This year the Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants is celebrating three decades of existence. Some of the most gifted names in contemporary watchmaking have emerged from this hotbed of talent. Vincent Calabrese, who co-founded AHCI with Sven Andersen, looks back at this thirty-year adventure.
For any admirer of superlative timepieces, names such as Philippe Dufour, Kari Voutilainen, François-Paul Journe, Paul Gerber, Antoine Preziuso or Peter Speake-Marin invariably bring to mind exceptional 2015 new replica watches uk by individuals who form a class of their own. The one thing these professionals have in common is that they are all members of the Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants (AHCI), an institution with 33 members and seven candidates, and which celebrates its thirtieth anniversary in 2015. A milestone worth noting, particularly as several AHCI members are showing their work in Geneva, this January, on the fringes of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie. An interview with Vincent Calabrese, co-founder with Sven Andersen of AHCI.
How would you summarise the past 30 years?
Vincent Calabrese: This anniversary really is a milestone in view of everything we’ve achieved. No-one today can ignore the importance our members have gained within the profession. From a personal perspective, this achievement is made all the more vital by the fact that AHCI is without doubt my finest creation. In 1985, the quartz crisis had left Swiss watchmaking on its knees. There was still demand for mechanical watches from overseas markets, but we were incapable of meeting it. Back then, just three or four movement-makers were still managing to survive, with ETA, Piguet, Lémania and Jaeger-LeCoultre. The Académie grew out of this observation: there is still demand, so let’s not give up the fight and instead take this opportunity to present something different. The rest, as they say, is history, with mechanical watches making their big comeback. Most replica Omega watches companies today have their own design office. They produce their own movements and in many cases external parts too. Without blowing our own trumpet, I think this development and the success that came with it is 60% thanks to AHCI.
Does it also reflect a change in mentalities?
It does indeed, as I was able to see for myself. When in 1977 I created the baguette movement for the Golden Bridge, brands were queuing at my door. Several were more than interested in buying it. I eventually chose Corum, who took three years to bring it to market. It was, however, a very different story as far as my own watches were concerned, where it was hugely difficult to find clients. In those days, customers were reluctant to buy their watch from the watchmaker. This wasn’t helped by the fact that brands kept quiet about the constructors who developed calibres for them. I experienced this with Corum, who offered me bigger royalties on the watches they sold in exchange for which I wouldn’t be named. I was so infuriated by all this, there was such a rage in my heart that together with Sven Andersen, I set up the Académie. We were rapidly joined by six other members for our debut exhibition at the Musée d’Horlogerie in Le Locle. This is where I showed my first tourbillon, an extra-thin movement with an eight-day power reserve. A rare complication back then, it was taken up by Blancpain…
And soon you were in the public eye…
Yes. More members joined over the years, and Baselworld gave us our own exhibition space very early on. After ten years, AHCI was beginning to make a name internationally. I’d say this is my second greatest source of pride as far as the Académie is concerned; the fact that its reputation has gone beyond Swiss borders. So much so, in fact, that it has welcomed members from all around the world. We’re just missing the United States. This proves that AHCI is playing the role for which it was created, namely to be a springboard for its members who can communicate through its voice. This is all the more important in what are now completely different circumstances. Watchmaking used to be a very unsexy profession. Now people get excited about best Swiss replica watchmakers producing any old thing. As a result, there’s now fierce competition, it’s more and more difficult to hold on to points of sale because of pressure from the big groups, and sources of supply are expensive, and few and far between. So yes, the situation has changed over the past thirty years but the craftsman-creator still faces very real difficulties. Hence why the Académie is as relevant today as ever. And why we have to show the same fighting spirit of thirty years ago!