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An Interview with Yvan Arpa (founder of ArtyA)

HomeInterviewAn Interview with Yvan Arpa (founder of ArtyA) InterviewArtyAAn Interview with Yvan Arpa (founder of ArtyA) About his watches and being independent by Tomas RosputinskyDecember 30, 2019 MIN READAn Interview with Yvan Arpa (founder of ArtyA)What good can come out of sending a vintage watch nerd to interview a modern independent artisan?
There are not many international watch events in Slovakia, where I am based. None, actually. This changed, however, when ArtyA organized an introduction event in Bratislava as they will be officially represented in Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Austria. I was asked to join this event and I immediately said yes. If Yvan Arpa decided to pay a visit to Slovakia, least I could do was show up. You don’t meet a former Hublot executive every day. I had no clear expectations or particular feelings towards the ArtyA brand, just a notion that I was going to meet an interesting character and man with strong opinions. The planned quick ..

HomeInterviewAn Interview with Yvan Arpa (founder of ArtyA)

An Interview with Yvan Arpa (founder of ArtyA) About his watches and being independent by Tomas RosputinskyDecember 30, 2019 MIN READAn Interview with Yvan Arpa (founder of ArtyA)

What good can come out of sending a vintage watch nerd to interview a modern independent artisan?

There are not many international watch events in Slovakia, where I am based. None, actually. This changed, however, when ArtyA organized an introduction event in Bratislava as they will be officially represented in Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Austria. I was asked to join this event and I immediately said yes. If Yvan Arpa decided to pay a visit to Slovakia, least I could do was show up. You don’t meet a former Hublot executive every day. I had no clear expectations or particular feelings towards the ArtyA brand, just a notion that I was going to meet an interesting character and man with strong opinions. The planned quick 30-minute session turned out to be a three hour morning tea. Not only with Yvan, but also with his creative partner and wife (Dominique). She didn’t speak much, but whenever she said something, it always to the point. Without further ado.

You make some people feel uncomfortable. What makes Yvan Arpa uncomfortable?

People who are arrogant. People who don’t take the time to think about what they do and why they do it.

Like people who use various colorful adjectives when describing you as a person or as a watchmaker?

Last time when I was in Singapore, one journalist called me crazy. I stopped him on the spot and said I’m not. I am a doctor in mathematics. I said to him ‘I am no crazier than you are. You just don’t know me.’ If I do crazy projects it’s not because I’m crazy, it’s because I need attention from the world. My craziness is much more about brand awareness.

One would guess you studied marketing, not mathematics

Horology and mathematics have a lot in common. In fact, both are about being down to Earth. Both are logical, you need to understand what was done in the past and you have to think about what could be done in the future. It is a step-by-step process. Is this possible? Let’s try. If it doesn’t work, let’s try something else. It is constantly experimenting with materials, movements, and designs.

Looking at your collections, it does seem down to Earth enough

Most people like to put me into a box. The result is that I am boxed as a crazy guy. But I want to change it. I want people to come to sit with me and learn that I also have a very special skeleton watch that nobody on the planet can beat for example. It is very classical; it is better than any watch by high-end brands and it is ten times less expensive. People just see a guitar or lightning bolt and simplify my watches to extremes. We are not a simple brand; we are a complex brand.

Photo: Mario Gaspar, www.artya.sk

Let’s get back when it all started when you left the corporate world ten years ago

Anybody that wanted to hire me found about lawsuits hanging on my head from my former partners at Romain Jerome. They told me that I am unemployable and that I will probably end up in jail. Actually, the only guy that trusted me, was already in jail. It was the founder of Jacob & Co. He called me from jail and asked: ‘Could you run my company for me?’ Imagine telling this to my wife.

Dominique: I had no fear. If I was afraid, I would have said something. But I said to myself that it will be okay. It’s strange, but I felt it will work. When Yvan worked for big corporates, he was not himself. He was talented, but he was often frustrated. And he was difficult to manage.

Yvan: With all the lawsuits people looked down to me, my friends were turning their backs to me. But as Bushido says, when you get a kick in the face, you can’t stay on the ground complaining. I had no other choice than starting my own company.

