The Story of Plating 3 Honma Makes the Shift to Gold Plating
Out of all the world’s golf club manufacturers, there are two things that only Honma can do. First, there’s the gold plating on the head ―more specifically, the technology to place gold plating on top of chrome plating, the latter being indispensable to durability. The second is the technology to mass produce the gold-plated club head.
This innovation caused a shift: where the club was previously viewed as a sports utility item, it was now a work of art, and the gold plating became an object of envy for golfers everywhere. Yet it was also a product of a process of trial and error.
In 1984, Abe made another discovery at a different place?this time not the plating line. We had to find out how thick the chrome plating needed to be to ensure that the iron head would be sufficiently resistant to dirt and bunkers, and we did this by using a blast machine.
We tested other manufacturers’ iron heads one by one in the machine, measuring and carefully recording how many seconds it took for the plating to come off. Next we sandblasted Honma heads coated with various thicknesses of plating. That’s how we determined the “Honma standard”: after seemingly endless testing, we decided to create plating much thicker than the most durable of the competitor products.
In general, iron plating was comprised of three layers: copper, nickel, and a top coat of chrome that forms a protective film when it comes into contact with air.
In the beginning, Honma Golf also manufactured these triple-layer plated irons.
The following year, after the Plaza Accord, the yen suddenly gained in value, the government adopted a policy of low interest rates, and the unprecedented stock and real estate inflated “bubble” economy was upon us.
Our company founders, in careful observance of the trends of the time, asked Abe to make a gold-plated iron head. But there was one problem. Because chrome plating creates a protective film, it was like oil repelling water. So there was no way to put gold plating on top of it.
“It’s never going to work.”
That’s what Abe thought. It was just common sense in talking about plating. But Abe had his pride as a craftsman. He began to search for an answer, reading everything he could on the subject.
Just when he was convinced he’d thought of everything, and almost given up, he picked up a certain pamphlet. It was a bolt from the blue: brush electroplating.
The process of brush electroplating consisted of coating felt attached to a rod with the plating liquid, running a positive current through the felt, and a negative current through the coating. The felt is rubbed repeatedly to make the coating adhere.
With this procedure, the part of the head that has been coated with chrome is dissolved with acid using a brush. Then nickel plating is applied, followed by gold plating?yes, then it would be possible! But there was a problem.
The brush electroplating had to be done by hand, one by one. It took 20 minutes to do just one gold plated head. And because it had to be done so carefully and required so much concentration, production was limited to some 10-plus clubs per day. We were able to do it with a team of several people, but the demand for gold-plated clubs began to far surpass production capacity.
Abe was convinced: “We should be able to mass produce using the brush electroplating technique. There must be a way.”
And so he placed a small tub in corner of the research lab, and from here?in his limited spare time at work!―began doing mass production experiments using various kinds of acids. He altered the concentration of the acid, the ratio of ingredients, processing time―and made detailed records of all of the different combinations. He did the sandblast testing on the items that looked good on the outside, but they failed the durability test.
He made the acid strong to fully remove the chrome, but ugly marks appeared. He went on like this for several months, trying all different kinds of things and making mistake after mistake until he finally arrived at the “golden number.”?the perfect acid blend, density, and processing time.
“I’ve finally got it!,” he thought.
And that day, Abe the strong, silent type was all smiles. Our daily production capacity rose from a paltry 10-something to 2,000 clubs. The year was 1992---the golden days of the bubble period.