In certain quarters, it has already been described as a publicity stunt, a horological bandwagon, and it’s a fact that Xavier de Roquemaurel, Harry Guhl and their business partner weren’t afraid to cite the name of Patek, a reference for any admirer of fine timepieces, when launching Czapek & Cie. Czapek, Patek: two similar-sounding names joined in watchmaking. Surely not? In the hands of the Stern family since 1932, Patek Philippe has, after all, achieved greatness as an independent firm. Yet a foray into the pages of nineteenth-century watchmaking history reveals that the two names did indeed once form a single entity.
Antoine Norbert de Patek and François (Francizek) Czapek met in Geneva in the 1830s. Both were Polish émigrés who had fled their country after the failed insurrection against Russian rule. More to the point, both were watchmakers. Together they established Patek, Czapek & Cie in 1839, a thriving concern that would produce some two hundred watches a year, some of which were made to order for European courts and nobility. However, increasingly diverging views caused the two partners to go their separate ways, in 1845. Antoine Norbert de Patek joined forces with Jean Adrien Philippe, an engineer he had met a year earlier at the Universal Exhibition in Paris, and the inventor of a pocket watch that could be wound by the crown. François Czapek, meanwhile, continued on his way in the company of Juliusz Gruzewski, a close acquaintance of Emperor Napoleon III, under the name Czapek & Cie. This new endeavour would also be crowned with success, illustrated by the opening of an atelier in Geneva, first on Quai des Bergues then on Rue du Rhône, followed by a boutique on Place Vendôme in Paris and a second in Warsaw. François Czapek also penned the first ever book on watchmaking to be written in Polish.
A boutique brand
Such a rich albeit little-known legacy couldn’t be allowed to fade away completely, and so Xavier De Roquemaurel, ex-VP marketing at Ebel, art consultant Harry Guhl, and their business partner set about returning the Czapek name to the spotlight, as early as 2008. They began by registering the name which, apparently, no-one else was interested in. Next step was to raise capital, in the unconventional form of crowdfunding. The half a million Swiss francs raised to date financed the development of a first movement, a task entrusted to Jean-François Mojon of Chronode. Functioning entirely through outside suppliers, Czapek & Cie has put together a line-up of choice: LAB Les Artisans Boîtier for the cases, including one in an exclusive steel alloy, Donzé Cadrans for the grand feu enamel dials, HMS Waeber for the stylised hands, Camille Fournet for the straps and, for the design, NeoDesis whose clients include Greubel Forsey.
Czapek & Cie took Reference 3430, a pocket watch made in 1850, as its inspiration, hence the unusual position of the subdials on the contemporary model: one for small seconds between four and five o’clock, and a second between seven and eight o’clock that combines a day of the week display with the indication of the seven-day power reserve, delivered by two barrels. Named Quai des Bergues in honour of the brand’s Geneva workshop, this debut collection comes in pink gold or in a choice of steel or titanium with a vinyl carbon dial for a sportier look. Czapek & Cie, which is aiming to produce 250 watches in 2016 and ultimately around a thousand a year, wants to work with one retailer per country, at extremely competitive price points. “For the brand to function, we need lean organisation and the right partners,” comments Harry Guhl. “It’s our job to find the best people to then propose not just another watch, but an original and exciting timepiece. We don’t need huge production output in this context. We want to remain a boutique brand of interest to collectors.”
Backed by a name, a history and solid mechanics, Czapek & Cie is off the ground. Already, the brand is promising new collections in the coming years, although it will need to get collectors onboard first. Crowdfunding is a slow process, and additional rounds of financing will be needed to guarantee the immediate future of a brand which, for the time being at least, can take credit for simply existing.