REVIEW: Clock and Watchmaking in Russia –by Konstantin Chaykin (2012)

  • Thread starter Fortunat Mueller-Maerki
  • Start date

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki

NAWCC Star Fellow
NAWCC Fellow
NAWCC Life Member
Sep 23, 2001

(as published in the March 2013 issue of 'Antiquarian Horology", the magazine of the Antiquarian Horological Society)

The First History of Horology in Russia published in a Western Language

Clock and Watchmaking in Russia – Masters and Keepers of the Tradition (Das Uhrmacherwesen in Russland – Meister und Bewahrer); by Konstantin Chaykin, translated into German by Nadia Caykina. Published in German and Russian editions, 2012 by Sampsoniewski Publishers, St.Petersburg. ISBN# 978-5-86983-366-2; 159 p
ages, hardbound, 17x26 cm. Many illustrations (majority in color). Glossary and index Available from for Euro 40.- plus postage

In just about any major western country orlanguage, in the course of the 20[SUP]th[/SUP] century, there have been books published on the local history of watch and clock making. Earlier horological books tended to be of the ‘how-to’ type, focusing on how timekeepers work, or on how they are made. Apparently that general rule does not hold true for Russia, there appears to be no historic book discussing the history of Russian horology.

Admittedly Russia never was one of the global powerhouses of horological manufacturing. Key countries producing timekeepers were at various times Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland and the USA. But most other nations have developed over time some local horological talent and traditions, and the horological literature of the world includes plenty of texts covering the national history of horology –and horologists- in places ranging from Japan and China, through Iberia, the Scandinavian countries, the low countries, to Austria and Canada.

But the history of watch and clock making in Russia is virtually undocumented. The only text surfacing periodically is the long out-of-print and scarce AHS Monograph #6 (1972), a slim booklet of 60 pages, with a short 4 page general narrative and a 50 page listing of names of Russian watch and clockmakers assembled by Valentin Chenekal, a Leningrad Museum curator in the 1960s.

Of course a country as large and important as Russia over the centuries produced many horologists, and some of them were extraordinarily talented and creative: The lives and oeuvre of 23 such individuals are summarized in the book under review, written by Konstantin Chaykin (, a self-taught artisanal watchmaker and the first and only Russian member of the Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendents. A German language edition of his book was published in 2012, and is well worth getting by anybody who can decipher a horological text in German because it provides a unique window to a hereto virtually unknown sector of horological history.

Given that few readers of Antiquarian Horology will read a German book (there are good illustrations, but the book is essentially a text based narrative rather than a pictorial documentation) this reviewer will include here a more detailed content synopsis than usual: The first chapter (6 p.) provides a summary of Russian horological history. This is followed by 23 chapters which – in roughly chronological order - are vignettes devoted to individual craftsmen, dynasties or enterprises, each ranging in length from 4 to 8 pages, each containing between 2 and 7 - and in one case 10 - images:

The Marine Chronometers of Michail Lomonosow, 1711-1765, who built a mechanism that mechanically averaged the output of four independent mainsprings, wound a different times of the day to assure a more even rate.

The Planetary Clocks of Trenti Woloskow, 1729-1806, a Governor of Rschew, who built two ultra-complicated astronomical clocks, incorporating over a dozen different indications.

The mechanical marvels of Jegor Kusnezov, known as Shepinski, *1725, whose musical, automaton and astronomical clock survives in the local Mining Museum of the central Ural.

The oeuvre of Iwan Kulibin (1735-1818) a self-taught polymath from Nowgorod, who built – among other things - an egg-shaped pendent watch with mechanical music and automaton of Christ’s resurrection, which he gifted to the Czarina, which resulted in further imperial commissions.

Aleksei Pjaterikow, a disciple of Kulibin.

Peter Nordsteen
, born in Sweden, who in 1768 started courses for aspiring watchmakers at the St. Petersburg academy of science, and taught there for many years.

