We end our Editor’s Choice of Top 5 watches from Baselworld 2016 with the Czapek & Cie Quai des Bergues Fleur de Lys No 33, not because of its the least in the list, but because it appears first alphebatically on his list as it appears in the Editor’s Choice article. The detailed reviews are done in reverse alphabetical order, and we now arrive at the Czapek No 33.
To say the least, it was a surprise to see, touch and feel the new Czapek watches. This is the first Baselworld they are showing. They first unveiled the brand and the first watches mid 2015 in Salon QP in London. They call these watches their 2016 millésimé, French for vintage. A word one usually encounters in the world of fine wines, and frankly the first time we have come across its use in watches. We don’t know why, though, as it is a perfectly good word. Descriptive and very apt. But we digress. As we said, we were surprised. We were not expecting to see the watches to be so beautiful, to be made with such passion, and built to such high standards as when we encountered the first Czapeks. Amazing. The story of the creation of the Czapek & Cie revival is also amazing. We told some of this story in our introduction article published pre-Basel, and we ask that you read it first or to re-read it to familiarize yourself before embarking on this review:
Essential reading: Introduction to Czapek & Cie Quai des Bergues.
Historical roots: Czapek & Cie
The origin of the company began with Franciszek Czapek. A name which probably will not ring a bell to anyone but the most hard core of watch enthusiasts. Czapek emigrated to Geneva during the Russian invasion of Poland in the 1800s. In Geneva, he took the French name François Czapek. In 1836 he met a fellow Polish immigrant by the name of Antoine Nobert de Patek, and together they started a watchmaking company called Patek, Czapek & Cie on May 1 1839. Patek, a military man took on a sales and administration role, and Czapek devoted himself to watchmaking and the art of finishing. The company had quite good success. Some examples are found in the King Farouk Collection, which can now be seen in the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva.
The partnership was to last only six years. During the time, they sold a number of exceptional pieces, and then both went their own way. Czapek went on to establish Czapek & Cie in 1845, and Patek associated with French watchmaker Adrien Philippe and created Patek Philippe & Co. The latter went on to become one of the greatest watchmaking houses in history.
The watchmaker Czapek & Cie initially met with good success. He was appointed “Horloger de la Cour Impériale” (Watchmaker to the Imperial Court) by Emperor Napoléon III. And Czapek kept his atelier in Quai des Bergues and a boutique in Place Vendôme, and another in Warsaw. He died some years later, the actual date is not known, and the company gradually faded into oblivion. Only some of the watches which have found their way into the hands of serious pocket watch collectors remain in awe of the pieces.
Reviving Czapek & Cie
The company remained inactive until three individuals, Harry Guhl, Xavier de Roquemaurel and Sebastien Follonier came together in 2013 with the idea to restart the brand following 3 years of research and development. Calling themselves The Guardians, they decided on the unusual. Instead of the usual method of raising capital and starting the factory, they came up with the idea to let collectors and enthusiasts contribute to the company’s capital. This level of crowdfunding has never been seen before in the history of watchmaking, although A.L. Breguet had a souscription method where the clients would subscribe to a watch and make progressive payments towards its construction, helping Breguet fund its manufacture.
By February 2016, the crowdfunding campaign in 3 jurisdictions viz Switzerland, France and UK on two platform Raizers and Crowd for Angels have raised CHF1.1 million. And 93 investors from 11 countries on 3 continents have become shareholders. Each of the shareholder would receive a ownership title deed. We find this to be quite interesting, as it is not just a financial investment made available to watch lovers, but also an emotional investment with direct access, information sharing and an opportunity to own a watchmaking company.
Czapek & Cie Quai des Bergues Fleur de Lys No 33
The inspiration behind the Quai des Bergues collection is the Czapek 3430 made in the 1850s. This watch appeared as Lot 175 in the Antiquorum Auction in 16th October 2005 in Geneva. The watch was sold for CHF52,000 including Buyers Premium against a pre-sale estimate of CHF35,000-45,000.
