In the watchmaking industry, some terms are certainly often misused, like for instance “independent watchmaking” or “hand-made“. What we are going to show you today represent these two notions in their purest form, something in the vein of Roger Smith, Georges Daniels or Philippe Dufour – don’t expect us to make comparisons on the watch or the level of finishing here, we’re talking about the spirit behind the watch. Today, open your eyes and enjoy the Kaj Korpela “Timepiece No. 1”, a truly hand-made tourbillon, from a properly independent watchmaker. This is why we love watches here at Monochrome and it immediately brought a big “WOW” on our lips. And keep in mind that this is the first watch, from a new brand…
Who is Kaj Korpela? Well, even if only 34, Kaj is not a spring chicken. He actually has a large scholarship background and a respectable professional experience. This Swedish man first studied watchmaking at the Sveriges Urmakereförbunds Skola (Swedish Watchmaker’s Association School) and following his education at WOSTEP – Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Educational Program, an internationally recognized professional qualification. His brother is also involved in watchmaking, as being teacher at watchmaking academy KHWCC, Le Locle (and a writer for our friend SJX).
Kai Korpela started working at Ulysse Nardin, then followed by a year at Janvier S.A., Vianney Halter’s workshop. In 2008, he created a workshop in Bern, working as a producer of parts and timepieces for other brands. In the meantime, he was working on his own project, which now comes to life, after 2,300 hours of work: his first watch, and not the worst one, as with the “Timepiece No. 1”, we are talking about a fully hand-made, fully in-house produced tourbillon watch.
The Kaj Korpela Tourbillon “Timepiece No. 1”
To make it simple, what you have in front of you is the real definition of a watch created by an independent watchmaker, from his own hands, by himself, and finished properly by hand (and in our actual marketing-driven context, this is far from being a detail). The Kaj Korpela “Timepiece No. 1” is the masterpiece of one man, created straight from his mind, and achieved by him, and him alone. All the parts (to the exception of the springs, rubies, sapphire and gaskets) are done by him, in his workshop. It means that not only the whole range of parts of the movement are machined and finished by Korpela, but same goes for the case, the dial or the hands. This is the exception in today’s production process, trust us on that. Only few watchmakers / brands can say the same.
The machining and prototyping
After conceiving the watch on a piece of paper, Korpela first machines himself the plates and bridges, on milling machines (and not on CNC, computer-operated machines). What you see here are the milling process and the raw bridges, made out of brass.
Once all the parts are machined comes the prototyping and first assembling process – just to check if the parts work together. Above is the first raw but working prototype, before the finishing and decoration process. This allows to check the good run of the watch – not the accuracy or the precision, just the fact that the watch is working.
Case and dial
Just like the parts of the movement, the case of the Kaj Korpela “Timepiece No. 1” is made and finished by Kaj himself – something that is rather rare, cases are usually machined and polished by specialized workshops. This case is milled from a block of brass, plated in gold (of course for this first prototype, several options will then be available – white, yellow or pink gold, platinum or steel). Once all the parts done, comes the polishing process, once again done by Kaj. And of course, we’re talking hand polishing.
The case of the Kaj Korpela “Timepiece No. 1” tourbillon is clearly Art-Deco, with a shape reminiscent of 1920s timepieces, as seen at Cartier, Rolex (the Prince) or Patek Philippe (the Gondolo). It is a 43.4mm x 25.7mm case, meaning a rather sleek shape, thin but long. The overall thickness is very low, at 8.5mm. The profile shows a nice curve, embracing the lugs and the casebands, virtually enlighten again the profile.
Once that said, you won’t be surprised to know that both the dial and the hands are also made and decorated by hand, by Kaj. The first prototype here shows a raw metal dial full metal hands, with a hand-made guilloche pattern. Of course, once again everything can be customized, regarding the patterns, the shapes or the materials.
In terms of design, the Kaj Korpela “Timepiece No. 1” is classical – regarding its shape and the dial – however with a certain boldness, unique to independent watchmakers. It mixes traditional codes of Art-Deco, with more modern features, such as the dial and hands left in raw material, without being coated or painted. the display of the hours and minutes is off-centered, to left some room for the large tourbillon regulator.
The movement and its decoration
The Kaj Korpela “Timepiece No. 1” has a rather classical movement, shaped regarding the case – which is always pleasant – with a display of the time and a one-minute tourbillon, running at the traditional 3Hz / 21,600vph frequency. The regulator is based on a free-sprung balance wheel, with 4 masses for the adjustment. All the parts of this tourbillon (to the exception of the balance spring) are machined in-house and finished with great care, by hand, with black polishing and sharp anglage. Please note that all these pictures show a prototype, not a commercial watch, and thus slight imperfection are visible.
The back of the movement is plain, with a focus made only on the tourbillon – and its superbly complex bridge. Almost organic, this cage encloses the regulating organ. This skeletonized bridge must be a nightmare to finish, considering that the flat surface is black polished and all the edges are angled by hand and polished.
The tourbillon bridge out of machining and after decoration – black polish on flat surfaces, anglage and polishing of the edges.
From the words of Kaj Korpela, this bridge requires approximately 100 hours of work. As you can see, all the rubies are insert in solid gold chatons and the wheel spokes are beveled and polished.
On the front of the watch, the tourbillon is held in place by another nightmare for finisseurs; a rounded and mirror polished bridge, with a gold chaton in the middle – which of course can only be achieved by hand – and talented hands.
Conclusion, price and availability
The Kaj Korpela “Timepiece No. 1” is a beauty not for its design (highly personal) or its complexity, but for what is represents: a watch made on request, almost commissioned, entirely customizable and properly hand-made, by one man and his talents. It could well be the real definition of luxury and high-end, just like some other watchmakers (Dufour or Smith), an object discreet, refined, rathe simple but made with an extreme care. This is a watch for the most mature of the collectors, for those who can’t find pleasure anymore in marketing-driven brands.
Only 5 Kaj Korpela “Timepiece No. 1” will be made and the entire process of production will be detailed in a private blog accessible only by the owner. Each watch will be accompanied by a lifetime warranty and complimentary regular overhauls. No price defined yet – and of course price can fluctuate considering customization – but expect something close from other truly hand-made and almost unique watches produced by independent master watchmakers – say over 150,000 Euros probably. Watches are available directly from Kaj Korpela, here.