Founder Rexhep Rexhepi unites classical Geneva watchmaking traditions with a contemporary design approach to case, dial, hands and movement layout.
Classical watches offer collectors changeless beauty and elegance – both great factors for holding on to, as well as enjoying, your invested money ten years down the road. Such watches also elegantly sidestep the socio-economic problems presented by the bling factor during a period of time in which showing off personal wealth is an increasingly risky proposition; whether on the street, with your friends, or due to Big Brother, who now daily patrols Facebook and Instagram searching for any riches you thought were yours to keep.
So, I was not really surprised at the number of classical ‘revival timepieces’ many brands presented this year at Baselworld, opting to pursue design safety instead of daring-do. However, just like classic cars, not every ‘classical’ watch is created equal. In fact, creating a really superb classical mechanical wristwatch – in terms of visual design and movement - is actually really quite difficult. Especially when trying to please an elite group.
High-end classical watch enthusiasts are steeped in vintage watches and pride themselves on debating ad nauseam the aesthetics of such items as a lug’s curve, a bevel, the original color of a faded dial or a minute hand’s exact length. The mummies they adore are from the Grand Maisons that dominated the 1940s and 1950s. Their living gods are people like Philippe Dufour, Roger Smith, or Laurent Ferrier; their talismans the watches created by the same.
This is where one of the surprising big hits of Baselworld 2018 comes into view: the new Rexhep Rexhepi Chronometre Contemporain from the Akrivia atelier in Geneva.
It was a shockwave for many of these same collectors, being such a departure from the established and modern aesthetics of the Akrivia atelier like the fantastic AK-06 (above) presented last year.
So it was like a small digital explosion took place amongst this group of cognoscenti when this watch hit the social media. All of this is a very good reason for an in-depth look at Akrivia and its founder Rexhep Rexhepi.
Rexhep was born in 1980 in a very small, agrarian village called Zheger, situated on the Karadak River in Kosovo, not far from the Macedonian border. During his childhood, his father had moved to Switzerland in connection with work, and it was only several years later that Rexhep, and later his brother, Xherdet, would join their father in Geneva.
Attending school in Lully, a suburb of Geneva, he quickly learned to speak French fluently and acclimatized to his new environment with ease. The fact that nearly every neighbor in their area worked in some capacity with watches, as well as the close proximity of several watch manufacturers furthered Rexhep’s childhood awareness about watchmaking, and ignited his urge to become a watchmaker. He applied to study at Patek Philippe, and after an entrance test, started to attend the watchmaking school there when he was only fourteen years old.
After completing his studies, he continued on at Patek Philippe, this time as an employee for two years, later working at B&B Concept when he was twenty years old. Within a period of 1½ years he was leading a group of fifteen watchmakers in the complications department there. After three years at B&B Concept, he went to work at F.P. Journe’s atelier, where he worked on various watches from Journe’s Chronometre Souverain to his Resonance caliber.
It was in 2012, a few years after I first met him, that he had taken the step to create his own atelier under the name Akrivia, (inspired by the Greek word for precision). His goal was – and still is – to unite all the classical traditions of the Geneva watchmaking tradition, with a contemporary design approach to case, dial, hands and movement layout.
For me, among several choices of Akrivia’s timepieces, the tourbillon Barette Miroir, as well as the non-tourbillon AK-06, which makes the complication of a power reserve indicating movement a veritable feast for the eye, are two exemplary timepieces that codify Akrivia’s approach.
In an interview years back, Rexhep mentioned to me what hard work it was starting an atelier. He found that many collectors didn’t really see the amount of work required to make watches the way he wanted. It meant he needed to constantly explain the differences between industry standard, computer-driven and executed finishes that at first glance look perfectly fine to most people, and the same finishing work done by hand.
When collectors visited his atelier, they saw traditionally executed hand anglage done in several steps taking weeks and weeks of effort, and they slowly began to comprehend the work involved. The tourbillons that Rexhep produced at Akrivia were already expensive, and this kind of effort was quite costly to produce. Slowly however, the hard work paid off, the acceptance of collector’s to the fledgling workshop got firmly established. This fact, together with sales of Akrivia’s haute horlogerie timepieces, allowed Rexhep to relocate his workshop to a magnificent location in the heart of Geneva’s old town in December 2017.
There is no question in my mind that Rexhep Rexhepi is one of the youngest and most important new talents in the world of Swiss watchmaking. When I left Baselworld, I was totally smitten by how good the prototype Chronometre Contemporain looked on my wrist, and it was hard to get it out of my mind. Even more difficult to get off my mind was the constant musing about what Rexhep Rexhepi and Akrivia will be creating in the years to come. I, for one, in any case, plan to stay tuned – full time.
In our next post, I interview Rexhepi. He discusses his watchmaking history, his company and his choices for the Chronometre Contemporaine.