Take a rare glimpse inside the workshop of Finland’s leading artisanal watchmaker, Stepan Sarpaneva.
It’s a fresh, crisp summer morning. Cotton clouds dance around the sun, and the breeze causing a flutter among the treetops. A block or so away from the shipyard, inside an old candy factory, one of the spaces among the usual offices takes on a slightly different appearance. Dotted with old lathes and watchmaking benches, this is the home of Sarpaneva watches.
Helsinki might not the usual place for a watch workshop, but for some twenty years, Stepan Sarpaneva has been based here, producing his handcrafted designs. Born into a family of artisans – his grandfather was a blacksmith, his late uncle was the designer and sculptor Timo Sarpaneva, and his late father, Pentti Sarpaneva, was a renowned jewellery designer – it’s no surprise Stepan would become the talented horological craftsman and designer he is today. After graduating from the Finnish School of Watchmaking, Stepan moved to Switzerland and furthered his watchmaking studies at WOSTEP. Starting his career at Piaget, Stepan went on to work at Parmigiani, in the pièce uniques and private labels department, alongside fellow Finn Kari Voutilainen, who headed the two-man team. Stepan then went on to work in Switzerland with Vianney Halter and Christophe Claret, until he decided to return to Finland in 2003.
The first Sarpaneva watchmaking workshop at an old cable factory, which still remains as a secondary workshop for the metalwork, such as the blued titanium dials for the Stardust and producing the cases. Most of the watchmaking now happens at the new workshop in Tehtaankatu, which also had a former life as a factory.
“I was starting to feel not very inspired at the old cable factory. It’s why we started looking for a new place, because it was also getting small. Here, the light is a lot better, and I feel motivated to create again.”
The new workshop occupies an entire floor, with wide, open rooms. It feels very Sarpaneva – the white walls are dotted with various photos of watches, old decals from watch fairs, to commissioned artworks. The latest is the Sarpaneva Stardust by fellow Finn Toni Kysenius of Angry Birds Star Wars fame, created for the 20th anniversary of Sarpaneva watches. The numerous mid-century vintage cabinets ensure everything has its place (“I am a little OCD”, admits Stepan), with this neatness reflecting the no-nonsense approach. Yet it is still friendly and welcoming, with all the eclectic yet thoughtful décor, some of which are very personal, like the pieces by his father, Pentti, and his uncle, Timo. Others speak much more about Stepan’s many friendships, such as the iconic ball chair by Finnish designer Eero Aarnio. “I blame Max [Büsser] for this – I saw this at MB&F and wanted to get one for my workshop too.”
Perhaps this is not the image of a watchmaking workshop most would expect. But Sarpaneva watches are never about conforming with the norm; after all, these watches are not for everyone. And the workshop very much reflects this: it’s much more than merely a place where watches are assembled; it’s a space that holds memories and filled with personality. It’s the home of Sarpaneva watches.