Monochrome Watches
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Yvan Arpa, Founder of Creative Brand ArtyA, Or The Manufacture of Emotions

From martial arts to ArtyA, we review the unique and passionate career of trendsetter and creative extraordinaire, Yvan Arpa.

| By Pascal Brandt | 7 min read |

Atypical careers in watchmaking are rare, if not exceptional. Most of today’s watchmakers work to the mandates of marketing and Excel spreadsheets and tend to be conventional and conformist. There are, however, some rare exceptions and Yvan Arpa, founder of ArtyA, is one of them. Flamboyant and unpredictable, unfiltered and out of the ordinary, just like his career. You be the judge.

The man who lives by the mantra of “authenticity” and whose watchmaking creations have taken the world by storm was originally a maths teacher but quit after two years to travel. This martial arts enthusiast and karate expert found himself practising Thai boxing at Bangkok’s Lumpinee Stadium before heading off to New Guinea, which he crossed on foot.

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NO LIMITS, just like his character

Back to Switzerland, this time to fight on the watchmaking front with a brand that was at the top of its game 30 years ago. Who can forget the ‘No Limits’ campaign of Sector Watches animated by extreme sports personalities? The slogan suited Yvan Arpa to a tee, and he stayed with Sector for five years before joining Baume & Mercier: sales and marketing for Latin America, Europe and Switzerland. He then moved on to Hublot with Carlo Crocco, where he was responsible for the brand’s revival, before joining Romain Jérôme, where he put his stamp on the creative process.

He orchestrated the launches of Romain Jérôme’s Titanic DNA, with its case cut from the rusted steel of the hull of the famous ocean liner, and the Moon DNA, with a dial made from dust and a case from fragments of the Apollo 11 cockpit! Horological electroshocks!

These creations are totally in keeping with the spirit that drives Yvan Arpa. The launch of ArtyA (ART by Yvan Arpa) in 2009 marked a complete break with the prevailing conformism in the watch world. This went hand in hand with consultancy work for Jacobs & Co., Samsung, Volna, and many others under NDA (non-disclosure agreement).

Creating strong emotions

When I launched ArtyA, I had one objective: to create a strong emotional impact,” says Yvan Arpa with a smile. And it is safe to say that he sticks to his guns. “ArtyA is a factory of emotions. Take the ‘Son of…’ collection, for example.

Emblematic of the brand, yet controversial, an example of “Son of a Gun” watch

This collection, which includes Son of Earth, Son of Sound, Son of Gears, Son of Sea and Son of a Gun, gives the designer total freedom. Each version opens the door to a creativity that may seem unbridled but is conceptually very coherent. “With its real bullets visible under the sapphire crystal, the Son of a Gun model also reminds us that we never know when we will die. The dial, made from butterfly wings, symbolises love, all the more so because it is created like a work of art by my wife, Dominique Arpa Cirpka.”

Another emblematic, highly creative design of Yvan Arpa, the guitar-shaped “Son of Sound”

While these models are well known, a look at the complete collection offers many surprises. There are so many new lines and variations, always unexpected and often little known – if at all. “My collections are produced in small series, but we have many. We often launch something, and it’s sold out without even going through the marketing, communication and other stages.

Retailers don’t commit 1000%. Too bad!

Yvan Arpa and emotional authenticity afford no concessions. “It’s the same with my distribution. If the retailer likes it 1000%, I’ll be with him 1000%. If not, too bad.” For example, the designer was approached by a big name that no one would have turned down: he did. “Too many discussions and shopping lists,” he says with a laugh.

But be warned, while ArtyA’s watches defy the industry’s traditional canons, they are aligned with the best watchmaking: “We respect the specific know-how of Haute Horlogerie craftsmanship and movements 100%. The movements are all our own, from the simplest to the most complicated.” Minute repeaters with three gongs, bi-axial tourbillons, double barrels, etc. – Yvan Arpa has an impressive repertoire of mechanisms.

