Projects and concepts are Yvan Arpa’s trademark, When he joined Sector, Arpa laid the founda- tions of the “No Limits” ethos that’s now synonymous with the brand itself. He later moved to Baume & Mercier, part of the Richemont group. “That was a real challenge – a brand still in search of its identity.”
In 2002, his phone rang. It was Carlo Crocco, founder of Hublot. “He’s very much a man’s man – and as such, I was won over by him. He wanted his watches to become icons, and that looked like being quite a job...” So, in his own words, Yvan Arpa “awakened his right brain”: the hemisphere of creativity, which as a maths teacher he’d never had occasion to use to its full potential.
The first result was the Hublot Big Bang, which he helped launch into orbit, together with a certain Jean-Claude Biver. Then, with RJ (as in Romain Jerome), there was the DNA series, not least the timepiece containing rust from the Titanic. That was much more than a product launch: Yvan Arpa implemented the idea that when enriched by material with its own special story, a watch becomes identified with that story.
After a short time as COO for Jacob & Co., Yvan Arpa created his own brand: Black Belt watches for actual black belts, he himself being a 7th Dan in karate. The project was a success, but Yvan yearned for even more freedom. This was to come in the form of ArtyA, which he founded in 2009.
The brand knows no boundaries. Yvan Arpa focuses almost exclusively on unique-piece watches and very lim- ited editions, at reasonable prices. ArtyA also develops knives, jewellery, accessories, leather goods, motorcycle customisation, Grand Complication models, and more. “Other people have cottoned on to the idea now, and it’s become more widespread, even though only a few brands know how to do it properly,” claims Yvan Arpa. He came into the spotlight in 2016 when he unveiled the Samsung Gear S3. “They wanted to broaden the appeal of connected watches beyond the geek community,” he recalls. “I agreed, provided I could have free rein. And not have to move to Seoul!”
For Yvan, the period between 2000 and 2020 is one of realised ambitions: gaining freedom, creating a niche generalist brand, and swimming against the tide of traditional watchmaking. ArtyA has its diehard fans and its outspoken opponents – many of whom also derive their inspiration from it, without missing a beat.
*On the occasion of GMT Magazine and WorldTempus' 20th anniversary, we have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the last 20 years in watchmaking in The Millennium Watch Book, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. This article is an extract. The Millennium Watch Book is available on www.the-watch-book.com, in French and English, with a 10% discount if you use the following code: WT2021.