Mr Chaykin took the scene by storm with his by now world-famous Joker watch. That is however but one of his many innovative contributions to the horological world. Here’s a watchmaker where you never know what you’re going to get next. Be it an incredibly complicated and innovative clock, or a wristwatch that looks or functions unlike anything else.
It is with incredible pleasure that I am sharing this interview with you, as not only is he a great watchmaker, he is just about the nicest person I have had the pleasure to talk to in this industry. I have no doubt you will also come to that same conclusion as you read through the interview below.
Jan de Griff: You are self-made and self-taught. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey in watchmaking?
Konstantin Chaykin: Indeed, I did not study in any specialized educational institutions where watchmaking is taught. I also did not have a master teacher who would lead me by the hand along the path of watchmaking. I didn’t plan to become a watchmaker at all, as a child I was more attracted to radio electronics and radio engineering. That is why I received the appropriate education, graduated from the college of telecommunications in St. Petersburg.
In many ways, the knowledge and skills I got in college helped me on the way of watchmaker, which I had to go through on my own. There is a big difference between creating design of watches with ready-made movements and creating new movements from scratch and on your own. This is exactly what I do, and at the time I started this activity, there was nothing like this in Russia, so I had to learn everything on my own. Starting with repairing and restoration of watches, I got into the idea of creating my own watches.
At first I made a gift piece for my father for his 50th anniversary – I took a ready-made Swiss movement, produced details of the exterior design, the case, the dial and the hands for this watch. Then, it seems, in 2002, I had an experience of making wall clocks – I bought ready-made German quartz movements, developed the design of the case and ordered their production at the watch factory. My partner and I assembled these watches, made packaging and sold them. So, having already been involved, I started creating my first movement in 2003, and finished it in 2004.
Jan: Your repeated successes have made you a very well-known and highly respected watchmaker. As a result, you are also the most well known contemporary Russian watchmaker. Do you feel any additional pressure representing Russian watchmaking on the global stage?
Konstantin: I suppose the question is related to the fact that my watches are not Swiss, and due to the political situation some people may treat Russia differently. But honestly, I do not feel any pressure. Meanwhile Russia has a rich watch history. It is of course not as powerful and global as in Switzerland. At the beginning of the 15th century, the watchmaking industry appeared in Russia, and there were masters, about whom you can, among other places, read in my book “Watchmaking in Russia. Masters and keepers”.
In addition, a very large and powerful period was in the Soviet times, when a large watch industry was created in Russia — 19 watch factories were operating, at which various watch complications were developed for domestic use and for specialized time devices. Unfortunately during the post-Soviet period after perestroika amount of factories has decreased dramatically. At the moment, there are very few of them left, and they produce much less compared to that time.
~ I explain to Mr Chaykin that this wasn’t quite what I meant. Mind you, my Russian is terrible so this is on me. Just to clarify, count me in the camp of people who truly don’t care where a watch is made. Made in Switzerland, Made in Japan, Made in Russia… If it’s an interesting and well made watch, where it was made does not matter to me at all.
Jan: I am referring to a different type of pressure far away from politics and perceptions. As you mention partly in your answer there are not that many manufactures left in Russia. And, I would argue that you are by far the most famous and respected Russian manufacture in today’s industry. Therefore, you in a sense represent Russian watchmaking. Your success and failure therefore can reflect on how Russian watchmaking is perceived (not in a political sense). A little bit like an Athlete representing his country on the world stage. Do you feel any additional pressure in that sense?
Konstantin: For us it is a big responsibility to represent Russia in the luxury watches segment. It has two sides. First of all, our example is important for Russian people, as the evidence of the fact that it is possible in Russia to create excellent quality items exported abroad. And secondly, to show the international watch community that in Russia we can produce watches no worse than elsewhere. And of course this is a certain responsibility that sets the bar in the work.
Jan: You make fantastic wrist watches, yet you started out by making (very complicated) clocks. Will we continue to see you releasing both new watches and clocks in the future?
Konstantin: My first clock with my own movement was a table clock with tourbillon. The goal at that moment was a caller for me, tourbillon attracted me because of its status “king of complications” (like many other watchmasters who use it).
