Rexhep Rexhepi: Swiss Watchmaking’s Bright Young Voice Speaks UpWritten by Alvin Wong
"My way of making watches is punishing.”
Partway through our interview with Rexhep Rexhepi (pronounced ‘Ra-jep Ra-jep-pi’), the 30-year-old Kosovo-born, Geneva-based master watchmaker strains to describe what ultimately completes his timepieces.
Passion? Skill? Attention to detail? “It is all that but that’s not the word,” he says, searching for the elusive adjective. Feel? “Yes!” he concurs. “Feel. That is what sets my watches apart.”
Since Rexhepi launched his brand AkriviA five years ago, watch collectors and critics have been quick to hail him as the Next Big Thing in haute horlogerie. And for good reasons, too.
Rexhepi’s backstory shows him up as a watchmaking prodigy. He started his apprenticeship at Patek Philippe at just 14 years old, subsequently cutting his teeth at high-end movement manufacturer BNB Concept and with the much-respected Francois-Paul Journe, before starting AkriviA – a meteoric journey that took him just 10 years.
AkriviA Tourbillon Monopusher Chronograph
Since that opening salvo, it has marched out a slew of top-drawer complications, the watches’ unfussy monikers belying their technical excellence: Tourbillon Hour Minute, Tourbillon Regulator, Tourbillon Chiming Hour, and Tourbillon Barrette-Mirror.
Aficionados of high-end independent marques, much like their counterparts in the art collecting world, demand certain criteria to be met before investing in a brand or watchmaker. The artistic value of the creation, the creator’s authenticity, skill and talent are just some qualities that connoisseurs take into account before deciding if they should part with their money. Often, these qualities take time to manifest, which makes AkriviA’s prolific output, and the timepieces’ outstanding artistic and technical finesse all the more remarkable.
An AkriviA timepiece is distinguished first by its case, a seamless amalgamation of tonneau and round shapes, flanked by protruding sides – a look that Rexhepi describes as “retro”. On close inspection – and the watches are totally loupe-worthy – they exhibit an exceptional level of artful hand-decoration and finishing, whether on the case exterior, dial components, or movement parts. Last but not least, anchoring the watches is superlative technical sophistication; old-school complications that are artfully crafted and reinterpreted with originality, dexterity – and as Rexhepi himself demands, a certain “feel” that so often escapes contemporary watchmaking.
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Tell us about the time you started at 14 years old at Patek Philippe.
It was an apprenticeship that opened my eyes to what I wanted to do. I spent the first three years in the Patek Philippe school of watchmaking, and upon graduation, I worked there for two years. I did some assembling work and some after-sales service. During my apprenticeship, I had a chance to experience almost every aspect of the watchmaking process. That fuelled my ambitions because I realised that didn't want to confine myself to working in a single department, working on a single task for my entire career. I needed to evolve.
What made you decide on a career at such an early age?
When I was younger, I lived in Kosovo while my father was based in Geneva. Each time he visited, he had his mechanical watch with him. I remember it was a Tissot. I would be intrigued by the ticking sounds the came from the watch, and I would try to open the watch. Watches fascinated me from a very early age. Of course, my father wasn't that enthused that I decided to be a watchmaker at such a young age. He wanted me to be a lawyer.
AkriviA Tourbillon Hour Minute
After Patek Philippe, you worked at BNB Concept and F.P. Journe. What did you learn at these places?
I started working with tourbillons right off the bat at BNB Concept. I was anxious, but I quickly got the hang of it. After a year, I was put in charge of a team of 10 watchmakers. I was only 21 at that time. It felt good to be recognised but you can imagine the pressure. It seemed that I was constantly moving towards a higher level at various points in my career. It was working with Francois-Paul Journe where I realised that I could be true to myself, and still find commercial success as an independent watchmaker.
What do you want to express as a watchmaker?
I am a purist, and I want to make watches the traditional way. It is not just about the traditional look of a watch, or the kind of complications. By 'traditional', I also want the watches to be made from start to finish by a single watchmaker. And the only way I could do that was to launch my own brand with my own band of watchmakers.
How do you translate that with AkrivA?
My way of making watches is punishing. Making an AkriviA watch demands focus and discipline. We could spend days working on a single component, which could be damaged in an instant because we lose attention in a split second. At first, I was naive enough to think that I could easily find watchmakers to work at AkriviA. I quickly realised I was wrong. We need fully formed masters of at least nine different horological crafts. So it is not just having the skills to assemble a complication movement, but also dial decoration, engraving, finishing and so on. And the work has to be at a very high level, regardless of the craft. We now have three other watchmakers on the team, excluding myself.
AkriviA Tourbillon Chiming Hour
What is the most important aspect of a well-made watch?
I believe that decorative art is the single most important element that distinguishes one luxury watch from another. This is when the watchmaker becomes an artist. Watch decoration is an area of horology that cannot be replaced by machines – human hands and experience are needed to make it work. It really is like creating a piece of art. It is safe to say that AkriviA is one of the most artisanal Swiss watch brands that exists today.
How would you define success for AkriviA?
The aim is to offer a real novelty a year. What do we mean by 'real'? It means a watch with a new movement or a new complication. Not just a change in the dial colour. The way we make watches means that there will not be a lot of AkriviA watches produced annually. But that is okay. Our goal is to share what it means to have watches made the traditional way, and as watchmakers, keep our respect for the art. I am okay if there were just a handful of good clients who appreciate what we do, and push us to do better.
AkriviA Tourbillon Barrette-Mirror
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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.