Lew Sabakin, and his astronomical clock of 1784 showing the course of the planets.

The colorful Michael Maddox, a British born theatre entrepreneur, who arrived in Moscow around 1770 and masterminded the building of a large and ostentatious clock/automaton called the “The temple of Glory” by a group of anonymous Moscow clockmakers.

Iwan Tolstoi
, who in 1829 exhibited the first Russian built tourbillion watch.

Lew Netschajew, from Jaroslawl, a mid-19[SUP]th[/SUP] century clockmaker from whom a one of a kind clock survives with a dial showing hours, minutes, seconds, day of week, month, day of the month, sunrise and sunset, length of day, which also incorporates mechanical music and maintaining power (today in the Maritime Museum)

The Bronnikow dynasty, from the rural Wjatkas province, who produced throughout the 19[SUP]th[/SUP] century watches with cases and movements made entirely from wood

Iwan Mesgin, a farmer turned clockmaker from Tomsk, who built multi complication clocks with automatons in the third quarter of the 19[SUP]th[/SUP] century.

For much of the 19[SUP]th[/SUP] century the brothers Iwan and Niklai Butentrop (born Danish) ran a conglomerate in Moscow that built agricultural machinery and large tower clocks

Iwan Jurin
, the maker of a 1861spectacular multi-time zone clock that features separate dials for 67 different locations in the Russian Empire.

Ilja Goldfaden
, originally from Warsaw, spent most of the 1880 building a complex showcase clock/automaton showing railway station for the 1892 Chicago Universal Exhibition. He later toured Russia for many years publically showing the clock as ‘entertainment’ for a fee.

Pjotr Chawski
and Dimitri Gawrilow created in 1850 a ‘world clock’, that may well be interpreted as the first ever ‘time zone’ clock, predating the introduction of the time zone concept by many years.

The Pulkowo Observatory of the Russian Academy of Science employed clockmakers from the 1840s, including a chronometer maker from Finland named Bernhard Pil (who had apprenticed at Dent in London) and Iwan Wieren.

Frank Kara
, a farmer from the Radom district, who in 1907 presented a huge astronomical clock built, based on his own calculations, to the imperial court.

Alexander Petrowitsch Belanowski, who had trained in Paris under Saunier, as well as in Geneva and La Chaux-de-Fonds, before initiating in 1900 a Watchmaker Section at the at the Moscow trade school.

Wladimir Pruss,
a bolschewik revolutionary who fled to Switzerland in 1905, rose from laborer to manage a watch manufacturing plant there, and returned 1925 to spearhead both horological education and a local watch manufacturing industry in the newly founded Soviet Union.

N.B. Sawadski
, a mathematician by training, who from the 1920s to the 1940 was the leader in establishing the Leningrad Technical University of Precision Mechanics and Optics.

And last but not least Fedosi Michailowitch Fedchenko ( born 1911), a scientist who in the 1950s invented a new suspension spring arrangement for precision pendulum clocks, and went on to design the most accurate mechanical timekeeper ever built by mankind.

Most of these chapters deal with horological craftsmen which western students of horological history have never heard of. This reviewer is astonished that this book ever got published in the west. The text got translated into German by the authors’ sister Nadja Chaykina, who has moved to German speaking Europe, and was published by ‘Verlag Historische Uhrenbuecher’ (, a venture of Michael Stern, a former teacher of horological trades in Berlin, who has found a second career in horological publishing, concentrating mainly on republishing long out-of-print German horological textbooks.

Getting these kind of horological books written, translated and published is a labor of love by all people involved. The community of horological enthusiasts and scholars owes immense gratitude to those that make it happen.

Chaykin cvr.jpg

Fortunat Mueller-Maerki, Sussex NJ 07461 January 2013
Last edited by a moderator:

Forum statistics

Latest member
Encyclopedia Pages
Total wiki contributions
Last update