Czapek Calibre SHX5 (part one) – the brand’s first Manufacture movement
Czapek Calibre SHX5 (part one). Angus Davies sits down with Xavier de Roquemaurel, CEO of the Swiss brand Czapek and discusses the company’s first Manufacture movement, the Calibre SHX5. In the first part of this three-part feature, Angus looks at the brand’s history and the creation of its early movements.
An illustrious name
Franciszek Czapek was born in what is now the Czech Republic. In his youth, he moved to Poland with his family. During the failed Polish insurrection of 1832, Czapek fled to Switzerland and modified his forename to François. At this time, despite being only 21 years of age, Czapek was already an accomplished watchmaker.
Initially, Czapek joined forces with a Swiss gentleman, establishing the firm Czapek & Moreau. However, in 1836, Czapek met with fellow Polish emigrant, Antoine Norbert de Patek. The two men founded the brand Patek, Czapek & Cie in 1839. Their partnership lasted for six years, the standard duration for business partnerships in Geneva at this time. In 1845, the two men parted company. Antoine Patek went on to work with Jean Adrien Philippe and together they formed their eponymous Maison.
After Czapek and Patek went their separate ways, François established his eponymous company, Czapek & Cie and was joined by a new partner, Julius Gruzewski. The company became widely known for crafting watches of the highest order. His patrons included the great and the good such as the French Emperor, Napoleon III. Indeed, Napoleon bestowed the title of ‘Watchmaker of the Imperial Court’ upon Czapek & Cie. The firm opened a boutique in the prestigious retail enclave of Place Vendôme. At the height of its success, the company also had boutiques in Geneva and Warsaw.
Interestingly, in 1869 Czapek disappeared from view. It is unknown whether he passed away in that year or chose to live the rest of his life in obscurity, beyond the public’s gaze.
Czapek – the renaissance
In 2012, Sébastien Follonier, Harry Guhl and Xavier de Roquemaurel re-established the Czapek company name, eager to revive the former legend of François Czapek. The three entrepreneurs began conceiving ideas for new Czapek models, respectful of François’s legacy but befitting the needs of today’s consumer.
Image – Sébastien Follonier
Some three years later, in 2015, the brand sought investment using crowdfunding. The share offer proved incredibly popular, providing the company with the means to pursue its dreams. However, re-establishing a brand comes with numerous difficulties and risks. For example, it was important to capture the spirit of François Czapek, but applicable to a modern-day audience. Often Xavier and his colleagues would delve into the company’s archives and then distil various forms of information into something relevant for today’s watch collector.
Image – Harry Guhl
Indeed, during board meetings in the early days of the company, four chairs were arranged around the board table, three for the current management team and one for François Czapek. The idea was to always consider what he would say.
Image – Xavier de Roquemaurel
Furthermore, Xavier always recognised that the desires of watch collectors were of vital importance to the success of Czapek. Therefore, he has repeatedly solicited opinions on the styling and the specification of each creation.
The inaugural collection, the Quai des Bergues, was based on the 3430 Czapek & Cie pocket watch, dating back to around 1850. This model featured a combination of two styles of hand, Fleurs de Lys for the hours and Trident for the minutes. The hands, the Roman numerals denoting the hours and the two subdials, positioned in the lower half of the display, were all employed on the modern-day wristwatch.
However, while the Quai des Bergues was inspired by the aforementioned 19th-century pocket watch, it was certainly not a replica. Indeed, the present-day watch featured a modern case and a chemin de fer encircling the dial, while the subdials were notably recessed. Cleverly, the design referenced the past while proving resolutely modern.
This design philosophy sounds confused, however, the appearance of the resultant watch proved incredibly harmonious. Indeed, the Czapek Quai des Bergues 33bis, part of the Quai des Bergues collection, won the ‘Public Prize’ at the prestigious Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) in 2016.
Thereafter, the brand released additional models, including the Place Vendôme, a tourbillon with GMT, the Faubourg de Cracovie, a fully integrated chronograph and, most recently, the Antarctique. The company’s prowess for design has attracted many disciples to the brand and, despite its comparative youth, the firm is spoken of in reverential tones.
The most prestigious Swiss Maisons have a long history of établissage. The term is used to describe companies who procure movements in assembled or part assembled form (ébauche).
A part assembled movement is termed an ebauche. It may be supplied with or without jewels, but always without the regulating organ and escapement. These latter parts are procured from third-party specialists. Thereafter, the movement parts are finished and assembled and the completed movement is regulated.
The établisseur focusses on assembling components, concentrating on the aesthetic elements the wearer would see. They usually fit the dials and hands as well as install the movement and subsequently regulate it.
In recent years, an increasing number of watch brands have chosen to make in-house or Manufacture movements. Primarily, this was driven by a potential supply issue when a leading movement specialist, supplying a large number of brands, voiced a desire to reduce availability, preferring to focus on making movements for its various sister companies.
Some of the brands who chose to invest in Manufacture movements marketed them as superior, suggesting that ‘in-house’ was indicative of quality. A few chose to recoup R&D costs by immediately inflating prices. While some of these movements represented advancement others probably didn’t.
Alas, some brands talked about in-house or Manufacture movements when in reality they were merely badged-up off the peg movements from third party specialists. Unfortunately, this undermined the hard work of those companies who had genuinely made their own Manufacture movements.
Czapek – an établisseur
From the outset, Czapek was honest. It doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. It is an établisseur, pure and simple. The Quai des Bergues 33bis featured the hand-wound SXH1, a proprietary movement made in collaboration with Chronode, exclusively for Czapek. This renowned movement specialist based in Le Locle has made movements for an array of high-end brands. Jean-François, the founder of Chronode, is highly-regarded within the watch industry, known for his technical expertise and creativity.
