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Estonia 1918—Luxury Watches with a Patriotic Twist

“What time is it?” someone asks, triggering a swarm of smartphones to come out. In that instant, the charm of this simple act, checking the time, is eroded.

Estonia 1918's Aviaator watch (from

A phone can take on timekeeping, plus a million other tasks. It can do it without any errors either. But it locks time up behind silicon chips, plastic, aluminosilicate glass, and lithium ion batteries. And it's paired with many other distractions.

Comparatively, a wristwatch brings us closer to time, so that we can feel and hear it. Its physical components represent the control each one of us is able to exert on our future, if on nothing else. Without getting any more abstruse, this is what the company Estonia1918 is vying for with their numerous models of watches.

Each watch model is dedicated to an occupation or role, for individuals who have made and continue to make mighty achievements with the time given to them.

It started with the Wõitleja (“fighter”), a watch made in advance of the 100th anniversary of Estonia gaining its independence. Referring to the Estonians who fought for independence in the Soomusrongide divisjon, Estonia1918 explains, “The name Wõitleja initially belonged to the artillery car of Armored Train Nr. 2, and the watch’s design is directly inspired by the intricate workmanship of bronze gauges found on the heavy military equipment of the First World War era.” These gauges would have shown a train's steam pressure, for instance.

True to an armoured train, the watch's case is dense, “…machined whole from a single block of true old-school CuSn8 brass, a marine-grade alloy of brass and tin that was developed to be submerged in saltwater for a lifetime without corrosion.” It's big, it's tough, and it knows it.

But this watch was intended to be practical away from a battlefield. It doesn't look clunky on a wearer's wrist and doesn't fail to go under one's sleeve. It's easy to check the time, with the metal hands standing out against the black enamel dial. It's streamlined—Radius Machining OÜ, known for building parts used in the famed ESTCube-1 satellite, were involved in the making of the case for the Wõitleja watch, and it shows.

Named after those who look up to the sky and dare to fly, Estonia1918 later created the Aviaator. Each watch is technologically customized to the personality indicated by the watch name. Thus, for this one, “The case of the watch is made in aerospace grade magnesium alloy which is coated in a similar type of coating (cerakote) as used in fighter jets to make [them] untraceable by radars.” It's certainly stealthier, placed next to the Wõitleja. The company engraves “PTO4” on the face of the watch, referring to the PTO-4 training aircraft used in Estonia during the Second World War. Only 161 of these aircraft were said to have been manufactured. As such, only 161 of the Aviaator watch were made, as shown by the engraving on the back of the case.

For epic Estonian musicians, there's the Maestro. Even more subdued than other models, this watch only shows itself as much as it needs to be seen, with a striking steel ring around that frames the black ceramic dial. From this centre point, the black leather strap flows out quietly. There is a separate, smaller section for the hour hand. Meanwhile, emphasis is placed on the thin minute hand, which has a kind of “bulb” on the bottom, similar to a conductor's baton.

Nine watch models have been designed between when Estonia1918 started in 2014 and 2022. Across models, Estonia1918 has endeavoured to make an increasing amount of parts in-house, in Estonia. Notable exceptions are the Swiss-made Unitas/ETA movements that make the watch's moving parts function. Even so, more equipment is being sought out for the milling of parts.

The masterminds behind Estonia1918 are Tõnis Leissoo and engraver Viljo Marrandi. Leissoo started this business after many years of practice as a hobbyist. As a young boy, he examined the specimens of his grandfather, then moved onto assembling his own, and finally onto computer aided design and the 3D printing of parts. The latest technology has allowed what existed primarily as design concepts to become assembled intricately in metal.

But that can only happen once the design is drawn precisely and tested through 3D printing, after which the metal is milled to make the structure of the watch. There is also much involved in making the watches' dials. Machines and presses engrave lettering and stamp the faces of dials. Enamel powder is applied and heated repeatedly for the coating.

When everything is made, Leissoo assembles the parts in his studio, a vault of a former bank in Tartu. Underneath the beautiful face is the heart of the watch, the mainspring and the escapement that moves the hands around.

In 2016, Estonia1918 launched an Indiegogo campaign, rapidly raising 10,000 of its 25,000 Euro goal. A few weeks later, at the campaign's close, 292% of the original target was met, with 102 backers contributing 73,221 Euros collectively. Backers were given one of a limited run of 100 Wõitleja watches for three quarters of the full retail price.

If you browse the company's inventory of watches nowadays, you'll notice that many are out of stock; the result of a limited-edition approach to manufacturing. The company simply does not make that many of each watch before moving on to the next unique model. Among more recently available watches in their stock are the Aviaator, the Diplomaat (which has a glass back through which you can look at the Unitas 6498 movement), and the Arhitekt, the most radical of all, possessing a stainless steel case with bevelled edges.

Just like Estonia has its national flower and a national piano brand, this company is vying for that coveted, proud national status in the field of timekeeping devices. To achieve this, Estonia1918 are making watches that require much more labour and finesse to complete, watches that are more scarce and specialized. In the end, they are also more likely to become a favourite, worn for a lifetime.

This article was written by Vincent Teetsov as part of the Local Journalism Initiative.

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