Artist by nature: How Alexander Shorokhoff incorporates art into his timepieces


By ML CHEN

The watchmaker draws from myriad inspirations, especially fine art.

Alexander Shorokhoff cuts a fascinating figure straight out of a great Russian novel. The founder of his eponymously named timepiece brand and managing director of Poljot International was an émigré to Germany, a move first fuelled as a business attaché during the Soviet Union’s Glasnost era.

Shorokhoff was one of 15 top executives chosen to represent then-USSR in a year-long business exchange facilitated by his government and Germany when the two countries signed a historic peace declaration in 1989.

The exchange proved an eye-opener for Shorokhoff who was exposed to a range of new, free market economic systems.

By the end of what he terms his “re-education”, Russian companies were already courting him in order to glean more knowledge.

“One of them was Poljot, the biggest Russian watch company,” he says. Within two years of joining them, he had also developed his own brand.

The decision to set up his maison in Germany rather than Switzerland went beyond the politics of the time.

“Germany has the big industry, technical know-how and machinery. And they are very precise,” he says.

Eventually, the move became a permanent one.

The Alexander Shorokhoff manufacture in Alzenau, Germany.The Alexander Shorokhoff manufacture in Alzenau, Germany.

Shorokhoff established his brand in the picturesque town of Alzenau in the German state of Bavaria, with the aim of creating an independent label that would see each timepiece single-handedly helmed by one watchmaker from start to finish, an increasingly rare occurrence in the watchmaking world.

Shorokhoff carries the slightly rumpled air of an artist – shock of salt-and-pepper hair, and scarf casually thrown around his neck for good measure.

Kuala Lumpur is one of the stops in his tour around Asia and the watchmaker is eager to reconnect with fans and customers post-Covid-19 pandemic.

He says the brand prides itself in thinking differently.

“We create unusual designs featuring avant-garde art,” he highlights.

Shorokhoff made the fateful decision to set up his maison in Germany rather than Switzerland, 20 years ago.Shorokhoff made the fateful decision to set up his maison in Germany rather than Switzerland, 20 years ago.

The watchmaker, who initially trained as an architect, looks to Wassily Kandinsky (an artist known for being a pioneer of abstract painting) in particular, admiring his unorthodox approach.

“His roots were also from Russia, and he had a totally different approach to art,” says Shorokhoff. “I totally relate to him.”

The Russian artist born in the 19th century provided some succour too.

“I was afraid to exhibit my own unique, unusual timepieces,” says Shorokhoff. “I thought nobody would understand them.”

The affirmation that he was on the right track came during an exhibition where he showcased his creations among the world’s biggest brands.

“A journalist came and told me (that the brand) was the best in the exhibition.”

The reverence paid towards artists like Kandinsky has more than rubbed off on Shorokhoff and he has won design awards for his works, with the most recent being the Luxury Goods Product Design silver recipient at the International Architecture and Design Awards for the brand’s Swan Lake AVG timepiece.

Even the inner workings of an Alexander Shorokhoff watch are a work of art.Even the inner workings of an Alexander Shorokhoff watch are a work of art.

The engineering of each Alexander Shorokhoff piece, too, is meticulously thought out.

“It is not just design that informs our watches,” he notes.

“We are a timepiece manufacturer and we are here to tell the time.

“Yet, we hand-engrave, plate and decorate all the parts of each movement so that the end result is a work of art,” he adds.

Engraving on Alexander Shorokhoff watches is done by hand in-house by the manufacture.Engraving on Alexander Shorokhoff watches is done by hand in-house by the manufacture.

For all their work and intricacy, the brand’s timepieces are decidedly more accessible than most luxury brands of their ilk.

“Our margins are really small compared to the amount of work we put in,” says Shorokhoff. “Our customers appreciate that our pricing is very transparent and market accurate.

“We hope to expand our niche so that more understand our brand.”

Alexander Shorokhoff watch from the Avant-Garde family.Alexander Shorokhoff watch from the Avant-Garde family.

The number 60 features prominently in some of the Alexander Shorokhoff timepieces.

“Apart from denoting a full minute and hour, it also represents one full cycle of life in Chinese and Arabic cultures,” says the brand founder.

“In the former, the 12 animals in the zodiac multiplied by the five elements number 60 and thus, one’s 60th birthday is considered very auspicious.”

There is also one other reason.

“60 happens to be my birth year,” he adds with a smile.

A watch from the Alexander Shorokhoff Heritage line.A watch from the Alexander Shorokhoff Heritage line.

Alexander Shorokhoff has become a family business involving Shorokhoff’s wife Alla and his daughter, Inga Duffy-Shorokhova. The latter helped create a lauded 10-piece limited edition entitled “Home” together with renowned watch blogger and content creator Florian Bach.

That the brand is steadfastly independent is reflected by Alexander Shorokhoff’s clientele and endorsers, who include the likes of legendary director-actor and Sundance independent film festival founder Robert Redford, and jazz organist Barbara Denerlein.

When asked about his recipe for success, he says, “I would say, dare to be brave and different.

“Our customers are bold and our timepieces allow them to be themselves.”

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