the concepts of this model is the idea of universality.

About the M45 Collection About the M45 Collection.

Kokubo: I was born in the countryside outside of Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, so at night you could see the starts clearly. I often gazed at Subaru as a child. It’s an open cluster, meaning that it’s a cluster of young stars. It’s particularly beautiful around this time, from September onwards.

Miyake: How are open clusters formed?

Kokubo: Stars are often born in clusters. They form when a cloud of low-temperature hydrogen begins to shrink. Many stars are born at once. While the stars are still young they stay together, but as they grow older they disperse into different corners of the galaxy. So Subaru is made up of young stars.

Miyake: When you say young…

Kokubo: I mean a million years old. That’s still young. The Sun is roughly 4.5 billion years old, so Subaru is very young compared to that [laughs].

#6 OS0486_RE-AY0121A_AD.jpg__PID:96a06a08-77cc-4316-89ba-54bdf16c1be4

The M45 F7 Mechanical Moon Phase that was released from the collection this autumn (RE-AY0121A). It poetically depicts Akita Prefecture’s Lake Tazawa in autumn with a mother-of-pearl dial and Moon phase display. Limited-edition model.

Miyake: It’s a completely different scale of time, isn’t it. One of the features of the M45 Collection is that many of the models have a Moon phase display. What I find strange is how the same side of the Moon is always facing Earth – you’d think it might turn or shift slightly, but it doesn’t. Why?

Kokubo: I think the Moon ended up in that position not long after it was born. In fact, at first the Moon was positioned much closer to Earth during formation, when gravity on Earth was much stronger. Gravity feels stronger the closer you are to it. For the Moon, the side that’s close to Earth is exposed to a stronger gravitational pull than the side that’s further away. What happens then is that the side facing Earth very gradually begins to stretch towards it.

Miyake: So the Moon isn’t a complete sphere.

Kokubo: No, it started to adopt an ellipsoidal shape, like a rugby ball. The parts jutting out of the ellipsoidal feel the most gravity, so even if the Moon slants to one side, the protruding parts naturally end up facing Earth. That’s why the same side of the Moon is always facing Earth.

Miyake: Will that always be the case?

Kokubo: Yes, this will never change. The Moon will continue to move further and further away from the Earth and orbit the Earth more slowly in the future. The Moon receives the momentum of the Earth’s rotation, and as the Moon moves away, the Earth’s rotation also slows down. So, our days on Earth are gradually becoming longer.


Tetsuya Miyake, a member of Seiko Epson’s Wearable Devices Business Division who currently serves as an expert product planner for both Orient and Orient Star. He played a central role in the launch of M Collections.

Miyake: We live in cycles of days and years based on the rotation and revolution of the Earth. But perhaps somewhere in the universe there are places where a day is only a hundred hours long, or where their year is two or three years’ long in our time. What are your thoughts on this?

Kokubo: That’s certainly possible. In our Solar System, Venus and Mars are planets that closely resemble Earth, although there aren’t any living organisms on them. They also have different rotational cycles, with Venus completing a single rotation in around 243 days. In other words, one day on Venus is roughly 243 days long on Earth. Mars’s rotational cycle is closer to Earth’s, but that’s just a coincidence.

Miyake: A coincidence?

Kokubo: Yes. I used to research the origin of Earth’s rotation. Earth was formed when small rock-like fragments collided and bound together – around ten celestial bodies the size of Mars created a collision that formed the current Earth. The chances of the pieces hitting the centre were slim, so they often hit the edges. This impact caused Earth to spin, which is what started off the rotation. The last few collisions had a significant effect on the speed of this rotation.

Miyake: Is that what determined the length of our days?

Kokubo: That’s right. But the Moon also plays a big role in Earth’s rotation. I mentioned before that the Moon receives momentum from Earth’s rotation; without this, or in other words without the Moon, Earth would complete one rotation in just six hours, which is four times faster than now.

Miyake: Do you think planets with six-hour rotational cycles also might have living beings on them or be capable of harbouring life?

Kokubo: Yes, I think so. I’m not an expert in life sciences, but if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that these planets would have stronger winds or harsher climates, but not to the extent that they hinder the creation of life. As long as there is a body of water, in other words an ocean, then I think there’s potential for life to exist.

The Reason Why Venus and Mars Don’t Have Auroras

Miyake: Next, I’d like to talk about the second collection. M34 is the code symbolizing the open cluster in the constellation Perseus. The design embodies strength, sharpness and heroism after the image of the hero and demigod Perseus in Greek mythology. This model with the mother-of-pearl dial was released this year. The mother-of-pearl was sliced 0.15 mm to 0.2 mm in thickness and placed on the dial.

Kokubo: It’s very beautiful. What was the reason for using this material?

Miyake: With this watch, we wanted to express the aurora. The aurora is a very mysterious phenomenon, and above all, it’s beautiful. We wanted to somehow express this mystique and beauty through the watch, and went through repeated trial-and-error until finally managing to achieve this shade.

Kokubo: Each watch must shine in a different way because it’s made of pearl.

Miyake: Exactly. Some customers compare the dials on several watches before choosing the one they like.

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From the M34 Collection a new model with dial that express the aurora (RE-BY0005A). The beautiful colour was achieved by subjecting thin slices of mother-of-pearl to multiple steps including printing and coating. M34 F7 Semi Skeleton.

