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iW Interview

Rexhep Rexhepi on Akrivia & Mechanical Art

With his Chronometre Contemporain debuting at Baselworld 2018, Rexhep Rexhepi and his Akrivia watch company once again attracted the attention of collectors, many of whom had already placed this young Geneva brand high on their radar. In this second part of our online feature about Rexhepi, we interview the man himself in detail about the new Akrivia collection.

Akrivia founder Rexhep Rexhepi

For many watch enthusiasts, your new Chronometre Contemporain is a real departure from what many recognize as the Akrivia style. What is the story behind these changes?

During my schooling and employment at Patek Philippe I was of course regularly exposed to all kinds of classical timepieces, among which many officer’s style wristwatches, that nearly everyone loves for their elegant simplicity. B&B Concept and F.P Journe were of a different style, and when I went off to start for myself, I very much wanted to make something completely different from what existed anywhere at the time.

After a couple of years, people began actively accepting my designs for Akrivia, which was a great feeling for me, and sales were good. As I am always developing new designs, occasionally I sketched some ‘tributes’ to the kinds of classical watches I was raised on in free moments, but never used them and just kept them in my notebook. Every now and then, a collector would approach me and ask if I would ever create a classically styled timepiece, but the time was never right for that.

Inside the Akrivia atelier.

About a year ago, Michael Tay from the Hour Glass approached me with the exact same question, and I showed him some of my sketched ideas, which excited him. That got the ball rolling, and he placed an order for some timepieces with enamel dials, leading to the Chronometre Contemporain created for Baselworld this year.

My goal was to reinvent the 1940s officer’s watch for the 21st century, so when you look closely you can see a combination of symmetry for the movement layout and asymmetry for the case. The dial has a hint of Art Deco feel without making it a direct quote. I wanted to stay as far away as possible from a purely 1940s revival exercise, which would have been too easy to do, but much less personal.

And what about the use of your own name on the dial?

It is really important for me not to become pigeonholed into this or that particular style; I see watchmaking, despite its technical essence, really as a form of mechanical art. So, I don’t want to be stuck being classified like some painters under a modernist, revivalist or a cubist school; I want the freedom to create within any style or discipline I prefer at any give time. To make this clear for the public, I use my own name on the classically inspired timepieces, and Akrivia remains for the contemporary and complicated wristwatches.

Hammering a dial by hand inside the Akrivia atelier in Geneva.

In any case, it is only a difference in style, as the same crew is working on both Akrivia and Rexhep Rexhepi watches, with the same attention to every detail, as well as the use of all the traditional hand finishing methods Geneva watchmaking was known for, before it became commercialized.

I often see on Instagram that your brother Xherdet Rexhepi works with you; are you guys working together something like the Grönfeld brothers?

I don’t know how the Grönfeld brothers work, but my younger brother is a great watchmaker, and I am lucky that we can work together every day. However, Xherdet is not so interested in organizing and running a workshop, he prefers to concentrate purely on watchmaking and finishing - that’s where his passion lies and he is really a pro. In the end, I am the 100% shareholder of the Akrivia atelier, creating the designs, organizing and running the shop and functioning as one of the watchmakers; and my brother fills an important role and essential support for me in the atelier.

What is done in the shop and what is done outside?

Everything is designed right here in house with industry standard watch engineering software, which is great for us as we can quickly visualize, make changes and finely adjust every detail exactly as we want, whenever we want. The parts for the movement, case, etc. are milled at a manufacturer directly from these plans. Later, all the parts come here and after undergoing a thorough control for dimensional accuracy and quality, they are hand finished with various traditional techniques, step by step.

Polishing inside the Akrivia atelier.

Specialists make the enamel dials outside the shop of course; as was also the case in olden times. Other smaller parts for the dial, hands and similar we can make in the atelier. At the moment, I am considering eventually getting a multi-axis milling machine in the future to have more control over the production of necessary parts as we grow.

How many watches do you produce each year?

I guess you could say we are somewhere between the production numbers of Roger Smith at about ten watches a year and Kari Voutilainen at about twenty-five. We are now only able to make a maximum of about twelve watches the coming year, and I hope, maybe with very hard work, twenty the year after. I have no plans to make the atelier big or pursue massive production numbers; we will always stay small scale and true to our philosophy.

Hand-crafted production inside the Akrivia atelier.

You also have to remember that I need a lot of time for creating new developments. I have a lot of plans for the future, creating complications of various types – please don’t ask me which ones, as that’s all I can tell you right now! And a lot of that design work is done after a day of watchmaking, in my own private time.

Can you discuss some details of your Chronometre Contemporain?

One of the first things you see is the asymmetrical, inward curving case profile that scoops along the sides; for me this contrasts nicely with the rather ‘strict’ look of the Roman numeral dial and gives the overall design a relaxed feeling. There was a conscious decision for a 38mm size, so the watch will look really elegant in different situations. The dial has been given a large subdial for the running seconds, like you might find on ship’s clocks or chronometers used for timing observations. That fits the movement concept that is based on creating very high chronometric results.

All Akrivia watch components are polished by hand.

Each of these watches will easily fulfill a stringent control at the Besançon Observatory, higher than the usual COSC certification.

The lugs are also longer than usual, inspired by vintage originals; this makes for a very comfortable fit and gives the watch an elegant streamline. The enamel dials of course also refer to some of the ‘golden times’ in dial production; it gives a completely different effect compared to a metal dial, and this opens up other kinds of possibilities for me to work with.

I already have people asking for special versions, but right now I simply want to produce these two versions, in red gold and platinum.

The Chronometre Contemporain

The Akrivia Chronometre Contemporaine, white dial.

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.

The Akrivia Chronometre Contemporaine, from 2018, with black dial

The sapphire case back reveals the stunning RR01 hand-wound caliber. It is a new manual winding, hour, minute and seconds movement design with chronometer precision. It incorporates a hacking second and zero-reset mechanism and functions at 18,000 vph, using a variable inertia balance with four adjustment screws and Breguet overcoil. The single barrel delivers up to 100 hours of power reserve centered on a jeweled pivot.

Back of the Chronometre Contemporaine

Hidden underneath the dial, the cleverly designed stop seconds and the zero-reset mechanism are inspired by the all-or-nothing mechanism found in minute repeaters. It uses a tiny spring that makes contact with the balance wheel to stop it while the small seconds hand is reset thanks to the watchmaker's use of a heart-shaped cam. This is all activated by simply pulling the crown out and setting the exact time.

The Akrivia Chronometre Contemporain is available in two versions: Red gold with black grand feu enamel dial (CHF 55,500) and platinum with white grand feu enamel dial (CHF 58,000).