It’s the one you have all been waiting for! It’s time to sit down with our very own Executive Editor and Monochrome-Watches’ founder, Frank Geelen. I love nothing more than talking watches with enthusiasts but this one was extra special. To give you a bit of background (in case you were unaware): in 2006, Frank started Monochrome-Watches as a blog. By all accounts, his friends (and family) thought he was mad! Day in day, day out, writing about high-end mechanical watches. Nine years on however, Monochrome-Watches has grown to become one of the most important high-end watch magazines in the online space and Frank is acknowledged as one of THE experts in the watch-community.
Frank has been a tremendous mentor of mine. He is, quite simply, a wonderfully nice guy (with a dry sense of humour) but first and foremost an expert on high-end, complicated watches and independent manufactures. Frank has chosen to discuss his (seriously cool) Sarpaneva Korona K1 in this, his first appearance on the Collector’s Series. We find out where his passion for watchmaking originated and why Sarpaneva stood out for him.
When did your watch journey start?
I was preparing my first long vacation, 6 weeks backpacking in Vietnam. I planned to take dive lessons and get my PADI dive certificate there, so I figured I needed a divers watch and set out to do some research. I had heard about Seiko Kinetic watches and that these watches were charged by the movement of the wrist, and this intrigued me (a lot). I started reading about a lot about watches (mostly online however I also read some of the German watch magazines, which have very thorough reviews). I learned about these Seiko kinetic watches, and found out that pure mechanical watches (manually wound and automatics) somehow ignited an unknown passion. After some weeks of reading I bought a Citizen Automatic Divers watch on Ebay. It served me well, and I’ve taken it with me on almost every vacation since. My reading about watches hadn’t stopped and I continued to read a lot… and then (after a few years of reading) I started writing.
What drew you to Sarpaneva?
The first time I saw a Sarpaneva was on an online watch forum (it was Horomundi, which doesn’t exist anymore) and I was immediately smitten by the design. The openwork dial, the stunning hands, the scalloped bezel, the openwork rotor; it all made such an impression on me. I also loved that crazy moon phase/face that Sarpaneva designed, however I felt a stronger attraction towards the simplest model, the Korona K1.
Did you immediately buy the Korona K1?
When I looked at the price, I quickly found out that it was well above my budget. Big bummer. Months past by and every time I came across a photo of a Sarpaneva Korona I started dreaming again. I guess it was love at first sight.
One day, two Dutch watchmakers, Tim and Bart Grönefeld (yep the fellows now known as the Horological Brothers) had something to celebrate in their workshop and to my surprise Stepan Sarpaneva was also one of the guests. I went to Oldenzaal, where the Grönefelds reside, for the festivities (these fellows know how to throw party!) and had a magnificent weekend. Besides great conversations with John McGonigle, Kees Engelbarts, and Tony de Haas, I had the chance to talk with Stepan and get hands-on time with his watches for the very first time. Budget was still not sufficient, and a few months later I went to Baselworld and had another meeting with Stepan. That was just to cover his newest watches for Monochrome, however it also meant more hands-on time with the watch that I still dreamt off.
So, no I didn’t immediately buy my Korona K1. Shortly after Baselworld I raised enough budget (sold some watches) and I booked a ticket to Helsinki. About a month after Baselworld went to visit Stepan in his hometown, visited his workshop and bought my Sarpaneva Korona K1; my first “Indy” watch. Picking up my new watch from the watchmaker who designed it, who build it, who finished it with his own hands, was just awesome. OK, the hangover after a night of clubbing with Stepan was astronomical, but there was (and still is) no hang-over from my new purchase.
What is the case material?
Steel. Not that I had the budget for gold, however a good quality stainless steel case has a very nice colour and looks great when finished with alternately polished and brushed (or satin finished) parts.
What attracted you to the Korona K1 and not another model from Sarpaneva?
It was the design, and IMHO with the K1 the design came out the strongest. I can remember that Stepan tried to persuade me to buy the K2 and told me that it looked better on my wrist, but I was absolutely certain that I wanted the Korona K1.