Photo: Mario Gaspar, www.artya.sk

To buy one of your first creations, the Black Belt Watch, customers needed to attach a copy of their black belt award certificate. Has anybody tried to cheat?

(Big laugh) No kidding, we were the first manufacturer that could count how many watches we DID NOT sell. I tell you, it was crazy. So many people submitted fake certificates just to get the watch. But for us, it was easy to check through the worldwide federation. There are 17 million black belts around the world, so I still think that the concept was good. But the way I was managing it, that was weak. If I carried on, we would have gone bankrupt. So, I had to stop and come up with something new.

And you brought a lightning bolt. Literally.

I had cases that I had produced for the black belt. I was thinking about a way how to destroy them, but in a different way, a way strongly attractive for marketing. I was inspired by fire, but I knew I can’t make it to the sun. I then started studying lightning bolts. The key problem turned out to be that nobody knows where a lightning bolt will go. The most precise we could say was one kilometer. I put some cases out and I waited for months. But it never worked, the lightning bolts never struck the cases.

Photo: Mario Gaspar, www.artya.sk

With the last money I had, I decided to buy a huge Tesla coil. It is a fabulous show to see how the watch case is transforming in front of your eyes. I planned to go around the world and let people make their own watches. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a single insurance company that wanted to back me. That’s why I finally kept it on a conceptual level. It worked quite well. Some people were in need of something different. At the time everybody was doing very polished finishing. There was no matt, all was so clean. Some people were really shocked to see a premium watch being so raw, so destroyed.

Who buys your watches?

There are two types of people. People who need approbation, who want to confirm their status. Basically rich people. On the other end, there are people who are really attracted to the watch because of its philosophy. These people understand me, they want to talk about watch in-depth. They do not look for approbation, but rather affirmation. They don’t care what others say, they need the watch to satisfy themselves only.

Have you ever been surprised by a person who bought or showed interest in an ArtyA watch?

It happens quite often. Last week an old fireman came into our studio, with no idea about the budget. We took the time, explained it all to him and he bought the watch. I don’t even know how he could pay for it. The other day, it was in Japan, I met a 16 years old boy, that traveled for three days just to meet me and the distributor.

Who is ArtyA’s biggest competitor?

Most of the independent watchmakers have just very few models. Their resources are limited. From that perspective, I have no direct competitor with my twelve collections. I would say, that my direct competitor is the cashflow of my customers – their holidays, their families, their cars.

You mentioned independent watchmakers. How independent is Yvan Arpa today?

I am one of the very few completely independent watchmakers. I have so many line collections and there is no single penny taken from an outside investor. I would be very careful with taking investor’s money that is driven by high revenues and profits.

The problem of being independent is that you have one good idea, but you stay stuck to it because you have no money to work on other ideas. The result can be that after three years everybody knows about it and nobody is buying it anymore.

But that didn’t happen to you. Why?

Doing business slowly from scratch brought me new recognition. Many people came back to me asking if I could help them. I realized that I am helping a lot of people, but nobody is helping me. That’s why I started to charge for consulting and made it my revenue stream. I did twelve big consulting projects for really big brands, including Samsung. With the money I got, I always developed a new ArtyA collection.

As an independent watchmaker with a top corporate background, how do you view today’s talent and production?

I am happy for anyone who is successful. And there are many of them. I would say one of the mistakes people make is remaking watch history. Big brands can do anything they want because they have the power and money to do so. But as an independent watchmaker trying to do what has been around for a hundred years, that would be difficult. Today nobody needs a watch. People need emotion. If you don’t have 100 years of history and status to offer, you need to bring something different.

Photo: Mario Gaspar, www.artya.sk

Well, I saw your statue watch. Did anyone buy it?

(Big laugh.) Well, this one was fun. Everybody was talking about Richard Mille and his seventeen grams watch. So, I decided to create the world’s heaviest seventeen kilograms wristwatch. There actually was one Russian guy, who said he wants to buy it. I said okay, he sent the money. After that, he asked me: ‘How do I wear it?’ I said: ‘You don’t.’ And I sent him the money back.

If there were no ArtyA, what watch would be on your wrist right now?

