When it comes to watchmaking, terms like “handmade” technology or “independent watchmaking” are often misrepresented. In this article, we are going to show you the best of these two concepts: the Kaj Korpela “Timepiece No. 1” – a real handmade tourbillon, designed by a completely independent watchmaker. Each watch is made one after the next, meaning there’s no serial production. This allows him to share detailed progress of the project with the client through a private blog, from beginning to the end. Readers can follow keenly how the individual pieces are being constructed and how the time piece metamorphoses into the final product.
At only 34 years, it’s very easy to disregard Kaj Korpela as naive in the watchmaking industry. However, he has an impressive scholarship background and a matching professional experience. Born and raised in Sweden, Kaj Korpela began his watchmaking training at the Swedish Watchmaker’s Association School (or Sveriges Urmakereförbunds Skola) before proceeding to Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Educational Program (WOSTEP) – a globally recognized professional qualification. Interestingly, his brother has the same adoration for watchmaking, as he teaches watchmaking at KHWCC academy.
Korpela’s first job was at Ulysse Nardin, after which he worked at Vianney Halter’s workshop – Janvier S.A. – for a year. He opened his own workshop in Bern in 2008, from where he produced timepieces and parts for other brands while working on his own project on the side. After investing 2,300 hours, he finally brought the “Timepiece No. 1” to life – not the worst one for a completely in-house produced, fully handcrafted tourbillon watch.
“Timepiece No. 1”
Before we begin, you have to understand that this is a watch that was created by an independent watchmaker, from scratch, with his own hands, and by himself. It’s a masterpiece that has been created from the mind of a single man, and completed to the last detail by him, and him alone. Except for the gaskets, sapphire, rubies, and springs, all the parts were done by him, from his workstation. This includes all the movement parts of the watch, the hands, the dial, and the case. Judging by the production process today, this is truly exceptional:only a handful of watchmakers can boast the same.
Machining and Prototyping
Once he has conceived the design on a piece of paper, Kaj Korpela machines the bridges and plates by hand with the help of milling machines (as opposed to computer-operated machines). The raw bridges are made with brass.
Next, he moves to the prototyping stage and assembles the pieces together to ensure all the parts are compatible with each other. The last stage is finishing and decoration, after which he checks if the watch is working – not the precision or accuracy, just the simple fact that the watch is moving.
Dial and Case
Like all the movement parts of the watch, Korpela makes and finishes the case by himself. This is pretty rare, considering that most other cases are usually machined and finished in specialized workshops. The case is designed from a block of gold-plated brass. The last part is also done by Korpela himself: hand polishing.
The case is vividly art-deco, featuring a shape that looks more like the 1920’s timepieces (such as the Gondolo – Patek Philippe, the Prince – Rolex, and Cartier). It is 43.4mm by 25.7mm in size, meaning that it is sleek, thin, and long. It doesn’t have a bragging thickness though, which is about 8.5mm. It has a nice curve, accommodating the casebands and the lugs.
As said earlier, the hands and dial are also made and polished by hand. The prototype featured full metal hands and a raw metal dial, with a handcrafted guilloche pattern. Everything, including the materials, shapes, and patterns can be customized.
The Kaj Korpela “Timepiece No. 1” has a rather classical design, but with a particular boldness, characteristic of independent watchmakers. it blends modern features with more conventional codes of art-deco, like the hands and dials that are left raw, without being painted or coated. The hour and minutes display is off-centered, leaving some space for the gigantic tourbillon regulator.
Like many parts of the “Timepiece No. 1,” the movement is rather classical, with a display of a 1-minute tourbillon and the time operating at the typical 3Hz / 21,600vph frequency. On the other hand, the regulator uses a free sprung balance wheel, with four masses for adjustment.
The back is plain, with the main center of attention being the tourbillon with its ridiculously complex bridge. This cage, which is almost organic, embraces the regulating organ. Considering that all the edges are curved and polished by hand, it must have been nerve-wrecking to complete the skeletonized bridge.
According to Kaj Korpela, it takes about one hundred hours of work to finish the bridge. As is evident, all the rubies are contained in solid gold chatons while the wheel spokes are polished and beveled. At the front, the tourbillon is supported by another fleet of finisseurs: a curved, mirror-polished bridge featuring a gold chaton at the center – a feat that can only be done by hands – and talented hands at that.
Price and Availability
The best part about the Kaj Korpela “Timepiece No. 1” is not about its complexity or its design, but rather regarding what it stands for: a timepiece created on request, completely customizable, almost commissioned, and properly handcrafted, by a single man and his skills. It could very well be used to replace the definition of high end and luxury, exactly like some other iconic watchmakers (Smith or Dufour), an object discreet, distilled, simple, and sophisticated at the same time. It is designed for the maturest of collectors – those who are not easily blinded by marketing-driven brands.
After the first five Kaj Korpela “Timepiece No. 1” are made, the entire production process should be detailed in a personal blog only accessible by the owner. All the watches come with complementary regular overhauls and a lifetime warranty. Although the price has not been named yet, it will probably depend on customization. Most independent expert watchmakers estimate the price to be more than $167,000.