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Independent watchmaker Alexander Shorokhoff represents the esoterica that makes watchmaking fun. The German brand has long been a locus of creative design, beginning with its founding in 2003. In the intervening years, exclusive designs have garnered awards from the New York Design Award, to the German Design Award, and the iF Design Awards. One of the earliest designs to set the brand apart, watches like the Miss Avantgarde shows how Shorokov’s namesake outfit has morphed its design language, creating a footing as an eclectic outlier in a world of watchmaking that can often seem to be increasingly homogeneous. The creative force behind the company is founder Alexander Shorokhov, who, for more than 31 years, has combined fascinating innovations with intricate craft and exceptional design. Carried by the philosophy “art on the wrist,” the Avantgarde collection breaks with many standard guidelines, a reflection of Shorokhov, who personally develops each design. With their own direction, colors, and shapes, the Avantgarde line has its roots in classical modernism.

The Alexander Shorokhoff story begins in Moscow in 1960. Born behind the Iron Curtain, the professionally trained civil engineer came of age during the period of Glasnost. The 1980s saw President Mikhail Gorbachev’s government send artists and technical experts abroad in real numbers for the first time in the USSR’s short history. Part of this movement in its later years, Mr. Alexander Shorokov was selected for a position in Germany in 1991, studying the transition from a planned economy to a free market one. After the fall of the Soviet Union just one year after arriving in Germany, he took up a central role in distributing the Russian watch brand, Poljot, before striking out on his own a few years later with his first brand, Poljot International. With this venture, Shorokov brought familiar Soviet watch design to a much larger Western audience, elevating the timepieces with improved materials, craftsmanship, and quality control. A stroll through the Poljot International catalog is a glimpse into Shorokov’s early concepts that would later emerge via his eponymous brand.

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The year 2002 gave rise to the Alexander Shorokhoff brand. Keen readers will note the discrepancy in spellings between the man (Shorokov) and the brand (Shorokhoff). With one carrying the German spelling and the other Russian, the watchmaker salutes its Russo-Germanic origins. Producing and assembling all its components in Germany (no small feat), the brand is registered with the German Watch Association. It’s this geographical focus that also informs much of its designs, with collections like the Avantgarde showcasing traditions of classical modernism, inspired by national and international art and culture. Now merged under the Avantgarde heading, one of the brand’s first collections is the Heritage lineup. This includes pieces named for great figures such as Peter Tchaikovsky, Alexander Pushkin, and Fedor Dostoevsky, and here, the unexpected prevails with each member of the lineup differing greatly from one another. The current brand website, which is scheduled for a top-to-bottom revamp soon, exhibits watches like the bull-headed square case, Dostoevsky AS.FD11 with its poker-themed guilloché dial and Soprod movement sitting right alongside a Leo Tolstoy piece in an 18kt rose gold with a Valjoux chronograph caliber. This equal-opportunity approach to watchmaking allows the essence of each man’s inspiration to emerge: Dostoevsky was an inveterate gamer, and Tolstoy’s rich literary embellishments have changed the world far beyond Russia, where the Valjoux movements were originally manufactured. The result is that few pieces in the collection bear much resemblance to one another, lending unparalleled diversity across the lineup.

Examining the brand’s catalog, another standout is the Dostoevsky chronograph variant. Housed in a 44.5mm rounded-square case, it manages to incorporate a playful roulette theme across the fine guilloché dial. Skeletonized hands in an unconventional rectangular shape provide maximum dial visibility including acting as a frame for the date window, cohesively incorporated into the roulette track at the 12 o’clock spot. Flipped over, the manual-wind 3133.AS movement is strikingly decorated with engraved bridges and blued screws. Framing this artful caliber via the sapphire caseback is another roulette wheel, lending more color to the vibrant reverse.

