Anyone with an interest in watches will have seen the Joker, a timepiece that rates as much for its ingenious concept as its sheer amusement value. Its creator is Konstantin Chaykin, the one Russian member of the Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants (AHCI). Entirely self-taught, he recently unveiled the prototype for a quite literally out-of-this-world watch: the Mars Conqueror Mk1 which he hopes will one day go to Mars. It shows the time on Earth, the time and date on Mars, and a display of the two planets’ relative position. We sat down with a truly inspired watchmaker.
In autumn 2008 I was accepted as a candidate to join the International Watch Academy in Vienna, where I was already able to show some quite complex movements. These were a table clock that indicates the date of Orthodox Easter and my “Mysterious watch”, which was one of my first wristwatches. Six years later, having had time to learn more, I applied to become a member of the AHCI after assembling my first calibre. I designed my first movement simply with the intention of creating some kind of complicated structure. I had no “plan of action” as it were; I went on to make the first complicated tourbillon clock in Russia. It was only after producing my first watch that I chose a particular direction, which was to make religious watches. The first, in 2005, gave the date of Orthodox Easter. This was followed a year later by a Muslim calendar. At the same time, I was making bespoke watches for clients and complex movements, mostly of a religious nature. Becoming a member of the AHCI did not change the direction of my work in any fundamental way, but it did broaden my horizons.
I became acquainted with watches 19 years ago, in 2000. I actually started by selling watches. My acquaintance with this fascinating subject grew into a passion, followed by dissatisfaction with what I saw and the desire to create something of my own. I believed I had the strength for it, tried it, and it worked!
I don’t think the work of the watchmaker or watch production in Russia in any way differs from the work of American, Swiss or Japanese watchmakers. The only distinction is that I have no formal education in watchmaking. I learned through observation how to make parts, and how to design and assemble a movement.
I started alone, but now I have a team of about 20 people making complicated watches. I taught the first students personally, and they then transferred these skills to other employees. It’s a great pride and an honour for me to represent Russian watchmaking. Also, it’s nice to know that some of the watches I’ve created are considered to be among the best of their kind.
It was certainly a huge breakthrough in terms of fame, recognition and financial viability. Up until 2017, we were making between 15 and 20 watches a year. Now it’s over a hundred. The Joker changed a lot of things.
The project is not completed yet. I think it will be a long story. The goal is that the first people to travel to the Red Planet will have our watch on their wrist. Of course, this is hugely ambitious and whether or not it succeeds depends not just on my capabilities but on all of humanity. I really want my efforts in this direction not to be in vain. I feel I have the inner strength and ability to make the best watches for the future explorers of Mars. The project began a little less than two years ago. During this time, we’ve made a prototype of the movement and are currently working on the second version. What we are showing now is more a concept that demonstrates the possibilities in this direction. Any watches for astronauts will be more utilitarian and suitable for space flight. This is a very big job.
As I said, we now produce more than 100 pieces per year, mainly watches from the Joker collection. Most orders go abroad. We have a waiting list of about a year. For promotion, we mainly use social media, exhibitions and other events.
Great question! This is a big problem: how to find time for everything, even just the watchmaking, when there are so many complicated projects and production is growing. I don’t have time for anything other than watches, not even my personal life. It’s quite sad, really. As for inspiration and new developments, that’s another thorn in my side. I try to set aside time for this because we cannot live in the present. We need to think about the future.
The lower price segments have been impacted by smartwatches. It’s hard for quartz and mechanical watches to compete. These smartwatches do still have flaws, but I don’t doubt that manufacturers will find a way to iron them out. The effect hasn’t been as marked in the luxury segment, where creativity comes from different companies. The “pillars” such as Rolex and Patek are conservatively positioned and reluctant to change their style, whereas the independents, such as me, are in a constant creative process. I represent the group of innovators and non-conformists who try not to look at what others are doing, but instead create their own complex, out-of-the-ordinary watches.