Was the movement an important consideration?
Well, for the budget I had to spend, a hand-made movement was just out of the question. Now-a-days many brands have beautifully finished movement, even for relatively low prices, however a machine finished movement with côte de Geneve and blued screws just doesn’t do it for me. I would rather have a good watchmaker perform his tricks on a ‘standard’ movement.
How much wrist time does the Korona get?
In the first years it got a lot of wrist time! Now I’m also wearing a lot of watches for review purposes (a dirty job, but someone has to do it), so my own watches spend a lot of time in the vault at the bank. However I make sure to get them out from time to time and when I do, then I really enjoy wearing them. I still get a smile on my face when the light hits the skeleton dial, and black-polished hands of the Korona K1.
Sarpaneva is not very well known, like many of the large brands. You could say it’s a brand that flies under the radar outside watch geek circles. Does the Korona get many questions out and about?
Yes it does, however it always needs explanation. Especially when people learn that for the same money you could buy a Rolex Daytona. However when they hear about the hand-deburred and beveled edges of every opening in the skeleton dial, and the black-polished hands, some understand. Some will never understand. And that’s just fine.
Triple-layer dial with two skeleton layers black polished tips of the hands brand name printed on the inside of the crystal close-up of the hands
What sort of day/event do you find yourself strapping it on?
Any time, except for diving or when I work in the garden. I find the Korona very nice with suit and tie, as well as with anything casual. It’s a magnificent allrounder!
Can a collector ever be fully satisfied with his/her collection?
Hahah, I don’t think so. There have always been watches on my wish-list and I was certain that once I owned that specific watch, I would be ready and done with it. The so-called exit-watch. However as soon as that watch was almost in reach, a few new watches made it to the top of that wish-list with the speed of light.
Which brands do you think are doing interesting work out there?
There are so many interesting brands, both large companies and small ones, who do amazing work. Whether it be a Lange 1 or Datograph from A. Lange & Söhne, a Richemont owned company, or an Antigua or Deep Space Tourbillon by Vianney Halter, almost a one-man show, I admire them both and their watches.
In general I have a huge level of appreciation for hand-made watches, either extremely classical (Lange, Patek, Vacheron, Voutillainen, Dufour, Roger Smith) or watches that are on the forefront of innovative time-telling like Hautlence, URWERK, MCT, MB&F or Cabestan. Honestly, there’s so many beautiful watches out there, made by passionate people. Its great to see their watches and always great to meet the people who made them!
What piece of advice would you give to someone considering starting a collection?
Just begin, and do not be afraid to sell and trade, to come closer to your desired watch. I have done my share of watch flipping and certainly miss some of the watches. However without flipping I would never own the collection of watches that I do today. Follow your heart, and be a total slut… when it comes to watches.
When collecting do you think its important to stick to a brand or a category (ie.Patek/IWC or aviation/dive pieces?)
Whatever your heart tells! If you want to collect from one brand, or only dive watches, then go for it. Since we do not need another watch, nor do we need a watch in the first place, collecting is a hobby that should bring joy. So whatever brings you joy, seems like the way to proceed.
Is the joy of wearing a watch more important to you than considering its resale value?
Certainly! Watches are made to be worn on the wrist.
Is the Sarpaneva Korona K1 a keeper?
Never say never they say, however I cannot imagine that I’ll ever sell my Sarpaneva.
What (if anything) have you got your eye?
Euh… yep. I’m lusting for a Laurent Ferrier Galet Square, and a Chronomètre Blue from F.P. Journe, and a Patek Nautilus ref. 5712, and a Calatrava 5196G, as well as a Kari Voutliainen Observatoire or Vingt-8. And a One Hertz from Grönefeld! Should I go on? Bottom line, I always have my eye on several watches, however it might not always be very realistic. On the other hand, that was also what I told myself when I first learned about the price of the Sarpaneva Korona K1. You never know what life treats you on…