by Sarah Miller
Race 250 GTO Blue
Arpa operates ArtyA watches out of what looks like a small house in the suburb of Meinier. There wasn’t a lot of traffic, and no pedestrians. I gathered this wouldn’t be an easy place to get out of on a Friday night without a taxi. The driver said he’d wait for me if I was there less than half an hour.
Yvan Arpa was probably in his 50s. He seemed to not want to tell me his precise age. This was, I surmised, not out of fear of being old, but rather because he doesn't bother with matters of such dull reality. He wore around his neck a necklace of blue stone you might see on a surfer, and his eyes, similarly colored, had the glint of genius and a slight farawayness to the gaze: This was a man who thought about watches 24/7. There was a sign on the brick wall that you could see upon entering. “Get out of the rut,” it read. He said this was a motto of his.
I told him I was a complete amateur and knew almost nothing about watches. “Congratulations,” he said. “That is the best. This way you don’t have many preconceived ideas.” ArtyA Watches was his operation, he had maybe a dozen people working for him, and they did not only original designs but also movements for other companies. We didn’t have a lot of time, so we just got into looking at his designs.
The very first thing he showed me were several watches shaped like bass guitars, with silver inlay through representing strings, bookended by two F-holes. “The important thing for me is that a watch produce emotions,” Arpa said.
“Okay,” I countered. “I hate these.”
“That’s good,” he exclaimed. He had a bright intense smile and his gaze got less diffuse. “I am glad that you do not like it. I want people to have a reaction.”
Then he showed me a watch from his Race collection, with a fast-spinning dial like a race car wheel. You had to move your wrist to be able to see the time. I thought this watch was cool, conceptually, but I would never in a million years wear it or want it. We looked at the watch that he was wearing. It was transparent, so you could see the movement, and the case was made out of synthetic sapphire, which he said had been polished for 67 hours to make it clear. “This is a flying tourbillon regulating the two springs – a tourbillon is a high-end escapement,” he explained. I did not know this at all.
ArtyA Purity Tourbillon
This watch cost around $130,000, and though I didn’t really see myself wearing it either, I thought it was amazing and I had a lot of respect for it. I revered that indestructible case housing such visible intricacy. It was simple and complicated all at once, and the case went from clear blue to clear green in different lights. Arpa also made a lot of watches that were around $5,000, and my favorite – one I would buy, and still think about – had an intricately detailed face that used an old Swiss art form called scherenschnitte, or scissor cutting, with a flower bursting from its center. The 12, 3, 6, and 9 markers were tiny goats, all made out of paper using tiny scissors, and then applied to the face with decoupage.
I told him that this visit had really opened up my eyes, that I had to admit any time I saw a watch that was weird, funky, or otherwise original, I dismissed it as self-indulgent and annoyingly whimsical before really looking at it. “This is the first time I have ever considered you could make an argument, and I’m not quite making it, but you could argue that the typical luxury watch is pretty boring,” I said. “I mean, they really are more like each other than they are different.”
“Right, he said. “I mean, I love Vacheron Constantin. I would do what they did. But I would have had to do it 400 years ago.”
Son of Art Poya Engraved