Part of me was scared to over-hype this interview/podcast in case you’d feel let down by the end of it. Then I re-read the interview, listened to the Podcast (enduring an hour of my own voice), and revisited the Lapinist’s Instagram account and realized that, if you class yourself as a fan of vintage Seiko or Grand Seiko, you won’t possibly be disappointed. On the contrary, I’m willing to wager you will be totally amazed…

About a week ago, I conducted an interview with Kamil, otherwise known as the Lapinist (@lapinist_watchrestoration on Instagram). He wasn’t comfortable coming on Fratello on Air himself, but after sharing the content (and the images of Kamil’s work with Balazs) he agreed to hop into the recording booth with me and act out the interview so you have the choice of consuming the content in either format.


Honestly? If this subject interests you, I’d recommend consuming BOTH. In the Podcast, we go a bit off base and discuss a few interesting asides that Kamil’s answers gave rise to. So right below this paragraph, you’ll find the Podcast link. Below that, you’ll find the interview text. Hit us up in the comments and let us know your own vintage Seiko/Grand Seiko stories. And don’t forget to tell us what you make of Kamil’s work. I’m hoping you’ll be as impressed as we were.


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The interview

Rob Nudds: Tell us about your early life.

Lapinist: Since I was young (around 4–5 years old) I was interested in beautiful objects like stones, shells, jewelry, or small wooden sculptures). When I was about five. I started carving wood by myself — yes with a sharp metal knife. I still have some scars after that. I also loved drawing and painting but I was not very good at it.

When I was a teenager I worked with my father designing and making oak garden furniture by hand. That was how I earned my first money, which I later spent on basic tools and equipment. When I got older I was thinking about starting my education in some artistic field like sculpting or architecture but finally, I ended up as an Economist student at Jagiellonian University in Krakow.

RN: What was your first encounter with watches?

L: I remember some mechanical watches worn by my grandfathers and my father, some Russian Poljot, Wostok, and Raketa (I repaired and restored them some time ago and they are still in my possession). They were interesting as engineering objects but not very beautiful. I remember some electronic watches that I had as a child (especially some advanced CASIO watch). When I was 18, I bought my first mechanical watch for the money that my parents gave me for my birthday. It was a cheap and used Seiko 5 in a stainless steel case with the original bracelet but at that time it was the most beautiful (and affordable) watch that I could have imagined. I still have it in my drawer waiting for some movement and case work. During my studies, I spent some time in the UK, There, with my second salary, I bought a vintage 9-karat gold Omega Geneve. I sold it few years later and bought Seiko 6139-6010 Speedtimer automatic chronograph.


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RN: When did you get into refinishing watch cases?

L: After studying, I didn’t want to work as an economist or banker etc. Instead, I decided to run my own business as a jeweler. I was not a professional, educated jeweller but more like an artist jeweller. I designed and fabricated my jewellery by hand using traditional techniques. This work taught me patience and precision which was invaluable for my future work as a vintage watch restorer. After eight years I started working with watches — first with my own watches as I wanted them to look like new. I shortly realised that there must be some secret behind this art as I couldn’t find the way to achieve shiny surfaces and sharp edges at the same time. That was my dream, my goal, and my obsession: to find a solution.

RN: What kind of training did you have before?

L: I’m a completely self-taught man. As soon as I got interested in watch case refinishing I started reading books about watch case making, tool making, metal treatment, machining etc. Finally, I started working on my own tools and machines, which I believed would help me to improve my skills and get more and more experience. After about three years of research, I fabricated my own lapping machine and self-designed and fabricated the tools that were necessary to achieve perfectly flat and polished surfaces. I spent another three years improving the technique so the results were as perfect as famous zaratsu finishing. It is important to mention that from the very beginning I was interested mainly in Grand Seiko restoration which meant that I had to achieve top results. There was no shortcut. Ultimate precision was my only goal. I did work with other brands as well but they were not as demanding as any Grand Seiko case.


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RN: Why do you do it? Is there a philosophy behind it?

L: I love what I’m doing, just simply as that. My love for beautiful things and perfect shapes evolved into a profession: I’m very thankful I am able to restore their lost beauty to them.

Another factor was the fact that a few years ago, vintage Grand Seiko, King Seiko, and other affordable Seiko watches weren’t very expensive and sought after. People didn’t care about them in the way they deserved to be. There were many workshops where collectors and enthusiasts could have their Swiss or German watches restored but no-one wanted or was able to restore those most complicated cases that came from Japan. I wanted to offer this exclusive service for Seiko lovers as I was one of them.

RN: What is your proudest achievement within watchmaking?

