There are very few Atelier’s who can say they’ve accomplished as much as AkriviA in such a short amount of time. To be completely honest, I can’t think of a single one off of the top of my head. And yet, like every other feat in front of them, AkriviA has been successful in overcoming them all.
I first started to take interest in AkriviA a number of years ago. I was mindlessly scrolling through Instagram when a mysterious and beautiful timepiece popped up on my feed. The gorgeous and unique Tourbillon Monopusher Chronograph. It was love at first sight. I can’t say that I had seen anything quite like it and I was intrigued. That quickly turned into a google search, which abruptly upended any plans I had, and turned into hours and hours reading up on AkriviA. What a young brand with such an incredible product. I was immediately impressed with the humble beginnings of the brand’s creator Rexhep Rexhepi, and not only the risk, but the passion he had to step out with a lack of pretention and arrogance you so often find. This later led me to Naomi Barokas’ Instragram. Naomi is the Director if International Sales and Marketing for AkriviA, and it’s easy to see why. Passion for not only the timepieces, but the brand exudes from every post. This makes Akrivia engaging and personable to their prospective clients, and that’s something you rarely find in up-and-coming Atlier’s.
Rexhep Rexhepi - Naomi Barokas
So suffice to say, I jumped at the opportunity to interview these two. And before I launch into the interview below, I want to inform the reader that this interview was literally set up and planned via LinkedIn chat; if that’s any testament to how well they treat people, and how easy and willing they are to get ahold of. I hope that this interview gives the reader some insight into not only the brand, but the minds of its creators and biggest proponents.
Horobox: Let me first say that I have been following AkriviA since it launched, and I am incredibly excited to have the opportunity to interview both of you. For starters, you both have a background with Patek Philippe, which is an impressive and prestigious line item on a resume', not to mention a priceless learning experience working with their manufacture. What influenced your decision to start AkriviA?
Rexhep: “My time at Patek Philippe was very important for my development as a watchmaker of course. The training there was top-rate, I learned a lot about traditional techniques, made many good contacts and friendships and of course I am grateful to Patek for that experience. However, people don’t realize that when you take away the romantic imagery of the watchmaker at the bench, you have only two choices in life: to spend your lifetime assembling the beautiful watch designs of other people, or to create your own movement design and spend your time making the kinds of watches you have in your mind and your dreams… For me, it was the latter. I am always sketching ideas in my head, seeing possibilities that I would like to realize ‘in the metal’, you know. You can make something new every day of your life in watchmaking, so why should I assemble the same caliber for Brand X or Brand Y, however beautiful it might be, day in and day out? If I wanted that, it would have been easier to work in an office somewhere, rather than take on the challenge of starting my own small atelier in Geneva.
Naomi: “I have been in the watch business for a long time, working on retail and distribution parts of the business representing and selling all kinds of high-end brands, so I live and breathe watches and really know the environment well. Rexhep realized at the very beginning that he should concentrate only on watchmaking and nothing else, and I also wanted a challenge where I could learn more and be more involved in the daily tribulations of a small brand. In this way, we complement each other’s abilities very well and it is much more exciting for me as I enjoy every little success a lot for that reason.
Horobox: It's no doubt that AkriviA, being so young, has accomplished a lot in it's short time to market. For one, being positioned in the Haute Horologie segment. Even more impressive is with a first run, of a first release. What was that like for you guys? Was there any pressure or anxiety?
Rexhep + Naomi: “Anxiety? Pressure?No, of course not! “
(Rexhep + Naomi laugh hard).
Rexhep: “Well seriously speaking, it was hard and it wasn’t hard… I will try to explain… On the one hand, I had no doubts about what to do, because I am stubborn, with a hard head I developed already from my childhood, and I realized from the very get go: this is the way I am going to make a watch - or else not at all. In a way, this kind of approach is easy, as there are no discussions or doubts about compromise, about how-to proceed, about work arounds or anything like that. On the other hand, if I make everything the way I want, all the other questions pop up: it is going to be expensive. How do I know it will sell? Am I crazy? Will people understand my philosophy; will they see all the hours I put in hand finishing? And so forth…You know, my vision of watchmaking is very pure, kind of Zen, not filled with lots of lifestyle vibes like certain brands or with flashy visuals, so I was concerned about how will people outside my atelier will perceive my work. Yet at the same time, in my stubbornness I was sure I was right about doing things the traditional way and this ‘horologie pur’ approach. The result is that I was anxious and calm at the same time – if that makes any sense!
Horobox: The Tourbillon Monopusher Chronograph is hands down one of the most stunning timepieces I've ever seen. This piece catapulted AkriviA into the spotlight of independent watchmakers and Haute Horologie. That's got to be a confidence builder.