However, a tourbillon is not very complicated device, especially compared to other complications that I create. At the moment I have a lot of different ideas and projects in development. Therefore you will see many new interesting and complex watches.
Jan:What are the key differences and challenges between watchmaking and clockmaking from your point of view?
Konstantin: The differences between manufacturing wrist watches and table clocks, of course, are in terms of technology of manufacturing parts, and in the technology of constructing and designing watch movements. For example, platinum for watches are made from a single piece of metal, in which space for the movement of watch wheels and parts is drilled with a mill. In case of the table clock everything is different – the parts are assembled from plates, which are interconnected by studs, and wheels are placed between them.
From the technology point of view it seemed to me some time ago that it was easier to make a table clock, because the parts were bigger, but today with the knowledge I have and technology, it is much easier to make wristwatches, since less time is spent to make parts. This requires experience and serious understanding of technology size.
Jan: The Joker has to be your most famous timepiece. Did the (massive) success surprise you at the time it was launched?
Konstantin: Frankly speaking, I didn’t count on such a huge success of the Joker watch, but in the process of creation and by the time the first prototype of the watch was finished, I understood that it would be a sensation. With a combination of various factors, this watch loudly declared itself.
Jan: Following the success with the Joker, did you run into scaling issues? The Joker surely lead to a surge in demand for your timepieces, was it difficult to adjust to this new consumer demand? What were the main challenges and how did you deal with it?
Konstantin: After success with the Joker watch of course there were problems with expansion, because before that we had been producing 10-20 pieces a year, and this number of orders required tremendous efforts to reorganize production.
Since we are doing everything on our own and we have very few contractors, since both the details of the exterior design and the details of the watches, with the exception of the basic movement, are being made in Russia, we had to buy additional equipment and teach people from the very beginning in order to fulfill our obligations to customers. The main problem in it is people. There are no ready-made specialists in Russia, we teach them on our own and it takes a lot of time for training.
To move from a single piece production to a small-scale production, the creation of additional equipment is required, and attention is paid to the quality of manufactured parts.
Jan: Any pressure to follow up on the Joker success?
Konstantin: Joker is one of the most successful models, the most successful experience in history of the company. It’s just very nice that it happened and that it found a response in the hearts of many collectors and watch connoisseurs.
Jan: Your hard work was also recognized by the GPHG, can you tell us a little about that experience?
Konstantin: I participated in GPHG four times. First time with the model Cinema and Carpe Diem, in 2017 with the model Joker, and in 2018 with the Clown watch. But, unfortunately, neither Cinema, nor Carpe Diem found a response from the jury, but the Joker was nominated for the Grand Prix, that is, passed the pre-selection.
The Clown also went beyond the standard prizes and took the “Audacity prize.” Two watches, in creation of which I participated – the Clown and the Joker Automaton, developed together with Svend Andersen, were nominated last year. It’s very cool!
Jan: If I may say, there is one constant in all of your releases, be it watches or clocks. That constant is that each release is incredibly creative. Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process and how you go about thinking up your creations?
Konstantin: Thank you very much! Every new watch is a huge amount of creative work. From my point of view ideas for new watches and projects are hovering everywhere – in museums, in books, movies, in friendly conversations.
Something interesting can always come to your mind and you can later use it in your watch. Creativity begins with an idea, but it may end on that, if everything is not written down and not sketched. Therefore, I fix everything on paper. When an idea has a serious level of technology, I fill out an application for an invention, and then I work on the design, prototype, etc. As a rule, such work takes a year or more.
Today, I already have seventy-five patents, which is quite a lot for the watch industry. Of course, I don’t have time to patent all the ideas that come to me, but this is not the main thing. Patenting is just a defence, but the really important thing is to create it all. Now I also have several projects in my work, which I hope you will see very soon.
Jan: Following the much anticipated release of your Mars watch, is there a particular project you are currently working on that you can tell us something about?
Konstantin: There are a lot of projects in work – not less than five, but I’m not ready to spill the beans. I only can talk about the direction – this is space and creative art.
Jan: Before we go, I have to ask, which watch are you currently asking?
Konstantin: I have the first Joker on my wrist. Thank you!