The Beauty of Custom-Made, with Dr. Ayham Refaat’s One-Of-A-Kind Czapek Antarctique Alpha
How far can you go? Well, this collector went very, very personal and bold. But isn’t it the point with bespoke…?
There’s something truly fascinating and intriguing with the idea of having something unique, something that you’ve designed together with the manufacturer’s team… Bespoke watchmaking isn’t such a common practice and we’re always rather curious to hear the stories behind the creation of a bold, highly personal watch. Something like this Czapek, which isn’t the most consensual of all. After all, this is also what makes it such a cool story. Dr. Ayham Refaat, a 45 year-old surgeon, entrepreneur and CEO from Dubai, indeed wears a one-of-a-kind Czapek Antarctique Alpha on his wrist. It matches his search for unique pieces and complicated watches perfectly. In this edition of the Collector’s Series, he tells us all about his journey with Czapek to create the ultimate personal watch.
Frank Geelen, MONOCHROME – What was it that attracted you to the Czapek brand?
Dr. Ayham Refaat – I got to know the brand from the media when they launched the Antarctique Terre Adélie line. I fell in love with the watch immediately, especially the bracelet. I started reading more about the brand and really admired how the new owners resurrected the brand, and how they raised funds for it, which to me, displays entrepreneurship by finding innovative ways to build a watch brand in this time and age. Since I first saw the pictures, particularly of the hand-varnished dial Orion Nebula, it was a brand of which I wanted to possess a watch.
Apart from the bracelet, what is so special about the Antarctique model?
The bracelet was first the part that captured my attention. I used to own an AP 15202 Jumbo and the bracelet on that watch used to drip on my wrist like silk, and the Antarctique seemed to do the same, though in a different construction and with a much more amplified visual effect of the links. I read about the mechanism and was impressed with the looks of the micro-rotor automatic movement and the skeletonized bridges. The additional technical specs in terms of the ability to change the bracelet from steel to rubber through a quick release mechanism and the water resistance to 120 meters via the screw-down crown sealed the deal for me.
When did you buy the model you have?
I started communicating with Czapek Geneva sometime back in July 2020 and it took until April 2021 to be ready, but I only managed to collect it from the Geneva Boutique around July 2021, almost a year after I first started talking to Czapek about this piece, due to restrictions on flying as a result of the COVID 19 Pandemic.
But also because you wanted to have special alterations done to it, didn’t you?
Well, that was quite a journey. When I first contacted Czapek; the whole production of the Antarctique Terre Adélie was sold out already. They had limited numbers anyway. I talked to Mr Pierre Millasson, sales and digital manager at Czapek, and told him of my genuine desire to own one of these watches, so he offered a solution he wasn’t sure I’d accept, which was to give me one of the prototypes made before (after finishing it of course to the same standard of the production watches). He was clear that it would be called a prototype with no number or anything to keep the integrity of the other production watches released. I asked if I could create a bespoke watch with it, which they agreed to and the journey started.
A few stories stand out in the journey to make this Alpha. First is the dial story. I mentioned earlier I liked the hand-varnished dial more than the standard one for the artistic looks of it, as well as the lack of a date window which I felt disturbed the symmetry of the patterned dial of the standard Antarctique models.
I wanted to have that dial in a red/burgundy shade which they didn’t have but said they would get a special order from the dial maker. I remember receiving an email with some dial options that looked ok but the photos were not so clear and I couldn’t fly to Geneva to see it for myself due to COVID restrictions. So I chose the one that I thought looked the best on screen and left it to the Czapek team to confirm if all was ok.
That was the point I met Czapek’s CEO, Xavier de Roquemaurel, over email as he stepped into the conversation, checked the dial I chose and was not completely satisfied by its quality. Mr Xavier then refused all the dials sent to me, despite the fact that I didn’t really object and actually confirmed one dial, and he ordered a new batch of dials to be made with some changes he suggested, which resulted in a much better colour shade and pattern. No extra charges were requested at all.
Wow, that’s fantastic!
It certainly is! The second story is about the engraving. Typical watch engraving is made using patterns derived from the plants’ world, but I wanted something derived from an animal figure, a wolf to be precise, which is not easy to do as a pattern. On top of that, the space on the case is very small for such an engraving and the steel metal is not the easiest one to engrave in the first place. However, Czapek went to their Master engraver who accepted the challenge, despite the risk of ruining several cases, in order to comply with my wishes.
Another story that stands out is my request to remove the seconds hand, which I made in the later stages of the process. After I saw the dial I felt that a moving hand would disturb the artistic nature of the dial and I wanted the dial to be static to allow me to admire it without distraction every time I looked at it. Czapek complied despite my last-minute request. Moreover, they came back to me and said that the removal of the seconds hand left a space in the mechanism that could be engraved and offered to engrave it with a wolf’s head as well.
And then you were satisfied?
Finally, while I was working on my watch, Czapek announced a new Antarctique Passage de Drake with different dials and an improved movement. I called Pierre about the movement upgrade and he confirmed that all improvements they made on the Passage de Drake would be applied to my watch too. Again, no extra charges.
