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Leading Russian cabinotier and natural-born inventor Konstantin Chaykin talks about the future of watchmaking, artistic freedom, and the one and only way to truly master the craft.

WatchJ:

You are a renowned cabinotier and a member of Academie Horlogere des Createurs Independants. What is the main goal of AHCI, and how one becomes part of it?

Konstantin Chaykin:

The main objectives of AHCI are informational and marketing support. It’s hard for a watchmaker to make timepieces and to market them at the same time. Being part of some kind of a guild makes it easier. To enter AHCI, one should comply with really high professional standards and be able to make top-end movements all by themselves. After being recognized as candidates, the newcomers present their timepieces at several major industry events. In case of approval by other members, the contender becomes one of us.

WatchJ:

You’ve wrote a book about watchmaking. Are you currently working on the second one, maybe something less historical and more practical? 

Konstantin Chaykin:

There is enough knowledge out there. Certainly, I can add a thing or two, but there are no concrete plans yet. Anyway, watchmaking is not meant to be studied distantly. There are some trainees around, but they give you only the basics. Technology itself is very sophisticated. It’s a sequence of actions each time executed a bit differently. The craft is literary in your fingertips and there is no better way of learning than becoming an apprentice of a master watchmaker. You’ve already wrote about Anton Sukhanov (recognized by AHCI as one of the three best young watchmakers of the year — WatchJ) who worked at my atelier few years ago, now there are three others.

WatchJ:

What does it take to become your apprentice?

Konstantin Chaykin:

If one is highly motivated and willing to come in time and do what they are told, we’ll give it a shot. Nevertheless, I guarantee nothing, this job is not for everyone. WatchJ: Does it happen often? Konstantin Chaykin: All the time, really. If there’s a fire inside, you are welcome to try. However, don’t expect me to guide you through every step, I neither have time nor desire to do it. One should also be aware from the very beginning that there is no big money involved. If you are ready to work hard to earn a lot, you better look elsewhere. Even from creative perspective, it is much easier to express yourself in, say, painting. Watchmaking takes away a huge part of your life. Several years goes for learning, making your first basic movement will take another year or two. Check the stories about masters of the past: someone spent 14 years on one piece, some 9, Danish watchmaker Jens Olsen spent 50 years and never really finished it. We are talking about hundreds of days of hand labor, constant stress, and finding solutions to various problems. People are not perfect, we make mistakes, you have to live with it. Sometimes, your hand falters or calculations go wrong. It is not an easy task to keep in mind thousands of actions. Any finished timepiece is a decent achievement.

WatchJ:

How many employees do you currently have?  

Konstantin Chaykin:

About ten.

WatchJ:

Any issue requires your attention, right?

Konstantin Chaykin:

It’s the least-evil solution. People often have motivational issues and lack liability,  especially in big cities like Moscow where there are plenty of other career opportunities.

WatchJ:

Some cabinotiers intentionally do everything by themselves and get praised for this attitude...  

Konstantin Chaykin:

It’s a different story and it usually involves watches with two hands and some classical complications. It’s all about a master and their craft. As an inventor, I want to make something new and witness my mechanical ideas come to life rather than follow, say, Breguet. I have 64 patents for watch complications, as far as I know, it’s the largest amount worldwide. It’s not that important whether I will execute them myself, my apprentices, or even a machine. However, all the prototypes are assembled solely by me. No one would simply handle this. The same goes to designing — the image of a final product, the essence of its proportions exists only in your head. It’s hard to pass it to anyone else.

WatchJ:

You meet all your ordering customers personally, right? Is it a marketing step or a real necessity?

Konstantin Chaykin:

As far as I know, that’s a standard practice. Even lead engineers in big companies meet their customers. It’s the only way to establish a full-bodied communication and prevent any misunderstandings. I wouldn’t mind leaving it to someone else and fully concentrate on creative side of things, but it just seems the right way.

WatchJ:

Can the idea of a timepiece come from a customer, or are there always many unaccomplished projects waiting for the right moment? 

Konstantin Chaykin:

I see watchmaking more as a creative work rather than business. If you wish to design the future timepiece all by yourself, look elsewhere. When customers come to me, they entrust me with the artistic part. You are welcome to give some kind of direction but the essence and the looks are mine to create. WatchJ: How do you decide what material to use? For instance, how did you end up with bulat steel in Lunokhod model?  Konstantin Chaykin: When designing a watch case, it’s a texture that steps ahead. The idea behind this model was to celebrate the highlights of Soviet space program, so bulat was perfect. Its surface looks totally out of this world and its historical background is very important for our country. As far as I know, we are the only ones in the market who used it.

WatchJ:

Tell us about your collaboration with Nika company. The design of Mystery collection obviously came from your Levitas series... 

Konstantin Chaykin:

Nika is our investor, and we were involved in Mystery and Russian Time lines. Recently, we have developed a new caliber for them to be produced in a series of 500 pieces a month. This is a very welcome asset because, as you well know, the prime costs of manufacture timepieces are not so far behind retail prices.

WatchJ:

Is it a huge challenge in the watch world not to have a Swiss-Made logo? 

Konstantin Chaykin:

With that logo on our dials, the sales would surely show some significant growth.

WatchJ:

Maybe it’s time to move?

Konstantin Chaykin: 

I want to live and work in my country for many reasons. Again, I see it more as a creative work, not just business. I have no intentionto blindly follow the market.

WatchJ:

You don’t look like a typical watchmaker, you even ride a bike...

Konstantin Chaykin:

I assure you, it’s a common thing in Europe. Yvan Arpa and Andreas Strehler share my passion for motorcycles, and it’s just to name a few. It’s my primary vehicle during the summer time — traffic jams are no longer a problem. I live in the suburbs and have to drive 130 kilometers every day. I also like alpinism. What? Even a watchmaker needs a hobby.

WatchJ:

What are your impressions of the CWCF Watch & Clock Fair China Shenzhen 2016? Should European watchmakers expect a serious competition from China?  

Konstantin Chaykin:

China is the largest watch manufacturer in the world, and nearly 90% of companies presented at Shenzhen were local. Overall quality of their products is quite competitive with average Swiss brands. Huge domestic market will keep them busy for some time, but when they satisfy local demands, the expansion to the west is inevitable. With enough investments in marketing, they will conquer Europe, the USA, and everything in between.