INTERVIEW: Rexhep Rexhepi

By A Collected Man

Rexhep Rexhepi is a name in the watchmaking-world which some may be unfamiliar with, however he is fast becoming one of the break-through greats. Having started his career at the ripe-old-age of 14, he has quickly climbed the ranks, working with brands like Patek Philippe and F.P. Journe, to then launch his own independent brand; which predominantly produces tourbillon complications. We recently dropped by Rexhep’s atelier in Geneva to continue our series of interviews with independent watchmakers.

 

Tell us a little about what you remember, the first time you came into contact with a watch?

 

Well, my father lived in Switzerland, when I was a child, growing up in Kosovo. I remember when he came to visit, he would always have a Swiss watch of some kind with him, and I would want to play around with it and understand how it worked. There was one particular Tissot that he had which I attempted to open, resulting in a big slap around the face! That left me with a great deal of curiosity for watches.

 

What was it that you found so curious?

 

I remember hearing the tick tock of the movement, and just wanted to understand where that came from. This would have been around the age of six or seven.

 

Do you recall the moment that you understood the basic principles of how a watch functions?

 

This came a little later, during my apprenticeship with Patek Philippe around the age of fourteen or fifteen. While you were preparing for exams and training, they would teach you about these principles and, so I would say that was the first moment that it made sense. If you could demonstrate that you understood, you were then trusted to carefully disassemble a movement. This whole process was a very formative time for me.

 

It seems to be a recurring theme with certain watchmakers that they found school under-stimulating, is this true of yourself?

 

I was always relatively comfortable at school, my natural curiosity made me fairly adept at taking on new information, concepts, and equations. Though, saying that, I certainly messed around at school. I was no model student. But I didn’t find the work particularly challenging, from memory.

 

Rexhep Rexhepi interview at A Collected Man specialist independent watchmakers

Rexhep Rexhepi

 

At what point did you decide that watchmaking school was for you?

 

It was when I moved from Kosovo to Switzerland at the age of twelve, I just remember landing at Geneva airport and being exposed to a huge number of watch logos and advertisements. I was immersed in horology as soon as I arrived, so that started my awareness. Where we lived, there were a lot of people who worked in the industry close by, so I would ask them question after question. My interest really began to develop at that point.

 

And how did that lead to the apprenticeship? Was your father happy with your chosen path?

 

Well I had the conversation with my father at the age of fourteen which was tricky, because he dreamt of having a lawyer as a son. It wasn’t something he initially was on board with, but eventually, he understood that I was passionate about it and that ultimately it was the right path for me. That’s when I started with Patek Philippe.

 

How did you find the experience?

 

It was very clear that the main objective was to soak up as much information as possible. I was very fortunate to have an exceptionally good teacher called Jean-Marc Figols. I went through all the different departments at Patek, case making, finishing, assembling etc. You get a real feel for the process in a short period of time. You really couldn’t hope for a better start in the industry.

 

You then went on to work for Patek right?

 

Yes, I did, although I found it quite frustrating because there is an immediate switch from experiencing all aspects, to then focusing on one. You have to spend three years in any department, and this felt quite limiting to me.

 

What did you decide to focus on?

 

I was first assigned to casing up, putting hands on and closing up the cases, placing the crystals, these types of things. Nothing of any particular interest. It’s definitely not an easy job, but nor is it wildly interesting. I remember setting myself personal objectives, to be as efficient as the full-time employees of Patek. I didn’t always manage, but I managed most of the time. The ability to develop in a broader sense, at the pace I wanted to, wasn’t possible there. The thought of spending three years at any given task was not something I wanted to do, though I still remain a huge fan of Patek Philippe.

 

Rexhep Rexhepi interview at A Collected Man specialist independent watchmakers

Tourbillon

 

How long did you stay there?

 

Two years.

 

And you moved to where after that?

 

B&B concept, they were a movement construction company, at which I stayed for three years.

 

What sort of things did you learn there by comparison to your time at Patek Philippe?

 

They had an unusual approach to young watchmakers, which was popular with some, and not with others. Their way was to drop you in at the deep-end and see if you could swim. You would be given the opportunity to do something from scratch, entirely on your own. It was a ‘go figure it out’ mentality, which I liked a lot. Initially, it was very daunting, but if you worked in a methodical way, you could quickly figure it out. I remember there was a certain calibre that no one wanted to touch, because of its complexity. They asked me one day, “Rexhep, do you want to work on this?” I said “uhh, yeah”. This was a tourbillon movement with complications like a chronograph etc. The piece was incredibly complex, but I managed to sort it out.