Another hallmark of the brand is its signature use of an oversized “60” indication at the top of the dial. Thin, stylized numerals in a sans-serif format lend further unity and help inform the geometry of the watch. At just 39mm in diameter, the forthcoming 50-piece limited edition “Wintergenta” watch appears much bigger than it actually is thanks to thin bezels, an expansive crystal, and the aforementioned numeral font. On this watch, in particular, a silver dial covered with “diamond dust” captivates the eye, drawing it to the 925 silver case adorned with matching filigree. Here, Shorokhov’s imagination is at play, with the color and character interplaying as materials and craftsmanship come together. However, the real soul of many Alexander Shorokhoff watches lives within the movements. Using calibers of Russian production — all hand-engraved — these watches have a story to tell that often reaches back decades before the brand was founded. Produced in small numbers, these pieces house rebuilt mechanical engines that are often the last of their kind.

Certainly, the most characteristic and intrepid watches are those that make full use of color. Thoroughly and thoughtfully decorated, these pieces allude to the brand’s other defining quality: watches as art. Many of these pieces honor the artistic and creative influence of Alexander Shorokhov’s heritage on the world stage, but with the added dimension of new dials. Regulators (both chronograph and time-only) with partially skeletonized dials and guilloché plates live side-by-side with feverishly designed sector-dial hand-wound pieces with a zodiac motif. Some of the wildest watches are the pink and gold crosshatched Karo chronos that evoke the word “plaid” in a startling way. If these aren’t eye-catching enough, the limited edition “Crazy Balls” pieces with their brightly colored and artistically random dials pick up where the “Crazy Eyes” watches left off. These paid tribute to the work of German artist Gustav Klimt, yet the current Crazy Balls models contain some DNA from painters like Kandinsky and Chagall. These cross-cultural influences continue to emerge the longer one studies these watches.

Finally, the Avantgarde collection is home to the brand’s most notable watches gathered together as the Collectibles subline. While the aforementioned Crazy Eyes and Karo watches live here, so too do the wavy, engine-turned-dialed Neva and the eminently creative Glocker, which uses eight mother-of-pearl variants to track the sunrise from the early dawn hours at around 5:30 to the bright light of day at 9:30. Kindred spirits, the Kandy Avantgarde, and Levels watches deploy retro color palettes in differing ways, with the former presenting big, bold comic-book colors while the latter uses a softer spectrum to add accents to the independently functional automatic movements (yes, plural) showing home time and a second time zone. Again to the former, the Kandy stands out not just for color, but for more quiet design choices. A long look at the dial reveals just two applied elements. Positioned at the 1 and 7 o’clock positions, these are the only non-linear hour markers. The rest are more subtly placed, with the other delineations appearing as “pie slices” incorporated in the dial’s illustrations. Powered by a familiar ETA 2892 movement, the Kandy features a respectable 42-hour power reserve that also allows it to size in at just 9mm thick. Despite its elaborate appearance, the Kandy wears sensibly at 41mm square, using a partially open caseback to make the back nearly as interesting as the front. Finally, the 22mm leather straps can be playfully mixed and matched, adding to the watch’s freestyle nature. The Kandy — as with all pieces in the Avantgarde collection but particularly the Collectibles — contain such multitudes that it’s futile to draw a throughline across the collection. Instead, these fine timepieces are best understood as the unfettered creative progeny of one extremely creative person.

The watches of Alexander Shorokhoff are both visually and functionally overwhelming to the point where even seasoned watch fans may find themselves tabbing back and forth just to comprehend the sheer expansiveness of the brand’s offerings. Yet while at first intimidating, such unencumbered productivity is a breath of fresh air for fans conditioned to perceive watch collections as clearly delineated, fully related families. But whoever said this was the “right” way to understand watches? The lively, organic way that Alexander Shorokhoff watches connect, diverge, and then evolve from one another is the perfect reflection of what lies at the heart of great watchmaking: creative passion. It’s this willingness to break rules and build for building’s sake that makes these timepieces some of the truest artistic pieces on the market today. Alexander Shorokhoff watches are available from authorized dealers worldwide and via the company’s website.

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