(Big smile.) I guess, the other creations I made for other brands don’t exist too, right? (Yvan thinks for a while. After a moment he continues with a serious face.) There is one guy. Vincent Plomb and his Vicenterra from Swiss Jura. His watches are f*$_ing cool and he is a genuine character. He is mentally so strong, and you can see that in his watches too. Let me put it this way. I have a 7th dan black belt, but he would have been 15th. (Note: 10this the highest possible.)

What is the bigger challenge for Yvan Arpa: To come up with an idea or to drop one?

Tough one. Let’s take my chrono in a guitar-shaped case. It looks simple, but I couldn’t get it to work properly for two years. I rather don’t count how many times I started again and again, always from scratch. It was eating my brain, but I couldn’t let it go.

Rolex or Omega

None.

That was super-fast. Which classic then?

I would buy from the history of one guy.

What exactly do you mean by that?

I would take some old Lemania movement. A movement from a watchmaker, who made his watch by himself. He was happy, he was proud. He shared his passion. Do you know why I said none to Rolex or Omega? Their watches are very good, nothing to say about the quality. But the energy that is there today, it is not the energy I want to share. Their watches are made by finance people, who I call vampires of modern times. This is not the future of watchmaking for me. The future is in the passion and the love of watch artisans.

Photo: Mario Gaspar, www.artya.sk

What you think about Basel and brands pulling out?

Of course, Basel was hit by big brands saying we don’t come anymore. So they pretend they are nicer. But it is a business and they are a big company; they need to pay a lot of people. For me, I think I still pay too much for what it is, but I have enough customers to pay for that. As an example, I would like to make my booth with my friends, but I can’t. Their company is slow and expensive, but it is impossible to go on my own. On the other hand, speaking business-wise, it’s fine. It works. I don’t travel much, as I like the quality of my life at home. I like to be in my office, I like Geneva. I never ask retailers to take my brand. Never. And therefore it is important for me to be in Basel. All retailers still come to Basel. We will see.

Do you remember your first watch?

Yes, of course. Tissot PR100. It was my father who gave me this watch. I was maybe sixteen. It’s not in good shape anymore. You know, I was a bad kid, I was fighting all the time. I never took the time to repair it, but I have it in slices somewhere around.

I have to ask this one now. You and vintage watches?

I was a collector. I had many, many watches, but when I started ArtyA, I had to sell them to survive. I was a rich guy that became very poor. I have to thank my wife, that helped me a lot back then. Two years we ate only pasta, we had nothing. She never complained and always supported me.

I am a fan of family businesses myself. What’s it like working with your wife?

I take too much energy. I call people at night or on Sundays. We started to work in the studio together, but then we changed it. Dominique is creative too. Everything comes from her inner world, and you can feel it. She doesn’t want to speak, she shuts the door of the studio, puts music on and works. I am different. I don’t sleep, ideas eat through my brain and then I eat the brains of everybody else around. It was not easy at the beginning, honestly, but now it is nice. We found a balanced way of co-working.

Photo: Mario Gaspar, www.artya.sk

Do you plan to involve your children in family operations?

We have three kids and we have never forced them to do things. We don’t ask them to help, it’s their choice. They study, but they also started to come themselves asking if they could work in the boutique over the weekends. I would say they are starting to take an interest, but they are not involved yet. The worst thing is to make something just to please your parents and after 10 years realizing you hate what you do. We take it easy.

So ArtyA might be for sale?

Three years ago, my eldest son took me to a temple, where we meditated for 12 hours a day. It was the greatest present somebody ever gave me. We don’t last. Nothing lasts. Since I have accepted that, I have no worries. Three big companies already wanted to buy ArtyA. But I am not for sale. I love being independent and I don’t plan on selling the company. Whatever will happen, it will be okay. I’ve learned to enjoy what happens today.

Want to learn more about ArtyA, visit their website. We would like to thank Yvan Arpa and his wife Dominique for their time.

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About the author

Tomas Rosputinsky

During the day time, Tomas is an entrepreneur in the advertising, automotive and IT software industries. At night he turns into a watch enthusiast searching for quirky movements or vintage pieces with strong stories behind. Tomas was born and bred… read more

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