Anyone with an eye for exceptional timepieces knows that AHCI stands for Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants, a reference in the field whose members include such respected watchmakers as Félix Baumgartner, George Daniels, Philippe Dufour, Paul Gerber, Beat Haldimann, Vianney Halter, François-Paul Journe, Peter Speake-Marin, Thomas Prescher, Andreas Strehler and Kari Voutilainen, to name but some. That year after year public and professionals crowd the AHCI stand at Baselworld, intrigued to see what this laboratory of ideas and outstanding creations has to offer, is a telltale sign.
A family spirit
“This year I’m playing the AHCI card,” Antoine Preziuso, one of the first to join, explained. “For someone such as myself, an independent watchmaker for thirty years, it’s like coming home. It’s really a pleasure as the AHCI demonstrates exceptional innovation. From day one, the big-name brands came milling round the stand, maybe to get inspiration from the work on display, or to strike up partnerships. Every year it’s the same, and for one simple reason: nothing at Basel matches the AHCI for creativity. We come here as one big family. We help each other out and show what we’re capable of.”
This “family” spirit was evident when the AHCI carried off the Special Jury Prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in November 2010, the year the Académie celebrated its 25th anniversary. Aurel Bacs, International Co-Head of Watches for Christie’s, came on stage to introduce the award: “Dear friends, let’s put ourselves in context. It’s the early 1980s. The Swatch watch has just been launched. François-Paul Journe is setting up his own atelier and Maximilian Büsser still can’t get over Grendizer and his battle axe. The vast majority of watches are driven by quartz movements. Yet Svend Andersen and Vincent Calabrese never once lost faith in fine mechanical watchmaking. When they set up the AHCI they created a dream; they brought a vision to life.”
A message of hope
The AHCI currently has 36 members and five candidates to join. Each defends the AHCI’s unswerving belief that alongside industrial production, handcrafted clocks and watches have an important place. Says Vincent Calabrese: “After the surge of recent years, the AHCI is behind 40% to 50% of timepieces. We are reaping what we sowed. The original aim was to leave a constructive trace, to deliver a message of hope for those who, like myself, want to produce exceptional works of classical horology while innovating technically and aesthetically. I think time has proved us right.”
The idealised image of mechanical horology, personified by the watchmaker at his bench fashioning intricate components then lovingly decorating each one to assemble them into an exceptional creation, has perhaps worn thin from overuse. Yet no-one comes closer to this ideal than the members of the AHCI. Not so very long ago, independent watchmakers were seen as a risky choice. Now they are the darlings of collectors in search of innovative timepieces that combine the cutting edge of technology with the hallmark of a handcrafted object. In a word, the AHCI has become an integral part of the horological landscape and the guarantee that the profession is in safe hands.