czapek quai des bergues

Czapek, A star Is Re-Born

To this day, Czapek watches are much sought after objects by major collectors. Three young entrepreneurs have just breathed life back into the old legend. Their Quai des Bergues collection is now reality. 

By Joel Grandjean

We really know quite little about François Czapek, a Polish watchmaker of Czech origin, one of the first associates of Antoine Norbert de Patek. What history does tell us is that before being approached by his fellow countryman, who, like him, had landed in Switzerland following a failed military insurrection in his home country, Czapek had gone into business together with a certain Mr. Moreau.

Czapek Cie Pocket Watch Czapek Cie Pocket Watch

Czapek two hundred years after his birth – enduring fascination

Of course, not all is unknown. There are some watches at the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva, for instance, or others that emerge occasionally in various auction catalogues of the big auctioneers. An industry historian did find traces of the man in Genevan and French archives. We learn, too, that he was made "Watchmaker to the Imperial Court" by Napoleon III of France and that his very prestigious customers included members of the aristocracy. And finally, while he did open a boutique on Place Vendôme in Paris and another in Warsaw, he always maintained a workshop on Quai des Bergues in Geneva.

Czapek Quai des Bergues Czapek Quai des Bergues in red gold

Harry Guhl, Xavier de Roquemaurel and a third man, a watchmaker, became smitten by this forgotten tale after receiving some information on Czapek from a handful of enthusiasts and history buffs, and, over two centuries after the man's birth, they decided to resurrect him. They were impressed by what they found and surprised to bve face to face with such a powerful monument. When they realized they could actually acquire the keys to the kingdom, they started dreaming of bigger things. Their next step was to roll up their sleeves, draw up a project, and write out a business plan, all this in the greatest secrecy. They felt humbled in the face of such an impressive legend.

Czapek Quai des Bergues Czapek Quai des Bergues in white gold

Is there such a thing as a Czapek style?

Examining one of Czapek's watches, the remarkable reference numbered 3430, manufactured by Czapek & Cie in Geneva around 1850, they decided on the technical and esthetic codes that would be the guidelines of the new brand. The work of François Czapek has a number of key reference points. First of all, there is the racy elegance, the pure lines, the straightforwardness. Then, there are the hands, long slim stems that suddenly sprout finely carved lilies. The Roman numerals, too, are stretched out, as a way to materialize in a lofty manner the quest for perfection. Finally, the watch features an original way to indicate seconds, the power reserve and calendars: two subdials, one at 7:30 the other at 4:30.  So there really is a Czapek style, an identity that marketing people like to call DNA these days. And furthermore, we also sense the character of the person behind these watches, a man of erudition, a master of the horological arts, a businessman whose motto might have been something along the lines of "success is born of perseverance. "The three associates, taking a page of the original business register, which lists Czapek & Cie as having been founded on May 1, 1845, registered their own business trademark and started working on restoring the memory.

Czapek Quai des Bergues Czapek Quai des Bergues in red gold

Staying in tune with the Czapek style, they used various elements to develop a proprietary caliber they named the Czapek SXH1. It was built in collaboration with Jean-François Mojon, from Chronode in Le Locle. The movement's architecture recalls the essential lines of one of Czapek's own calibers. It is a manually wound mechanism that indicates the hour, minutes and seconds in a sober fashion, and ticks at 21,600 vibrations per hour, that is a frequency of 3 Hertz. Once its two barrel springs are wound up, the watch has a power reserve of 168 hoursThe finishing can be seen at the rear side of the watch, where there is an open double ratchet, polished chamfering, circled gearwheels, sandblasted bridges and blued screws. And then there is that small second dial located at 7:30 and the power reserve display in the other subdial at 4:30, which is coupled with a weekday calendar.

Czapek Quai des Bergues Czapek Quai des Bergues in titanium

The Quai des Bergues collection, born in 2015

As for the case, it was made to house six different models under the family name Quai des Bergues, a tribute to the workshop and boutique that Czapek kept in Geneva. The design was done by Antoine Tschumi of the Neo-Desis studio. It comes in rose gold or white gold for the two most classic models, with grand feu enamel dial and blued hands for the white gold version and fleur-de-lys hands (lily-shaped) for the rose gold version.

Czapek Quai des Bergues Czapek Quai des Bergues caseback

In order to prove that the past does not have to impugn modern life, another model was made in titanium with a carbon dial. This is brand new in the industry, and it's an innovative idea, because it offers a "vinyl LP" look produced by the winding of a single carbon fiber. The Quai des Bergues case also comes in a steel version. But that is no reason to make it run-of-the-mill. Thanks to some dallying with members of the metallurgical community, the new Czapek team was made privy to XO steel, a kind of steel that has been around for nearly one hundred years but has never been used in watchmaking. This material is tougher than regular steel, but has the advantage of being hyper-resistant to all forms of corrosion.

Harry Guhl & Xavier de Roquemaurel Harry Guhl & Xavier de Roquemaurel, co-owners of Czapek

Crowdequity gives shares plus watches

To meet the challenge of financing a new brand, the three entrepreneurs took a three-pronged approach. The first was to use their established connections to raise funds from investors and enthusiasts in Poland and the Czech Republic, François Czapek's two homelands. To that sum they added the receipts from a very unusual sale:  They had a chronograph especially made for a circle of friends and their close friends and family. The model ran on a historic Valjoux caliber and is named the Czapek Design Study Chronograph, no doubt a collector's item some fine day. That allowed them to begin the next stage: research and development of a proprietary caliber, prototyping and production of a pre-series. On November 10, 2015, with the media present around the famous Flower Clock in Geneva, Czapek & Cie was officially reborn, along with the first collection, the Quai des Bergues. The watches are there, they are real. The caliber runs and can be observed through the transparent case back. The program included the announcement of the third financing phase. Again, an ingenious crowdfunding system. A financial mechanism that allows people to acquire not a watch, but rather shares in the company using a European so-called "crowdequity" platform.   It's a tempting prospect. All the more so that the shareholders will be the first to learn about future doings and the in-house secrets. For instance, they are the only ones today to already know the name and particularities of the family of models scheduled for 2017. Czapek is alive and well, and history has not had its final word.

Czapek Design Study Chronograph Czapek Design Study Chronograph

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Baselworld 2016: Interview With Xavier de Roquemaurel, Cofounder of Czapek

By Joel GrandjeanEditor-in-Chief
Master watchmaker François Czapek was not only contemporary, fellow countryman and first partner (in Switzerland) of Norbert de Patek but he also...