Book Review: ‘Konstantin Chaykin: Haute Horlogerie, With Russian Soul’ – If You Love Independent Watchmaking, You Will Love This Book
I met Russian watch journalist Alexey Kutkovoy 16 years ago and still remember the day. I don’t speak Russian, nor had I heard of him before. But I really enjoyed his company, both on that and every day after when we’ve had a chance to meet, sit for a drink, and talk about watches. He’s been one of those colleagues “on the circuit” that I have genuinely found enjoyable and intellectually stimulating.
I met Konstantin Chaykin a few years later. I do not remember the exact day unfortunately, but I do know that I have always looked forward to every meeting with him, waiting (and wanting) to be surprised by his next genius-level creation – and I’ve never been disappointed. He is one of the most creative and brave watchmakers I have ever had the pleasure to meet over the course of my long career.
I am not surprised that Kutkovoy and Chaykin are friends. I imagine they entertain each other endlessly with witty, horologically infused stories. I sometimes wish I spoke Russian just so I could be part of what I imagine their conversations to be like.
Which is why I was particularly pleased to receive a copy of Konstantin Chaykin: Haute Horlogerie With Russian Soul and to discover it was expertly written by Alexey Kutkovoy.
Konstantin Chaykin: Haute Horlogerie, With Russian Soul: book structure
Konstantin Chaykin: Haute Horlogerie, With Russian Soul is very logically structured encompassing the steps of Chaykin’s career thus far. This occurs in nine chapters spanning the first 100 pages.
After that, Kutkovoy uses another 20 pages to show the manufacturing process from A to Z and touch on details like the Chaykin logo.
The rest of the book is spent on the past and present catalogue of Chaykin watches and clocks in all its depth and breadth.
The final pages read like a wonderful reference work, listing off Chaykin’s numerous patents, going through the chronology of the Russian independent’s workshop, and providing an illustrated glossary of unique terms used in Chaykin’s special art of watchmaking.
This thoroughly illustrates how much thought has gone to the readers and their enjoyment.
“Konstantin and I agreed from the start that we should not create a generic watch catalogue embellished with anecdotes and stories in the form of a printed exhibition of a watchmaking brand’s developments,” wrote Kutkovoy in the preface. “Instead, we have produced the story of a man, a dreamer, an inventor, a master, an artist, an haute horlogerie professional, the founder of a fully fledged timepiece manufacture in Russia – a country where even mass-market, mediocre watchmaking is wretched. You hold in your hands a book that tells the story of Konstantin’s timepieces as a distinguished line of art. I think the idea has worked very well indeed.”
Konstantin Chaykin: Haute Horlogerie, With Russian Soul: book content
A.H.C.I. co-founder Svend Andersen appears as a large pull quote on page 13, and it is perhaps the most apt way to begin a book like this. “He [Chaykin] possesses a brilliant ability to create aesthetically appealing and one-of-a-kind watches and clocks.”
The fact that this quote comes from Andersen, the master of one-of-a-kind watches and clocks – a man who practically invented this in the modern era and the co-founder of the A.H.C.I. (Academy of Independent Creative Horologists,) – is incredibly meaningful. Founded in 1985, the A.H.C.I. is a loose grouping of more than 30 creative independent watchmakers from many countries. Chaykin aspired to join this merry band of watchmakers, where he fits in so perfectly, becoming a member in 2010. The first Russian watchmaker to be admitted to the A.H.C.I., it took him three years to gain this prestigious status.
On page 20, watches enter the scene in a big way after Kutkovoy takes us through Chaykin’s early pre-watch life. And the other truly remarkable thing about Chaykin, aside from the fact that he is an inventor par excellence with an extreme creative bent and a real sense of humor, is that – like many of the A.H.C.I. members – he is self-taught.
“I had to learn everything on the go. And I’m convinced that having no formal education in this field was what gave me carte blanche and freedom,” a pull quote by Chaykin professes.
One day, Chaykin read an article in Tourbillon – Kutkovoy’s magazine – which professed that no one in Russia had made a tourbillon watch or clock in post-revolutionary Russia and that before that only nineteenth-century watchmaker Ivan Tolstoy had done so. In 2003, it had been 174 years since Tolstoy’s work was first mentioned in 1829, but Chaykin became obsessed with making the next one.
October 23, 2003, is therefore the date Chaykin considers his manufacture having been founded – the date he began to work on his own tourbillon, the Foundation Tourbillon Clock.
