It’s a rare occasion when an independent upstart can captivate an old-fashioned and conservative industry like Swiss watchmaking. It’s even more difficult for that attention to remain unwavering and grow into a swell of expectations rarely seen in horology, something more akin to the cyclical world of haute couture, where flashes of youthful brilliance are commonplace, but more often than not, shine brightly before fading out of influence.
But this is watchmaking. An industry where the makers and artisans don’t die, rather they live forever, or until a conglomerate exhumes them with a limitless marketing budget and a tag-team, by-committee product build-out stuffed with skeletons – sorry, I mean skeletonized dials – and an eye on Instagram for the next big thing.
That’s why Rexhep Rexhepi’s emergence has come at the perfect time.
Born in Kosovo in 1987, Rexhepi and his family immigrated to Geneva during the lead up to the Kosovo War in the late 1990s. Although his neighbourhood in Geneva, which Rexhepi describes as filled with people in the watchmaking industry, was a major influence in the realization of his future career, it wasn’t his first step into the world of horology.
When Rexhepi was a child in Kosovo, his father travelled frequently and would occasionally return home with a Swiss watch on his wrist. Intrigued by the uniform ticking sound and confused at how the hands progressed, he took the initiative of opening the watch up to explore its mechanism.
Although Rexhepi’s father initially hoped he would become a lawyer, their location near several prominent watch manufacturers proved irresistible and it wasn’t long before he submitted an application to the Patek Philippe watchmaking school at only 14 years old. After passing the entrance exam, Rexhepi’s calling was solidified when he had the privilege to join as a trainee when he was 15, an opportunity that he understands is unique. This is where Rexhepi began to comprehend the value of traditional watchmaking and the effort required to succeed in a craft that is, in many ways, a lifelong learning process.
“After having worked for 10 years for other people, I felt that the time had come to realize my own story,” Rexhepi explains. “I had too many ideas in my head and I had the energy to accomplish them. When I think back, I realize that I might have been a little bit too daring, but I never regretted starting my own journey.”
The Dawn of Akrivia
Progress was gradual during Akrivia’s initial months. The capabilities and ideas were there, but Rexhepi found the process of developing the company itself a challenge. Founding an atelier and developing a watchmaking philosophy? Not a problem. But training watchmakers to understand that philosophy, as well as dealing with the challenging minutiae that comes with founding and running a startup? Some on-the-job learning was necessary.
Going back through those hyper-limited watches produced in the brand’s salad years reveals a specific – and complicated – motif: tourbillons. Rexhepi regards Abraham-Louis Breguet’s seminal invention as one of the core elements of horology.