Having recently reported on the release of the new Czapek & Cie Quai des Bergues watch (you can see the article here), the opportunity to get up close and personal with the watch so soon at SalonQP 2015 in the heart of London was a treat. Seeing the watch “in the metal” made the level of thought and the quality of execution immediately apparent. The brand itself has an interesting history, but it is the future of this crowd-funded project that makes Czapek & Cie so interesting. There are six versions available for the Czapek & Cie Quai des Bergues, three of which we tried out: the No. 33 pictured above with some rather special-looking Fleur de Lys hands, No. 31 with blued hands, and No. 37 with a black carbon dial.
News of historic names attached to effectively new brands sure makes the experienced watch enthusiast advance into discovering greater details with caution: in some cases, it is a disingenuous attempt to leverage a heritage that has no connection to the modern incarnation. However, there have been a handful of commendable efforts in recent years, just think of Ferdinand Berthoud (hands-on here) or Arnold & Son. In the case of Czapek & Cie, there also appears to be a permissible link, thanks in large part to the faithfulness of the design to the original. You see, the Polish François (or Franciszek) Czapek himself was an incredibly popular watchmaker in his day, and it was politics – most notably, his strong association with deposed Napoleon III – that resulted in his company’s demise, not a lack of quality.
Breathing new life into a name that never really deserved to be so obscured by history is a noble undertaking, but it carries with it many risks. Czapek & Cie have chosen not to shirk the responsibility they shouldered the minute they decided to run with this idea, and the result is a watch that harnesses modern day manufacturing capabilities and melds them with an identifiable aesthetic that honours this watch’s history.
One of the more impressive things about the Czapek & Cie Quai des Bergues watch is the unique architecture and layout of the movements. Beauty and complexity that is not just skin deep is what you can and should expect when it comes to a watch of this caliber – achieving all that with a movement, though, very much remains a challenge to this day. This is largely the case because a movement is even more bound because of its functional necessities than most other components, rendering unique and unusual designs much more difficult to conceive and manufacture.
As such, some of the finest watches may not be identifiable from across a crowded room, but the particular and peculiar designs of their calibers leave no room for questions when it comes to identifying its maker. As such, the true beauty of the Czapek & Cie is in the details hidden from immediate view and is revealed when you turn the beautifully crafted case over.
The twin barrels, symmetrically positioned like eyes looking at at you from the movement, are enhanced by the spoked ratchet wheels. Not only does this feature, set against a frosted finish, leap out with character, it offers the wearer a sense of connection to the watch while winding it. The Czapek & Cie Quai des Bergues watch utilises the SHX1 proprietary calibre made for the brand by Chronode. This is a manually-wound movement with an operating frequency of 21,600 beats per hour and a power reserve of 168 hours.
Crucial to the wearing experience is the fact that one has to wind the watch once a week, thus having the chance to engage those beautifully finished ratchet wheels. Seeing them mesh and turn together is a bonding experience an automatic watch can never provide.
One slightly strange thing I noticed about the Czapek & Cie Quai des Bergues watch is on the sub-dial between four and five o’clock. This dial indicates the day of the week and the power reserve by way of a single hand. Although I love the appearance of the single hand doing two jobs at once, what this means is that the day must be set by winding the watch up. This is slightly restrictive in terms of how often you can interact with the crown. There’s no need to constantly be winding up your watch, but I know I tend to fiddle with the crowns of manual watches all the time.
I justify more-frequent-than-necessary winding because keeping the mainspring fully wound maintains a higher amplitude and thus better isochronism… but the real reason is that I just think it’s fun to wind a mechanical movement. The Czapek & Cie Quai des Bergues watch demands you have patience and restraint. You need wind the watch just once a week to ensure it is showing the right time. If you want to wind it up fully, you’ve got to wait until Sunday to do so. It’s rather unusual but, I’m informed, also a throwback to clock making. Is it a good idea? Well, it certainly is characterful.
The sub-dials are positioned at half four and half seven – an unusual placement of sub-dials that had to be built into the movement especially. This aesthetic evokes the style of the original Czapek watches from the eighteenth century. Models No. 27 and No. 23 are the more “contemporary-looking” versions of this watch with an inner ring on the dial as well as numbered days of the week. These two also sport 12 o’clock in arabic numerals and forego roman numerals for simple, unnumbered hour markers.
The watch sits well on the wrist and is, thanks to it lacking an automatic matrix, slim enough to truly work well as a watch worn with more formal attire – and with just 30 meters of water resistance and leather straps, you certainly wouldn’t want to do anything else but wear it with care. Speaking of straps, the supple and beautifully crafted alligator straps are made for Czapek by Camille Fournet in La Chaux-de-Fonds. At 42.5mm wide, the Czapek & Cie Quai des Bergues is certainly sizable enough to prescribe to modern sensibilities, while also remaining genuinely comfortable to wear – rendering it a sensible compromise between modern and historical, something that cannot really be said about the merged power reserve and day-of-the-week indication.
Prices on the various versions vary and are listed below:
- No. 33 (Rose Gold 4N case, White enamel “Grand feu” dial, Fleur de lys 4N gold hands, Rose gold 4N buckle) CHF 25,900.
- No. 31 (Rose Gold 4N case, enamel “Grand feu” dial, Blue “arrow” steel hands) CHF 23,900.
- No. 29 (White Gold 1N case, enamel “Grand feu” dial, Black “arrow” steel hands) CHF 24,900.
- No. 27 (Titanium Grade 5 case, Carbon “Vinyl” dial, Black, Superluminova “arrow” steel hands) CHF 14,800.
- No. 25 (Stainless steel case, Blue steel hands) CHF 9,900.
- No. 23 (Stainless steel “XO” case, White & natural dial, Black steel hands) CHF 9,900.
The Czapek & Cie Quai des Bergues watches are available for pre-sale on their site. czapek.com