While Yvan Arpa pays homage to the grand traditions of watchmaking, he revisits these sophisticated mechanisms with a totally disruptive and innovative approach. “We need to reinvent grandfather watchmaking. I like Vacheron Constantin; they’re nearly 300 years old, but if I wanted to make watches like Vacheron Constantin, I’d be 300 years too late!

Hyper-creative but very pragmatic and realistic: “Nobody needs a watch today, so we have to reinvent the heritage. And how do we do that?

Concepts and materials at the heart of the approach

ArtyA’s work is fundamentally guided by two principal axes: concepts and materials, but always with respect for the very finest watchmaking. One example is the Purity collection, which celebrates absolute transparency by revealing its high-flying movements: minute repeaters and tourbillons, visible in their sapphire cases. Purity has become one of the brand’s strong signatures.

ArtyA Tiny Purity Tourbillon Chameleon

The latest addition to this incredible collection, the Tiny Purity Tourbillon Chameleon, is a nominee in the Men’s Complication category of the upcoming 2023 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG). A timepiece equipped with an exclusive tourbillon and double barrel fully suspended in its colour-changing sapphire case. “This kind of timepiece is very difficult to make,” says Yvan Arpa. “But we’re doing it because I want to bring out the beauty of the tourbillon with three hands.

ArtyA Tiny Purity Tourbillon Chameleon

While Purity explores transparency, it is also radically innovative in its use of materials hitherto unheard of in watchmaking. Yvan Arpa has gone further than any other brand in the quest for transparency, always on the hunt for innovation that aligns with his watchmaking vision.

Exclusive materials

It may not seem like much, but ArtyA uses radically innovative materials that go far beyond simple sapphire crystal. “We work with nano-sapphires that change colour under the effect of light! We’ve been working on this for six years, and we’ve been selling our pieces using this technology for three years. We’re the only ones in the world to use it.

Continuing with the theme of transparency and innovation, ArtyA also uses – and this is a recent development – Moissanite. It is the only brand in the world to use it. Moissanite is a very hard crystal that is highly resistant to scratches and shocks. Synthesised in a laboratory with an index of 9.5 on the Mohs scale (the stone hardness scale), Moissanite is a gemstone that ranks just behind diamonds in terms of hardness, ahead of sapphires, rubies and emeralds. True to his approach, Yvan Arpa doesn’t think twice about using it, even though Moissanite is exceptionally complicated to machine.

Along with this constant search for new and unusual materials, Yvan Arpa never forgets the virtue of pragmatism. As a keen diver, Yvan Arpa relied on a simple but obvious observation for his Son of Sea Depth Gauge. Unlike most dive watches with graduated bezels to time an immersion, Yvan Arpa’s watch displays the depth.

For those who have their PADI in their pocket, depths are indicated by colour. The Son of Sea Depth Gauge is a masterpiece: the dial displays five semi-circular bands at 180 degrees, red for 5m, orange for 15m, yellow for 30m, green for 50m and blue for 100m. Depending on the depth of the dive, the corresponding coloured band will disappear. At 50 metres, for example, only the blue band remains visible.

A brilliant idea

The idea is simply brilliant, one more for this die-hard creative who fiercely defends his independence. “I have an inclusive approach, and my suppliers and customers are friends of the brand, as demonstrated by the various developments with Télos.” In no time at all, true to form, Yvan Arpa reorganised ArtyA’s operations as a network. The structure is small, flexible, fast and efficient, creating projects and activating them with different suppliers.

It’s a fitting example of the freedom he enjoys in his life and work. “We’re a small team now, and I work with suppliers. My network is important; only the best.

The loyalty between the network and the brand is reciprocal. But ArtyA’s groundbreaking exclusives are beginning to attract a lot of interest. Yvan Arpa is a breath of fresh air in an industry plagued by copycats. In any case, this is the best demonstration yet that Yvan Arpa is a genuine trendsetter. But in karate combat mode!

Art is long, life is short.” Hippocrates

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