The fact that the very first example of the Rexhep Rexhepi Chronomètre Contemporain II (or RRCCII) hammered for CHF 800,000 at the latest edition of Only Watch speaks volumes about the recognition of independent watchmaker Rexhep Rexhepi, founder of the brand Akrivia. During Dubai Watch Week, we chatted with Rexhepi to find out how a young boy born in Kosovo became a watchmaker in Geneva and his next steps.
Xavier Markl, MONOCHROME – How did a boy from Kosovo become one of the most successful independent watchmakers?
Rexhep Rexhepi, independent watchmaker, founder of Akrivia – I grew up with my grandmother in Kosovo. Like many Kosovars, my father worked in Switzerland and sent money home. One of my earliest memories was of a watch he was wearing when he came home to visit us from time to time in Kosovo. By the age of 11, we moved to Switzerland. When you arrive at Geneva airport, the first thing you see is watch advertising everywhere. Everything was new to me, and the first thing I noticed was watches. I understood I was arriving in the country of watchmaking. I became more and more curious; I did a couple of internships and immediately got hooked on watchmaking. By 14, I knew what I wanted to do. As you can imagine, not speaking French made it hard for me to integrate. I never dreamt of coming to Switzerland, and watchmaking was probably also a way for me to escape into my own world.
So you became an apprentice watchmaker at Patek Philippe.
I worked at Patek Philippe for some time. It was a fantastic experience, one I will never forget. Then I joined BNB Concept, which proved an amazingly creative and dynamic experience. During my three years there, I worked on different products, different complications and soon was assigned more responsibilities. In 2010, I joined F. P. Journe. I had always dreamt of working with an independent watchmaker; it was the perfect universe for me. There was everything: the aesthetic, the technicality, the craftsmanship, the philosophy, the spirit, the most demanding standards. I could assemble my watches from A to Z and regulate them. I worked on the Chronomètre Souverain, the Octa and the Résonance. This experience convinced me that this was what I wanted to do and that if I wanted to become an independent watchmaker, I had no time to waste.
And so, I launched Akrivia. I was 25, I thought I knew a lot, but I knew nothing and had no idea what I would be facing. I thought that I would create my watch and everybody would love it. Although we received very positive appreciation and press coverage, we did not sell many watches in the beginning. It was tough. But it is good to go through this kind of experience.
Today you are successful; there are long waiting lists for your watches. How does that change the way you work?
Naturally, this changes a lot of things. Mainly, you have time to think and plan things long term, to see what can be improved and what can be done better. I focused on my atelier, organized things and bought machines. I am a dreamer, and I wanted to be more and more independent with more freedom to create; I wanted to do more and more things in-house by myself. Now, I can manufacture cases and all sorts of components. The deeper you go, the more you learn and understand. In 2019, Mr Hagmann joined us to help with case making. We have old machines that allow us to craft different components, but we had to learn how to make these. It is crucial to learn and to understand. In the end, it’s all about improving things and preparing for the future. It is not about crafting more watches because there is demand. We focus on the craft. So, having more resources allows us to make things better.
How do you deal with the increasing demand for your watches?
Things were very difficult for me until about 2016. Really. Every morning I was wondering whether I was going to make it. In 2017, things started to improve, and then things just got better and better. The difficult period really affected me, and today I know that I can lose everything in the blink of an eye. So, when you can make more watches to deliver more watches, which would require a different way of working, what do you do? Do you try to please a few people, or do you end up saying no to a lot of people who sometimes end up hating you? These are difficult decisions. What I want to do is to create and craft watches that I like. That’s it. That’s all that is important to me today.
Watchmaking is the one thing I like and the one thing I am good at. I am not good at marketing or other things. I’d love to please everybody, but I can’t. As long as I can keep the same quality standards and produce a few more watches, I am happy. But this is not my first challenge. My challenge is to create and craft watches that correspond to my philosophy, to the quality I aim for, and that allows me to innovate.
How do you undertake the creation of your watches?
First of all, when I think about a new product, I think about its finishings. I learned watchmaking at Patek Philippe, a company with a deeply ingrained philosophy that will never change.
In second place, the creative process is an ongoing thing; it never really stops. You are at the workbench, and suddenly, you have an idea and write it down. I have notebooks everywhere full of ideas – some ideas are from many years ago. I know what I want to do for the next 7 or 8 years. So, there really is a maturation process. You have ideas, work on them, refine them…
What is the idea of the new Chronomètre Contemporain?
The idea behind the Rexhep Rexhepi Chronomètre Contemporain was to create an elegant three-hand chronometer, true to the watchmaking tradition, with a beautiful movement and a large small seconds display. I also like the idea of precision time-setting with the stop-seconds and zero-reset mechanism.
The Rexhep Rexhepi Chronomètre Contemporain II might look very similar, but it is a different watch. I like the idea that people might think it is the same watch when it is not. The aesthetics are similar, so is the inspiration. But the case is different, and the dial is made in a different way – even the movement is different. It is an evolution.
The case is manufactured with Mr Hagmann. Since we work with traditional machines, we had to rethink the design process. The diameter is the same, but it is slightly thinner than before. The movement has a long power reserve, so the crown is slightly larger. I wanted more character for the lugs that are a bit longer.
The movement itself is entirely different. It features dead-beat seconds, and there are two independent gear trains: one for timekeeping, one for the dead-beat seconds. There is a star fitted on the escape wheel. A flirt on every third tooth of the escape wheel drives the dead-beat seconds, ensuring the chronometry is not disturbed. The movement is still symmetrical, the finishing is beautiful, and there are still the stop-seconds and the zero-reset mechanism.
I am very proud of it. I am not saying it is perfect or that everybody will like it. But I have put everything I could into that watch. The case is thinner, more elegant, with more presence, and the dial has a lot of depth.
In what way will the dial be similar to the Only Watch version?
The colours will be different, and there will be two variations. One with structure and one that will be more uniform. But I cannot tell you more for now.
The piece is signed Rexhep Rexhepi. Why not Akrivia?
Well, to me, the two things are the same. Akrivia and Rexhep Rexhepi are two different expressions of the same idea. One is a bit more a laboratory, and the other is a bit more classic. It is as simple as that. I launched the Rexhep Rexhepi line because some people did not know that there was an independent watchmaker behind the brand Akrivia.
Recently, you deleted all the posts on your Instagram page. Why?
We did not think this would generate so many reactions. We are a small team, love freedom, and make decisions spontaneously. We thought we would take out past posts to put the limelight on this new chapter, this new watch. The pictures are not deleted; they have been saved and will be back. But we did not expect that it would create such a stir. We had a lot of messages from people asking what was happening if everything was OK… It’s been comforting to see how much people care.
For more information, please visit www.akrivia.com.