At first impression it would seem a crazy idea. A mechanical watch for Mars? Retro-futuristic, Dan Dare visions of space travel notwithstanding, the thought that we would need a mechanical watch for Mars in this electronic age would be preposterous.


But is it? First, it is not always the case that we will have electronic equipment: Buzz Aldrin, for one, has often pointed out the need for technology that is reusable or recyclable. Gone are the days of the Apollo space missions where large parts of the rocket were discarded into space. Equally, and here the boundaries of science and science fiction start to blur, if human kind is to consider life on other planets, then resolving time differences between earth and elsewhere is a serious and necessary undertaking.

Inspired by stories of space exploration from childhood, a fascination for Soviet space agency design, and his mechanical knowledge, Konstantin Chaykin has designed and made a watch for Mars. For the budding astronaut who still believes there might yet be missions to Mars (where hopefully no one gets left behind…) the Mars Conqueror watch is just the time instrument you need to help you get there and understand the differences in time between earth and the “red planet”.

Konstantin Chaykin Mars Conqueror
Konstantin Chaykin

Konstantin was born and grew up in the old Soviet Union: in St. Petersburg to be exact. Space, and the conquest of space, was high on the agenda for Politburo socialist ideals and ambition. There was the fear factor: if you control the space above earth you can control what goes on beneath. And the progressive factor: it would take the best of people; scientists, mathematicians, cosmonauts, and workers to conquer space and benefit from the endeavour. With his formative years being honed under the Soviet Union, Konstantin distinctly remembers the books his teachers and advisers wrote about space. But it was a book that appeared in the Chaykin home when Konstantin was six years old: “Way to the Spaceport” that sparked his interest. The book details, for the young budding cosmonaut, Soviet ambition and their belief in colonizing the stars.

image
Pinterest

An interest in watchmaking did not develop until later. Initially, Konstantin went into the military where he worked with radio (something he had always been interested in) having taken radio and electrical engineering subjects at University. After the army he worked in various jobs; none connected with watches. But in 2000 that changed. A job selling watches in St. Petersburg led to Konstantin becoming preoccupied with them. He was always interested in mechanical devices, but with the new-found career in the watch business, he started to conceive his own clock. His first clock, to his own case design, was with a ready-made movement. But three years later he started his work on his own movement: a small tourbillon clock.

But it was a book from George Daniels that made the difference. Konstantin acquired Daniels’ book: “The Watch Movement” in 2004 and educated himself. From there it all started to snowball. More books (mainly Russian or Soviet) on watchmaking, drawings and designs followed, and within six months Konstantin had assembled his first clock. He then began working with a master watch repairer in St. Petersburg who made him assemble his own watch and it was then that he found out just how much was involved in making watches. Equally, by his own admission Konstantin told me that the watch was not very professional in construction and not finished correctly. His involvement in the watch industry at the time was across three different channels: selling, repairing, and creating. Progress was swift: 2008 he became a candidate of the AHCI and his first Baselworld was the year after; 2019 was his eleventh. Orders for Konstantin Chaykin clocks and watches started to pick up in 2011.

With the fascination for space and the Soviet space programme Konstantin had already designed and made the Lunokhod watch (named after the first Soviet lunar rover). The watch was designed to reflect the elemental nature of the exploratory vehicle. Crafted out of Wootz steel – yes – I had not heard of it either – Konstantin thinks it reflects the Russian character: hard and detailed. There are also a variety of celestial function clocks that he has designed: mainly for predicting Russian Orthodox Easter, but with a host of astronomic functions as well.

Konstantin Chaykin Mars Conqueror
Chakyin with design sketches for the Mars Conqueror
Konstantin Chaykin

The Mars watch has been a recent idea. A progression of ideas from dealing with time differences worked out on his other watches and clocks, Konstantin wanted a watch that would be useful for Cosmonauts; that would have useful functions for flying to Mars. There were always plans to go to Mars as part of the Soviet space program; from as early as 1960 it was intent on going to Mars with Marsnik 1; only the spacecraft blew up on take-off and never reached earth orbit!

In fact, most attempts at getting any sort of spacecraft to Mars by the Soviets was usually met with disaster in one form or another. Although no longer a pressing issue with space agencies, either NASA or “Kosmicheskaya programma SSSR” (now the Russian space agency Roscosmos), there remains the idea that the colonisation of Mars is an inevitable part of mankind’s long-term future.

Konstantin Chaykin Mars Conqueror
Konstantin Chaykin

Recent experiments, terrestrial trials with would-be Martian travelers and of course, films have brought this fascination back to the foreground. As The Martian shows, there are important considerations about timing a flight to our planetary neighbour. It is not simply a difference in time units; but equally a difference in elliptical orbits and location in space. Figuring out the difference between a mean Earth solar day and a mean Sol day (the name given to the Martian day) is not easy. One is the difference in the length of time in terms of earth hours and minutes, the other is the starting point for measuring the difference in total time given the start date, and finally how to correct each day for the time difference to make Earth and Mars time compatible. Even though it takes Earth time as its starting point, the whole project is unlike any other in horology in that it forces you to contemplate a concept of time completely removed from Earth.

So, here we go. Deep breath, everybody.

