08 May, 2023
GRAIL WATCH 8: KUDOKE 2 ‘STARRY NIGHT’
Kudoke’s neoclassical masterpiece is reimagined with new details and a color palette evocative of Vincent van Gogh’s most famous painting.
WORDS WEI KOH
It gives me great pleasure to announce the latest Grail Watch collaboration project, this time with independent watchmaker Stefan Kudoke. The watch we have decided to work on is his Geneva Grand Prix award-winning Kudoke 2, a 39mm by 10.7mm watch featuring Stefan’s in-house movement, the Kaliber 1-24H. This movement represents an important act of democratization for stunning handmade finishing. It includes a hand-frosted movement bridge, mirror-polished angles, a hand-engraved balance cock, snail-finished barrels, all in a far more accessibly priced package than these crafts are normally associated with.
Grail Watch 8 is inspired by the seminal work of Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh, Starry Night
The Kudoke 2 features a wonderful sense of restrained, German neoclassical watchmaking design, complemented by a touch of poetry — a sky disk at 12 o’clock indicating 24 hours, with a display of day and night. Since its launch in 2019, I have been deeply enamored with this timepiece and consider it an enormous honor to be able to collaborate with Kudoke on this watch. Our version, nicknamed “Starry Night,” is inspired by the seminal work of Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh, in particular the swirling vortex of luminous stars that he saw above him as a patient at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum.
The Kudoke 2 “Starry Night” is characterized by a brushed and mirror-polished grade 5 titanium case, treated with CVD (Chemical Vapor Deposition) to give it a shimmering translucent blue color. The dial is a stunning “twisting vortex” guilloché treated with blue PVD coating that evokes flinqué enamel watches from the 18th century. We love the dynamic tension created by the ultra modern case contrasted with this decidedly old school dial. Finally, the infinity-shaped hands, the chapter ring for the indexes as well as the chapter ring for the 24 hours, and the hand-engraved sun and moon disk have all received the careful application of hand-painted Super-LumiNova to create a visual homage to the emotional impact of Van Gogh’s legendary painting.
The incredible and talented duo Stefan and Ev Kudoke
Stefan and his wife Ev Kudoke are two of the nicest people in independent watchmaking. So it’s with a sense of happiness that I’ve seen their rise in success over the last half decade. Stefan Kudoke has, of course, been around longer than that. He established his brand back in 2008 after stints at several big manufactures, including Breguet, Blancpain, Omega and Glashütte Original, where he worked on the prototyping team for one of my favorite chronographs — the quirky but very cool PanoGraph featuring a three-level minute counter track read using a three-sided hand with arms of different lengths. Indeed, his work on this project inspired the very cool three-armed hour hand on his Kudoke 3 watch launched at this year’s Watches and Wonders.
Stefan initially made his reputation with some wildly creative and beautifully executed skeleton watches, one of which plays a central role in a 2021 movie called Last Looks starring Charlie Hunnam and Mel Gibson. But in 2019, he and Ev established what they call their Handwerk or “Handcraft” collection, which was in almost polar opposition to the flamboyant baroque élan of their skeleton watches, now classified under their Kunstwerk or “Work of Art” collection. In contrast, the Kudoke 1 and Kudoke 2 which comprised the maiden offerings from the Handwerk family were the very epitome of discreet, pared back — to the point of almost Zen reductionism — neoclassical elegance. Instantly, the Kudokes realized that they had a hit on their hands with social media rapidly expressing an outpouring of love, and watch collectors clamoring to get one of these two stunning models on their wrists. Says Stefan Kudoke, “The Handwerk watches were created to express a different side of our watchmaking personality. They are apparently simple watches that when you look closer are incredibly rich in detail.”
Kudoke 1 and Kudoke 2
What makes these two watches so appealing? Let’s first distinguish between the two models. The Kudoke 1 is a time-only watch with a seconds indicator at nine o’clock. While the Kudoke 2 is a lovely and poetically creative watch without running seconds but with a 24-hour and day/night indicator. This indicator takes the form of a disk that is hand-engraved with a sun and moon and that also features the indexes for 24 hours, which is read off a fixed circular chapter ring surrounding it. The design of both watches are wonderfully original. They feature a stunning use of negative space on the dial, where the minute flange is pushed to the very perimeter. Similarly, the bezel of both watches is incredibly thin, so what you get is the feeling of a very, large expansive dial despite the classic 39mm case dimension.