It’s important to note that all these changes (extra dials, removal of seconds hand, extra engraving on the mechanism, upgrade of movement) were made by Czapek without extra charge on the originally agreed price. I think it’s only fair to give credit where credit is due and my experience with Czapek as a brand was them being more about watchmaking, than money making. I met Xavier a few times after and I saw how and why such a culture cascades up-down in the company.
And now you have it, does your watch get a lot of wrist time?
I wear my Czapek Antarctique Alpha regularly and do not wait for occasions to do so. I sometimes put together my clothes in a way that fits the Alpha. The nature of the watch and the ease of changing the bracelet allows it to fit my work style with a business suit, my off-work smart casual style, and even a day by the pool.
The special dial colour allows it to pop out and contrast my clothing, where black, grey and blue dominate men’s fashion in general. I believe a lot of the current appeal of sports watches is due to the shift in fashion from formal to casual, therefore, I think watches with contrasting dial colours (such as red or burgundy or green or yellow…etc) will stand out and contrast more than those with blue dials. It’s where taste is shifting in my opinion and what watch brands need to focus on more.
When you wear it, what kind of reactions do you get?
From the ones who don’t know, they always admire the colour of the dial, followed by the engravings on the watch when I show it. From the ones in the know, I get direct questions about the watch and how I got it.
In any gathering related to watches, it’s quite normal for a complete stranger to come and ask about the watch and request if they can try it on, which I always allow gladly.
Do you know the current market value of the watch?
Being a one-off unique watch it’s difficult to set a market value without actually offering the watch for sale. However, I’m aware of the healthy price appreciation for Czapek Antarctique watches in the pre-owned market due to their rarity and superb design and finishing. Value is important of course and I do enjoy the fact the Czapek Brand itself is growing but the Alpha is too personal for me to consider selling it.
Apart from the Czapek, how would you describe your watch collection so far?
It’s in a never-ending refining process, I would say. I owned many watches since I started collecting watches back in 2012 and owned more than 50 watches at some point. However, over the past 3 years, I’ve been trying to refine my collection by reducing the quantity and focusing on the ones I really like and enjoy wearing. I currently focus on unique pieces and complicated watches and prefer to keep my collection within the range of 20 watches max at any given time so I can wear each watch at least two to three times a month.
But there are still some models on your wish list?
I’ve always been in love with travel-related watches, as that is a function I really use in my life and it makes the watch I wear more of a useful tool than just an accessory so I have a few on my radar to buy.
On the complication side, I love Perpetual Calendars as I feel they extend our lifetime beyond what we as humans can currently live, and I do own two of those but have more on the list.
Finally, the PP 6102P Grand Complication is a grail watch for me.
Which brands are doing interesting work out there?
I’m in love with Independents and smaller brands for their agility and direct connection to their clients. Besides Czapek, I own special watches from FP Journe and MB&F which I treasure. I also had a great experience with Ulysse Nardin bespoking a one-off Freak Out. And I plan to own a watch from Kari Voutilainen at some point.
I had an admiration for Lange and their watchmaking perfection approach. I own a couple of Langes that I think are amazing, but since they launched the Odysseus and started forcing people to buy other watches to get on the “list”, I no longer relate to the brand.
From the mainstream brands, I like Rolex’s new direction with dial colours and patterns and AP with their ceramic watches and open-worked dials. Patek Phillippe obviously remains a force to respect and admire in watchmaking.
What do you think of the (social) media attention some of these brands get?
We can’t deny social media and influencers’ role in shaping people’s tastes and there’s nothing wrong with it. If a watch is hyped it doesn’t mean it’s bad, and many of the hyped ones are great timepieces to own and wear. However, a balance is needed and I advise collectors to keep looking out for what they like, talk to the brands that still talk to them and still have a passion for watchmaking, and whenever an opportunity arises; create their own piece because, in my opinion, this is the ultimate collecting feat.
Is it worth the increased price you have to pay?
Well, value is important when it comes to buying watches, especially those that require shedding away tens of thousands of dollars. I encourage buyers and collectors to be knowledgeable enough to know about brands and what they do, learn how much to pay for a watch and whether to buy brand new or used, and always look for rarity and pieces that speak to them. There is no denying that these days, watches are serving as a class of investment, so it’s important that the value is retained, and even appreciated over time.
Value retention and appreciation have encouraged more people, besides avid collectors, to buy watches which will only help the watch industry continue to thrive and reflect positively on all its stakeholders, including collectors.
Do you have general tips for people who want to start collecting watches?
Start small, read a lot, figure out what you like and give yourself time, because after all; this is the hobby of time. I also advise people starting a collection to not spend what they don’t have just to buy a watch they think will up their status because everybody is talking about it. Watches, although they are great engineering feats and pieces of art that serve as a great extension of one’s personality, are still in the “want” and not the “need” category, and ultimately, it’s the person who makes the watch, not the other way around.
Are you in touch with other collectors?
I am of course and it’s important to be in touch with people who share the same passion and have the knowledge in order to be able to exchange thoughts and continue learning. Connecting with other collectors converts the lonely hobby of watch collecting into a team sport where one can enjoy, help and learn from other’s rich and expensive prior experiences.