Rexhep Rexhepi embodies the next generation of independent watchmakers. He began his watchmaking apprenticeship aged 15 at Patek Philippe, and started his own brand Akrivia some 10 years later. Formerly represented by another watch retailer in Singapore, the 31-year-old now stocks his brand at The Hour Glass, and has found a mentor in its head honcho, Michael Tay.
We met him for the launch of his newest timepiece, the Chronomètre Souverain, earlier this month in Singapore. Lunch with him was unlike the ones with the other watchmaking CEOs and founders. For one, he was dressed in blue jeans and a white Mandarin-collared shirt that was not tucked in. He was also very keen to share. He did not pad his words with politically correct nuances, neither did he hum and haw when asked about sensitive questions, including those relating to how his watches are made.
No, Rexhepi is from the new breed of independent watchmakers that wants to perpetuate the tradition of Swiss watchmaking. His workshop–which hires only four watchmakers–is located in Geneva’s old town. It has a huge window that faces the street, where passersby can peek in as well. A far cry from those cabinotiers of the past where watchmakers were stuck in a cupboard-like workshop, hidden from plain sight so as not to risk compromising the confidential nature of their metiers.
This openness stems from the immense pride that Rexhepi has in Swiss watchmaking. His girlfriend, who works with him and accompanied him on the trip, mentioned that Rexhepi is happiest when working on his watches. But travelling and meeting collectors is a must for independent watchmakers, as their watches are intrinsically linked to their personalities. Collectors invest not just in tangible products, but in the persona behind the brand.
This is one of the reasons why Rexhepi has inscribed his name on his latest timepiece, the Chronomètre Souverain. “Some people don’t understand Akrivia as a brand,” he said. “I really wanted to put my name on the dial to humanise the brand.”
There’s a huge difference between the previous watches that Akrivia created, and its latest timepiece, the Chronomètre Contemporain. Where the previous creations were outre and bursting with complications such as tourbillons, the Chronomètre Contemporain is simplicity embodied. Modelled after the marine chronometers of yore, it is accurate to -1/+1 seconds a day, a laud-worthy feat. Aesthetically, the watch is inspired by art deco lines that can be seen on the enamel dial. It retains crucial Akrivia codes, however, such as the asymmetrical bezel and symmetrical movement.
Says Rexhepi, “When I first launched my brand, I wanted to make something different that was unlike the other independent watchmakers. But in reality, you can still make something different and have a strong identity, even though it is classic. The Chronomètre Contemporain is something more personal for me.”
The truth is, when you’re buying a watch from an independent watchmaker, you’re buying a part of the person who’s making it–passion, sweat and tears go into assembling these tiny components into a ticking mechanism.
Rexhepi insists on following Swiss watchmaking traditions when creating his watches. For instance, he refuses to use ‘new’ innovations such as silicium for the components. He explained, "Today, I can take watches that were made 200 years ago and redo a component if there's a problem. This will be difficult with silicium. With traditional components, even if the watch is complicated, you can still find a watchmaker that will be able to do something about it."
For now, the workshop only makes about 30 watches a year. Given that the Chronomètre Contemporain just bagged the top men's prize at the Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève, expect to wait a fair bit to get your hands on one of them.