The hour and minute hands take predominance in both watches. To me, they bring to mind the William Cowper poem inspired by Alexander Selkirk, the real-life Robinson Crusoe — in particular the lines, “I am monarch of all I survey; / My right there is none to dispute; / From the center all around to the sea / I am lord of fowl and brute.” Yes, the hands are that dominating! Arching imperiously over the space of the dial, they are designed as infinity symbols. Beyond the thin and aggressively sloped bezel, the case is smooth and extremely pleasing to touch, and complemented by an onion shaped crown. Turn either watch from the Handwerk family over and you will be treated to a truly fascinating vision in the form of Kudoke’s Kaliber 1, an in-house made and decorated manual wind movement.
The stunning and original movement design of the Kudoke Kaliber 1-24H
Much has been made over the fact that Stefan’s in-house movement, first presented at Baselworld in 2018, shares some components with Habring’s Caliber A11. But the point is that these two movements were developed together and the sharing of components made it possible for their creation to be economically feasible to the two independent watch couples. Let’s get the story straight. They share winding mechanism, jewels, screws, pins and barrel. That’s it. The Kudoke oscillation system as well as the movement bridges, clicks and clamps are different. The horological language expressed by these two movements is also totally different. The first thing you’ll see when gazing at a Kudoke caliber is a stunning and original movement design. It is configured in a three-quarter plate design that is typical of Saxon watchmaking but has a balance bridge that protrudes out almost directly from the movement’s barrel and ratchet wheel, and creates the optical illusion that this bridge is integrated into the baseplate. I’ve always thought the architecture of this bridge, and the way it visually explodes from the barrels, brings a strong sense of dynamic energy to the movement design.
Note the star engraving within the infinity symbol on the balance cock, which is unique to this edition and a subtle reference to the “Starry Night” inspiration
Then, there is the finishing to this majestic movement bridge, which involves a painstaking process named reaming or grenage. This frosted decoration is inspired by British watchmaking, in particular marine chronometers. It is carried out by hand and involves granular particles of glass or sand suspended in oil. The baseplate is coated with this and then rubbed in circles against a flat surface. And when I say rubbed, I mean with Daniel in the Karate Kid performing wax-on, wax-off-like regularity. Any abrupt shift in the pattern of the circles or the pressure applied to the baseplate would cause a deformation of this pattern. Then, Stefan and his team apply beautiful mirror beveling to all the edges of the movement bridge. Look closely and you’ll see that this is actually convex in form. The balance cock of the movement is definitely the star and is adorned with hand engraving as well as mirror polishing along its edges. The steel barrel and ratchet wheels are snailed and, along with the click spring and logo plate, a fine sliff with 12 µ is applied to the click spring with a polishing along the edges. It really is easy to fall in love with a Kudoke movement. Stefan and Ev’s watches are important in that they have brought all the charm of a highly hand-finished movement to a more accessible price point. In fact, the Kudokes were really among the chief pioneers of this hand-finished renaissance. In 2019, the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) awarded the Kudoke 2 with the “Petite Aiguille” Prize as the best watch between the 4,000 and 10,000 Swiss franc range. I could only agree with the choice enthusiastically.
Grail Watch 8: Kudoke 2 ‘Starry Night’ lights up the night with its distinctive lumnious signature
Thus smitten by Stefan and Ev’s charming brand of watchmaking, two years ago during the COVID pandemic, I managed to get them on a Zoom call. Considering the massive popularity of their brand, I want to thank them for entertaining me. When asked what we might potentially collaborate on, somehow the topic turned to art, and I professed a love for Vincent van Gogh’s painting The Starry Night. And though it has now become a hugely popular work of art adorning the dorm room walls of college students around the world, I have always admired the wild and tragic life of the artist.
Note the stunning guilloché dial of the Kudoke 2 'Starry Night'
Born into an upper middle class family, he worked as an art dealer before becoming a Protestant missionary. He was severely depressed and suffered psychotic episodes and delusions. In 1888, after a row with his friend and fellow artist Paul Gauguin, he became emotionally unstable and famously severed part of his own ear with a razor. Yet, the power of his art is unequivocal and eclipses even the father of Fauvism, Henri Matisse, in its incendiary voice. His sublimation of reality through his own mind saw the expression of an altogether unique visual language. The Starry Night painted in June of 1889, when he was a patient at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum, is his masterwork. I’ve always felt that encoded in its turbulent vortex of brushstrokes is the genetic code for Abstract Expressionism, and there could be no Mark Rothko and no Jackson Pollock without him. As I explained this, Stefan and Ev smiled and stated that they too were huge fans of Van Gogh and of this painting in particular. And with that, we had our source of inspiration.