L: It may sound like a neat slogan but every single case is an achievement for me. Each case is different and even if it comes from the same watch model it has completely different history and scars. I must treat it exclusively and with the utmost attention. There are no good or bad cases for me. Some cases may look cheap but for the owner it means the whole world. I had a chance to work with some rare pieces so I was happy to see them in person and hold them in my hands. I remember when I worked with Grand Seiko 4580-7000 which is extremely rare piece. Although it was not the most complicated case, the rarity of the piece caused thrills. Additionally, the case was made of special alloy — Seiko Hardened Steel, which made the job additionally difficult.

There would have been no chance to replace the case if anything had gone wrong, fortunately it came out perfectly and its owner was very happy with the result of my work.


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RN: Tell us some horror stories and some creative fixes you had to conceive to get top results.

L: Fortunately till now I haven’t had any horror stories and most of my work has gone very smoothly. But there is one thing that causes problems with old Seiko cases — poor steel quality. From time to time the steel is cracked or full of internal imperfections like micro-cracks and inclusions. It is hard to laser weld and sometimes it doesn’t look perfect even after many hours of improvements. Unfortunately, I can’t do anything about it so me and my customers sometimes must face the fact that the case, even if it is perfectly finished, may still bear some micro imperfections. Usually they are hard to spot with the naked eye so they do not negatively influence the overall case appearance too much. They are factory imperfections so they are part of the case from the beginning.

Creative fixes are related more to tool-making than to case finishing. I invented, designed and fabricated many tools that are dedicated exclusively to zaratsu polishing. One of them is the tool which allows me to apply zaratsu finishing to the cases without a case back (monoblock cases). In general, case backs must be removed prior to polishing so the case can be held by the special case holder against the lapping plate. When there is no case back, keeping the perfect angle during polishing is virtually impossible. The tool that I fabricated lets me apply zaratsu polishing even for rare King Seiko cases
that have no case backs.

RN: Do you have a watch collection?

L: Yes, but at the moment it is very, very small. Some time ago I realised that all my private watches are disassembled and put into the drawer as I had no time to service and restore them. Since then I have not bought more watches but of course I’m planning to expand my collection in the future years. The collection includes only vintage Seiko chronographs and there are 6139 Speedtimers, some 7016 and 7018 chronographs, and my favorite watch, the Seiko 6139-6040 chronograph.

RN: Probably a stupid question, but what is your favourite brand?

L: Of course it is Seiko and Grand Seiko. As I mentioned before, I love vintage Seiko automatic chronographs but in the future I’d like to buy some vintage Grand Seiko models. I love modern GS as well but vintage pieces are much more affordable for me. I have a rather small wrist and vintage pieces look much better on me. I also appreciate Swiss brands like Patek or Jeager LeCoultre — not for their looks but rather for their amazing movements, complications, and engineering achievements.

RN: And model?

L: When it comes to sporty watches I really like Seiko 6139-6040 with a champagne dial, but the most beautiful watches among all Seiko watches for me are Grand Seiko 6185-8020 VFA and Grand Seiko 4580-7010 VFA. Both watches have amazing dials and beautiful zaratsu cases, they are perfectly balanced, elegant, and, of course, hard to find. From a collector’s point of view, the most precious watch for me would be Seiko 5718 chronograph.

RN: Do you own that piece? If not, why not? Is it on your radar?

L: I do own a Seiko 6139-6040 in very nice original condition with an almost perfect dial (which is hard to find). The case is waiting for restoration. I’m pretty sure that sooner or later I will possess both GS watches that I mentioned before but when it comes to Seiko 5718, I’m in love with this piece but finding one is rather a dream which will never come true considering its rarity and market price.


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RN: Can you refinish other brands?

L: Yes, of course I also work with other brands but I mainly focus on vintage Seiko/Grand Seiko watches. There are many other workshops out there which specialise in other brands like Rolex, Audemars Piguet etc. but I want to stay loyal to Seiko. It is also good for me to be an expert in one brand only. It allows me to know the models very well and also to have all the tools and equipment that let me take care of my customers watches in the most competent manner.

RN: Which other brands do you like working on the most when time permits?

L: In general, I like working with cases that look pleasant to my eye. Simple lines and marriage of polished and brushed surfaces always look good. I also like vintage cases with a tonneau shape, it is not uncommon to see some vintage Omega and Heuers in my workshop.

RN: How long does it take to restore a completely battered case?

L: It is a difficult question as it always depends on the case design and condition. Zaratsu case restoration is very unique and the most time-consuming. Now, after fabricating my own dedicated tools, case holders, and other equipment my work is much easier and faster but still, it takes hours to refinish one case.

The process starts with removing movement and dismantling the case, then the components are ultrasonically cleaned, inspected under the microscope, and laser-welded until the basic case shape has been restored so it is ready for polishing. The most labor-intensive stage is the zaratsu polishing, which alone may take several hours, depending on how many facets must be polished or brushed. I think that it takes around 10–12 hours to restore a zaratsu case considering my experience and advanced equipment.


