20 years ago. The first movement by Konstantin Chaykin

27 January 2023
20 years ago. The first movement by Konstantin Chaykin

Picture Konstantin Chaykin’s first clock with a tourbillon

This year, the “Konstantin Chaykin” manufacture celebrates its 20th anniversary. Konstantin considers October 23, 2003 as the date of its inception – the day he started working on the first movement of his own design. It was a table clock with a tourbillon, the first tourbillon made in Russia in 175 years.

Picture Konstantin Chaykin at work, 2004

“By this point I was very passionate about watches. I read a lot, I fixed them, even assembled a few of my own from pre-made details, – remembers the master. – I was very interested in one of the main watchmaking complications, the tourbillon. I was amazed that no one in contemporary Russia has ever made anything like this. I was hooked! I decided to try and make a tourbillon of my own”.

Picture Chaykin’s first tourbillon during production, 2003

At first, the beginner watchmaker was understandably anxious: “Back then there was no Youtube, and generally very little information was available online, so I went digging through old soviet books, textbooks, journals. And, well, I finally figured out how it works and I made the blueprints.”

Picture Konstantin Chaykin working on the blueprints for his first movement, 2003

To help with the production of parts, Konstantin Chaykin approached an experienced watchmaker and restorer from Saint Petersburg. But the restorer was already occupied with numerous other projects and the start of the work on the tourbillon was delayed time after time. After 3 months of waiting Chaykin decided to make the parts himself.

Picture Konstantin Chaykin working on the movement parts, 2003

To expedite the process the master decided to use some parts from other watches. In this he was following the example of some of the greatest watchmakers in the world – for example, Abraham-Louis Breguet made one of his first tourbillons using parts from a pocket chronometer by the English master John Arnold. For Konstantin Chaykin the “source” of parts was the soviet table clock “Vesna” by the Vladimir Watch Factory. The master used not the whole movement, just the barrel drum, the gear wheels up to the second, the anchor escapement and the balance wheel. He hoped this would shorten the production to “a couple of weeks”. But that wasn’t the case.

Picture Konstantin Chaykin at work, 2004

The quality of finish of the parts of mass-produced Soviet clock left a lot to be desired. The master had to purchase the necessary tools and machinery to finish them by himself. But, as Chaykin himself noted, “there was a silver lining”, since he learned a lot during this stage of the work.

Picture Konstantin Chaykin at work, 2003

Chaykin wanted to make the tourbillon more dramatic and showy. So he decided to use a setup with a one-sided affixment of the hull pivot, invented in 1920 by the German watchmaker Alfred Helwig. This created additional complications: balancing the hull pivot took multiple minute adjustments. The use of titanium for its manufacture was also problematic, for a beginner watchmaker titanium proved to be hard to work with. But Chaykin persevered, and in the process acquired the necessary skills, both in design and in technical operations

Picture Blueprints of first tourbillon made in CorelDRAW

The master created not just the tourbillon, but the glass case, the dial and the hands by himself. The design of the hands references the “Breguet hands” – a conscious choice by Chaykin who wanted to express his admiration for the legacy of his great predecessor. The strict, classic typographic treatment of the numbers on the hour dial also references the age of Abraham-Louis Breguet. The tourbillon is incorporated into the design as a small dial for the second hand.

Picture The first “Konstantin Chaykin” clock, 2004

The creation of the clock took Konstantin Chaykin around 5-6 months, but the master never regretted spending so much time on it. The project was a success, the first tourbillon to be made in Russia in 175 years. “After that, I could call myself a watchmaker”, – notes Chaykin.

Picture Konstantin Chaykin’s first tourbillon, 2004

Despite all the difficulties, the work on that first project didn’t diminish but only strengthened the master’s drive to invent and crate new complex mechanical watches: he remembered later how shocked he was that he was able to make a device known for its complexity with his own hands and with almost no experience! After finishing the first project Konstantin Chaykin was immediately eager, according to his own memories, to start working on the next one.

Picture Konstantin Chaykin in his workshop, 2004

PS The next year, 2004, was in many ways a defining one for Chaykin. The first article about him was published in the “Watch business” magazine. The master was able to visit a Breguet exhibition in the Hermitage. And he finally decided that the high art of watchmaking would be his life’s work.