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Interview with Rexhep Rexhepi, founder of Akrivia

HOROLOGY’S YOUNG PRODIGY

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October 2019


Interview with Rexhep Rexhepi, founder of Akrivia

He is 32 years old, has already won a GPHG award, sells his entire, small output to collectors and the keenest watch lovers, has fingers of gold and a good head on his shoulders, and shows no sign of slowing down.

C

hildren, when they state their age, add fractions. So is Rexhep Rexhepi still a child at heart when he replies “7-and-a-half” on being asked the age of his brand, Akrivia, founded in early 2012 when he was 24-and-ahalf years old (the question was put in August 2019)?

His childhood desire still burns as strong as ever too – that of becoming a watchmaker, which emerged at the age of just seven or eight when he insisted on opening his father’s Tissot “to see what was so mysterious inside”. He has, so it seems, also retained from childhood an unbounded taste for freedom and independence.

His birth in Kosovo – where he lived up to the age of 12 with his grandmother, until his family was forced into exile by the war, joining the father who had already emigrated to Switzerland – might have something to do with his unbridled desire for freedom and autonomy, which he ceaselessly invokes.

“Disembarking for the first time at Geneva Airport, I was dazzled by all these corridors filled with posters showing magnificent watches, and that just catalysed my wish to become a watchmaker.” An apprenticeship at Patek Philippe was followed by two years casing up and assembling watches. Then came three years with BNB Concept on tourbillons and, after just one year, responsibility for 15 watchmakers. After that came a stint at MHC, then with François- Paul Journe, where he worked on the Chronomètre Souverain, as well as the Chronomètre à Résonance. An impressive career, initiatory and practical. The year is 2012. He decides to launch Akrivia (from the ancient Greek ακριβεια, meaning precision, care, meticulousness).

Akrivia AK-01 Tourbillon Chrono - Blue Dial - Steel Case
Akrivia AK-01 Tourbillon Chrono - Blue Dial - Steel Case

The law of the workbench

“Freedom? It’s being able not to want to kick yourself. And to do that, you have to do things little by little. With precision, care, meticulousness. You have to know where you’re going. Hurry, but slowly. Aim for the long term. Move forward without ever deviating from your initial choice. Mine was, and still is, simply to make my watch. Not to make money, not to set up a business, not just for the sake of setting up a new brand. No, to make my watch. Quite simply, when I’m at my workbench I’m happy. It’s the process that counts. It’s the making.”

Even so, the early days were no piece of cake: freedom has to be conquered. Rexhep, who launched his business with patiently garnered savings, had to wait two years before finally selling his first watch in 2014. “I must admit that by then, after two years of waiting, I’d started to have doubts. But that first sale was a huge relief. Straight away I told myself: it is possible! And then starting in 2015, it all clicked into place. Something was set in motion and in 2017, things exploded.” The next year, in 2018, Rexhep won the GPHG in the Men’s Watch category, not with his first watch, but with his Chronomètre Contemporain, aka CCRR-01. This is already his seventh model (after a tourbillon monopusher chronograph, a time-only tourbillon, a chiming jump hour, a tourbillon regulator, the tourbillon “Barrette-Mirroir”, and a three-hander model with a 100-hour power reserve) – but the first to bear not the Akrivia brand, but his own name, Rexhep Rexhepi.

“In 2012, I told myself that starting to put my own name on my brand would come across as pretentious. I thought it might be frowned upon, especially as it doesn’t really sound like a traditional watchmaking name. But that was just my perception. Today, for my seventh watch, I feel easier about it. And since it’s really my watch from every point of view, why not put my name on it? But that doesn’t mean it’s the launch of a second brand, not at all. It’s simply an affirmation.”

Interview with Rexhep Rexhepi, founder of Akrivia

Full maturity

It is an affirmation also that his watchmaking has fully matured. With his five fully-fledged watchmakers and one engineer, today everything is built and prototyped in-house. The components are machined externally, then, after inspection, each Akrivia watchmaker is responsible for his own watch from A to Z, including all the decorations – and they are numerous and sophisticated. The work is carried out entirely by hand with the aid of a whole panoply of manual machines, with which everything can be accomplished “to the nearest micron”.

