Rebel watchmaker, black belts and all.
The global edition of New York Times - Felicia Cradock
La Clémence watch, a reference to Geneva's largest cathedral bell, part of the Spero Lucem label, the latest addition to the Yvan Arpa brand, far left; the Son of a Gun collection, left, has been particularly sought after by Russians.
There is little to connect the world of martial arts with that of traditional watchmaking, but he Swiss watch industry's agent provocateur, Yvan Arpa, has never been one to pay heed to tradition.
Inspired in part by his eight months fighting as a professional Muay Thai boxer in Bangkok in 1978, a time when few Westerners were competing there, Mr. Arpa's line of Black Belt Watches is available only to those who can prove that they have a black belt - a stipulation that some would-be customers have tried to circumvent with fake certificates.
Black Belt Watches, created in 2009, is the first of the three brands created by Mr. Arpa since leaving the more established side of an industry in which he had held several high-profile positions, including general director of Hublot and chief executive of Romain Jerome.
During his time in the more conventional side of the industry, he was the architect of several "audacious" releases that have earned him a reputation as "quite a controversial character," according to Elizabeth Doerr, a watch journalist and the author of "12 Faces of Time: Horological Virtuosos." "The topics he chose polarized people,'' she said by telephone. ''Whether you loved them or you hated them, they made for quite a lot of buzz."
Yvan Arpa's line of Black Belt Watches, Inspired in part by his time as a professional boxer in Bangkok, is available only to those who can prove they have black belts a stipulation that some would-be customers have tried to circumvent with fake certificates.
Scheduled to be introduced at Baselworld this week, the third and latest addition to Mr. Arpa's own brands is Spero Lucem. This high-end line pays tribute to Mr. Arpa's home and the haven of traditional wachmaking: Geneva. It incorporates sections of the city's flag into its logo and takes an older variation of Geneva's Latin motto as its name.
The first two watches to be released in the range are La Clémence and La Jonction - references to Geneva's largest cathedral bell and the city's famous Jonction district, respectively. La Clémence is a 499,000 Swiss franc, or $536,000, flying tourbillon minute-repeater with an original twist. When the minute-repeater sounds the time, the watch's hands circle rapidly in opposite directions - a function Mr. Arpa has christened "crazy hands." La Jonction is a less ambitious though comparably high-end watch, including a flying tourbillon, jumping hours disc and retrograde minutes hand.
Both watches contain complications crafted by the former Patek Phillipe master watchmaker Pierre Favre, and arc, according to Mr. Arpa, at the level of the Poinçon de Genève - the city's stamp of excellence awarded only to watches that meet the highest of horological standards.
Though pleased with the watches, Mr. Arpa said during a recent interview that he had to curb his creative instincts during their design process to ensure that Spero Lucem remained a brand that "behaved according to the rules of the industry.".
"I suffered a lot doing this because I had so many crazy ideas,'' Mr. Arpa said.
"I had to respect the ancestral rules, for the bridge, the decoration, for the complication," he said. "I had many more ideas, and I had to refrain from using them, which is hard, it's like acting. But with this brand nobody can complain. Nobody can say it's too crazy."
Instead Mr. Arpa reserves his more unusual ideas for ArtyA - the second and most well-known of his brands and an arena in which he allows himself almost full creative freedom. Fom the release of ArtyA's first watch, a 12,000-Swiss franc timepiece made with coprolite - a substance more commonly known as fossilized dinosaur dung - Mr. Arpa has continued to experiment with a series of atypical materials. These have ranged from shredded euro bank notes to never-drying paint, spiders, a small scorpion and even his own blood.
His Son of a Gun collection, a range made with real bullets, has, he said, been particularly sought after by his Russian V.I.P. clients. One of them once arrived at Mr. Arpa's office accompanied by two bodyguards and a large dog to demand the watch he'd ordered online. Because the watch wasn't ready, Mr. Arpa recalls, he eventually lent the client a miniature gun and told him to fire it at his sofa. "My sofa was dead, but we took back the bullets and we made the watch," Mr. Arpa said. "He came to me and he took me in his arms, big arms, and he said 'Yvan, best shopping experience of my life!"'
''These watches are so emotional that they create many stories," he added. " That's what this brand is really about." The idea that he can give his clients something more than just a watch has remained central to Mr. Arpa's ArtyA philosophy. Every one of his pieces, he insists, is unique - each containing a dial that has been individually crafted by his artist-wife, Dominique Arpa Cirkpa, and each being sold with a certificate that outlines its origins and the details of its creation.
This level of individual attention is unusual within an industry often more concerned with quantity, and that attention has made the brand particularly attractive to a select group of collectors, said Yerly Bernard, owner of Yerly Bijouterie Optique in Geneva.
"A lot of people have a big collection of watches, but they always want special ones," Mr. Bernard said by telephone. ''This kind of watch is for particular customers. It's like an art product. It's not just a watch." It would seem that for Mr. Arpa, the artistic merit of his watches is more important than their functionality. ''Watches to tell the time-for me it's over," he said.
Watches, he believes, can function more as trophies - statements of the owner's values and achievements. This is an attitude, he said, that has not always sat well with an industry he describes as Calvinist and out of touch. He said that he has been involved in, and won, more than 35 court cases; he said that he took some of the court documents and burned them in a bonfire, incorporating the ashes into a watch he now keeps in his rarely seen Forbidden Collection. "Many people hate me because I make too much noise," he said. "But it's interesting to bring some philosophical ideas about time into the industry.'' "I don't say I'm right, but if we don't try to reinvent some rules, who can tell where the industry will be in two or three generations?''