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INTERVIEW: Xavier de Roquemaurel, CEO of Czapek & Cie.

“When you put on a watch and get goosebumps, well, this is what we are here for.”

Peering into a loupe to check the enamel finish of a customised version of Czapek’s award-winning 33 bis Quai des Bergues watch, I was instead thrilled to discover a David Bowie lyric engraved across the dial. “We can all be heroes just for one day”, it read, from Bowie’s famous 1977 track, Heroes.

“Cool, yes?” asks Xavier de Roquemaurel, CEO of Czapek & Cie. “The dial was made just after Bowie passed. I wanted to pay tribute to him. I think we can all relate.” After spending an hour with de Roquemaurel, as he shared about the conception and evolution of Czapek & Cie., it almost felt like the lyric was also a call to arms of sorts for him and his independent watch company.

Czapek & Cie. 33 bis Quai des Bergues Czapek & Cie. 33 bis Quai des Bergues 

Czapek & Cie. takes its name from François Czapek, a 19th-century Polish master watchmaker who moved to Geneva and famously made bespoke timepieces for the European nobility. Interestingly, François Czapek also was part of Patek Philippe’s origin story. Between 1839 and 1845, Czapek and Antoni Patek founded a company together (Patek, Czapek & Cie), making some exceptional timepieces before dissolving their partnership. Following that, Czapek re-started Czapek & Cie. in 1845, making watches for an exclusive clientele that included French Emperor Napoleon III for several decades before fading into obscurity.

In 2012, de Roquemaurel, who was previously in the luxury marketing business, together with Harry Huhl, a watch aficionado, and Sébastien Follonier, a watchmaker, decided to revive Czapek & Cie. With an aim to “stay true to the spirit of Czapek” while being a resolutely modern brand, the men re-established Czapek & Cie. via crowdfunding, garnering investments from like-minded collectors who would then own a stake in the company. As for the watches, the men were determined to create highly sophisticated timepieces that bore a distinctively classical spirit while unmistakably contemporary at the same time.

Czapek & Cie.

Czapek & Cie. currently boasts four core collections, excluding special editions. They include the Quai des Bergues, a watch with seven-day power reserve, modelled after a 19th-century Czapek pocket watch; Place Vendôme Tourbillon Suspendu, featuring tourbillon and GMT complications; Faubourg de Cracovie, a range of integrated chronographs; and the Antarctique, a line of luxury sports tickers. Each collection is driven by its dedicated calibre, conceived and assembled in-house but developed by an elite network of collaborators and suppliers, including Chronode, Altokalpa, and Micro Precision Systems.

Xavier de Roquemaurel, CEO of Czapek & Cie.

Czapek was launched in 2015. A year later, you won the GPHG Public Prize for the 33 bis Quai des Bergues. From the outside, it seems like a rapid success. Tell us how it all started.
When I met with the other co-founders (Harry Guhl, an art expert, and Sébastien Follonier, a watchmaker, who have since left the company), I told them I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s going to be interesting. We modelled our companies after software programming startups – we raised money through crowdfunding equity and conducted many small focus groups and interviews as we developed the watches. So, the strategy was to start from the ‘bottom’, which was to do a ‘simple’ watch with seven-day power reserve and one movement and raise the bar gradually.

The crowdfunding concept was key?
This way, we could assure our ‘shareholders’, who would be our first customers, that the watch was of a high standard and quality. With that, we were also assured of our first streams of revenue. Since our customers are invested in the company, they are pickier but also more open to giving us fair feedback.

Most importantly, we do these things while staying true to the spirit of Czapek. We analysed all the old Czapek watches we could find to build the modern Czapek. At our early meetings, we would pull up a fourth chair for [François] Czapek, imagining that if he was still alive and young, what personality would he have, and what kind of watches he would do today.

Czapek & Cie. Place Vendôme
Czapek & Cie. Place Vendôme

You mentioned that feedback is important. How do you balance that with your vision of the watches?
We decided over time that we didn’t need to involve that many people for each creation. We have something similar to an advisory board, comprising about 20 people. They interact with the watches and give us feedback, but we don’t necessarily follow. For example, one feedback for the Antarctique sports watch was not to do an integrated bracelet because it would be too difficult. They were afraid that we might fail but, at the same time, also excited by the prospect. That feedback was important because it affirmed my belief that we had to do it with an integrated bracelet.

Tell us about the roadmap of Czapek through the watches that you have.
We had a plan to introduce the full picture of Czapek through various steps. We started with the seven-day power reserve (Quai des Bergues), followed by a chronograph (Faubourg de Cracovie), and then a tourbillon (Place Vendôme). Those collections were named after important places where Czapek did his business. These first collections were pillars for the next big development that we have, which is a minute repeater.

Czapek & Cie. Antarctique
Czapek & Cie. Antarctique

You have Antarctique, too, which is a sports collection.
Yes. By interacting with people, we saw the big trend in the market for luxury sports watches. But within this trend, we felt that something was lacking, which was an haute horlogerie expression of these timepieces: a sports watch that gets you excited when you look at its incredibly crafted movement. I call this expression ‘horological eroticism’. And that is the role that the Antarctique has within our catalogue.

For someone who is new to Czapek, the different collections all seem quite different from each other. What is their common thread?
They are all connected. But I cannot explain it to you; it is something you need to discover for yourself. (Proceeds to put the different models on my wrist.) So, you see, there is a sensation of suppleness and wearability. When you look at the various designs, there appears to be a sense of chaos, yet harmony and efficiency when taken as a whole. All the hands belong to different families, the dials are very ‘open’, and the numerals are long – it is like a delicate ballet. There is wearability, legibility, and, most importantly, a quest for beauty.

Czapek & Cie. Antarctique Rattrapante Ice Blue
Czapek & Cie. Antarctique Rattrapante Ice Blue

Czapek watches are beautiful and well-regarded. Some have even won awards. How would you rate Czapek’s success at this point?
It took me several days to convince the board to close the order book for now. We got from selling 150 watches at the start to now having to fulfil orders for 3,000 watches in 18 months. So yes, we are growing, but we need to also take stock to be able to grow properly.

But it is not about scalability – it is a dangerous word for us. OK, we need to organise ourselves well, so there is an element of that. But it is not about making more watches and getting more customers for higher profits for us. It’s about making that one person, who has sacrificed maybe three years of bonuses to buy that watch, happy. I believe if we can take care of that person – not your boss or that entity of 10,000 people – then we can make a fantastic and beautiful company that is profitable.


Ex Editor-In Chief

Alvin promises not to be a douche when talking about watches. He may have scoured the Basel and Geneva watch fairs for the past 15 years, and played an instrumental role to the growth of Singapore's pioneering horological and men's lifestyle publications, but the intrepid scribe seeks to learn something new with each story he writes.

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