Up Close: S.U.F. Sarpaneva x Moomin

A contented troll makes for a great watch.

Finnish independent watchmaker Stepan Sarpaneva is famous for his frowning moon “face”, an instantly recognisable emblem of contemporary watchmaking. But he also makes more affordable watches under the S.U.F. Helsinki label, which recently launched the S.U.F. Sarpaneva x Moomin, a cartoon watch that is seriously good.

Created to celebrate the 75th anniversary of 75th anniversary of Moomin, a series of books and comics by Finnish author Tove Jansson, the Moomin watch is based on the S.U.F. 180, a fuss-free three-hander that’s inspired by vintage military-issue watches, but dressed up with a three-layer dial hand painted in multiple shades of Super-Luminova. Even in moderately low light, the dial glows in technicolor glory – that alone is worth the modest price of admission.

Initial thoughts

The S.U.F. Sarpaneva x Moomin is different and compelling, but easy to wear and put together notably well. Specifically, the dial and case are executed to a high level. The dial is three layers, and then hand finished and hand painted, while the case is a slim but robust construction that is finished skilfully.

And the Moomin watch retailed for €5,000, or about US$5,900 – making it excellent value for money. The quality and detail of the dial – think of it as affordable metiers d’art – is especially outstanding for the price.

Admittedly, Moomin has no particular resonance for me – and won’t for anyone who isn’t a fan of the comic – but the dial in itself is appealing. It’s quirky, whimsical, and it works.

In fact, everything about the watch works save for two elements – the too-thick strap and the difficulty in reading the minute markers – that are forgivable. The only downside of the Moomin watch is the fact that is sold out within a day of its launch.

The Sarpaneva emblem on the case back

The trolls

Moomin about a family of trolls who are large, round, and resemble hippos. They live in Moominvalley, along with friends like Snork, Snufkin, and Little My, with their lives and adventures documented in nine books and several dozen comics.

In the decades since it was first published, Moomin has gained a cult following globally, particularly in Scandinavia countries, but also as faraway as Japan, which is home to the world’s second Moomin theme park after the original Moominworld in Finland.

The face of contentment

The primary character of the comic, Moomintroll, is the boy of the troll family. He is immortalised on the dial of the watch “lying in his customary place (or one of his places) curled up on the green-and-yellow moss with his tail carefully tucked in under him… He looked gravely and contentedly down into the water while he listened to the rustle of wings and the drowsy buzz of bees around him.”

Dial

Notably elaborately for a watch of this price, the dial is the star of the show. It’s made up of three layers of steel: the base with the reeds of Moomintroll’s “customary place”, followed by the disc with Moomintroll, and over that is the chapter ring with the minute markers.

Each dial layer is cut via laser, which allows for a high degree of detail, exemplified by the slender reeds on the base. What follows is hand finishing with a file to remove burrs.

The layers are then entirely covered in black lacquer, and followed by laser etching. The etching removes the black lacquer selectively to create the motif, while lightly texturing the clean surfaces with a fine, linear pattern that creates a matte finish, resulting in a motif with some shading. And the open-worked chapter ring for the minutes is circular grained.

The base layer of the dial before laser etching. Photo – S.U.F.

Filing the edge of the middle layer. Photo – S.U.F.

The fine, linear pattern created by the back and forth motion of the laser is visible up close

But the genius of the design is the lavish and careful application of Super-Luminova, and by far the most artful use of the luminous paint I can recall. With a microscope and squirt gun, eight Super-Luminova colours are applied to the layers of dial.

Applying the Super-Luminova. Photo – S.U.F.

The dial base under the microscope, with Super-Luminova being applied to its underside. Photo – S.U.F.

The Super-Luminova for the reeds is done at random, giving each dial a unique combination of colours. And layer with Moomintroll is also gets a dash of “lume” on the flowers as well as the pair of dragonflies at six o’clock.

