Why I Love It: Konstantin Chaykin’s Mars Conqueror

One of my hottest watch related takes is that Konstantin Chaykin is among the most criminally underrated watchmakers of his generation. OK, this might be a lukewarm take, but hear me out. Chaykin is quite famous in the subculture of high end independent watchmaking, but his notoriety rides primarily on one watch, or, more precisely, a now longstanding series of watches that fit every possible definition of the word “novelty.” The “Wristmons” series of character watches started with the Joker and has expanded into a variety of whimsical characters since, spawning love-it or hate-it attitudes from the watch public. Where I think Chaykin is underrated is in his criminal reduction to being the “Joker watch guy,” a classification that’s only possible if you don’t take the approximately 30 seconds required to navigate to his website and observe that the Wristmons series is only a small slice of the total output from a watchmaker who can only be described as one of the most purely creative at work today. 

There are a lot of Konstantin Chaykin creations with complications that are more whimsical than practical (his “Cinema” watch animates a small galloping horse on the dial at the push of a button to pay tribute to early pioneers of the moving image, for example). He’s also designed several clocks, including a “Shabbat Clock,” a highly complicated calendar which is capable of automatically stopping the mechanical movement before sundown on Friday nights. But for me, as an unabashed Speedmaster fan, and enthusiast for all things related to space exploration, one watch in his catalog captures my interest more than any other: the Mars Conqueror. 


A potential “Mars watch” is often the topic of discussion on watch forums among a certain subset of the nerdiest among us. While Omega’s famous Moon Watch had to solve the problem of simply surviving a trip to space, a watch made to accompany astronauts on a journey to Mars is inherently more complex, simply due to the laws of physics. Time itself moves in a different way on Mars – a day on the red planet is 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds, making a watch calibrated to a standard earth day somewhat useless if anything close to a precision reading of the time is needed on an ongoing basis. And a Mars mission would, by default, need to consider all contingencies as “ongoing.” You can’t exactly just head to Mars for the weekend, after all. Days, months, and years on Mars have a different meaning than they do on Earth, and an entirely new calendar would need to be made to make sense of the passing time. 

It’s actually not that difficult to make a mechanical watch that is tuned to the Martian day – it simply requires slowing down the balance to a rate that results in the watch running approximately 40 minutes slow. If you’re inhabiting Mars, a watch beating at this slower rate would give you an approximation of the time as we understand it on Earth, and allow you to precisely schedule hypothetical Martian meetings with your space-exploring colleagues. But it wouldn’t be of much help in communicating with anyone back on Earth, and when you factor in that those communications would likely not be instantaneous, it becomes downright problematic. Any usable Mars watch would really require a readout of the time on both Mars and Earth simultaneously. 

Chaykin’s Mars Conqueror attempts to do just that, and is a rare application of practical haute horlogerie. This is a longstanding pet project for Chaykin, and the Mars Conqueror series has gone through a number of prototypes and variants with varying degrees of complexity, but the Mk 3 version seen here is the most elegant and practical design for this watch yet, and it’s also the only one to be made commercially available thus far. 

Let’s run through the basics of how this watch is read. The central hands indicate local time on Earth. If you’re using the watch here on our home planet, or stationed at a Martian outpost and need to know the time back home at a glance, this is where you turn. The subdial at the 12:00 position is a second (Earth) time zone. Imagine this is a GMT hand on any travel watch you’ve ever seen or used. The subdial at 6:00 is what makes this watch truly special, as it displays Martian local time at the correct scale (using two hands) and is linked mechanically to the display of local earth time. Through the use of some clever gearing on a highly complex module, Chaykin has effectively synched the local times on two planets, over 100 million miles apart. 

The watch is controlled via two crowns that sit at the bottom of the case, facing up. Chaykin envisioned this watch being used by actual astronauts, and knew that a crown on the side of the case would be impossible to use when wearing a spacesuit. The crown on the right is adjusted to determine what is being set by the crown on the left (a color coded indicator on the dial tells you what “mode” you’re currently in). The three settings are for winding the watch, setting the subdials at 12:00 and 6:00 (one is set by winding the left crown forwards, the other backwards), and setting the local Earth time.

The case is titanium, and in a unique trapezoidal shape inspired by science-fiction from Chaykin’s youth as well as actual instruments used in Russian military vehicles and airplanes. Did you really expect the watch designed for Mars exploration by the guy who made the Joker watch to have a traditional case shape? I hope not. While you could certainly describe the aesthetic as avant-garde, if your goal is to have two upward facing crowns to control the watch, it’s tough to imagine it being done in a traditional circular case. 

There’s a ton of watchmaking know-how poured into the Mars Conqueror, but one of my favorite things about this watch is that the base movement is a humble ETA 2836-2, with an elaborate module laid over it to accommodate its many unusual functions. Separate gear trains had to be designed by Chaykin for the crown’s mode-switching functionality as well as the Mars-time application. In total, the module includes 125 components, and many additional modifications are made to the base movement itself, including additional milling on the baseplate to properly fit the module, and the replacement of the ETA’s day-date functionality with that of a second time zone. And it’s all Chaykin’s own design, and he apparently makes a great number of the components necessary to build the Mars Conqueror in his own workshop. There’s a genuine streak of creativity and ingenuity here that is nearly incomparable in the larger watch landscape. Unsurprisingly, this brand of ingenuity didn’t come cheap: the retail price on the Mars Conqueror totaled €19,710. I’m using the past tense here because Chaykin only made 8 of these (not a shock given the degree of difficulty) and they appear to be unavailable via his website. 

Relatively recently, Chaykin released his latest entry in the Wristmons series: a representation of a Minion, a character from a series of films I can’t claim to have seen, but has still burrowed itself into that place in my brain that is a receptacle for all the pop-cultural stuff I’m vaguely aware of, but not experienced in. The reaction to this new watch from many of the enthusiasts and collectors I follow on social media was predictable: lots of groans, lots of enough already, and so on. I am not a Minion fan, and I have no real personal interest in Chaykin’s character watches. I also have no insight into financials of Chaykin’s brand, but I suspect that the insanely popular and quick to sell out Wristmons pieces go a long way toward paying for him to pursue a watch like the Mars Conqueror, or the Shabbat Clock, or many of the other impressive creations he comes up with. If that’s the case, bring on even more versions of the Joker, because even if I don’t particularly care about every new Wristmons iteration, I care a lot about seeing what Konstantin Chaykin can dream up next. Konstantin Chaykin

Images from this post:
Related Posts
Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.