The case, dial and hands
The Quai des Bergues collection feature some 8 watches, in white and rose gold with enamel grand feu dials, in titanium with a carbon dial and a special steel with a white or black dial. Our review watch, the model referenced as No 33, features a 4N rose gold case, with a grand feu enamel dial, a special Fleur de Lys hands in Black Gold. A version in white gold is also available, but our review sample was in rose gold.
The case is beautifully made, and quite classical in design. Made by Les Artisans Boîtiers (LAB), La Chaux-de-Fonds, a company owned by the Sandoz Foundation and part of the Parmigiani Group. The case sides feature an unusual crown guard. The purpose is of course to protect the crown, and the design is quite harmonious with the classical case.
The dial is grand feu enamel, by Donzé Cadran, Le Locle, a company now part of Ulysse Nardin. Donzé is an enamel dial maker at the top of their game. It shows in the product. On examination with a loupe, the dial looks magnificent, the white hue is pure and the black numerals are dark and crisp.
The hands deserve special attention. The Fleur de Lys hands are a throwback to the days when hands used to be made individually by hand. The hands have obviously taken their design cues from the Czapek 3430, and the art of making these detailed, filligree hands have been lost. The Guardians went to Aurélien Bouchet of AB Concept. Aurélien was eager to take on the project and began work in September 2015. He tried to make the hands with brass and then with steel. Neither worked. Then Sebastien Follonier, who is one of the 3 Guardians, sugested to try with gold. Sebastien had cut his teeth as a watchmaker working with IWC, Girard Perregaux, Greubel Forsey and Corum. He thought that gold was dense and soft, and its malleable properties may be suitable to create the delicate features of the hands. Aurélien tried it and it worked! The hands are chiseled with a tool of only 0.1mm radius and then painstakingly hand polished. Sebastien then gives a final camber to the hands. The cost of these hands is about 10 times the cost of the beautiful hands of the No 31, and carries a premium of CHF2,000. The No 31 and No 33 are otherwise similar.
But that is not all for the No 33’s hands. In order to make the design coherent with the black Roman numerals on the enamel dial, the hands are given a thin layer of black rhodium plating. The hands are in 4N rose gold. And the result is a beautiful black accent on what is still discernable as gold hands. Czapek coined the term “Black Gold” to describe this material.
The movement: Czapek SXH1
The movement is made by Jean-François Mojon, Chronode Le Locle. Jean-François is a well known movement designer and constructor and have been involved with some iconic modern watches like the MB&F Legacy Machines (see here for our coverage of the LM1, LM2, and LM101 which are made by Chronode), the HYT H1 in its various iterations. (see here for the H1).
The design inspiration is again taken from the Czapek 3430. And the cues are immediately clear. The double barrel design with the two flying barrel wheels. The bridge layout is not the same, but the flow of the curves of the bridges can be seen. The use of blued steel screws are also a carry over from the original 1850 caliber. The use of sandblasted bridges giving it a frosted look on the bridges is another indicator.
The movement beats at 21,600 bph and has a diameter of 32mm (14¼ lines), and a height of 4.75mm. The finishing is good but not exceptional. The presence of several outward angles are an indication of the virtuosity, however, there is a lack of inward angles. The sandblasting in the review sample is also not even, creating visible spots within the bridges which look like smudges. Perhaps these are smudges from tiny bits of residual lubrication, and it can be clearly seen in the high magnification macro photograph above. Look at the bridge visible through the skeletonized barrel wheels. We grant that the review sample may have been a hurriedly made prototype, such are the pressures of Baselworld. And we hope that practice of good quality control will sort this out in production pieces.
The Czapek Fleur de Lys No 33 is available in either 4N rose gold or white gold, both the same enamel dial and Black Gold Fleur de Lys hands.
Overall, we find the level of finishing is not lavish, but well in keeping with the modest price points in which the Czapek No 33 is offered at.