The hands are rhodium-plated brass with a two-tone finish lengthwise, which makes them distinct from the dial. Legibility is good, enough though the hands and dial are in similar tones. The other two versions of the Moomin watch have rose gold or blue hands respectively, which offer the greatest contrast against the dial.

While it is easy to read the time, it can only be done approximately, because the minute track is identical all the way around, except at the quarters, which are marked by a luminous dot at 12 o’clock and screws at the other three. That isn’t an issue, since the exact time isn’t important for me. But it does make setting the time a pain since the current time has to be counted from the nearest quarter.

Finnish steel, Swiss mechanics

With proportions that are almost ideal, the case is compact and thin. It cuts a slim profile on the wrist, but doesn’t look too small as a result of the narrow, concave bezel that emphasises the dial.

The case is actually the same as that of the S.U.F. 180, a no-nonsense watch that is excellent value – it costs half the Moomin watch – but less interesting because of the basic, military-style design.

The case is fabricated from SUPRA 316L/4435, a steel alloy that’s 316L grade, the de facto standard in watchmaking. But like all the steel used by S.U.F. and Sarpaneva, the alloy is appropriately supplied by a steel-making giant from S.U.F.’s hometown of Helsinki, Outokumpu.

The case is refined and precise, with lots of detail not usually found on an entry-level watch. It’s mostly finished with a neat linear brushing, which is juxtaposed against a polished bezel, which is concave and ends in a narrow step at its top.

The polished bevel between the brushed top and side of each lug is neatly executed, and also done by hand, instead of being done by a CNC mill as is common in affordable watches.

And the back is screw down, an unusual feature in a thin case of a simple watch. At its centre is the Sarpaneva moon “face” emblem, which is more often seen on the pricer moon-phase watches of Sarpaneva main line.

Inside the case is a Soprod A10, a fairly common movement originally developed as an alternative to the even more common ETA 2892. Slim like the ETA 2892 and identically sized, the Soprod A10 is meant to be a “drop in” replacement. It’s also known as the M100, which is Soprod’s name for the latest generation of the movement.

A smaller movement supplier than giants like ETA and Sellita, Soprod is owned by the Festina Group, which makes most of its money with low-end watch brands like Lotus and Jaguar, but also owns higher-end brands Perrelet and Leroy, as well as component and movement makers.

Short for “Alternance 10”, the A10 was actually derived from the Seiko 4L movement, the result of Seiko attempting to build a presence as a movement supplier to Swiss brands about a decade ago. Produced for a brief period by Seiko as the 4L25 and 4L75, the 4L has long since disappeared from Seiko’s offerings, and has been replaced by the 6L movement found in a handful of Presage and Credor models.

The A10 is most often found in watches from niche makers – popular for being a cost-efficient movement when bought in small numbers – and is functionally equivalent to the ETA 2892. It does the job as well as the ETA 2892 in my experience, with one exception: its automatic winding doesn’t seem quite as efficient, meaning it takes longer to wind the mainspring completely.

Concluding thoughts

The S.U.F. Sarpaneva x Moomin cleverly blends some elements of Sarpaneva’s high-end watches, namely the generous use of Super-Luminova, with an idiosyncratic motif. The result is an appealing watch in all respects – aesthetics, finish, and price.

In fact, the Moomin watch arguably represents the sweet spot across all of Sarpaneva’s watches. It’s more interesting than the base-model S.U.F. line up, while being more affordable than the more complicated Sarpaneva moon-phase models.


Key Facts and Price

S.U.F. Helsinki Sarpaneva x Moomin

Diameter: 38.7 mm
Thickness: 8.9 mm
Material: Steel
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 100 m

Movement: Soprod A10
Functions: Hours and minutes
Winding: Automatic
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 42 hours

Strap: Canvas with pin buckle

Limited edition: 75 pieces
Availability: Sold out
Price: €5,000 before taxes

For more, visit Sufhelsinki.com.


 

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