Kokubo: Auroras aren’t in my field of research, but I do know that they appear due to Earth’s magnetic fields. Earth has these magnetic fields because of its rotational movement. Again, it’s associated with rotation. Magnetic fields are created when something that conducts electricity spins. The Earth’s core is made up of two layers – the inner and outer core – and what’s important is that the outer core consists of molten metals. Metals conduct electricity. That’s why a magnetic field is created when the Earth rotates.

Miyake: It’s similar to the motor principle.

Kokubo: That’s right. There is no such magnetic field on Venus because it barely rotates. Particles flying from the sun are caught by Earth, and enter our atmosphere along the magnetic fields through Earth’s polar points. When those particles coming in from the North or South Pole collide with oxygen or nitrogen in the air, they become energized and emit blue or green light.

Miyake: Is metal a common substance?

Kokubo: Not when the universe first began, but nowadays it’s relatively abundant. When the universe was born, stars were born. Nuclear fusion took place within those stars, creating heavier and heavier elements from hydrogen. Metal is one such element. So the metal that’s around us today was actually created by stars that died before the Sun was born.

The Driving Force of Evolution is Our Inquisitive Curiosity for the Unknown

Miyake: Lastly, I’d like to talk about the M42 Collection. M42 symbolizes the famous Orion Nebula. Orion is the son of sea-god Poseidon, and so in honour of the sea, the M42 Collection consists of divers' watches. These divers' watches follow the design of the 1964 model but come with improved high performance to suit modern times. The new models are characterized by the use of titanium on the outside. Thanks to the lightness of titanium, they are approximately 35 percent lighter than the previous stainless steel models.

Kokubo: I like diving, and I also like hiking up mountains. Visibility is important, but for me, lightness is even more important. I’d love to lighten my load on hiking trips by switching to titanium gear, and my diver friends also say that once you switch to lighter gear, you’ll never want to go back.

Miyake: When I spoke to the diver Akira Kubo, he talked about how the universe and the ocean seem very different, but are actually quite similar. Do you agree?

Kokubo: Yes. I’ve heard that astronauts train in pools. That said, even though they might seem similar, in some respects they are probably very different. To state the obvious, the ocean has water. The density of water is roughly the same as us humans. We can move our bodies in water by grabbing at the water or moving it around. On the other hand, the universe is made up of an empty vacuum. No matter how you try to move the air around, your body will stay put. I think that’s one of the most concerning or frightening things about it.

Miyake: Do you ever want to float around in space?

Kokubo: Oh yes, I’d love to. But I bet not being able to move or swim is scary. With the ocean, you’re surrounded by something that has the same density as you, so you can move and control the extent of your flotation. I guess the ocean is better.

Miyake: Are you interested in exploring the ocean floor?

Kokubo: Sure. I always wanted to be an explorer. When I was little, I saw the TV program “Hiroshi Kawaguchi Expedition.” Because I was a kid, I didn’t realize it was all staged for entertainment and it made me want to become an explorer [laughs]. In some respects, a scientist is similar to being an explorer, in the sense that we uncover the unknown and it’s a physically demanding job. I’m usually on my computer, but I prefer to use some elbow grease. The reason why I like diving in the ocean or hiking up mountains is because it helps me maintain a good balance between my mind and body.

Miyake: Humans are the only beings who have continued to question why things are the way they are, and this has been the driving force behind the progress of civilization. The Antikythera mechanism is a good example of this. If, hypothetically speaking, extraterrestrial organisms did actually exist, science today is not advanced enough to communicate with beings who are tens of thousands of light years away. Besides, some might say that this kind of research isn’t useful to anybody. And yet, humans invest large sums of money into such studies. I feel that at the heart of it is our inquisitive mind, which only humans seem to have. How do you feel about this?

Kokubo: I think so too. In a word, it’s curiosity: as living beings, humans have a strong sense of curiosity. That’s why we ended up evolving and spreading across the entire world. It’s an instinctive thing. Everybody instinctively wants to know how the universe works, why we are here, and what’s going to happen in the future. Those things are at the source of our curiosity. Nowadays researchers specialize in narrow fields so their answers may vary, but this curiosity generally defines us as living beings. That’s why humans are able to create watches of such high precision.

Miyake: Some watches are so complex that sometimes I wonder why we need to make such a thing – complicated watches designed to mechanically make a sound, or watches incorporating celestial bodies in their design, for example. But some people respect and are moved by the wisdom and enthusiasm of the people behind the creation of such watches. When we invite people to watchmaking factories and show them how watchmakers create every watch by hand, they say “When you consider all the work that’s been put into this, it seems like great value for money.”

Kokubo: I like that mindset, of being able to appreciate the fact that someone made an object of such high precision by hand. I love craftspeople and think it’s so cool how they pay attention to detail and take pride in their work. The watch I saw today felt familiar and close to me because it was named after a Messier object. I hope that this kind of watch continues to be in existence for many years to come. Our calendar is deeply connected to the universe, so I felt that it was relevant to me on a personal level.

Miyake: We take it for granted that there are 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year, but this rhythm was created because of the universe, the Solar System, and the Earth and Moon. So I have this very vague sense that everything is connected in some way, and this has led to the way we live, here and now. Some say that watches are a microcosm of sorts. I hope we can continue to create watches that carry these romantic notions of time and convey these concepts to our customers, instead of simply treating them as a timepiece. I had an amazing time speaking to someone who is on the frontlines of research into the universe. Thank you, Kokubo-san.

Kokubo: Likewise, it was fun exploring the world of watches that I never knew about. Thank you.