Browsing through Instagram a few days ago, the photo shown above caught my eye.  No, it wasn’t a photo of a Heuer chronograph, but it was something even more interesting — a photo of a photo set-up, being used to take photos of a Heuer Autavia.  The image was posted by eizo_apac, a distributor of computer monitors, located in Australia.

A couple of clicks later, and I found myself on the Instagram feed of @isamu_sawa_photography.

A few seconds later, I had found the finished photo of the Autavia in question, on the watch-related Instagram feed of the photographer, Isamu Sawa — @AnalogWrist.

Next was the phone call with the photographer, known as “Issey” to his friends, and within the hour, Issey had shared some amazing photos of his Heuers.

In this Note, we’ll meet Issey, and go back and forth with some questions and answers, as we explore his passion for vintage watches and his insights into photography.

The Artist

Born in Japan and now living in Australia, Isamu Sawa is one of the leading commercial photographers in Australia.  Issey has worked for high-level commercial clients including Mercedes Benz, Mazda, Holden, Domaine Chandon and Penfolds.  His editorial work has also featured in GQ, The Age and Vogue magazines.

Visit Issey’s website, for additional images and information.

OTD — Can you describe the driving force behind your watch collection?

IS — I love vintage watches and the thrill of ‘the chase’ – researching the history about a particular vintage piece; finding one before it becomes too popular and unattainable; and doing the deal to acquire it. All the ‘ducks have to line up in a row’ including having money in the ‘watch fund’ at the time.

OTD — What makes a watch appealing to you?

IS — First and foremost the overall design and aesthetics – usually the dial; I tend to gravitate towards chronographs. I love pieces with history, heritage and to some extent their rarity. I love owning/wearing timepieces that have some historical narrative. From the design perspective, I enjoy simplicity, legibility, clean aesthetic & sporty design.

OTD — Do you have a favorite watch in your collection? 

IS — It has to be my Heuer Autavia Viceroy. It was my very first vintage purchase and it happens to be my birth year watch – 1972.

OTD — What speaks to you about the Heuer brand?

IS — I love the brand’s history, heritage and connection to motor racing (I am a Formula One fan). I was never into TAG but I now have a renewed appreciation of the brand after learning about their (Heuer) history, especially after reading Jack Heuer’s biography ‘The Times of My Life’. I am also a huge fan of Jean-Claude Biver and what he has done and is doing with the brand.   One day, I would love to meet Mr. Biver and take a nice portrait of him!

OTD — What are you trying to achieve in the more “creative” photos of your watches?

IS — Initially I just wanted to capture engaging images of my humble collection to post on my Instagram feed by photographing them with nice lighting in a simple but effective setting rather than the ubiquitous ‘wrist shot’ – to try to attract and connect with the other like-minded enthusiasts. That was my initial goal. Who would have thought that in a million years that I’d get noticed by companies like Hamilton Watches, H.Moser & Cie and OnTheDash, who have all reached out to me recently.

OTD — What is the key to your success in the ultra-realistic photos?

IS — Composition, lighting and post-production are some of the key elements to successful high-end watch photography. One of the things you will notice with my photographs is that the whole timepiece is always in focus. I use a special macro photography technique called ‘focus-stacking’ to increase depth of field. Sometimes I can take up to 100 shots to make up one single image. I also use an extremely high-resolution camera – 100 megapixels made by company called Phase One so I can capture amazing detail.

OTD — What advice do you have for the amateur photographers, in taking photos of their watches?

IS — Always use a longish (macro) lens to avoid your own camera reflection – many phone cameras tend to be too wide angled so you end up too close to the watch with the phone reflected in the watch.

OTD – Is there a “grail” watch that you hope to buy some day?

IS — I don’t have a particular single grail watch (at the moment) because I keep discovering new (for me) interesting vintage brands. Currently I am particularly fond of the brands such as Gallet, Excelsior Park; (vintage) Sinn, Croton/Nivada Grenchen and of course Vintage Heuer.

OTD — Thank you, Issey.  It is a miracle of social media that brought us together for this posting, and we will hope to follow your career as a photographer and a watch collector. 

IS — Thank you, Jeff.  A miracle indeed.  As my late father used to say, “If you show your passion, people will start to notice.”  I am delighted that you noticed my photographs and sensed my passion for vintage watches.