 

Presumably, that advanced you fairly quickly?

 

Yes, within a year and a half I had fifteen people working under me, and I was responsible for their training.

 

Wow, what age were you?

 

Twenty-one [laughs].

 

How long were you with this company?

 

Three years, before they went bankrupt. Hublot bought them after that.

 

And this is when you made the move to F.P. Journe?

 

Yes, this was always the watchmaker's dream, to work for François-Paul Journe.

 

What was your first impression of him?

 

It was a very stressful moment for me. He’s a  powerful person both personality and career-wise. Fortunately, we got along very well. With Journe, you start with the entry level movement which is the Chronometre Souverain. I spent three months on that , making quite a few, and then you move onto the Octa family, which is more chronographs and calendars, with an automatic movement. I was then promoted after a few months of that, to the Resonance, and I made a lot of those.

 

I read somewhere that you worked on repeaters there?

 

Yeah, that’s not true. Strangely that’s something that people write about me, but it’s untrue. I think somewhere along the line, someone confused the word Resonance with Repeater.

 

Rexhep Rexhepi interview at A Collected Man specialist independent watchmakers

Rexhep Rexhepi in Geneva

 

How did you find working on the Resonance movement?

 

It’s a very complicated watch, because you have two mechanically separate movements to regulate and make beat in synchronicity. Getting both balance wheels to beat correctly can be very time-consuming.

 

Did it give you the motivation to make one yourself?

 

It was never something I was particularly interested in making, to be honest. It’s a beautiful complication, though.

 

Yourself and Journe both cite George Daniels as an inspiration, what is it that you find so interesting about him?

 

Well, it’s not for me to say that George was the greatest watchmaker ever, but he was certainly one of the greatest. He worked in isolation, without a care for what people thought of what he was doing. This way of working left an impression on me and I think that's something that a lot of other independent brands could do with emulating.

 

At what point did you decide to launch your own brand?

 

It was while I was at Journe, I was very impressed with what I saw there as he is a master of so many different aspects of the business. He’s a fantastic watchmaker both technically and conceptually, but he is also an excellent businessman. I have learned a lot about the business of watchmaking from my time at Journe. The approach is different, as they make around 1000 watches per year, but the fundamentals are similar. It was in 2012 that I launched.

 

How were the early days of the brand?

 

When I started, I decided egocentrically that I wanted to create the watch that I wanted. I indulged myself in making this first watch. I had no real concern for the risks attached to this approach, and I’m not so sure I would have done the same thing, given a second shot at it.

 

Did people think you were crazy to launch with a tourbillon?

 

Yes, definitely. With hindsight, maybe they were right. It would have definitely been easier to launch with a time-only piece.

 

Do you remember your first impression of a tourbillon watch in the metal?

 

I remember it like it was today. The experience was comparable to the moment I met my first girlfriend. I was in the final control department at Patek Philippe and they had a ten day tourbillon in there. It left a huge impression on me, I was staring at it for at least 45 minutes in complete amazement. Back then, there weren’t as many tourbillons around, so it was truly something special to see one.

 

AkriviA AK06 Prototype at A Collected Man by Rexhep Rexhepi independent watchmakers

AkriviA AK06 Prototype by Rexhep Rexhepi

 

And did you understand how it worked or were you trying to figure that out while looking at it?

 

Yes, I had learned all about the complication, but had never held one or seen the way it moved.

 

And what made you make a mono-pusher for your launch piece, the mono-pusher tourbillon chronograph?

 

For me, the mono-pusher is rarely combined with a tourbillon, and there is something so enjoyable about the sensation of depressing the mono-pusher and seeing so much engagement from the mechanism. That’s so much more of an interesting experience in my mind.

 

So, you’ve finally released a time-only piece, the AK06. What was the initial plan for the project and how did it develop?

 

The idea was to make an open-worked time only watch. So often, people make reasonably complicated mechanisms and hide them beneath the dial, so the idea with putting it top-side was to highlight the amount of work that goes into something that is ‘straight-forward’. I wanted to create something that was equally functional, as it was beautiful. It may only be a time-only, but it’s still a very complicated object with a lot of creative originality and craftsmanship.

 

How was the response to the piece?

 

It was terrible [laughs]. No, it was a risk and we weren’t sure how people would react. But we have received a lot of orders and positive feed-back from collectors and the press. Clearly it was the right move to make.

 

Finally, how much can you tell us about what you are working on in the near future?

 

I’ll tell you later [laughs].

  

To find out more, please visit the website of AkriviA.



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