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RN: And how much does it cost (roughly)?

L: Again, the cost is based on the time that is required to restore each case but let’s say that in general zaratsu case  restoration costs between €300 and €350 but most of vintage Grand Seiko and King Seiko cases can be restored for €300–€320.

RN: For how long are you booked up with work?

Now, I’m booked for a year. I have a few open slots in February and April 2022. I’m in very comfortable position when I can select the cases that I want to restore, focusing on the examples that seem most interesting to me.

Having such a busy schedule is a good and bad thing at the same time. From one side I don’t have to worry if I have enough work to feel safe and comfortable but, on the other hand, my customers sometimes don’t want to wait so long. Many things may happen during the year. Some customers may cancel their request, opening up new slots. Therefore, it is always good to contact me and ask. I always try to offer the best solution for everyone.


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RN: Do you ever think about expanding your business? Perhaps taking on an apprentice?

L: Yes, I do but that is not as easy as it seems. My work is very specific and requires some unique skills. That would be great if those skills could be learned in school but unfortunately, they can’t. Zaratsu techniques are a great secret of Seiko and I found my own way to achieve the same results. I remember how hard it was to find any information, any clue that could lead me in the right direction. A few years ago, in an article I was reading, I read that only the best Seiko polishing specialists can perform Zaratsu finishing, and I believe that there is something true about it. You need both a devotion to perfection and a lot of experience to achieve passable results.

For now, I’m doing everything by myself from developing the tools to sending the packages to my customers. I’d love to have someone who could help me with my office work, but, when it comes to polishing, I prefer doing it by myself.

RN: If you could work with any watchmaker, who would it be?

L: I definitely prefer to be independent and don’t ever think of working for a company but, in theory, it would be someone who designs his cases the way I like them to be designed. I think that I could apply my skills to some of Audemars Piguet’s cases — of course, if I couldn’t work with GS.

RN: Would you like to apply your talents to new watches also?

L: To be honest, not really. As I mentioned before, my goal is not only to finish the cases but rather to bring the cases back to their former glory. My work is not about finishing but restoration. I also can’t see myself finishing the same case model over and over again. I have this wonderful opportunity that allows me to restore completely different cases every single day and I decide for myself which case is next. This freedom of choice is very important to me and makes me feel that I have control over my work. At the end of the day, I don’t feel tired or unsatisfied. I can plan my work the way that I like and it makes me happy.


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RN: Do you have tips for our collecting community on Fratello of what to avoid buying (what elements of a watch case are particularly hard to refinish, I mean)?

L: I have many emails from my future customers in which they ask for my advice before purchasing the watch. It is very helpful to know what to avoid from my point of view, this will make my work easier and also helps my customers to save some money, especially as there are a few very important factors that could be a source of potential problems with restoration.

I always advise finding a watch with a nice original dial. Dial restoration usually means repainting, which in most cases decreases the watch value. Of course sometimes, when the dial is completely damaged or unreadable, repainting is the only way to save the watch but if it has some minor imperfections like light patina or tiny water spots, it is good to accept it. You can find spare hands or crystals but dials are usually hard to source so find the best example as you can and accept it as it is.

Another thing is the case back. By inspecting the case back you can very often tell the true condition of the watch. If the case back is badly scratched and marked you might be sure that the watch had a tough life. In normal wear, the top case might be scratched and worn but the case back touches your wrist so it should be safe. If it is dinged or bent, be aware that the watch was not cared for properly. Also, if there are marks after opening the watch, you might suspect that someone incompetent tried to open the watch and there might be some potential damage to the movement. When it comes to Grand Seiko and King Seiko case backs, there is another important thing that is worth checking — the gold medallion. If original, it should be made of solid 18-karat yellow gold but it is sometimes replaced with a fake metal medallion which looks much worse and also gets worn very quickly. Original medallions are very thin so might be worn or even partly gone after decades of wearing but it is still better than a cheap replacement.

It is also good to pay attention to the corrosion marks. Considering the poor quality of vintage Seiko steel, corrosion marks are very common. Moisture often crept into the steel pores and cracks and caused even more damage.

When hunting for your perfect watch it is also not uncommon to come across watches with a cracked or broken bezel. Fortunately, these bezels can often be repaired. Less easily fixed, however, are the tiny marks you might find between lugs. This kind of damage is purely cosmetic so there is no harm in buying the watch, but you should be aware of how difficult it can be to remove these marks entirely, so if they are likely to disrupt your enjoyment of that watch, in particular, I would advise steering clear of it. If you take care of the watch properly, you will be able to enjoy it for the next few decades as existing imperfections will not affect the future condition of the case.

Check out the Lapinist’s work @lapinist_watchrestoration on Instagram