Review: Kopf Watch
Ever woken up and thought, I want to make a watch that looks like a robot? German Polosin did. And here it is.
Nestled in the centre of Bristol is a small shop called Horological Underground. It’s where you’ll find watchmaker and pocket watch obsessive German Polosin. He’s Russian, so you know this is going to be good.
To keep his collection of antique pocket watch movements topped up, German worked with fellow Russian watchmaker Konstantin Chaykin in Moscow before moving to Bristol. German now services those and watches like them—often watches too crazy and complicated for others to dare touch—but looking after other people’s creations could only do so much to satisfy his creative itch.
So, he built watches. Or rather, cased pocket watch movements he’d restored to be worn on the wrist, giving them a new lease of life. That might all sound a bit eBay and naff, but I assure you, this guy really went all in with it, teaching himself how to build cases these recovered, disembodied movements really deserved.
Sounds like a pretty satisfying end to the story. All’s well that ends well. A watchmaker working on watches and creating something new of his own. Lovely. Except of course that wasn’t enough either. You see, German’s the kind of guy who can’t just look at something and appreciate it for how it makes him feel—he has to meddle.
Restoring a pocket watch movement wasn’t enough. Old mechanisms like that often bear the hallmarks of how they were made: compass scratches pinpointing centres and things like that. To German, those aren’t blemishes, they’re clues. Chapters in a story. And they made him want to create a story of his very own.
You might be wondering how it’s possible to make the jump between servicing a watch and making one, but really you have to understand that for the kinds of watches German was working on, servicing had a very different meaning. You know when people question how a limited run watch made by a small watchmaker is going to be serviced? It’s done by going to someone like German.
When there are no spare parts, he makes them. For example, when presented with an early Urwerk UR-103 with a smashed crystal—he just made a new one. Wheels, springs, levers, screws—if an old watch needs it, he just makes it.
So, one day German wakes up and decides he wanted to make a watch that looks like a robot. I asked him why, and he shrugged. “It’s different,” he said. Yes. It is different. It’s very different. It kind of started as a joke, an itch that needed a quick scratch. A quick, simple case, a quartz movement—done.
You don’t have to spend long with German to know that was never going to last. This man is obsessive. What started as a simple, silly idea evolved into a three-year project to build 100 watches that give me flashbacks to one of the more traumatic moments in Cuphead. This is the journey of what is probably the coolest watch on the entire planet.
At first glance, the Kopf watch—that’s head in German, German as in the language, not the name of the Russian bloke we’re talking about—is quite simple. It certainly should’ve been quite simple. Early prototypes for this case were flat, bluff and unrefined. Given that it’s a watch that looks like a robot, built entirely for the purposes of given German—the man, not the language this time—something to do, you’d think that would be fine.
Nope. German worked on the design continuously, adding more and more elements to bring the vision in his mind’s eye into reality. He actually moved from Russia to the UK in the midst of prototyping it, which you’d think would be enough to make him settle down and do something sensible, but no. He had it in his head that this case needed to be perfect.
Apparently, perfect required eight separate sections for the case alone. Perfect required the case back to be curved to the wearer’s wrist. Perfect required the robot’s jaw to hinge so the seemingly large case wears much smaller than it looks. It even required it to be water-resistant, which demands no less than twelve separate gaskets.
I wasn’t joking when I said this man was obsessive. He himself describes the process of making the Kopf Watch’s case as, “Not efficient.” Each case piece goes through six stages of machining before it moves onto finishing, with the tolerances required so fine that German can tell if a part was made in the morning when the machine is cold or in the evening when it’s warm. There’s an 80% failure rate on a good day and 95% on a bad one—although I expect much of that threshold comes down to German’s own obsessive pursuit of perfection.
And so, this silly thought evolved to become a case with a profiled, polished brow to bring down the bulk at the top end, a crown sunk in amongst a row of deeply profiled teeth, two bevelled eyes nestled into bulging cavities left and right and a recessed bezel piece with a matte, blasted finish.
It’s a finish that isn’t just good for a watch that looks like a robot; it’s a good finish for a watch, full stop. In fact, it’s excellent. The polish is deep and glossy, the divides crisp and clean, the edges neatly bevelled. Every complete case is unique, the parts not interchangeable with any other. I’m telling you, this man just can’t be reasoned with.
It got to the point where he’d built custom jigs and masking templates and tools to finish each section properly, to his standard. He could’ve just held the thing up a polishing wheel then rubbed the flat surfaces on glass paper, but no. He even noted the material loss in finishing and adjusted the machining tolerances on the blanks to accommodate it.
I mean, the result is really quite remarkable. It does not look like a case made of eight pieces. The appearance is of being milled from one solid block, and then finished to a world class level. And then you remember that it looks like a robot from the cover of a 1950s comic book.
To keep costs down, German used a Swiss ETA 2892 as the power source, but inevitably it wasn’t as simple as that. To convert the hours and minutes into the left and right eye, a module was built to transfer the power outwards. To keep the gearing the same, a series of identical wheels overlap each other to either extreme.
Initially, German decided to use existing wheels from a ready supply, but they weren’t thin enough for him—so he made his own. They were so thin that alignment across the span became an issue, and so he created a spring system to keep the wheels in tension with each other. Setup of each module can take four days of adjusting the height of jewels and lengths of pinions.
To top it all off, the watch even has tritium vials in the hands and eyes so it glows at night, simple luminous paint clearly not interesting and challenging enough for German. There’s even the biggest tritium vial I’ve ever seen tucked into the jaws of this thing so the mouth glows too. German’s journey, it seems, is finally drawing to a close.
Except, of course it’s not, because he’s roped in young watchmaker Finn Marjoram to help him do more. Now he’s looking at different materials, finishes, colours… Finn showed me a batch of different coloured “eyes” they’d anodised, and they both complained about the mismatched colours. “We can’t get them right,” German grumbled. “But we will.” Oh, did I mention he’s got a master’s in chemistry as well? So, I expect he’ll probably figure it out just fine.
Put all this obsessive craziness together and, bizarrely, what you get is a watch that is somehow way more refined, comfortable and beautiful than you could ever expect of one that looks like a god damn robot. It’s a wonderful and ridiculous idea that simultaneously has no reason for existing but very much should. At £6,900 it’s not a cheap watch, and you could say it should be cheaper, but the level of obsession that’s gone into making it tells me it’s not going to be keeping German in Ferrari’s any time soon. If you ever want to see into the mind of someone who thinks different to all of us, you need to see one of these.