The difference between an Earth mean solar day and a Mars Sol is a mathematical expression, but before we figure out how to count, we need to know where we start counting from. Absent two millennia of human history and the Gregorian and Julian calendars (the years BC are not irrelevant, exactly, but they’re not contributing to our modern calendar systems either), Mars has no reference points of its own. For reasons that are not exactly clearly understood, the scientific community agreed some time ago to date Mars Sols from December 29th, 1873. This is usually explained by its proximity to the 1877 perihelic opposition – a period of prime observational opportunity, as Mars was aligned on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun, and at its period of closest orbit. Why the “zero day” for Mars was then picked as a point four years previously is unclear, but as everything about it is entirely arbitrary, it’s also not of huge importance as long as everyone’s working from the same rules.

The Mars Sol Date is defined as Mars Sol Date equals the Julian Date (the Julian calendar) using International Atomic Time - 2451549.5 + k/1.02749125 + 44796.0, in days, where k is a small correction of approximately 0.00014 day (or 12 seconds) due to uncertainty in the exact geographical position of the prime meridian at “Airy-0” crater (Mars’s equivalent of the Greenwich Meridian, named for British Astronomer Royal Sir George Biddell Airy who in 1850 built the transit circle telescope at Greenwich).

This equation gives rise to the average duration of the day-night cycle on Mars, a Martian day to you and me, as 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35.244 seconds. The sidereal rotational period of Mars—its rotation compared to the fixed stars—is only 24 hours, 37 minutes and 22.66 seconds. The solar day lasts slightly longer because of its orbit around the sun which requires it to turn slightly further on its axis back to the same point in the sky. Think of it this way, Mars is a little further out than Earth from the sun, hence the slightly longer rotation back to the same point.

Konstantin Chaykin Mars Conqueror
Konstantin Chaykin

Konstantin Chaykin’s Mars Conqueror watch takes all these considerations on board. It is both a modern instrument – should we ever decide to journey to the “red planet” - and a retro design throwback to the days of Soviet instrumentation.

There are three dials on the watch. The far left shows Mars Central Time (MCT) in hours and minutes for a 24 Mars hour Sol. In other words, picking up with the Mars calendar: a Mars minute is 61.62 Earth seconds. The middle dial is UTC time on Earth displaying hours, minutes and seconds along with a (red) 24-hour indicator. Finally, the right-hand dial shows Mars and Earth time counted in total Sols (Mars) and months (Earth), up to 668 for the number of Sols in a Martian year.

Konstantin Chaykin Mars Conqueror
Konstantin Chaykin

Chaykin’s watch is based on an ETA 2836-2 calibre, but in order to add the Martian timekeeping functions, a 175-piece module was required (after eight months of calculation). Because the average Sol lasts 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35.244 seconds, or 88775.244 seconds, compared to a mean solar day on Earth of 86400, he calculated that two gears with 109 and 112 teeth could translate Earth time to Martian time with a mean daily deviation of 2.7 seconds (86400 x 112/109 = 88777.98 seconds). Not bad by COSC standards! Despite the creation of some electro-mechanical Mars/Earth clocks by Hamilton in the 1970s, and the interesting efforts of a California based jeweller by the name of Garo Anserlian to modify a number of quartz and automatic watches to run on Martian time, this is the first time a wristwatch has been created from scratch to display Martian time, not to mention the difference between the two planetary systems.

The back of the watch has a number of functional elements and a view of the automatic rotor. The automatic rotor design is based on the portal hatch for the entrance to the Vostok rockets. But the three small buttons at the lower left-hand side of the back of the watch are zero reset buttons that makes the watch more of a time computer for any budding cosmonaut wishing to undertake the journey from earth to Mars.

Konstantin Chaykin Mars Conqueror
Konstantin Chaykin

The zero reset is a necessary feature for any flight between Earth and Mars. At the start of the flight the watch can be set to zero across all three dials. By doing so it is then an exact count of the time taken from Earth to Mars in terms of time of earth time and Mars time. The watch equally gives, on arrival at Mars, the exact difference in terms of calendar time between the two planets from the duration of the space flight. Necessary for the budding cosmonaut to know where, in predicted flight time, he or she is in the journey.

The case is a mix of brushed and polished titanium making it light. Despite its size it fits neatly on the wrist, whether you are or are not wearing your space suit, thanks to the lower lugs being hinged. The hinged lug also allows access to the crown. If the layout of the dials and the general design of the watch has that vintage aesthetic, it’s because the visual look was taken from the instrument panel of a Vostok I rocket; the same craft that would propel the cosmonauts up into earth orbit. In a rather nice touch, the straps for the watch are (either the off-white or the orange) and were cut from old cosmonaut uniforms.

The Mars Conqueror watch is both a modern flight instrument – albeit for very long-distance flights – and a retro styled watch recalling the days of analogue space flight. Konstantin Chaykin has a reputation for producing uniquely designed and idiosyncratic watches and the Mars Conqueror is no exception – and a second version is expected this autumn. That said, that watch also fulfills a necessary purpose should a mechanical watch ever be required. I don’t think it will overhaul other brands out there with their Moon watch, but as a watch that demonstrates imagination and thought, the Mars Conqueror is a worthy addition to timepieces aimed at space travel.