Visiting Rexhep Rexhepi

The horizon, unlike the equator or North Pole, isn’t a static property or location on Earth. It is a local phenomenon, where the convexity of the earth limits visibility distance. If you take a 6ft tall person for example; Their ‘visible distance‘ would stretch just over 3 miles (~5km); whereas a bird flying at an altitude of 1 mile would have visibility stretching about 100 miles in every direction. The point being… when you are unable to see your destination as you travel on your journey, this doesn’t mean it is not there. It simply means that you are unable to see it … yet.

After speaking with Rexhep Rexhepi, this analogy seems to perfectly describe his approach to living his dream. Rexhep first held a tourbillon in his hands around the age of 17, and in that moment, felt within himself that he needed to create his own. He recalls stealing his dad’s Tissot at night, to try and open it up and failing to do so… each time trying to satiate the curiosity he had about the ticking sound coming from within.

Rexhep examining a Greubel Forsey GMT Sport (Credit: @changingtimes001)

Growing up in Kosovo, family values are something ingrained in his heart. What is also interesting about Rexhep’s upbringing, is that he and all the other kids he grew up with, used to make their own toys too. They were raised in a creative environment, with a culture of turning their ideas into reality. This obviously fuelled an innate curiosity, to better understand how things worked, before they could be made a reality. This is a useful insight into the man we know today, because it explains a lot about how he got to this point at such a young age.

Rexhep moved to Switzerland at the age of 12, eventually joined Patek Philippe in an apprenticeship which is notoriously selective, and continued working there for a couple of years post-internship. As most will be aware, he also spent some time working under F. P. Journe too. Fast-forward to 2012 and he had taken a leap of faith to start his own brand. By his own admission, he was naïve about what was possible at the time… imagining how he would create a beautiful watch and people would immediately appreciate its beauty and buy it. This wasn’t immediately the case, and it wasn’t until his fairly recent success at the GPHG, that things really took off. He reflects on how this was a hard lesson, but a necessary one. He repeatedly expresses gratitude for those who supported along the way, for being able to do what he loves daily, and to have no constant worry or fears about keeping the lights on or paying staff. Honestly, for a superstar watchmaker, his humility and self-awareness is truly delightful.

Rexhep Rexhepi RRCC2 and AkriviA AK06 (Credit: @changingtimes001)

Just to set expectations at this point; There has been a lot of ground covered by others on the history of the man, the technical excellence of his creations, the inspiration for his ideas and so on, so I will instead focus more on my own experience above all else. Here’s an old SJX article if you want to start at the beginning and a more recent one on the RRCC2 specifically.

“He has a desire to do things as they were done before”

Jean Pierre Hagmann (speaking about Rexhep Rexhepi)

Quick shout-out to my friend @changingtimes001 who was single-handedly responsible for making this dream visit happen – I can’t thank you enough. Of course, a heartfelt thank you to Annabelle and Rexhep, for such generosity with their time, and for hosting us on what I would describe as any horological enthusiasts’ wildest dream coming true. This sounds hyperbolic, but I assure you, it is not. Anyway, enough of the soppy stuff!

What became clear to me from the short time I was able to spend with Rexhep, is that every cell in his body is programmed around watchmaking. “I am not a CEO, I am a watchmaker“, he said, after discussing how challenging and heartbreaking it is for him to turn so many people away today, now that his work is in the spotlight.

As we talked about the RRCC2, and Rexhep described any particular detail, his face would light up when I replied with a technical question. As he explained that the case alone had 15 separate parts… he smiled when my face lit up in awe of this achievement. Feeding off my excitement, he continued to explain extremely ‘unnecessary’ technicalities about the dial symmetry, the movement symmetry, the preference of five indices over three … you name it, and I have no doubt he considered it while designing and creating the watch.

RRCC2 in Rose Gold (L) and Platinum (R)

It is therefore unsurprising, that shortly after visiting him, the RRCC 2 was nominated in the Men’s category by the GPHG for a 2022 award. I have always been outspoken about the jury mix in the GPHG, and how there are so many conflicts of interest there… but notwithstanding that problem, this is going to win. Deservedly so.

Main takeaways

So instead of boring you with a ‘play by play’ of the visit, which I would encourage you to do for yourself, I think I will share some of my most memorable takeaways following the visit.

Allocations are REXHEP’s worst nightmare

I recall a recent error on the VivaBastardo podcast where they accidentally posted Silas Walton of A Collected Man speaking ‘off mic’ – I will say, this was probably the best 15 minutes of any podcast I have ever heard, just because it was so authentic. Silas explained how some people can turn into absolute animals when they are not given an allocation. Given Silas is good friends with Rexhep, and ACM is one of only three authorised retailers for AkriviA, he was in fact reflecting on people who wanted a RRCC and didn’t get one.

With the above context, Rexhep spoke about how difficult it is to make so few watches, and have such insatiable demand – yes, you might see such a conundrum as a ‘first world problem’ as you read this, but once you understand Rexhep the man, you quickly realise this bothers him, deeply. He would love nothing more than to supply every single enthusiast’s request, but the only thing more important to him than meeting demand, is pride in his work – and so, he will never compromise on quality in order to increase production.

