Regular readers of the WatchPress.com will already know of our fondness for Independent Watchmakers, who forsake the security which a large manufacture offers for autonomy, who through their self-reliance often experience isolation and for who the absence of a regular salary and the responsibility for their end products can weigh heavily.
The Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants or AHCI is a vanguard of Independent Watchmaking. Since 1984 it has been an umbrella organisation under which its members and candidates can meet, not only to exhibit, but also to network and indulge in a bit of Horological parley, so to speak. Earlier this year, the AHCI announced two new member candidates. Marc Jenni, the man who brought to the industry the world's first lateral winding automatic movement and who created the remarkable JJJ timepiece, the innovative Prologue and the delightful Arch Collection, and who is a worthy addition to the highly acclaimed members list. And the second elected member who is not renowned for being innovational but extremely traditional, for the timepieces which he creates are made entirely from wood, ivory and bone.
In the 1800's the Bronnikov family made highly unusual and unique pocket watches in Vjatka, Russia from equally unusual materials, a few of which remain today. Using similar methods, Vallerii Danevych are also creates individual one-of-a-kind heirloom timepieces. Perhaps images come to mind of an ageing watchmaker, grown weary after a lifetime working with steel, for whom the challenge of working with such materials appeals to his environmentally aware ethos? Think again. Vallerii Danevych is a relatively youthful craftsman, born in Kiev in 1968, where he still has a workshop today.
Born to a family of wood craftsmen he had, from an early age shown his keen eye and steady hand by creating amongst other miniature marvels a tiny guitar, measuring just 3cm and which used hair for strings - but he wanted more than to simply create such artisan pieces, which although exquisite were somewhat motionless and lifeless. Having only received training as a woodworker, having never had the opportunity to receive any formal horological training, he nevertheless embarked on a new challenge, one which would require his fastidious sculpting talents, a curious mind and a more than patient demeanor.
He began with the creation of wooden movements for clocks in 2005, and in doing so learned while he worked the basics of both the intrinsic workings and also discovered which woods lent themselves as suitable for such a deviant purpose. By 2008 he had completed his first pocket watch.
If that were all then this would be a remarkable story of a determined man who had learned the basics of watchmaking and combined it with his own inherited skills to most beautiful effects, but that is not all. At Basel World this year he exhibited a significant piece, a carved wooden Fabergé egg, a most symbolic token of Russian Royalty, complete with a tourbillon movement - an outstanding achievement.
When Svend Andersen and Vincent Calabrese founded the AHCI in 1984 they did so to "Promote exceptional horological innovations as well as special technical and artistic executions". If this then was their promise then surely work such as that of Vallerii Danevych are their product.
... And perhaps while you're here you might care to aquaint yourself with the work of Marc Jenni?