The book describes each of Chaykin’s major inventions and the thought processes and technical challenges that went along with them in vigorous text, all of which is accompanied by fascinating photos clearly mined from Chaykin’s own archives.
Some of these early clocks, in particular the Amber Coucou (cuckoo) Clock from 2007, is so fascinating looking that it makes me wish Chaykin had already begun with the type of beautiful high-res photography for it that he offers as press photos for every watch that he makes today. I know of hardly another watchmaker – whether individual maker or big brand – who has such good and plentiful watch photography as Chaykin.
What I’m getting at is that I wish I could study this clock in detail as it seems to leap out at me from the page. Alas, I’m sure that Chaykin was not yet aware that he would later need or want such high-res photography in 2007. So I must be content with what we’ve been given.
This section is so chock-full of fun facts I’ve never heard before that it is an unbelievable joy to read, though digging around in Chaykin’s early years was perhaps the most fun for me.
One full section is dedicated to Chaykin’s Joker watch, which appeared in 2017 and whose popularity kicked off a full Wristmon line of limited editions. And the anecdote that Kutkovoy so dexterously tells regarding its creation is indicative of the uncommon honesty that I find again and again in the stories: the Joker only came about because it had to. An invention out of necessity, it saved Chaykin from certain embarrassment.
“The history of the Joker watch began in November 2016 and, as it should be according to the laws of unexpectedly extraordinary ideas, it happened by chance,” Kutkovoy’s text proclaims. “The immediate impetus for the launch of the Joker was down to misfortune . . .” So the story begins about the watch that solidified Chaykin’s position in the Olympus of independent watchmakers.
One thing I learned in this chapter that I am absolutely in awe of is that Chaykin’s favorite writer is also my favorite writer: Stephen King. It was King’s It and the brand-new 2017 big-screen adaptation that inspired a certain Wristmon (“Monster on the Wrist”) – the Clown – which would become the impetus for a long-desired wish of Chaykin’s to come true.
Chaykin and Kutkovoy go on to describe the watchmaker’s history with the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, which began in 2013 and only led to a prize in 2018 thanks to the Clown, which he had entered into the Petite Aiguille category. I happened to be on the jury that year and was so pleased to have aided in bringing Chaykin to a well-deserved prize after so many years of ingenious inventions and coming away empty-handed. We awarded Chaykin the Audacity Prize that year, a prize only given at the discretion of the jury. I couldn’t have been prouder to learn that the discussions had in the jury room had bloomed into that particular fruit as Chaykin’s name was called and he accepted his award in the same humble way he does most everything.
That evening, Chaykin, the proud recipient of 85 Russian patents, also became the first Russian watchmaker to ever win a prize at the prestigious Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.
It is important to understand – and this book beautifully brings this message through – that despite the impossible popularity of the Joker series, Chaykin is really about so much more. He is one of the old souls of horology, an inventor with one of the most creative bents I have ever seen. And the humility and business acumen to pull his ideas to fruition – and success.
The further chapters are of beautiful reference work quality, displaying and explaining the Moscow manufactory, each caliber Chaykin has invented, and cataloguing all of his timepieces from 2003 onward. The sheer quantity of what he has achieved would have long exhausted any other watchmaker.
Konstantin Chaykin: Haute Horlogerie, With Russian Soul: book quality
This is an extremely high-quality coffee table book, worthy of the price it is being sold for – and not only because it is limited to just 1,000 copies. It can only be purchased through Chaykin’s own website.
Unlike most coffee table books, this exceptionally well-crafted one contains an encyclopedia’s worth of information and anecdotes, all of which is printed on beautiful, modern stock paper with a satin finish that is somewhere between glossy and matte and lovely to the touch.
The 771 illustrations are richly captioned on each page so that you are never left guessing what you are looking at.
In terms of the text, there is nothing left to say but “spectacular.” I never doubted for a moment that Kutkovoy would write the definitive book on Chaykin. But that it is so well translated and copyedited I did not expect. This is a giant thumbs up. Or should I say googly eyes up?
For more information or to purchase, please visit chaykin.ru/shop/en/product/konstantin-chaykin-haute-horlogerie-with-russian-soul.
Quick Facts Konstantin Chaykin: Haute Horlogerie, With Russian Soul
Publisher: Konstantin Chaykin
Pages: 384 pages
Format: 244 x 289 mm
Language: English (a Russian edition also exists)
Limitation: 1,000 copies