Interview: Rexhep Rexhepi on the New RRCCII, the First Ten Years of Akrivia, and His Plans for the Future
The Akrivia founder sits down with Watchonista to discuss his latest creation, reflect on his first decade as an independent watchmaker, and reveal what he has in store for the coming years.
Following last month’s launch of the Akrivia Rexhep Rexhepi Chronomètre Contemporain II (RRCCII), we sat down with Akrivia founder, ultra-talented watchmaker Rexhep Rexhepi, to chat about the 35-year-old’s hotly awaited release. An evolution of the first, much-lauded RRCC launched in 2018, the new RRCCII features a refined dial, redesigned in-house case, and a completely new movement.
With Akrivia celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, we also discuss the highs and lows of Rexhepi’s journey as an independent watchmaker over the past decade and the exciting plans he has for the company’s future.
Interview with Rexhep Rexhepi, Founder of Akrivia
Congratulations on launching the RRCC II, Rexhep. Many would have said that the first RRCC was the perfect gentleman’s watch, but you felt compelled to improve on it. Why?
It’s in my nature to push myself further. I always look at what I did yesterday and ask: “Am I happy with it? Can I do it better tomorrow?” And if I think I can, then I will try to do it better. That is the Akrivia philosophy.
Since I launched the first RRCC, we have tried to perfect our existing skills, increase our knowledge, and incorporate new savoir-faire into the Akrivia atelier. We are now better placed to know what we can do better and how to do it better.
Did you feel any pressure launching the RRCCII?
Yes. Expectation levels were far higher this time. And for all I know, people were expecting something completely different from me. But the greatest pressure came from myself. I had to be happy with the final result.
Talk us through the various refinements you’ve made to create the RRCCII.
Starting with the oven-fired enamel dial, I’ve made the indices heavier to be more legible. And I’ve removed the retaining ring around the small seconds to give a better balance: There is no longer a visible join. As for the case, in rose gold or platinum, we now make that in-house. Since launching the RRCC, I have brought experienced casemaker Jean-Pierre Hagmann on board, and he has shared his knowledge and skills with us. Now, when I look at a watch case, I have a different level of appreciation: I understand far better what makes a beautiful watch case that feels good to wear.
While the new case retains the RRCC’s 38mm diameter, it’s otherwise completely different: None of its 15 components are interchangeable with the case of the RRCC. At 8.75mm in height, it’s a little slimmer. We’ve made the lugs longer to sit better on the wrist. And we’ve made the crown slightly larger, so it feels better to wind.
After all, a watch is an instrument: It has to function well.
The movement is different too. While you’ve kept the hacking and zero-reset functions of the RRCC, you’ve now added deadbeat seconds…
I wanted to add something that wouldn’t ruin the original’s aesthetic. Not only is the dead seconds complication interesting visually-speaking, but also the tick is pleasing to hear.
The question was, how do I integrate dead seconds without compromising the movement’s chronometric stability? The answer was to design a totally new movement with an independent energy source – a second barrel and separate going train – for the dead seconds.
The two barrels and gear trains also meant I could keep visual symmetry, which is important to me, and looking at the RRCCII, it reminds me of a pocket watch movement, especially with the finishing that we’ve applied: polished, rounded bevels, black polishing, perlage, circular-graining, and Côtes de Genève. As an example of the lengths we went to, each of the seven gears has 20 inward angles – 140 in total – that we’ve hand-polished.
What pleases me is you can clearly see the movement has been worked by hand. But while we strive for perfection, I wouldn’t say it is perfect.
I’m sure many would disagree with you! And what about its chronometric performance?
Since 2018, I have more experience. And I realized we needed stronger barrels and a balance wheel with greater inertia. So, we now have a new balance wheel that uses regulating screws rather than circular weights. It has 60 percent more inertia than the RRCC. And we have a new mainspring that delivers 40 percent more torque.
Will you deliver the RRCCII with a chronometer certification from the Besançon Observatory, as you did with the RRCC?
To be honest with you, since COVID-19, the logistics for sending the RRCC for certification became complicated, especially for a small company like ours. So that’s something we are not offering this time.
However, we’ve decided to set up our own testing facility, where we’ll do the same tests in the same positions over 16 days. And we’ll deliver an internal chronometric report to accompany each watch. We aim for +/- 2 seconds per day.
The demand for your watches has gone through the roof. And at the same time, you and your 10-person strong team make only 45 pieces a year. How do you reconcile this supply-demand conundrum?
