Who's Who, Sarpaneva


I was familiar with his watches, but not with the man himself. He’s a Finn, through and through. He doesn’t much like worldly things. In fact, he doesn’t even like talking much.” 

Like so many others, Laurent Picciotto was initially intrigued by Stepan Sarpaneva. Yes, he had all the hallmarks of an independent: craftsmanship, highly creative, and producing very limited editions. Theoretically, the prime conditions for gaining admittance to Chronopassion were all there. But something else was needed, too – that unique emotion and immediate excitement on seeing a watch. 

That’s what happened with Northern Lights,” explains Picciotto. “When I saw its dial, it was so bright that I thought there had to be a battery somewhere. I’d never seen such brightness before – and it had been used on a particularly beautiful dial.”

The universe that came into being in this way had its origins in a partnership with Black Badger. The man behind this luminous technology, James Thompson, is another atypical character: a Canadian with a British passport who decided to emigrate to Sweden to work as a designer, before working for NASA and later inventing a revolutionary luminous material. His trajectory is so unusual that he was almost bound to cross paths with Sarpaneva sooner or later.

Their partnership has resulted in three very limited editions of these legendary Northern Lights. They embody all Sarpaneva’s creativity, free from convention – a case that’s not round, a dial that looks more like a stained glass window, a crown positioned at 4 o’clock and the mythical Moon’s Phase that crystallized the brand’s image. 

It’s a bit much to talk in terms of a ‘brand’; Stepan Sarpaneva assembles one watch every ten days, at the very most. And he has no desire to ramp up production. “I quickly understood that I couldn’t expect conventional commercial relations,” says Picciotto today with a smile. “Sarpaneva will soon benefit from becoming more widely known. He’s an amazing person, and his watches are amazing too. People keep asking me when his next watch will be in the shop. I have no idea – it depends when he wants to send us one. They’ll need to keep an eye out for it.” 

And so the Northern Lights now has a very special place at Chronopassion. The shop’s loyal customers have already had a fleeting glimpse of its Finnish moon’s sideways glance – on the dial of a couple of MB&F watches, the result of a joint venture by the two independents. “The Northern Lights – a new piece – is absolutely illuminating, both literally and figuratively,” concludes Laurent Picciotto. “As soon as we place it on the table, people form an opinion. It’s impossible not to; it’s a wind of change blowing across watchmaking.” A cool new wind of style, from the depths of Finland. 

Journalist : Olivier Mûller 05/2015