Interview with watch engraver – Reinis Stripnieks

Usually, I don’t do interviews like these. I only do interviews with watch company founders. But this time it is special as Reinis is from the same country as me: Latvia. And we Latvians tend to support our people. I found him on facebook watch group called Horology Talk (the best watch group on the facebook by the way, far better than UGWC). And there he posted the watch that had engraving done by him, and it looked amazing! Then I discovered he was from Latvia, so I wrote to him if he wanted to do an interview with me and he kindly agreed. So here you go:

  • 1. Introduce yourself?

My name is Reinis Stripnieks. I’m 23 years old, born in Latvia, but I moved with my family to Austria 5 years ago. I’m a mechanical engineer by trade, but after 8 hours at work, I do 8 more every day as an engraver.

As more and more people are interested in my engravings I might do full-time engraving soon. I love sports, hunting, fishing, and photography (I’m not a good photographer yet) but I work hard to improve my skills with every picture I take.
  • 2. How did you learn to do the engraving? And what came first, watches or engraving them?
I learned to engrave all by myself from old books and YouTube videos, that gave me a solid start. I approached many engravers and artists with questions; but every single one turned me down, that’s a good thing from one point of view because I didn’t get influenced by anyone. I started with engraving watches but right after my first watch, I started to show interest in Horology and everything around it.
  • 3. For example, if I wanted to start engraving watches, from where do I start? 
To learn this art form one has to have a good work ethic, passion for what you do and be willing to work for a long time without getting paid.
There are engravers one every corner who can engrave your name on a ring but only a few on the planet who can work with watches.
You have to know how to work with a computer (Photoshop, Lightroom) to create design transfers, have to get stereo microscope, air powered engraver, ball vice (those things alone cost thousands of euros).
Then you just have to sit down and dig through old books, draw a lot, learn goldsmithing, a bit of watchmaking, and doing thousands and thousands of hours of drawing and cutting.
  • 4. How long does it take to complete a watch (I mean on average)?
Engraving time differs a lot, it depends what engraving style you do There is deep relief engraving with deeply cut backgrounds, banknote engraving (it’s normal engraving with shallow backgrounds and lines but density of lines gives design different look), sculpting is the style where metal is being moved by small punches to develop rich 3 dimensional design (its most time consuming to do therefore most expensive one), sculpted watches are rare thing to find. There are also gold inlays and diamond settings. The client determines what he or she wants and usually, I tell them whether it’s in their budget or estimated time.
90% of my work is deep relief with deeply cut backgrounds so on average it takes around 30 hours to engrave watch case only, and 50h to 80h on bracelet, but it all varies on how complicated the design is and how much background is to remove, which is a slow process and every single mistake will stand out.
  • 5. What is the cheapest and the most expensive watch you engraved?
Cheapest might be getting 3 dollar watch on clothing store and later practising on it.
Most expensive might be Rolex; but most impressive by far was believe it or not – Invicta I bought it for 100 euros and sold it for 1400 euros on auction 2 weeks later (probably most expensive Invicta up to date)
  • 6. Do you think engraving a watch is a smart idea? Do you think it makes the watch more valuable or it loses its value after engraving it? 
People have forgotten from where watches really come. I happen to live in a region where watchmaking was a big thing 150 years ago and a majority of them are hand engraved. It has disappeared during all these years because of 2 world wars in between and Luxury was forgotten;  after stainless steel watches appeared they where too hard to cut with old tools, nowadays with modern hand engraving tools powered by air hitting piston in high speed and piston moving chisel, it really helps to cut rock hard materials but still requires very high skill.  So modern artist can decorate watches once again, but people see engraved watches as a disgrace to watch industry. And that’s where they are very wrong, of course, not everyone likes engraving and ornaments and that’s understandable, many watches are simply just not designed to be engraved, but watchmaking is this precise and very complicated craft and many people who have higher end watches doesn’t realise what craftsmanship is inside a watch. Case engravers job is to compliment this craft and help it show on outside of watch because engraver must learn designs for years and practice for even more to engrave eye pleasing ornaments. Also, one must maintain nerves of a surgeon, hand of a calligrapher, eyes of an artist showing his or hers best work during 100 hours of sitting steadily and cutting through rock-hard stainless steel, not many people on the planet can do that and that’s why engravings are so expensive on watches.
  • 7. What watches do you have in your watch collection? And maybe you can list them? Maybe you have some “grail” watches you want to own in the future?
Surprisingly I do not own a watch yet I work with them every day. I’m not allowed to work with a watch at my day job and I tend to stab myself with sharp graver right where watch should be so that leaves me no other time to wear it. But I love old Patek Philipe’s from the 1900s, also Rolex Submariner and iconic Omega Seamaster would be my choice and I am definitely looking forward to getting Seamaster soon. Also, there is a very good looking watch made by Latvian company Northemen it’s still a prototype, but hand forged Damascus steel with 700 BC oak as dial looks just fantastic.
  • 8. Why do you think your customers choose you? Or would like to engrave their watches?
I think every engraver delivers something else and we all do something a bit different and even same designs will be done differently. Some are better engravers than others but its always up to the customer to choose their artist. Now people know my story and that gives a soul to engravings they see done by me.
Many many people want engraved watches, but very few can afford them. Watch engraving has only reborn just in recent years and mind-blowing things that we create makes something special and timeless and no matter how sceptical people may be. I bet me or my colleagues can create something mind-blowing for you.
  • 9. What is your price range?
Usually, just for full case engraving, I charge 600 to 1500 euros and for bracelet 1000 to 2000 euros. It seems a lot,  but remember what kind of skill and hours goes into them.
Also, lower budget customers are welcome too. The customer can tell me what would they like to have and what their budget is, I can design something special for them which will require either less time to cut or less surface to be covered.
  • 10. What are the tools you use?
Tools are very expensive and many are either custom made or hard to find. I use Leica a 60 stereo microscope,  Steve Lindsay air graver (engraving tool), ball vice and some carbide gravers.
You can reach Reinis through email: reinis.stripnieks@gmail.com
Also, check his Youtube channel where he puts videos on how he engraves watches: www.youtube.com

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