The Calibre SXH1 encompasses exquisite finishing, befitting the term, ‘Haute Horlogerie’. Two barrels collaborate, granting the watch an impressive 7-day power reserve. Interestingly, the movement is fitted with two openworked ratchet wheels which share the same appearance to those found on the 3430 Czapek & Cie pocket watch movement. It’s a nod to the past, but otherwise, the movement looks contemporary, especially with its sandblasted bridges.
Chronode collaborated with Czapek again with the creation of the second proprietary movement, the Calibre SXH2. This movement is at the heart of the Czapek Place Vendôme, a watch endowed with a tourbillon and a GMT indication. This watch looks neoteric and the movement perpetuates the sense of modernity with its grey-toned finish. The inventory of functions includes a power-reserve display and day/night indicator. The movement is fitted with one barrel and will run autonomously for 60 hours.
A reoccurring theme at Czapek is the brand’s desire to surpass customer expectations. In 2018, the firm unveiled its first chronograph, the Faubourg de Cracovie. In this instance, Czapek turned to Vaucher, a firm based in Fleurier, again known for making sublime movements. This company made a bespoke version (Calibre SXH3) of its brand-new chronograph specifically for Czapek.
The Calibre SXH3 is a fully-integrated movement with a column wheel and vertical coupling. From a purist’s perspective, this is the optimal specification. When the chronograph is actuated or stopped, there is no hesitation and the central chronograph seconds hand begins its journey without stuttering. The action of pressing the pushers provides a ‘buttery’ smoothness. When the chronograph is operational there is less drag when compared with a modular movement, ensuring the timekeeping of the watch is not adversely affected when the stopwatch function is in use. Lastly, a movement featuring a combination of a column-wheel and vertical coupling does not suffer wear as much as other forms of chronograph.
Unusually, the Calibre SXH3 has a frequency of 36,000 vph (5Hz). This confers greater precision, allows the measurement of 1/10 second intervals and is less susceptible to shocks. The majority of watch brands have struggled to surmount the potential difficulties of a high-frequency movement such as greater power consumption, increased lubricant usage and greater wear. Thankfully, Vaucher has extensive experience making high-frequency movements, having spent years on research and development. The self-winding Calibre SXH3 has a power-reserve of 65 hours.
Czapek – the Manufacture
While Czapek continues to believe in the idea of établissage and intends to use it as a vehicle for creating some of its future models, it has always had an innate desire to make its own Manufacture movement.
With this in mind, Czapek turned to Adrian Buchmann and his London-based design company, Adrian Buchmann Fuzion Limited. Adrian, an award-winning Swiss designer, was briefed by Xavier de Roquemaurel, the CEO of Czapek, on what was required. Adrian’s initial designs had to be distilled into a working movement, hence he worked in close collaboration with Daniel Martinez, Czapek’s constructeur.
In terms of importance, the designer and the constructeur are of equal standing. One cannot work without the other. Xavier firmly believes that if one voice dominates the conversation, then the resultant movement is doomed to fail. By employing teamwork, the various members of the team can play to their strengths, delivering a synergistic outcome.
Daniel also had to work with other members of the conception team. For example, Julian Vallat, Dann Phimphrachan and celebrated watchmaker, Emmanuel Bouchet, collectively worked on the prototypes, while Patrick Rossi was responsible for quality, testing and technical supervision.
Thereafter, once the prototypes had been made, suitable component suppliers were needed. At this juncture, it is important to note that even with Manufacture movements not all components are made in-house. For example, few brands make the ‘assortiment’, a term used to describe the escapement and regulating organ.
Since the Czapek brand was revived in 2015, it has always been open about its suppliers of parts or complete movements.
The design of the Czapek Calibre SHX5 has been designed to look pleasing to the eye. Moreover, Xavier wanted the movement to appear almost transparent, revealing many components usually hidden from the wearer’s gaze. Xavier talks to watch collectors on a weekly basis, eager to learn what they are looking for in the ideal watch. This feedback, along with the input of Czapek’s team, was taken into account and has influenced the appearance of the brand’s inaugural Manufacture movement.
At the heart of today’s Czapek is an unwavering obsession with quality. From the outset, the firm’s first movement, the Calibre SXH1, made in collaboration with Chronode, brimmed with refinements. It provided a fitting accompaniment to the Quai des Bergues timepiece, the recipient of the ‘Public Prize’ at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) in 2016.
After this success, some brands may have chosen to rest on their laurels, relax and enjoy the commercial spoils, however, Czapek didn’t countenance such an idea. Again, in collaboration with Chronode, it produced a tourbillon with GMT.
While most firms settle for a chronograph with a 4Hz frequency, sometimes of modular design, Czapek commissioned a bespoke 5Hz fully integrated movement with column wheel and vertical coupling. This specification would whet the appetite of any self-respecting horophile.
All of the aforementioned movements demonstrated to the watch collecting community that Czapek was a paid-up member of the haute horlogerie club. The specification of each calibre, including the finishing, was of the highest order.
However, Czapek took the bold step to develop its own Manufacture movement. In its pursuit of independence, the Genevan brand committed vast sums of money on research and development, knowing full well that the final movement would not become available for a significant period of time. Nevertheless, the Swiss marque took this courageous step and the story of the Calibre SXH5 began.
In my next article (part two), I look closely at the appearance of the movement, harnessing energy, transferring energy from the barrel to the escapement and, finally, I explore the escapement and regulating organ.