Sometimes, less can be a whole lot more. Just ask Kosovo-born, Geneva-based master watchmaker Rexhep Rexhepi (pronounced ruh-jep ruh-jep-ee). The 31-year-old founder of independent high-end watch brand Akrivia was in town last December, just a month after his latest watch had bagged the title of best men’s watch at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve (GPHG).
That prize-winning watch is the Chronometre Contemporain, a beautifully hand-finished, time-only chronometer watch that focuses on accurate timekeeping, rather than the complex mechanisms that defined previous Akrivia watches, such as tourbillons or a chiming jump hour. Friendly and relaxed in a white shirt and blue jeans, Rexhepi explained why it took more than six years before he felt ready to go back to basics: “I’m feeling more comfortable with myself and I’ve become more mature. I’ve always liked classic watches; I apprenticed at Patek Philippe and I’ve worked for other brands that are very classic. But, when I started my brand at 25, I just wanted to make watches that were different. It was only recently that I thought, ‘Why don’t I make something simple and traditional?’”
It’s a notion that has paid off handsomely. Inspired by officer’s watches of the 1940s, the Chronometre Contemporain has become a firm favourite with the horological cognoscenti. Last November, the 38mm, enamel-dial timepiece trumped well-known brands such as Vacheron Constantin and MB&F to emerge top in the “men’s watch” category at the GPHG – basically, the watch world’s equivalent of the Oscars.
A quietly confident timepiece that Rexhepi describes as “a little more personal” than his earlier creations, the Chronometre Contemporain bears Rexhepi’s signature instead of the Akrivia logo. Sitting alongside the more complex watches in the Akrivia line, the Rexhep Rexhepi line will comprise classically styled watches. It also signifies a new maturity in Rexhepi’s prodigious career. Having moved to Geneva at the age of 12, during the Kosovo War in the 1990s, he applied for an apprenticeship at Patek Philippe when he was just 14. He spent five years at the esteemed brand, followed by stints with now-defunct, high-end movement maker BNB Concept and renowned indie watchmaker Francois-Paul Journe.
If he had a choice, admits Rexhepi, he would be happiest sitting at a workbench all day, tinkering with timepieces. But now that his business is growing, alongside his acclaim, he is looking to evolve, not just as a watchmaker, but as a businessman overseeing a small, but skilled, team of six as well. He mused: “It’s difficult to find people who are passionate and psychologically tough enough to carry out every step of the process perfectly. But I focus on the positive side: I’m happy because I can make watches my way and share them with people who like them.”