Why I Bought It: Konstantin Chaykin Joker
Over the years, I’ve looked at a lot of watches – and over the past ten years visited many, many booths at watch shows – but none of that quite prepared me for what I saw when I met up with independent watchmaker Konstantin Chaykin at the A.H.C.I. booth at Baselworld in 2017: a fanciful yet thoroughly considered timepiece he called the Joker.
I had briefly met Chaykin once before and had long admired his ingenious, and often technically complex, timepieces. These include the Moscow Comptus Easter Clock, which displays 26 indications including the date of Orthodox Easter, and his Cinema watch, which incorporates a zoopraxiscope, a tiny recreation of Eadweard Muybridge’s very first moving picture device, which displayed a galloping horse.
The Joker was like none of these, at least not on the surface: instead, the “face” of the watch was literally just that with two googly eyes showing the hours and minutes with their respective pupils and a lolling red tongue displaying the phase of the moon.
I was transfixed and moments later I placed my order.
How it fits
In my pal Terry’s collection taxonomy, it’s pretty easy to see where this piece fits: squarely atop the divide between fun (has there ever been a watch that brings more smiles?) and patronage of the independent watchmakers.
For me, it’s at least as interesting to consider how this watch fits within Chaykin’s portfolio of pieces and business model. Certainly, it must have presented some risk for him to decide to create a series of 99 steel watches at an affordable price point based on an ETA ébauche, with a comic feel.
The result has been to catapult Chaykin into the consciousness of a much broader set of potential customers while at the same time bringing substantial revenues into the till and reinforcing, rather than diluting, his well-earned reputation for thoughtful innovation.
Why I love it
First and foremost, I do love this piece for its inventiveness. Even more, it’s creativity that works; for instance, I was a bit concerned that there would be only a few positions of the “eyes” that looked natural, but I’ve found that no matter what time of day it is the Joker’s expression seems engaging. And for anyone who has read a regulator dial of any kind before, the hours-then-minutes reading of the time rapidly becomes second nature.
There’s also the fine balance between affordability and quality. I think that Chaykin has made just about all of the right calls here, for instance using the workhorse ETA 2428-2 movement as a foundation but adding a custom module for the time and moon on top that is attractively finished with hand-applied perlage.
And let’s admit it: a “fun” watch should be fun and this one certainly is! While photographing this piece, I moved pretty quickly through the standard sets of positions but really started to enjoy myself when I started playing with making the Joker become more of an active observer, or even action figure, and taking more advantage of “his” ability to make different fun faces.
The fun is backed up with lots of substance, too.
Chaykin has made good use of efficient techniques like laser etching on the bezel and case back to make fairly complex shapes like the four suits of cards and Joker logo that engage the eye. The multi-piece dial construction catches and throws light from all angles and has just enough splashes of color to keep us entertained.
I particularly like the slightly domed, sparkly surfaces of the “eyeballs.” It would have been simple enough to use flat, matte disks but as with many of the other design elements of the watch, Chaykin went the extra mile.
The deeply etched time-setting crown displays Chaykin’s eagle-meets-K logo. It is located directly across from other “ear” on the face, a false crown that incorporates a pusher for the moon phase adjustment.
And as you’ve probably noticed by now, even the strap has that little bit extra with bright green stitching and lurid purple backing that makes me smile each time I see it.
Speaking of smiles, that’s what the wearing experience with this watch is all about. I kept the Joker on my right wrist throughout the SIHH week after taking delivery, and every time anyone saw it they broke into a big grin. The CEO of a major brand asked to try it on once he saw it, and at two separate Geneva brand boutiques staff members who had seen my Instagram photos of the watch asked whether I had it with me!
And it’s not just watch lovers; everyone who meets the Joker seems to love him.
Even better, the fun with the Joker doesn’t stop with the watch itself.
My personal example hadn’t been completed at the time of last November’s Only Watch auction, but Chaykin was in attendance and passed along my set of custom Joker cufflinks, which on their own were enough to light up people’s faces the rest of the weekend.
I’m also fortunate to have one of the limited number of Joker card decks to help while away those dark winter evenings.
Did I mention that the watch comes from Russia?
As an American who has been bombarded pretty much nonstop over the past year with anti-Russian claims and reports, I’m pleased to do my bit to remind folks that the people of Russia and America likely have much more in common than we have differences; that the Russian traditions of arts and crafts are incredibly rich; and that one of the best ways to avoid the tendency to demonize people from another culture is to meet them and learn about them.
If my new friend the Joker helps remind us of that, all the better!
Within the scope of what it is intended to be, I think the Joker performs almost perfectly. I do have to say that on delivery my particular piece didn’t seem absolutely pristine, but after a few days of wear it was going to look that way anyway so I’m not too bothered.
I’m also not too fussed by Chaykin’s announcements of a second series of Jokers in titanium and a series of “Clown” watches with a similar design to the Joker; Konstantin has held to his promise of making only 99 pieces in steel, and if he can take advantage of the strong demand for these watches by making other variants, I’m only too happy to see it.
Basically, I’m a happy boy!
But, is it right for you?
You may wish to jump on the bandwagon for the titanium Joker or keep your eye out for a pre-owned steel version if:
- The Joker’s combination of a sense of humor and solid horology appeal to you.
- You are looking for a painless and fun entry to the world of independent watchmakers.
- You like seeing other people smile when you share your hobby.
- Like me, the suggestion of staging a “Joker vs. Batman” battle with your Rolex GMT-Master II Batman BLNR sends you running to the light tent.
On the other hand, this watch is clearly not for everyone! Signs you should pass include:
- Your tastes run to the conventional and you would keep passing over the Joker when you saw it in your watch box or safe.
- Your budget at this price point is better spent on an everyday wearer.
- The whole Joker concept simply doesn’t make sense to you as a watch design.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Joker – and on the Joker-Batman battle – in the comments below!
For more information, please visit www.chaykin.ru/manufacture/konstantin-chaykin.
Quick Facts Konstantin Chaykin Joker
Case: 42 x 13.7 mm, stainless steel, 36 parts; sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating
Dial: silver and ruthenium plating, two types of guilloche stamping; 9 parts
Movement: automatic Caliber K07-0, based on ETA 2824-2 with module by Konstantin Chaykin manufacture; 4Hz frequency, 38-hour power reserve
Functions: regulator hours and minutes; moon phase display
Limitation: 99 pieces in steel (sold out)
Production years: 2017-2018
Also published on Medium.