If you’re not familiar with the name Stefan Kudoke, don’t worry, you soon will be. This young German native is rapidly building a name for himself in the high precision world of hand-crafted timepieces thanks to his simply breathtaking creations. In a time where mass production is considered the norm Stefan takes great pride in personally performing the delicate the handwork on each and every one of his skeletonised beauties. He takes some time out of his very busy schedule to talk to The Watch Lounge about his art and his plans for the future.
TWL: How did you become involved in the watch industry to begin with and when did you realise you were so passionate about watch making?
SK: After school I started an apprenticeship to become a watchmaker. I learned the handcraft in a shop for repairs and restoration from two experienced master watchmakers.
At the beginning it was just a job for me but after a while I became more and more involved in the mechanical process of displaying time and discovered my passion for mechanical watches. I started to repair floor clocks, regulators and table clocks and later on mechanical pocket and wrist watches.
TWL: The watches you now create yourself are true masterpieces and reflect your incredible skill. How difficult has it been to get to this level of craftsmanship?
SK: Firstly you have to have a certain level of creativity to design and manufacture these kind of watches. Being a good watchmaker is obviously the basic requirement but this must be combined with creativity to achieve the right mixture.
During my time at school two friends and I founded an airbrush design company. We designed unique images for things like mobile phones or coffee machines or decorated cars with airbrush designs for company promotions. Today I use the creativity acquired during that time to manufacture my watches.
I came in contact with skeleton watches for the first time when I worked for Glashütte Original 10 years ago when I assembled a limited edition of skeleton watches.
Fascinated by the fine handcraft I started to learn skeletonizing. But it took several years until I reached the actual level of perfection because it is a kind of art to skeletonize the parts of a watch with a small saw.
When I present the work steps during events to customers they are always fascinated and can’t really imagine the degree of acuteness with which the parts are sawed out.
So it has been a very long journey to reach the point where I am now.
TWL: Do you complete all the work on each individual watch yourself or do you have other master craftsmen that help you?
SK: Yes, I manufacture my watches myself. If capacity requires my engraver supports me.
TWL: How long does it take you on average to complete one of your stunning creations and how many are you able to produce in a year?
SK: It depends on the complexity of the watch and its design. For partly skeletonized watches like the Classic 1 I need approximately 1 week. Other watches that are completely skeletonized or feature more specific things like the erotic figures included in the KUDOKE 69 can take up to 3-4 weeks to be completed.
The model Mysticum for example is extremely elaborate because the hour indication is situated under the dial. Furthermore the dial as well as indices and minute hand are made completely by hand. This requires a lot of time and patience.
Due to the high amount of handwork I can only manufacture limited numbers of my watches. Depending on the models ordered I manufacture between 30 and 40 watches on average.
TWL: The driving force of Kudoke is individuality. How do you ensure your timepieces are truly individual in such a crowded market?
SK: You are absolutely right – the market is very crowded. There are many brands without any know how in watchmaking. But in the end I think quality will succeed. The design of my watches sets them apart from others. Each watch is skeletonized and engraved a little bit differently. So the handcraft involved makes it a unicum naturally.
My customers can express their wishes which I will certainly consider and incorporate if they are technically feasible. In this way their individual engravings or skeleton patterns can be included into their watch – this is individuality as I view it.
TWL: You are still quite young for a master watchmaker, do you feel that this affects how you are perceived in the industry?
SK: People often think a watchmaker has to have grey hair and wrinkles. Well, I don’t have much hair anymore and a few wrinkles I think it’s not a matter of age but of talent and expertise if you are a good watchmaker.
When I graduated as a watchmaker I was awarded some prizes and admitted to the provision of scholarships for outstanding students. At the age of 22 I received my Master Craftsman Certificate in Watch Making, making me Germany’s youngest Master Watch Maker.
At 20 years of age I worked for the renowned brand Glashütte Original in the studio for complications and prototypes.
Sometimes when I meet new clients, especially older people, they are sceptical at first. But when I then talk to them and show them what I do they change their minds immediately. So age does matter at the beginning to a certain extent but it is not a barrier.
TWL: What are your plans for Kudoke moving forward? Do you see the business growing and what do you think will be the most difficult challenges you will face in achieving this growth?
SK: I’m planning a few new projects combining traditional watchmaking and skeletonizing. For me growth is not important. My focus is quality and exclusivity. Due to the high amount of handwork included in my watches the number to be manufactured is limited.
There are few people who are able to skeletonize a watch by hand. So it won’t be easy to find staff in the future.
TWL: Do you feel that it is a disadvantage that you are based in Germany as opposed to Switzerland? Do you have any plans to move your business to Switzerland?
SK: No, I don’t see any disadvantage in my location in Germany. We have a great history in watchmaking that is not inferior to that of Switzerland. There were and still are big watch brands with international fame from Germany. And in the future I think we will see some more.
The German watchmaking industry was completely devasted after the Second World War until the Reunification of both German states because the big brands were located in the eastern part of Germany.
So I’m very happy that the German watchmaking industry – especially in the luxury segment is flourishing again and so I don’t have any plans to move to Switzerland.
TWL: Are customers able to purchase your watches outside of Germany? If so, how can they go about ordering one of your amazing pieces?
SK: Customers may buy my watches from our retailers in North America or Hong Kong for example. There is also the possiblity to order directly from KUDOKE via our homepage www.kudoke.eu especially for customized products. In the Age of Globalisation it’s a small world and Germany is only a mouse click away from the rest of the world!
TWL: Finally, what watch are you wearing right now and why?
SK: KUDOKE HG1 (first watch pictured above). This was the first skeleton watch I manufactured.
If you would like to know more check out www.kudoke.eu