Calling On The Village: Czapek & Cie. And The Quai Des Bergues Collection
Twenty years ago a book was published that popularized a phrase describing the world so subtly that it was met with some misplaced backlash. The book called It Takes a Village was ghostwritten by Barbara Feinman to be published for then-first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton. The title evokes the proverb “it takes a village to raise a child,” which has origins in many African cultures.
The idea is universally understood to mean that everyone needs help to succeed.
The phrase is commonly taken at face value and thought to mean that a child cannot be raised without help from the community. While that may be a true and obvious statement with some, it didn’t sit well with conservative agendas. But, like most issues, neither side debating really grasped the overarching meaning. The deeper implications go way beyond partisan politics or family dynamic; they touch the very foundations of what it means to be human.
Nothing can be accomplished alone.
It’s a hard truth to swallow, especially for those busting their butts to succeed when it seems nobody is helping. But regardless of the direct involvement of a sidekick, partner, or assistant, there has almost certainly not been a single accomplishment in living memory that was done alone. That is, if you really think about it.
Any time a person has created, built, or made anything tangible it was thanks to the help of centuries of accumulated knowledge, technology, and circumstances. Any new thought, idea, or concept has been seeded, in some way, by everything a person has previously experienced, learned, and heard.
Taking the phrase “it takes a village” to its logical extreme, everything about the world today – good and bad – we owe to a 100,000 years of human development, discovery, and chance.
The wisest among us understand this fact pretty quickly and are able to harness all the help they can get to make amazing creations. The watch industry is no different, and those that acknowledge this fact have historically done well. The “F” in MB&F stands for “Friends,” after all. So when I was introduced to a new player in the watch game looking to create something new and sharing this understanding, I was definitely intrigued. It also helps that what is being created is pretty stunning on its own.
With that I introduce to you Czapek & Cie., a nascent watch brand that is looking to the village to help it grow.
Purists and enthusiasts
The first interesting thing to learn about Czapek is that it is a brand not atypically reviving a historical name with some pretty serious horological street cred for the purists out there. François Czapek, a Polish man born Franciszek Czapek in Bohemia (in today’s Czech Republic) in 1811, was a fantastic watchmaker. He first partnered with Antoine Norbert de Patek (who later went on to found Patek Philippe & Cie with Adrien Philippe).
Czapek eventually became watchmaker to the imperial court of French emperor, Napoléon III, nephew of the legendary Napoléon Bonaparte. François Czapek published the first book on watchmaking written in Polish and began a second volume before he passed away. The company named Czapek & Cie. died sometime in the 1860s or 1870s along with the man, leading to the name being largely forgotten outside of horological circles and seasoned collectors.
Leaping forward 130 or more years to an enthusiastic group of people deciding that the name Czapek should once again be in the spotlight. Two men with a history in luxury consulting and marketing are behind the Czapek endeavor, Xavier de Roquemaurel and Harry Guhl. They collaborate with a watchmaker preferring to remain unnamed who has spent time working with tourbillons for Greubel Forsey and Girard-Perregaux.
And they have fully internalized the saying “it takes a village” to build this brand.
So much so that they are partnering with as many talented firms, engineers, and designers as possible in addition to creating crowdfunding opportunities via a quasi-IPO at different stages to help boost production and development of the Czapek brand.
Before I get into why I love the strategy behind Czapek and detail exactly what the new brand is doing, we should take a good look at the Czapek Quai des Bergues collection: the inaugural watches poised to build the brand.
With visuals based on the look of an 1850 pocket watch by Czapek, there are eight references in five case materials including 950 platinum, 1N white gold, 4N pink gold, grade 5 titanium, and a new-to-watchmaking “xo” stainless steel (we’ll come back to this). These different references utilize two distinct dial designs with a very historically inspired grand feu (oven-fired) enamel dial and elongated Roman numerals or a much more modern multilayered dial, applied indices, and stylized Arabic numerals.
There are two hand options for the two pink gold references, one being an extremely delicate fleur de lys in matching gold, the other a bolder blued steel half-sword/half-stick design, both of which are meticulously machined from a sheet with a 0.10 mm milling cutter. Each reference allows you to choose a style of power reserve indication from three options, a very nice touch for such a small brand.
Finally, the titanium reference features a carbon fiber dial made in two ways. First, the central portion of the dial comprises unidirectional strips of 0.15 mm carbon that provide a brushed appearance. The outer circle track is created using wound strips of 0.4 mm carbon, lending the dial a seemingly circular brushed finish.
These variations provide a good amount of detail to geek out over, and that is even before you know that the enamel dials feature a secret signature in the material (very awesome) hidden somewhere for you to find.
Before we discover more special details, let’s pause to ask about the movement. Is it something worthy of such a great-looking design? The short answer is yes.
The engine and the partners
The “driving force” behind the entire Quai des Bergues collection is the manual winding SXH1 caliber with seven days of power reserve. The movement is also where we will start to discuss what Czapek is doing with its partners and why it is such a great idea.
The movement is made by none other than the fantastical movement design company Chronode, headed up and founded by Jean-François Mojon. You may recognize those names from other amazing timepieces such as the MB&F LM1, MCT Sequential 1, and the HYT H1.