The other thing which is of utmost importance to Rexhep, is his word. Reflecting on the early days since starting Akrivia, nobody really wanted his watches – and so, along the way, when he had people who decided to place trust in him, and support him, he felt immense appreciation for this support. As he progressed, and prior to his extreme stardom, he had increasing interest from people who expressed interest, and were assured of a future allocation (without any financial commitment). Some might say, these people were probably not even serious about buying at the time, and perhaps thought “when I get the call, I will just decide at the time“. For Rexhep, a promise is a promise, and so even these folks who conveyed ‘loose’ interest early on, are now rewarded with an allocation simply because Rexhep is such an honourable person. Yeah, this might sound trivial to some, but for me, seeing this play out and watching the cogs turn in his mind as he speaks about these issues, make me like the man even more than his watches.

Rexhep is always thinking about the future

By now most of you will have seen my story post on Instagram about J.P. Hagmann – if not, I would encourage you to have a look, it is saved in my highlights bar on Instagram.

But most famous of all was his work for Patek Philippe. In fact, it was the refined cases he made for Patek Philippe’s minute repeating wristwatches that have gained him lasting reverence amongst watch collectors. And it was the immense, complex and delicately open-worked case he built at the turn of the millennium for one of the most complicated pocket watches ever that sealed his reputation as a true great in the field.

Akrivia

Annabelle and Rexhep described how JPH was solemn and visibly ‘run-down’ before they asked him to come out of retirement. Now, at over 80 years of age, he has a spring in his step and a smile on his face, and can be found at the Akrivia Atelier creating his magic. He makes all his cases ‘by eye’, using his own spectacles made by himself, by hand! He uses no technology, and creates all his design drawings by hand. The man is an absolute hero of a craftsman.

J.P. Hagmann’s hand made glasses

Rexhep looked to bring him out of retirement not only for the high quality of his work, but primarily to try and preserve this level of skilled craftsmanship rather than letting it fade away as these star-artisans from the past leave the world. This is something Greubel Forsey also aims to accomplish, but that is a story for another day.

The point being, while Rexhep is forward-thinking and innovative in his approach to the future of his creations, he recognises the value to be found in history as well, and this is why his work is an epic example of taking the best of what we have seen, and marrying it with the best of what we can imagine today. I think we’re roughly the same age, but I have never felt that much in awe of a person so young – he’s definitely a wise old soul in a young body. That’s a bonus for horological enthusiasts, that we will hopefully be around to see a lot more magic from this man; God-willing.

JPH at his bench
Akrivia’s Growth Is inevitable

Rexhep often reflects on how he wants to be remembered. After all, being at the pinnacle of watchmaking excellence during one’s lifetime is one thing, but leaving a legacy is something entirely different. This is, of course, important to him as well. The issue facing an atelier like Akrivia, is how, or whether, it can leave a lasting legacy. If you consider whether any highly skilled watchmaker is likely to be remembered after they’re gone, it often comes down to achieving a critical mass that is required to be in the consciousness of the ‘mainstream’ narrative in an enduring way.

This notion isn’t lost on Rexhep, and ultimately he does want to grow, but he wants to do so at a sustainable pace. At Akrivia, there is a certain mindset which Rexhep desires in his team. He explained how he took the time to seek younger artisans whose mindsets were more malleable, allowing him to mould them into the Akrivia way of thinking. This grassroots approach takes time, but it ensures that the brand stays true to Rexhep’s vision of how he wants to grow; Without compromise, and on his own terms, always.

Given Rexhep is in his mid thirties, I see no reason why Akrivia won’t continue to find the young talent they desire to grow, and in time, they will. One thing we can be sure of, is that he will not allow anything to leave his workshop which doesn’t meet his astronomical standards, and if that means the growth is slower, then as the saying goes: “good things come to those who wait!

AkriviA AK06

Conclusion

If it isn’t already clear, I absolutely loved this experience. I never expected to be enamoured with any person or brand to the extent that I am now with Rexhep, and that’s because of him as a person, and his vision for how he wants to live his life and follow his passion.

The day Rexhep tried on my F.P. Journe Resonance

One thing I didn’t touch on earlier, and that is Rexhep’s personal ‘pet passions’ and his preferences as a horologist – not necessarily as a watchmaker. He’s also just a watch geek, like any one of us in the proverbial watch family. He has his own favourite complications too 🙂

What really excited me was when we discussed whether he would ever venture into obscure complications and he replied “I might try and make one for myself”… to which I replied, “please make two”. He smiled, and we left it at that. I will try and remind Annabelle to egg him on, and hopefully, one day, this might become a reality. I think this is my new grail, and the best part about this story is that it may never happen… but because there is a chance greater than 0%, it can be dubbed ‘a possibility’ – and that makes it fun for me to think about.

You may not know much about Akrivia or Rexhep, and today, with all the hype that surrounds the man and his creations, its easy to get caught up in the biases that surround this sort of thing… particularly the social validation and perceived ‘status’ that comes with owning such a watch.

Quick checkup too!

I just want to assure you… this is no ordinary man, and he has an extraordinary view of the world. He’s the quintessential flag-bearer for independent watchmaking, arguably in the mould of F.P. Journe in his early days… but just, an all round nicer human, complete with family values, honour, respect and humility. He deserves all the praise you hear about, and more. I am grateful to have been afforded the opportunity to get to know him and his wife, and I look forward to the next time we meet again.

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