Having recently had the privilege of meeting Max Busser and chatting to him about various and sundry including his Moonmachine collaboration with Stepan Sarpaneva, I thought that it was only appropriate that I give you a ‘companion interview’ with Stepan. As I am in Australia and he is in Finland, this had to be done via emails.
I’ve always found a sense of whimsy amidst the strong and almost solemn sense of architecture in many of his watches, and I hope that this interview will give you some insight into a watchmaker whose timepieces hold great appeal for me.
HOROLOGIUM (H): I first heard about your watches when the original K2 was released. I loved the very industrial look of the K1 and K2, but when you introduced your moon, you had me hooked. My current favourite is the Moonshine. Your distinctive moon has proven to be a conversation piece. Some people find it a little unsettling, maybe sad, but to me it is sometimes slightly melancholy (in a good way), sometimes thoughtful, but always ‘alive’. Is it a very ‘Finnish’ moon or a very ‘Sarpaneva’ moon?
STEPAN SARPANEVA (SS) : For me the Moon is not smiley. I cannot sleep during the full moon. My moon is ‘me’, serious but not angry. It is a very Sarpaneva moon and yes, very different.
H : You come from an illustrious family of artists, designers, creators. Do you think there is a ‘Sarpaneva style’ and if so, what is it?
SS : I hope that there is a Sarpaneva style. At least my designs are getting closer to my father’s, and that is really not what I am trying to do. At a younger age I did not like my father’s designs. What is the ‘Sarpaneva style’? Maybe this is for others to judge.
H : I’ve read a little bit about the Finnish Watchmaking school Kelloseppäkoulu. I find it fascinating that there is a private vocational school that was founded in 1944 which has a longstanding relationship with the watchmakers of the Glasshütte area.
From what I’ve read, all apprentice watchmakers learn to make their own tools, start with clocks before learning about watches, and then progress to complications. The study is one-third theoretical and two-thirds practical, and when the students are deemed capable, they work on repairing clocks and watches for real life clients, including the added pressure that if a part is not available, they have to make it themselves.
Was the training like this when you studied there? How important do you think the repairing part of the training is, and do you think that this very practical approach serves apprentice watchmakers ‘better’?
SS : To be able to create something new it is better to know and understand how things were made before. It takes hundreds of repairs before your skills get stronger and more confident, it takes a lifetime to learn more. Schools are important but they are just to give you an idea. You need an inner fire to learn more!
H : It seems that you like to work with metal in a very precise way; you like to take things (bikes, watches) apart and build (or rebuild) them. What is so special to you about working with metal? As opposed to, for example, wood or glass?
SS : Metal! Steel is real! I cannot explain, it is how it looks and feels to me. It is impossible to get the same feelings with wood or glass.
H : In terms of your current projects, you are the first watchmaker to have modified an existing MB&F timepiece. How did your involvement with the Moonmachine come about, and why did you choose the HM3 to work with?
SS : I liked the HM3 Frog a lot, and for me that was a logical choice because I immediately thought that the mechanism would be possible to build in an already existing watch, even though this is never the easiest way. In the end it was possible, very different, and never done before!
H : I asked Max Busser this question and I’d be interested to hear your views – the watch industry seemingly increasingly driven by trends and fashion, do you think that it’s hard for independent watchmakers to remain committed to their individual visions?
SS : I make fewer than 50 watches per year so for me it is not so important to follow the fashion, but of course I always know about the trends/ what is going on.
H : The Finnish Watchmaking School, WOSTEP, Piaget, Parmigiani, Kari Voutilainen and Christophe Claret were all a part of your training and watchmaking past. For those who have dreams of becoming an independent watchmaker, what advice would you give to them in terms of training and experience before they go out on their own?
SS : Anybody can go and try but not so many will stay. This is a difficult question. You need luck, and even with lots of that you will still you need to work hard. There is no easy way.
H : How many people do you have working with you at the moment (including yourself) and of them, how many are watchmakers?
SS : We are three watchmakers in total.
H : A few years ago, you said in an interview that “as far as my friends are concerned, I am doing really useless stuff…” Do your friends understand this ‘useless stuff’ now?
SS : Now it is expensive useless stuff for them. Maybe I should find new friends?
H : What is in store for Sarpaneva Watches in the next few years?
SS : Something new, surprising, different, and not for everyone!
H : Any hints?
SS : Perpetual Calendar! I have been dreaming of that the last 10 years!
I’d like to extend my heartfelt thanks to Stepan for taking the time to answer these questions for Horologium. If you wish to find out more about his timepieces, visit the Sarpaneva Watches site, visit a retailer, or email him (contact details at his website). One of the joys of independent brands is that if you make an inquiry, you are likely to find yourself communicating directly with the watchmaker him/ herself.