May 2, 2023
by Ariel Adams
In 2017, the Konstantin Chaykin Joker watch debuted as a novel concept from Moscow-based watchmaker Konstantin Chaykin. The Joker watch with a real “face” on it employed a simple yet satisfying technique to display the hours and minutes view of two subdials that looked like eyes on the watch face. Built as a module developed by Chaykin, over a base Swiss Made automatic movement, the Joker was a relatively simple timepiece by Konstantin Chaykin standards and also happened to be an immediate hit. Joker, and all things related to Joker have taken up much of Konstantin Chaykin’s time over the last few years. Releasing variations and expansions on the expressive face that tells the time concept has been a key part of the Konstantin Chaykin brand over the last few years. The models have progressed past the Joker as a conceptual base (to a collection called “Wristmons”), but the key concept of two large eyes and a funny face on the dial of a luxury timepiece has remained a popular direction at the brand. Not long ago in Geneva, I sat down with Chaykin to look at his latest face watch, the charming and sabertooth tiger-themed Konstantin Chaykin Smilodon.
With a case produced in mostly bronze, and with a titanium caseback, the Smilodon (originally debuted on aBlogtoWatch here) is a real evolution of the original Joker concept that will have a very similar emotional appeal. The price is also much higher, with a cost nearing $35,000. This represents a few interesting things about Chaykin’s business and its power in the market, but it is also interesting to see how some of the tamer pricing in the independent watchmaker space has a tendency to jump up a few years after companies find success. While I played with this incredibly charming timepiece dedicated to big hunting cats, I got to chat with Chaykin about his business and the 800-pound Gorilla in the room: the world’s relationship with Russia.
In 2012, I visited Chaykin’s manufacture in Moscow, and in 2018, aBlogtoWatch’s David Bredan visited and produced a nice article about what it is like where Konstantin Chaykin makes watches. Companies like Chaykin have gotten caught up in geopolitics in a way that has a very serious effect on their business. Not even talking about local issues at home in Russia, sanctions, and other business limitations has made it impossible or challenging for many Russian companies that rely on international trade to do business. Chaykin’s solution is one taken by many — to move much of his business operation out of the country. The goal is for much of what Konstantin Chaykin does to be based in Switzerland, thus changing the nature of his operation and the consequences of geopolitics on the sale of luxury timepieces. The resourceful plan is one of many interesting ways that Konstantin Chaykin has been a maverick in an otherwise restrictive and conservative industry where novelty and new ideas are hard to come by. If nothing else convinces you, just look at his watches.
The Smilodon watch introduces a new complication for the mouth part of the case that has two features. The first is how the cat’s mouth opens and closes throughout the day. It actually functions as a day/night indicator, as well as to see what is currently inside the Smilodon’s mouth. This is where the second part of the complication comes in, and that is a day-of-the-week indicator disc. Rather than having the days of the week spelled out in text, the Smilodon is equipped with a disc printed with small animals on it. I like how some of these are niche beasts (think tapir, or aardvark) and how they play with the “time eater” theme. It reminds me a bit of the Chronophage clock art from about 15 years ago. In any event, the opening and closing mouth of the Smilodon watch features a different animal graphic for each day of the week.
The watch also has a new movement that is now built on a Swiss Made Vaucher movement base. The 4Hz, 50-hour power reserve automatic movement is more attractive than ETA movements and helps secure the Smilodon as a higher-end watch. You can see the movement through the display caseback, and, of course, on the dial, the hours and minutes are indicated via the respective eyeball-style dials. Since there is no need for a corrector pusher (for the moonphase mouth, for example) there is only one crown on the watch, which for symmetry purposes, has been positioned at 6 o’clock on the case. Don’t miss the sabertooth-style pins use for the strap buckle. That is a great little detail.
The feline theme of the Smilodon Wristmon has an impact on the case design, which here is 42mm-wide and in mostly bronze. The top of the case has lugs that are different from the bottom of the case so that the top lugs can look like cat ears. Konstantin Chaykin opted for a rather highly chemically active bronze alloy that is designed to oxidize (“patina”) to darker colors, giving the Smilodon case a lot of organic personality. Colors and textures are a huge part of the appeal of the overall design.
From the start, it was clear that the dial design, including colors and textures, would be very important for the success of Konstantin Chaykin Joker watches, and later the various other Wristmons. There is a welcome cartoonish quality to them that allows the artwork to feel very much like a modern animated character, as opposed to traditional fine art. This introduces a pop culture component for this mechanical timepiece, which I think helps this otherwise traditional concept be so well accepted by the modern world. Konstantin Chaykin was never afraid to get childishly playful with the Wristmons, which is probably in large part to thank for their success. I can see most other brands bristling at the various executions that actually made their way to production at Konstantin Chaykin. What I actually wonder about more are some of the Wristmons ideas that the Chaykin team had which that not make it to production …
Konstantin Chaykin has limited this version of the Smilodon to just eight pieces, which will naturally lend itself to a lot of demand for this watch. I think it is safe to say that if Chaykin adjusted the colors or small details on the Smilodon, he could be making cat-themed Wristmons for years to come. What will come of this particular design concept after the Smilodon run is complete, is of course something that only Konstantin Chaykin can decide. I really like the design and charm, as well as the innocent approach to predation that the Smilodon introduces. That makes this product as beautiful as it is philosophical — a hallmark of many successful luxury timepieces. Price for the limited edition Konstantin Chaykin Smilodon watch is $34,300 USD. Learn more at the Konstantin Chaykin website.