Earlier this year, I was fortunate to meet with an independent watchmaker that I’ve watched with interest for a couple of years – Finland’s Stepan Sarpaneva. Sarpaneva set-up both Sarpaneva Watches and S.U.F Helsinki back in 2003 but before we get into his brands, lets talk about the man and his impressive career.
Stepan Sarpaneva was born in 1970 to father Pentti Sarpaneva and mother Pirkko-Liisa, and has one older brother. His father was a jewelry designer, while his uncle was Finland’s renowned product designer, Timo. Sarpaneva also says that his great-grandfather was a blacksmith, and explains that he was basically surrounded by art and design in his youth, though he wasn’t ‘educated’ in the trade as such. That said, considering Sarpaneva’s surroundings, it’s no surprise that he eventually got into the world of product design.
Today, Sarpaneva is a well respected watchmaker with immense experience under his belt. In fact, his credentials and experience are nothing short of staggering; after graduating from the Finnish School of Watchmaking, he furthered his studies in Switzerland at WOSTEP (Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Education Program). It’s also worth noting that Sarpaneva was mentored by another talented watchmaker of Finnish origin, none other than Kari Voutilainen.
Following the completion of his training, Sarpaneva began his working career in the watch industry in 1994. Over the years he worked with several brands including Parmigiani, Piaget, Christophe Claret, and even Vianney Halter. In the ten years he spent in Switzerland, he made a name for himself by specialising in the crafting of complicated timepieces.
On returning to Finland, Sarpaneva decided to go into business for himself and founded Sarpaneva Watches and S.U.F Helsinki in 2003. To fund his company, Sarpaneva – who is a self confessed rough and tough biker – sold one of his first motorbikes, a Harley Shovelhead 1976 FX that he had completely rebuilt. Sarpaneva credits his love of motorbikes as the reason he was able to go into business for himself.
One watchmaker, two brands
With Sarpaneva Watches, the watchmaker focuses on mid- to high-end watches, and over the years the brand – and the man – have earned a reputation for producing some seriously distinctive dials and moonphase indications.
Sarpaneva says that the moon influences him heavily, and in contrast to the bright and welcoming look of most moonphase indications, Sarpaneva’s moonphase depictions are far more serious and melancholic. He likens it to Finns and the lives they lead in a country that’s cold or freezing throughout the year.
Today, Sapaneva Watches produces just 50 watches per year, which means the owner’s club is still seriously exclusive, even though it has been 14 years since the brand first began producing watches. The brand has produced about 10 different models to date, and some have long since been sold out and discontinued. (This writer has long being an admirer of the intricate dials, expressive moonphase indication and distinctive cases that the brand has produced over the years.)
Moving on to Sarpaneva’s second brand, the watchmaker says the S.U.F watches embody Finnish ingenuity, grit and determination. The watches on offer are time-only pieces (at the time of publishing this article) and are far more accessibly priced, with prices starting at approximately 2,500 Euro.
The S.U.F watches – generally speaking – sport different aesthetics to the highly designed and intricately crafted Sarpaneva timepieces. According to the watchmaker himself, the S.U.F watches are more “workmanlike” and so have cases that sport sharp, clean lines, and are paired with a rugged leather or rubber strap.
Today about 100 watches are produced under the S.U.F brand, which once again means that the owner’s club is extremely exclusively. If you couple this fact with the accessible price points, it’s a killer combo and possibly one of the best ways to get started with an independent brand.
As a small independent, Stepan and his team rely on third party suppliers (as do a lot of independents) to produce completed watches. The watchmaker is open and upfront about this, and says that cases, hands and basic movements come from suppliers in Switzerland and Germany. The watch dials and complications are done in-house, by hand, though third parties – such as Comblemine Cadrans- are used on occasion.
At this point, Sarpaneva says he isn’t planning to increase production of either brand, and he remains committed to making a mark with watches that are packed with Finnish DNA.
If you’re keen on owning a watch from one of Sarpaneva’s brands, you can get in touch with the watchmaker directly through his brands’ respective websites (below) or via Facebook/Instagram. The great thing is you can also visit his workshop in Finland (highly recommended but do make an appointment first!), and even buy through authorised partners such as Chronopassion Paris, and the M.A.D Gallery Geneva.
To learn more about Sarpaneva Watches, click here.
To learn more about S.U.F, click here.