We find the concept in which Harry Guhl, Xavier de Roquemaurel and Sebastien Follonier came up with reviving an old brand to be quite amazing. And we loved it! The products as we had the pleasure to examine in Baselworld is very nice indeed. They seemed to have crossed all the Ts and dotted all the Is in the complicated process of creating a watch from scratch. Of course, they were smart to work with partners who have a proven record of high craftsmanship and ability to deliver. People like Jean-François Mojon, LAB, Donzé Cadran and many others. They have chosen a communications strategy in line with their crowd ownership model – one which is open and honest.
The watches themselves are beautifully designed. Nicely made, especially so when taken into consideration with the rather modest pricing they have chosen to sell at. In terms of competition, perhaps there are many. We currently see them as firmly in the middle of the haute horlogerie, competing with the likes of Girard Perregaux, Ulysse Nardin, Zenith, Jaeger LeCoultre and many others. This is a crowded market segment – the entry to mid level high end of haute horogerie. They are not yet at the crème de la crème, but we see potential. Perhaps, over time to be nearly touching at the coat tails of Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and A Lange & Söhne. But perhaps not quite. Not yet anyway. Czapek has promises of two additional lines in their collection. The Rue du Rhône collection which is due 2016/2017 will feature a well known complication. And the Place Vendôme which will be due in 2018 to feature a new extreme complication. We await with anticipation.
To be fair, the entry level prices of watches of the Quai de Bergues collection are very fair in comparison to the offerings from these 3 greats (PP, VC, ALS). In particular, we think the stainless steel version No 23 is a great value. The Czapek No 23 is shown below and carries a recommended retail price of CHF 9,900 inclusive of Swiss VAT.
We find the circumstances of the re-founding of Czapek & Cie to be fascinating. Below is a timeline with insightful and somewhat amusing comments from Xavier de Roquemaurel (paraphrased):
2001 Harry Guhl who was making regularly historical searches discovered Czapek history and was surprised that this watchmaker who was reallly a Master of the 19th century, was totally forgotten.
2008, Harry realised that Czapek and Cie was still « asleep »… He thought « Czapek is waiting for me… ».
He made the legal searches to check that no claims were standing or could be standing in the future and got the authorization to register it after 4 years, in 2012.
He did all that work with a friend of his father, another watch collector based in Switzerland, who subsequently passed away from a cancer.
So Harry was left alone, and looked for a partner. At that time, by co-incidence, Xavier de Roquemaurel had just lost his job and was looking for the next challenge. A common friend working at AP put them in contact. They met on October 8th, 2013. Harry then did not disclose about the brand revival. But the pair got along extremely well. The alchemy was immediate. Xavier told Harry: « Neither you nor me are watchmakers and we can’t do something linked to Haute Horlogerie without an excellent watchmaker on board… I know one… » and, on October 21st, 2013, Xavier introduced Sebastien Follonier to Harry and that same evening the 3 of them decided to revive the brand by sharing it with fellow watch lovers.
The rest flew naturally: because they wanted to share, crowd-investing was a logical next step… as well collaboration and transparency. So we became the first fully transparent watch Company, not as the fruit of very intelligent plan, but simply because if we wanted to share we had to accept to be naked.
The fact that Harry, Sebastien and Xavier are very different is also an asset. It creates a value of open mindset, which, combined with the fact that they don’t want to have an ‘ego lead’ leader on top, makes the company very welcoming to any person who want to become a shareholder.
Harry, is like a ‘lake’, very calm, he practices Za-Zen meditation and traditional Kendo for many years now, Sebastien is like a ‘stone’, never giving up on details, puts always the finger whereit is painful… and Xavier am like a fire, full of energy, yet he is in need the support of the stone to burn, and the water of the lake to cool down… and they need his energy to keep moving! (Editor’s note: having met all of them in Basel, I can testify that this is absolutely apt descriptions!)
Another element is in their origins. Sebastien is totally Swiss, Harry is a Basel born German and now Swiss national, and Xavier is French (and one day Swiss too). And the combination of 3 origins creates also an additional level of interesting traits, a richer personality, and the another value of diversity.