Rexhep: The reactions gave me a big lift, also because that watch was my first ‘holistic’ timepiece. You see, I was directly involved in the design and development of this movement when I was employed at BNB Concepts before I started on my own with AkriviA. So I see the Monopusher Tourbillon’s movement as my very own baby. BNB collapsed after only a few years, and the company and stock was sold off. (By the way, I should mention that it was at that time that Hublot bought some of those remaining movements to use for a small series of watches. So, actually it is Hublot that is using a movement I developed and designed, not the other way around as some bloggers have stated.) Anyway, long story short: I was able to get some of these movements back when I began AkriviA, and now, I had the possibility to make the case and dial to match my movement concept, skeletonized in just the right places to expose the inner workings of the chronograph functions and the finishing. In the latest version I have taken away the pusher between 2 and 3 o’ clock and placed it in in the crown, the classical style for a monopusher chronograph. It has a really nice, tactile and exact ‘click’ when you use it; something I find really important. This is what I mean by a holistic approach: in a refined wristwatch, the movement and case should all be developed as a complete entity, a whole, both fitting like a glove, visually and mechanically. With the Monopusher Tourbillon release I therefore had exactly what I wanted to present as the first AkriviA timepiece.
Horobox: The entire AkriviA collection has a unique and beautiful design to it. I used to explain it as an almost futuristic or "Sci-Fi" feeling timepiece. What led you guys to decide on that design?
Rexhep: In the beginning I sketched out several ideas and worked together with a friend of mine who is a designer for details. I wanted something ‘cosmic’, something other worldly for the case, without becoming too sci-fi or Star Trek in appearance. So we looked at astrophysics, where the passage of planets follows elliptical orbits with their perihelion and aphelion, and the idea of combining the circular shape and the ellipse came together, inspired by material about our solar system. The stepped sides of the case and their curves from lug to lug have profiles that describe sections of an ellipse. In this way, there is a kind of subtle ‘planetary’ connection of the round and elliptical, without resorting to visually heavy-handed sci-fi quotes as it were.
Horobox: Follow up question to that: What made you decide on doing strictly tourbillons?
Rexhep: You know, the tourbillon craze dates back to the turn of the century and everyone began making them at that time. They have become a kind of ‘new normal’ for haute horlogerie. In any case, the tourbillon is simply one of the highest forms of anchor escapement we know; it is proven through centuries and also it is beautiful to see, and a challenge to make, which I of course enjoy. So, for me the tourbillon is simply the perfect medium for high-end watchmaking, a kind of basis for all kinds of movement developments I have in mind. It also gives me a chance to showcase the quality I strive to achieve, as the finishing of a tourbillon is very demanding and specialist work, and everyone can examine its quality of workmanship, because it is a very ‘naked’ complication… So, the construction of tourbillons additionally demonstrates that although AkriviA is a small atelier, our work is of the highest level.
Horobox: One of the things that I have found most impactful about AkriviA, is its independence. Has that presented more challenges or advantages?
Rexhep: Of course it only makes things harder, but it has to be this way… I have seen how several people started off a bit like I did, and when things began moving, they wanted to grow right away and got business partners involved. Within the shortest time they were forced to grow too fast, their exclusivity was ruined in exchange for short-term profits, their image suffered and they lost their voice to shareholders. I don’t want to name people, but the watch industry is filled with names, famous and not so famous, who have been through this cycle. I plan to keep a tight hand on production and will always maintain exclusivity. This is essential, also for achieving quality, and I want my name and the brand name to be synonymous as a statement of excellence in watchmaking.
Naomi: Because we are small, we of course do not have big budgets to spend on PR and all kinds of events; we have to choose carefully what we do and where we exhibit. So, we rely quite heavily on the goodwill of people sharing info about us online and in magazines. Many people like yourself, who are passionate about discovering more about watchmaking, recognize our philosophy and search us out intuitively. And that’s cool for us, because Akrivia is a very personal company; we want to keep it that way because the timepieces we make are highly personal creations for Rexhep; every watch represents a time-consuming expression of his passion and personality.
Horobox: Enough business. What do you guys like to do for fun?
Naomi: Horseback riding! I have some horses outside the city and I taught Rexhep how to ride; I always think it is a good way to get fresh air and leave the workbench behind for a few hours.
Rexhep: I don’t know if I will ever feel 100% comfortable on the back of such a big creature…And she sometimes has to drag me out there to ride….But, in the end, she’s right, the vantage point from the saddle is the perfect antidote to working on something which measures only a few centimeters in diameter for 9 or 10 hours a day!