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QUICKFIRE Q&A: Konstantin Chaykin on leading the watchmaking way in Russia

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Konstantin Chaykin is a talented Russian inventor, master of high watchmaking and the owner of the ‘Konstantin Chaykin’ Manufacture.

It is the only Russian company producing unique, high class mechanical watches with proprietary calibres and describes itself as is the absolute leader in the luxury watch segment of the modern clock and watchmaking industry in Russia.

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WatchPro caught up with Konstantin Chaykin about his life in watchmaking and how things have changed:

Briefly, can you tell me the story behind the brand?

Initially, there were no prerequisites for the fact that my education or life goals in my youth and childhood would lead me to watchmaking. Of the relatives, there was only my grandmother, who was somehow connected with watches – she used to take watches for repairs in a special repair shop in Leningrad.

My connection with timepieces was completely random – anything could happen, and the choice of what I could deal with could be different. The ability to create something on my own and work with mechanisms was instilled even before I entered the technical school of communications. My passion started in the pioneer camps, I was fond of radio engineering.

The connection between radio equipment and timepieces is big. There is a large number of complex small parts, the work on creating devices in both cases is very complicated. In both, there are energy transitions, timepieces and electronics are very similar in this. Understanding of how radio engineering works allowed me to integrate into watchmaking better.

KONSTANTIN CHAYKIN, FOUNDER of his eponymous brand wins the AUDACITY PRIZE for the Konstantin Chaykin, Clown.

Konstantin, as a watchmaker, what is your background?

In 2012, I published a book called “Watchmaking in Russia. Masters and Guardians”. The book is about specific personalities, masters who created their masterpieces. It rather describes the biographies of individual watchmakers and persons who created unique timepieces in Russia.

If we describe attempts to create watches in Russia, then a noticeable leap took place in Soviet times. Before the revolution in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were mainly pocket watch factories in Russia, which only assembled from Swiss-made parts. We are talking about such factories as Henry Moser and Pavel Bure, they were the most significant and largest. Then, in Soviet times in the 30s, when the country needed time devices, watch factories began to appear in the USSR.

Then there were about 19 factories that produced tens of millions of different timepieces. Perestroika was one of the reasons. When the borders opened, a stream of cheap, inexpensive watches poured into Russia and flooded the market. The post-Soviet watch industry was unable to cope with such competition. In addition, purchasing power in the 90s fell sharply, which forced the Soviet factories to reduce the volume of production.

The fall in production, the difficulty of rebuilding old factories into more demanded and modern ones to create competitive products, led to the fact that almost all factories went bankrupt. Therefore, today there are only a few factories that produce timepieces in Russia. This is the Chistopol Watch Factory, which produces about 200 thousand of its own watches with the in-house movements – Vostok watches. “Raketa”, which produces several thousand pieces per year with the in-house movements. The “Molniya” watch factory – the Chelyabinsk watch factory, which produced pocket watches, began to be recreated.

All the rest, unfortunately, have lost their production. There is also the “Poljot Chronos” factory, which began to produce marine chronometers. We produce watches with our own in-house movements in a higher price segment.

What inspires your watches to be so different?

In 2017, the Baselworld fair was the beginning of a long journey. After this exhibition, all Joker watches were sold. In the future, since it was the first watch with such overwhelming success, the task was to produce, to learn how to mass-produce such a watch. Of course, the team helped me, but all the same, production had to be quickly rebuilt, hiring people to perform tasks for the serial production of movements.

The most difficult thing, perhaps, was to teach and support people who have never worked with watches before. I want to remind readers that we are located in Russia, where we have no professional watch schools, there is no system that could teach such people. That is, any person who came to me actually learned from the scratch – turners, milling cutters, assemblers of movements or people who are engaged in the finishing of parts.

This is a complex process. It is easier, of course, to do everything on my own, because I will do it more quickly and with maximum quality, and it is much more difficult to control production processes and quality when others do it. In order to scale up production, I had to change a lot. As a result, I can say that if in 2015-16 we produced 15-20 watches per year, then by 18-19 the volume of production increased to 150-200 pieces per year.

I believe that the very idea of the Joker was a new direction in watchmaking, which allowed to attract collectors, to make it recognizable and the model is in demand until now. The situation with the Joker is such as that all the models are sold out even before the official release. The process of acquiring a watch is not difficult, but we have to put people on a wait list and they wait if someone refuses from the reserved number.

The recent NFT watch is interesting, can you tell us more about that?

Indeed, in my opinion, the Cinema watch is an outstanding watch from the point of view that the watch is a real piece of art. They may have a useless, but very rare complication – a built-in movie projector, which nevertheless allowed to tell a wonderful story of Eadweard Muybridge and at the same time give people emotion. Demonstration of a short film in the watch, without exception, delights those who see it for the first time.

A watch has a complicated movement, consisting of a large number of parts, but, as you know, I only make watches with complications, which sometimes require colossal unusual solutions not only in the field of mechanics, but also in physics and mathematics. In my case, every new watch is a challenge – from the point of view of solving technological problems – for example, obtaining a new surface quality, complex details. Or how to put a complicated movement into a beautiful design.

I have constant sources of inspiration, I often stimulate it, as I am close to art. Just recently, I was invited to the Union of Artists of Russia at the insistence of friends and colleagues. Although, there were times when I wanted to become an artist – before and after the army. I love painting, I paint myself, I often come up with different ideas that are nice to combine with design and movement.

The watch that I like the most is the one I work on. This year I have many new projects, they occupy my whole soul and heart. As for those watches that have already been created – regardless of what kind of watch it is, of course, I value them as a grown-up child, and they all are all equally loved and dear to me. But interest and desire is caused by something that has not yet been born.

Speaking of technology, how has the industry and your business changed since you started?

Now I have 89 patents for inventions, inspiration is drawn from understanding what does not yet exist, how the evolution and history of watches looks like, and, accordingly, I act as a visionary, filling those technical niches that have not yet been solved. It is impossible to do everything in one human life, but I try to direct the vector of my thoughts towards some new unknown things.

Now I am very much worried about space, I am working on various space problems that can be solved with the help of time devices.

Where do you see it going in the next 3-5 years?

The tourbillon was my first traditional complication, and this year I will show my first wrist tourbillon. Although, I cannot say that this is my great love. I am not a fan of tradition, and this traditional complication does not make a lot of practical sense for a wristwatch.

But it is nice to watch how the tourbillon works. Such a nice soulful aesthetics. Probably, you can watch for a long time how the fire burns, the water runs, the tourbillon works, the horse runs in the watch or the Joker smiles – these are the things that rank equally.

 What plans do you have in the coming months?

Production in Moscow appeared in 2011, and the building itself is beautiful, rather large (about 500 sq m), which, moreover, gives certain opportunities to place the entire production under one roof, starting with blanks, production of parts, finishing, quality control and assembly. I am constantly trying to do something to improve the production process.

I am always learning, although it is not always possible to get some secret skills from my Swiss colleagues. Basically, I bring some things myself as an inventor. As for larger production – I often come up with this idea. But now I will go the other way – rather, increase the value of my watch – due to more complicated solutions in mechanics, but I definitely do not want to increase the quantity. 150-200 pieces per year is the optimal quantity when you still can control the process. If this number grows, then it will be more difficult to control the quality and the entire production process, and I would say impossible.

Discover Konstantin Chaykin:

Konstantin Chaykin
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