Learning whatever it was that he needed to learn, Konstantin is happy to share that he wasn’t confined by traditional, formal education and training – he was left with an open mind. Learning at your own cost isn’t cheap though: a candid moment was him sharing how he made his first piece, then his second piece, then his third piece, then his fourth piece – he took his time listing them like that – only for none of them to find a buyer. He started getting serious inquiries and making his first sale after he had realized the fourth concept. Now, four certainly isn’t a high number… But take a moment to recognize the creative effort that must have gone into those four pieces of horology, only to gain no recognition, let alone real-world support.
Fast forward to 2018 and Konstantin today directs a two-story manufacture with a staff over a dozen-strong, including engineers, watchmakers, lathe and CNC and laser machine operators, dial painters, case and buckle decorators, and polishers… and is managing a waiting list that stretches out to late 2019, early 2020. He knows what exactly everyone in his manufacture is doing and why and specifically how they are performing their tasks. Over the course of the two days, the only time when he couldn’t respond immediately to a – in hindsight rather over complicated – question of mine was simple because of a slight language barrier. As we passed through the different rooms and their familiar arrangement of smaller and larger machines – massive, forklift-sized CNCs for machining plates through tiny lathes for polishing the two narrow bevels on the Joker’s bezel all the way to a high-pressure, clean room for spray painting the eyes and moon phase tongue discs of the Joker watch.
To this day, Konstantin spends a lot of his time at the watchmaker’s bench too… And it’s not only in favor of those immensely complicated, special pieces I mentioned before, but for fragile parts of other watches too – like the dial assembly of the Joker and Clown watches, which not only take a lot of time and hence are very expensive to produce, but are also very intricate and challenging to assemble, leaving absolutely no room for error. Just to give you an example, one out of 10 pieces made in-house for the eyes – those small, convex, spray painted discs – of these watches can be used, for the extremely tight tolerances when it comes to how the paint settles on these intricately shaped, forever visible parts. No wonder, then, that these couldn’t be outsourced to any supplier, who much prefer bulk orders of run-of-the-mill stuff, rather than such intricate, high failure rate pieces that require additional development and investment in special tooling and training. Wheels, crowns, dials, even hands are made in-house – jewels, springs, sapphire crystals, and straps are bought in, for obvious reasons.
Konstantin had a few times highlighted what he calls “Russian Spirit” as an important component to his watchmaking project and how watches are produced in the Konstantin Chaykin manufacture. I am not sure if it’s simply this “Russian Spirit,” or also the fact that I visited a manufacture that grew much the same way how he developed his knowledge and understanding: on a systematic, on-demand basis. There was no excess anywhere – although a massive, brand new and probably very expensive HAAS CNC had just landed a few days before I arrived – which is rare in a two-story manufacture with as widespread of capacities as this one. Still, the “Russian Spirit” is indeed very much reflected by both the manufacture, the people in it, and the watches that they make. Too bad it isn’t something I could more concretely describe – although one upside to it’s more obscure nature is that it isn’t as tired as the “Italian soul and passion” cliché, I guess. Stay with me as I try and bring some examples to this.
The Konstantin Chaykin manufacture, in tandem with its watches, also highlights the true potential of a manufacture – you know, a place that can, ehm, manufacture things. Frankly, I failed at putting my finger on what exactly has been bothering me during some of my more recent manufacture visits. These occasions have not even merited a dedicated manufacture visit article on these pages since there simply wasn’t enough proprietary/novel stuff going on that I couldn’t squeeze into a review or hands-on of a watch from said brands. It happens all too often that what I see is a host of CNC machines, churning out plates and bridges – in more advanced (relatively speaking) places, maybe even wheels. But, you see, that’s easy – not just because we’re spoiled brats, but because it really isn’t (and shouldn’t be) the be all and end all of watchmaking, that an army of automatic machines can carve pieces of metal out.
A manufacture – as this one perfectly exemplifies – should enable and empower its operator to realize whatever the heck he wants. That sounds obvious, almost easy, in fact. However, in reality it’s everything but those things. The moment you want to produce any part that is outside the realm of common watch components – plates, bridges and larger wheels… and perhaps add to this list pinions, springs (not hairsprings or mainsprings, but springs that put pressure on some parts of the movement) and complex component assemblies for more advanced companies – and you suddenly need to master a host of techniques and show off your dexterity. You’re forced to pile a good number of ingenious technical solutions on another just to realize one single part that is essential to a watch that you designed.
It is only now that I come to appreciate the overwhelming number of custom parts and manufacturing techniques that Konstantin’s watches have been decorated with. As impressive as his personal watchmaking / designer / engineering skills are, I came away just as impressed with how he pulled off the virtually impossible feat of creating a manufacture that is an extension of himself, where every department can be pushed to work with novel solutions and overcome new manufacturing challenges. Basically every single time Konstantin chooses to go forward with one of his countless ideas that he had sketched into one of those two dozen Moleskin notepads over the years. In principle it’s a lot like MB&F – but the friends are in-house. Large manufactures a lot of the time can’t seem to be able to – or be bothered to – overcome unusual challenges that favor just one particular model and involve such intense trial and error processes. To create the mouth of the Clown, the polish on a unique part of a Jazz watch, to create five tiny little sand blasted triangles in a bezel (and the list goes on and on, and on) all require a lot of prototyping and, more important, a whole team of craftsmen who can and are willing to adapt to these ever changing manufacturing techniques and requirements. I guess that’d have to be part of the “Russian Spirit” because I don’t recall seeing this level of versatility in what an in-house manufacture has produced anywhere else – both in terms of versatility of finished watches or their individual solutions. There are brands and companies who can come up with these ideas (APR&P, for example), but they don’t bother producing cases or dials or hands. Here, pretty much all of that happens in-house, from the unique movements to cases, dials, and even hands.
In closing what else is there for me to say than that I feel privileged to have met Konstantin and spend two short days with him and his team in Moscow. This time allowed me to come away feeling absolutely convinced about what I had suspected all along: that it takes a rare combination of immense academic knowledge, an artist’s creative mindset, and the physical and mental stamina required to dedicate decades of tireless effort to realize what the mind – with said academic knowledge and creative approach – has thought out. And we haven’t even touched on the business side of things, the challenges of successfully navigating the vicious waters of the high-end watch market as an independent entrepreneur, of employing an ever-growing team of specialists, and of pleasing a global clientèle of ever more discerning customers.
That’s the Super Size serving of everything that makes running such a unique watchmaking business nigh on impossible… and therefore everything this self-taught guy excels at successfully overcoming. Check out the manufacture’s website for more unique creations here.