We decided to create a “Starry Night” version of the Kudoke 2 by first selecting a prevailing blue color theme for the watch. The grade 5 titanium case of the timepiece is first finished to perfection with mirror polishing and a vertical sliff on its flanks and bottom before being sent to Positive Coating on La Chaux-de-Fonds, where it is treated with CVD. This creates a kind of ethereal blue to the titanium that is incredibly reflective of light, yet is translucent enough for you to see all the details of the finish to the case.
Up close with Grail Watch 8: Kudoke 2 ‘Starry Night’
Then we decided on a dial which would feature a twisted guilloché pattern reminiscent of that found in the center of the sky portrayed in the painting. This was painted a translucent blue color as well, echoing the chromatic theme of the artwork. Then we applied three colors of Super-LumiNova to the watch: bright green for the infinity-shaped hour and minute hands and the raised chapter ring with the indexes, laser beam blue for the moon, stars and 24-hour chapter ring of the day/night indicator, and white for the little triangle on the night side to indicate the actual hour of day or night. All three of these luminous colors echo those found in Van Gogh’s painting. The result is a watch that explodes into life when you enter a dark environment.
Grail Watch’s Creative Mantra
Note the three colors of Super-LumiNova: bright green, blue and white
The concept of Luminous Signature is the third code in Grail Watch’s creative mantra. It was first expressed in our collaboration with Trilobe in a watch called Une Folle Soirée, where the three time-telling disks and all the angles of the baseplate had been treated in Super-LumiNova. Before that, we had created two Bvlgari Octo Finissimo Chronographs with fully luminous dials. Earlier this year, we launched the Chronoswiss Opus Blue, also with a CVD treated grade 5 titanium case and a luminous skeleton dial. While the movement of the Kudoke 2 has gone through different incarnations, receiving a stealth white rhodium treatment for the 20-piece limited edition monochromatic masterpiece, the Nocturne, and a striking Zodiac-themed engraving for a 21-piece limited edition in collaboration with Singapore watch blogger Su Jia Xian, we decided that the beauty of Stefan’s original British yellow gold-treated, frosted three-quarter plate and hand-engraved balance cock simply could not be surpassed. As such, we decided on this finish for his stunning movement.
A watch that explodes into life in the dark
Kudoke 2 “Starry Night” proudly expresses Grail Watch’s design code of a Luminous Signature, channeling the creative spirit of the great Post-Impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh. Created with two of the coolest people in the watch industry, this watch will be made in just 30 examples and is priced at EUR 13,300 excluding taxes. Apart from the new blue CVD treated grade 5 titanium case, blue PVD coated guilloché and special luminous indications, it also comes with three straps — a gray Alcantara strap selected by Stefan and Ev, a Delugs for Grail Watch Denim Babele strap and a fantastic Delugs Cut-To-Size navy blue rubber strap. The last allows you to wear the fantastic titanium timepiece in more sporting environments, as I did with the prototype in the waters of the Maldives, thanks to the watch’s 50 meters of water resistance. I hope you enjoy wearing this watch as much as we have loved creating it for you!
Grail Watch 8: Kudoke 2 “Starry Night”
Movement: Manual winding Kaliber 1-24h; 46-hour power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, 24-hour and day/night indicator
Case: 39mm; blue CVD treated grade 5 titanium; water resistant to 50m
Dial: Blue “twisting vortex” guilloché with chapter rings, moon and stars filled with Super-LumiNova
Strap: Interchangeable gray Alcantara, blue Delugs rubber, Delugs for Grail Watch denim; pin buckle blue CVD treated grade 5 titanium
Price: EUR 13,300 excluding taxes
Availability: Limited edition of 30 pieces
In 2005, Wei founded Revolution magazine and revolutionized the watch media, which has never been quite the same again. He has since developed Revolution into a multi-media, omni-channel platform with international editions around the world. He is also the creator of The Rake, a magazine of sartorial elegance and craftsmanship for the modern-day gentleman. Journalist at heart and entrepreneur in spirit, his latest venture is Grail Watch, dedicated to the creation of meaningful limited edition watches.
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