With difficulty. Demand is so big now that it bothers me that I have to tell some prospective clients that it is not possible for them to buy a watch. I would love to make more watches, but we just haven’t got the capacity to do so. So I have limited the RRCCII to 50 pieces in rose gold and 50 pieces in platinum.
Of course, it’s not just Akrivia. The whole watch industry is experiencing soaring demand. But compared to what I experienced in my first three years as an independent, I would rather have my current problem of having too many client requests.
Tell us about those early years.
Well, when I launched in 2012 at the age of 25, I realized a dream: I was finally able to make the watches I wanted to. But I was totally naïve. I was convinced that everyone would come running to us wanting to buy our watches. And it wasn’t the case. The first three years were very, very challenging.
When I sold my first pieces, it was a relief. I still wake up every day and am grateful for those people who put their trust in me and bought my watches. Those early years, the first ten years, in fact, were a real learning experience.
What else did you learn in the first ten years?
Having worked at Patek Philippe and F.P.Journe, maybe I was ready in terms of hand-finishing. But even in that regard, we have made great strides since 2012: We’ve tried to take our hand-decoration to another level, finding and perfecting new techniques.
But there were other aspects over the past decade where I said to myself: “Man, you’re trying to take on things that you’re not familiar with; you have to learn them.”
For example, developing a movement; you don’t necessarily get it right the first time. It might not work very well. The same goes for product development or machining components. When we started machining some pieces, I gained a new level of respect for those brands that were already doing it.
When you’re the employee of another company, like I was, it’s easy to think, “Why don’t we do it like that?” Or, “We should do it this way.” But when I crossed to the other side and was in charge of my own company, I realized that if you want to change things, or excel in a certain area, it is not as straightforward as people believe it will be. It requires a lot of work, effort, and risk.
So, the first decade, our first chapter if you like, has definitely been about learning.
What will your next chapter involve?
Broadening our savoir-faire is one thing. When we started out, we focused on hand-finishing and mastering various complications, like chronographs and chiming mechanisms, as well as tourbillons and, of course, chronometry. We eventually brought our casemaking in-house, thanks to Mr. Hagmann.
But I would like to expand our skills further – making dials or machining more components in-house, for example – though I will still prototype on my traditional tools and lathes to satisfy my own personal passion. Besides, I get a better understanding of the watch that way.
After becoming a father for the first time and working with Mr. Hagmann, more than ever, I am aware of the need to pass on skills and passion. If I hadn’t approached Mr. Hagmann, his savoir-faire might have been lost. Why shouldn’t I do the same with my watchmakers and share my knowledge? If one day they want to set up on their own and do their own thing, I’m fine with that.
What’s more: Passing on skills to empower others in my team also frees up time for me to plan for the future, design new watches, and make prototypes.
What else can you reveal about your plans for the future?
Innovation will be a key theme. Remember: Our collectors aren’t just buying a watch; they are investing in Akrivia and its philosophy. And we’ll try to reinvest that into developing new and exciting things.
I love complications. I love escapements. So why not invent something new? After all, why did I become a watchmaker? Why did I set up as an independent? Because I wanted to explore watchmaking as fully as possible.
Hopefully, in 20 years, people will regard Akrivia as a company that has contributed something to watchmaking. And hopefully, I will have inspired some in the next generation of watchmakers, just as I was inspired by innovative watchmakers like Abraham-Louis Breguet and George Daniels.
But all I can say is: Given what I have in mind, it should definitely capture people’s imaginations.
The thing is, I don’t consider myself ambitious at all! I merely work in a profession that I love doing, and I want to explore it fully. When I wake up in the morning, go to work, and sit at my bench? I’m smiling.
Will we ever see a return to the more contemporary aesthetic that characterized your earlier AK series of timepieces?
With the RRCC, I made a classically styled chronometer because, at the time, that was what I was interested in doing. But I could just as easily return to doing something more contemporary, and I will. I certainly won’t limit myself. It’s like choosing the clothes we want to wear. Sometimes you feel like wearing trainers. Sometimes you want to dress up.
What about the return of some of your signature traits, like your hand-hammered dials?
We won’t do hand-hammered dials anymore. Of course, we weren’t the first to do them, but nobody had really done them much up until then. In a sense, we relaunched that technique and aesthetic. But now, a lot of brands are doing hand-hammered dials. For me, I think we are done with that.
I would prefer to move on and try new techniques, such as the hand-engraved gratté pattern on the small seconds on the black-dialled RRCCII. It’s subtle and minimalist, but it enlivens the dial. I would rather focus on exploring new ground. That’s my problem: I just like exploring!