The Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants (AHCI) consists of some highly praised watchmakers. People like Kari Voutilainen, Andreas Strehler and Peter Speake-Marin are members of the international group. Although several AHCI members are widely known to the public, some names might not ring a bell at first. One of the newest members is the master-carpenter of the watch industry: Valerii Danevych and its wooden watches.
Valerii Danevych, 46 years old and born in Kiev, Ukraine, builds mechanical clocks and watches with as many wooden parts as possible. His family has been in the business of making cabinets and other woodwork, which explains his superlative fascination with wood. From a young age, Valerii has been working with wood on a miniature scale, crafting a 3cm long guitar with actual hair as strings during his school days. Nowadays a master in joinery, the art of woodworking literally involving joining together pieces of wood to produce complex items, he built his first clock in 2005 without any horological background. Valerii has built numerous clocks, watches and writing instruments so far, of which several were on display at the AHCI booth during Baselworld 2014. Here, we go hands on with two prime examples of his craftsmanship.
Using wood from trees such as Australian Guaiacum, Bubinga, Birch, Bamboo, Canker, Walnut and many others, Valerii manages to create complicated timepieces, including some very small pocket watches and a wristwatch with a flying tourbillon and retrograde time indication. The selection of the type of wood is a tricky thing, as each one has different properties.
Just take a look at this little necklace-watch, whose movement and case only weigh 4 grams altogether. The innate delicacy becomes very apparent upon handling the watch. It feels almost too light for you to believe it actually works, but it does! All parts are meticulously crafted from multiple types of wood, carefully hand-selected by Valerii for their respective intended purposes in the timepiece. One of the other reasons it’s so incredibly light is its size of only 30mm.
The skeletonized movement is built with wood from hornbeam, apple, birch and bamboo; and, using no screws at all, it is then fitted into a case carved out of apple burl. The openworked front cover is decorated with a mother of pearl plaque, one of only three non-wooden parts (the others being the two springs, done in metal). The movement has about 20 hours of power. Surprisingly, fully wound it wouldn’t last a day with these figures. A small, decorated key is supplied so that the watch can be wound and set through the caseback.
The pinnacle of Valerii’s work is the Retrograde wristwatch, with a dual retrograde indicator and a flying tourbillon. The wristwatch contains only 4 metal parts and two sapphire crystals, but the rest is all wood. The entire watch is built using 8 different types of wood with 188 parts in total, 154 of them in the movement. The smallest wooden parts are a pinion no more than 0.9mm in diameter made of Crimean boxwood, and a bearing pin of Australian Guaiacum has a diameter of only 0.12mm. Guaiac is self-lubricating thus eliminating the need for horological oils. Guaiac was sometimes used in marine chronometers and pendulum clocks during the 18th century. Being very dense as well, it is used for various things even to this day – including croquet balls, police truncheons, mallets, and as a diamond powdered lap when cutting gems.
The three-dimensional dial of the Retrograde shows the retrograde minutes and hours between 12 and 4 o’clock and the flying tourbillon mechanism, which rotates once every 60 seconds, at 6 o’clock. The 36mm x 13mm movement holds 24 hours of power reserve, and is accurate within 2 to 3 minutes per day. A double snail-like wheel at 10 o’clock progressively pushes the retrograde hands forward. A plaque with Valerii’s name is placed between 7 and 9 o’clock, partly surrounding the tourbillon aperture and double snail-like gears. The backside of the movement is decorated with a partly skeletonized plate with floral designs and open worked bridges over the gear train.
The case of the Retrograde is 46mm wide and 18mm thick. Using wood only (except for the 4 small springs) results in a very lightweight watch, the likes of which other independents or manufacturers need extremely high-tech materials to achieve. The result is a watch that catches the eye, due to the various colors of wood, the size and the complicated movement inside. It will unlikely be a daily beater, but it is still a very wearable watch. The large, wooden links are attached to the case with wooden screws, and a wooden buckle.
Valerii emphasizes that being made out of wood, it is more likely to be influenced by wear than its steel counterparts. Be sure to take this into consideration before ordering one.
The price tag of the Retrograde is a hefty € 150,000 Eur (around $ 200,000 USD), a large sum of money to be sure; but considering the 1,800 hours of work, spread out over a 7 month period, it seems fair.