Stepan Sarpaneva Watches – Spotting a Distinctive Style
You know a brand or a watchmaker has a distinctive style when you go ‘Wait, I’ve seen this before!’ while looking at a completely new watch. I’m not talking about the entire model or just copy/pasting with a change of color and material, rather a detail, a way of decorating, or some element that the watchmaker keeps bringing up model after model. We could take the satellite hour indication from Urwerk, the Breguet hands, the MB&F flying balance wheel (in Legacy Machines) or the 3D moonphase ball of De Bethune. Each of those elements will be saved in your memory even if you’re not a big watch connoisseur. And if you are, like me, a little bit bored of the classics, you will be craving to find something new, unique and distinctive. In my search for that I’ve discovered Stepan Sarpaneva watches.
Great thing about today (apart from availability of information on the internet) is the way brands can be open to one another and collaborate on great projects together. This time I am talking about the MB&F ‘Moonmachine’ in particular. When I first saw it my attention was dragged to the moon displayed on the ‘rotor’ part of the watch. ‘Such an unusual looking thing’ I thought, even though I have already seen the unusual by itself HM3 ‘Frog’ that is the predecessor of the Moonmachine.
My discovery got me so interested I had to ask who was responsible for making the moon and little did I know it was actually a collaboration of MB&F with a man behind his own brand – Stepan Sarpaneva. Of course I got more interested and went on to discover his in-house timepieces as well as his story.
Stepan Sarpaneva Watches – The MoonFace
For many brands moon (and moon phase indication) is an important element in production of their pieces. Some take it further, like the Arnold & Son HM Perpetual Moon, the Linde Werdelin Oktopus Tattoo, and a few others, but for Stepan Sarpaneva moon is the source of inspiration, his obsession and the main subject or element of his horological one-man quest. Of course, as anyone else in the industry Stepan didn’t start with his best work, and had to create a few pieces before he developed the ‘Sarpaneva’ style.
Today the people who know his watches and Stepan will understand immediately that it’s his work, simply because of the moonphase, the casing or even the distinctive hour and minute hands that he puts in the watches. A very important thing to take note of here is the origin of the moon phase face. Contrary to many misconceptions it’s not an angry man’s face, it’s Sarpaneva’s self-portrait! I met him a few times, and definitely wouldn’t say he’s an angry man. Actually opposite to that – he is a very likable and down-to-earth watchmaker/designer/businessman and most importantly a person.
When talking to him about his coolest (in my opinion) moon watch ‘Moonshine’ I mentioned that the strap seems very unusual to me after wearing some very elegant and expensive rare skins of alligators or ostriches. It was made of rubber but the kind that you wouldn’t expect to be put in a watch, kind of stretchable and maybe not the most luxurious, yet very comfortable on the wrist. His reply was that this watch is meant for a regular guy like him, who would go out drinking to a pub in Finland with his friends, slam it on a wall or two, drop it in the water or snow, and wake up next morning with a perfectly functioning watch and an unscratched strap.
Oh, and as we did start talking about the ‘Moonshine’ let me tell you a little bit more about this piece. While it is very practical the time on the dial is not so easy to read. The small aperture at 6 o’clock just below the moon shows time and moon phase at the same time. You will not really be able to see time minute by minute (more like quarters and hours), but according to Stepan accuracy is not what matters here. An I agree – this watch is definitely for people like him, who can’t sleep well at full or new moon, who have an app on their phone to read moon phases, who want to light up the dial in the dark (as it is luminous) just so they can stare at the watch. Of course there wouldn’t be a lot of people like this, and that is why Stepan’s production of watches is extremely limited (around 30-50 watches per year).
Stepan Sarpaneva Watches – Not Just a Moon Obsession
However saying all of the above makes Stepan look a little bit like an obsessed crazy person (which in a good way he is) but he is so much more than just a moon fan… At early age he was destined to become a goldsmith to follow his parents route, but he chose to attend a watchmaker’s school in Finland. Upon graduating he went on to join WOSTEP in Swizerland (Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Educating Program). And after he finished the training he had worked closely with such great minds of today’s horology world like Vianney Halter, Kari Voutilainen and Christophe Claret, as well as bigger commercial brands including Parmigiani and Piaget.
Stepan went on to create his own brand in 2003 back in his home country (Finland) and has worked on other side projects as well as development of his famous ‘Korona’ models. Unlike the ‘Moonshine’ they resemble a ‘watch’ more and it’s much easier to read the time as well as see the moon phase indication in its traditional shape (in a circle aperture). Many of the Korona models were very limited editions, which today are sold out, but an interesting thing about some of them is that Stepan doesn’t number all in the way most brands do. Instead of 3/10 it would say “One of the ten watches” or something along these lines. Another thing I find unusual is the fact that Stepan decides to show both moon circles, while most brands keep the second one hidden to create an illusion of some sort.
This year at Baselworld there was a new model launched in the Korona collection called Korona Kosmos, which is pretty similar to the previeous versions but unlike them it does only have 1 moon, and instead of rotating it there are two decorated platforms that rotate on top (making a full rotation in around 59 days!) to indicate the moon phase. There are about 10 layers to the dial of the Kosmos creating this feeling of a spacious universe on your wrist.
All Sarpaneva watches today also have a very distinctive look to them not just because of the moon phases, but also due to the bizarre casing shape, hands, straps and crown positioning. All these elements make the watches stand out, and of course while they don’t appeal to everyone there are definitely many people lining up to buy a piece from Stepan as soon as it is ready to be shipped. Reasons for this are unique design, traditional feature done in a new way, a nice story behind and a rather affordable price for a brand that has its moon phase in an MB&F (over $200k ) watch. Sarpaneva watches range between around 11’000 and 30’000 Euros and make for a great conversation starter or an impression.
Credits © Photos by Eduard Osipov and James Cole.