The partnership with Chronode to design and build the movements shows the dedication of Czapek to absolute quality from the ground up. Not capable of producing these timepieces alone, the founders of Czapek understood that to be the best they can be they should work with the best in the industry.
It takes an industry to build an incredible watch, and they decided to prove it.
The SXH1 caliber is just the beginning of this journey, though, as Czapek has sought out some excellent partners for every aspect of the watch: NeoDesis and Antoine Tschumi for design; Les Artisans Boîtiers for case manufacturing; Donzé Cadrans for enamel dials (see Why Do Ulysse Nardin’s Dials Look So Good? Because Donzé Cadrans Authentically Fires Enamel); Metallique & Convergence Composite for the composite carbon dials; H M Waeber for the flawless hands; AB Concept for case components and work with micro machining on hands; and the exquisite Camille Fournet for the leather straps. All of these partnerships are championed and discussed freely in the marketing and press materials.
Czapek even worked with Montanstahl (a specialty steel profile company) to produce the mystery “xo” steel. Let’s examine this a bit closer.
The “xo” steel is described as a regularly produced stainless steel that is usually used in highly corrosive environments. This is the first time it has been used in producing watch cases according to the boutique brand. This is a lofty claim, but more than likely it will stand up to scrutiny. The exact alloy isn’t being shared (that I know of), but there are more than 150 different grades of stainless steel in production and I can only think of a handful that have been definitely used in watch cases.
Based on Czapek’s claims of the locations where the steel is normally used (such as the North Sea), it could likely be narrowed down to one of the superaustenitic stainless steels or possibly a duplex, superduplex, or hyperduplex stainless steel – all of which feature much higher concentrations of molybdenum, chromium, or both.
The addition of these alloying metals increases the steel’s resistance to corrosion; this is why it is found used in many extreme marine applications. My one-dollar bet would be on either superduplex or hyperduplex stainless steel as the likely candidate.
If or when Czapek actually makes the steel alloy known, I’ll be waiting eagerly to find out what it is.
Crowdfunded IPO, sort of
It’s clear that Czapek is committed to working with the best in the industry to produce incredible watches, but it also wants to go about the entire process of building a brand in a way not exactly traditional for haute horlogerie.
This began with an original design study chronograph watch that helped develop the prototyping process and begin relationships with suppliers. It was followed by multiple rounds of crowdfunding stages, where instead of the typical product-based rewards of this system, investors received actual shares in the ownership of the company.
This creates more than just a brand; it creates customer relationship and real ownership for all the investors, which also benefits them with lower costs of timepiece ownership down the road. This is truly a daring way to start a watch brand as this type of process is usually not seen in the luxury entrepreneurship arena.
Over the last few years this method has helped Czapek raise more than one million Swiss Francs, creating a company valued at almost 7.5 million Swiss francs.
The strategy has also created a demand for more opportunities to buy into the company with future crowd equity opportunities and a current planned production of 188 subscription pieces to continue building momentum toward the next collection.
In this day and age of startups and angel investors, giving people the chance to be part of something that they may be passionate about isn’t just a cool opportunity, it seems like smart business. The hardest thing about starting any business is raising capital to fund the initial ideas, getting over the hump toward becoming a profitable endeavor.
It is possible that profits may be slim for a long time, but as with traditional watchmaking, people aren’t necessarily in a hurry because it’s more about the ideals than the bottom line.
Czapek really is getting the village to help raise this baby of a brand. For this reason I am super excited to see where this can go, especially considering the horizontal manufacture setup and the added ability to own a stake in the future of the company, which is very enticing to a watch lover like myself.
Now all I need to do is scrape together enough to buy some shares, or maybe one of the first 188 pieces! I’d better start counting my nickels and dimes now.
While you wait on me, here’s the breakdown!
- Wowza Factor * 9.1 The different references and the details of these pieces make all of them increditastic, especially once you know the history and story behind the brand.
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 88.8 » 870.83 m/s2 The variety and design of the Quai des Bergues collection combined with the grand feu enamel and Chronode movements make it really hard to avoid lusting all night for one of these.
- M.G.R. * 68.5 Jean-François Mojon and Chronode, seven-day power reserve, and a hint of a surprised robot eating popcorn make this movement geektastic!
- Added-Functionitis * Mild Power reserve, oh power reserve, how you fulfill all the basic needs! And if you’re diligent, it even ends up having a day of the week indicator. This definitely requires some over-the-counter strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream, for the crowdfunded awesomeness!
- Ouch Outline * Variable – Depends On How Bad You Want It! Since you can buy into the company, or to multiple price levels of watches, the “ouch” you want to inflict on yourself really is a personal choice. But whatever way you choose, it would be worth it.
- Mermaid Moment * That is an awesome idea! It’s hard to get all the way through an article like this and not be mad that you can’t be a part of it. Still counting those dimes, I wonder if the priest does pro-bono work?
- Awesome Total * 672 Multiply the number of hours in the power supply (168) with the number of references (8) and divide the answer by the number of barrels (2) to discover the super awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.czapek.com/quai-des-bergues.
Case: 42.5 mm, platinum, 4N pink gold, white gold, titanium, or “xo” steel
Movement: manual winding Czapek SXH1 by Chronode with twin spring barrels for 7 days’ worth of power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; power reserve indication and weekday
Limitation: 188 total pieces
Price: ranging from 9,900 to 39,500 Swiss francs