“This will be my last show,” says Hagmann, for whom Rexhep Rexhepi has just set up a complete atelier a stone’s throw from his own at the heart of Geneva’s historic centre. There is no doubt that this magician, known mainly for his minute repeater cases, made for Patek Philippe and reputed for their unparalleled sound, The CCR-01 Chronomètre Contemporain 86 and who sold his atelier to Vacheron Constantin, will be whetting people’s expectations as to his future work with Akrivia.

“In 2012, I told myself that starting to put my own name on my brand would come across as pretentious. I thought it might be frowned upon, especially as it doesn’t really sound like a traditional watchmaking name. But that was just my perception. Today, for my seventh watch, I feel easier about it. And since it’s really my watch from every point of view, why not put my name on it? But that doesn’t mean it’s the launch of a second brand, not at all. It’s simply an affirmation.”

“I’m a strong believer in transmission,” says Rexhepi. “You never know everything, you learn little by little and you’re always learning. That’s what the workbench teaches you. The aim is to make all our future cases with Jean-Pierre. What’s more, since 2015 and the AK-04, a tourbillon regulator, all our movements have been our own. And we’re not stopping there…” We can winkle no more out of him.

Total financial independence

Entirely self-financed – “not even the smallest bank loan” – even from the very beginning, Rexhep ploughs everything back into his ateliers and brand. Everything means 150 watches sold to date, at a starting price of 55,000 CHF excluding tax, for the CCRR 01, and as much as 260,000 CHF and more for the AK-02. All his collections are limited to either 12 items (for the AK -01 to the AK-05), or twice 25 for the AK-06 and the CCRR 01.

He is emphatic that “no discount will be given, ever. My prices are calculated with the lowest possible margin and granting reductions would be to depreciate the watch. I don’t give in on that point, even if the temptation is great sometimes.”

But all the watches currently in production are presold and the waiting time is 18 months. “I’m not working on a single watch that is not already sold. And today, I know exactly what I’m going to be doing over the next seven years. I even have the issue dates. But what is also certain is that I don’t want to expand. I am absolutely determined to keep production of our watches as strictly manual as it is now.”

As for distribution, besides direct sales, it is based on three retailers worldwide: The Hour Glass for Asia, Seddiqui & Sons for the Middle East and A Collected Man, an ultra-exclusive site based in London that works a lot with the US.

The exemplary Chronomètre Contemporain

But let’s not forget the essential thing: his watchmaking style. After all, his success is first and foremost thanks to that.

The CCR-01 Chronomètre Contemporain
The CCR-01 Chronomètre Contemporain

“It was actually the decoration more than anything that made me want to create a very personal style of watch, but inspired by grand tradition.”

His latest creation, the Chronomètre Contemporain, signed with his own name, is a textbook example of his own special approach to watchmaking. This 38mm model is inspired by the clear, elegant lines of 1940s officers’ watches and the legibility and precision that make them absolutely timeless. But he revisits them, passing them through the filter of his own contemporary codes that he developed as his creations evolved. Symmetry, whether that of the dial or the movement, plays a crucial role here, conferring on them a touch of classicism.

But all the watches currently in production are presold and the waiting time is 18 months. “I’m not working on a single watch that is not already sold. And today, I know exactly what I’m going to be doing over the next seven years..."

This same symmetry, this search for balance, is perfectly visible in the original movement of the RR-01, which was custom-built for this model. It is a threehander with a large small-seconds dial, equipped with a hacking second and zero-reset function via the crown, which allows you to reset it with great precision.

With an exceptional power reserve of 100 hours, one single barrel, a perfectly symmetrical and balanced architecture and a click-spring rewinding system, it takes its inspiration from pocket watches. Its entirely manual finish is exemplary in every respect, harmoniously combining anglage, black polishing and Geneva stripes. Its chronometer status is attested by a certificate delivered by the Besançon Observatory, which requires 16 days of testing. For a seven-and-a-half yearold, it is quite simply remarkable.

Discover more of The New Haute Horlogerie portfolio here below.