WATCH: SPROUTS OF HOPE

Dur­ing a re­cent trip to Hong Kong as part the UBS Phi­lan­thropy Fo­rum of Asia, Olivier Aude­mars of Aude­mars Piguet ex­plained to The Peak why forestry is so closely in­ter­twined with the legacy of the his­toric, fam­ily-run watch­maker.

The Peak (Hong Kong) - - Contents - STORY GLO­RIA FUNG

Oliver Aude­mars of Aude­mars Piguet ex­plains why forestry is so closely in­ter­twined with the legacy of the his­toric, fam­ily-run watch­maker

It’s likely you’ve read sev­eral in­ter­views with Olivier Aude­mars in which he talks about watches. Af­ter all, he’s vice-chair­man of the board at Aude­mars Piguet, the Swiss watch­maker that has been in his fam­ily for four gen­er­a­tions since 1875.

Dur­ing Art Basel Hong Kong, where the brand has a promi­nent pres­ence as a spon­sor and an ex­hibitor, you may also have read widely about his grow­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion for con­tem­po­rary art and photography.

But chances are you’ve not heard about his in­volve­ment with the Aude­mars Piguet Foun­da­tion. You may not even have heard of the 25-year-old for­est con­ser­va­tion ini­tia­tive.

But that, says Aude­mars, was ex­actly the prin­ci­pal upon which it was con­ceived. The Aude­mars Piguet Foun­da­tion, which was founded in 1992, seeks to en­cour­age re­for­esta­tion through ed­u­ca­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and is headed by the brand’s chair­woman Jas­mine Piguet – the great­grand­daugh­ter of the com­pany’s co-founder Ed­wardAu­guste Piguet.

“We’ve al­ways dif­fer­en­ti­ated the foun­da­tion from Aude­mars Piguet; we’ve al­ways been very firm on sep­a­rat­ing mar­ket­ing from our phi­lan­thropy,” says Aude­mars. “I’m al­ways shocked by peo­ple who brag about the char­ity work that they do. We don’t want to be in­volved with that. The pro­jects are never se­lected for pro­mot­ing the im­age of the com­pany, but rather, for the cause it­self.”

“WE’VE AL­WAYS BEEN VERY FIRM ON SEP­A­RAT­ING MAR­KET­ING FROM OUR PHI­LAN­THROPY”

While Aude­mars Piguet main­tains its so­cial out­reach work isn’t about ex­ploit­ing good causes or stamp­ing their logo onto pam­phlets and ban­ners, the in­cep­tion of the foun­da­tion did come from a place of self-in­ter­est, al­beit on a more in­ti­mate, per­sonal level – one that’s closely linked to the very ex­is­tence of the 142-year-old mai­son.

The Aude­mars Piguet fac­tory is lo­cated in the vil­lage of Le Bras­sus, in Switzer­land’s Val­lée de Joux, where the Swiss art of watch­mak­ing ger­mi­nated. The first watch­mak­ers who thrived here were ac­tu­ally farm­ers, who turned to watch­mak­ing as a source of ex­tra in­come, as well as a way to pass the harsh win­ter days. “They had ex­tremely long win­ters, so they made watches to pass the time,” ex­plains Aude­mars. “They then be­came more com­pli­cated, be­cause these farm­ers had so much time to de­velop new ideas.”

These farm­ers re­spected the val­ley’s rich for­est, which pro­vided space to graze their an­i­mals and fuel for their fire­places, as the source of their liveli­hood. “They un­der­stood that it takes cen­turies to grow a tree but only a few min­utes to take one down,” says Aude­mars. “They didn’t want to de­stroy what gave them the chance for sur­vival.”

The foun­da­tion’s work now ex­tends far be­yond that of Val­lée de Joux; working with a net­work of over 1,000 gov­ern­ment and NGO mem­bers as a part of the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture, the foun­da­tion has been in­volved with ev­ery­thing from the pre­ven­tion of de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion in Brazil to cre­at­ing parks in ur­ban ar­eas to strengthen the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the younger global gen­er­a­tion and na­ture.

“Over the past 25 years, we’ve been in­volved in over 100 pro­jects in 36 coun­tries.” Aude­mars re­calls. For one of the foun­da­tion’s early ini­tia­tives in 1999, a group of young­sters served by the Hong Kong So­ci­ety for the Pro­tec­tion of Chil­dren were in­vited to plant trees in pub­lic ur­ban spa­ces.

When the Aude­mars Piguet board first de­cided to cre­ate a foun­da­tion to pre­serve and main­tain the eco­log­i­cal bal­ance of forests around the world, there was very lit­tle re­sis­tance. That, Aude­mars tells us, can be at­trib­uted both to the brand’s in­her­ent ap­pre­ci­a­tion for na­ture and the fact that, as a fam­ily-run com­pany, de­ci­sions by the board can be han­dled quickly.

He thinks back to an­other time when the Aude­mars Piguet fam­ily made a de­ci­sion that would have taken other houses with a more cor­po­rate struc­ture years to con­firm. “The launch of the Royal Oak [in 1972], was a high risk and chal­leng­ing de­ci­sion,” he says. “The watch had vis­i­ble screws and strong lines. It was in stain­less steel but cost the same as a Patek [Philippe] and ten times that of a Rolex.”

In hind­sight, it was ob­vi­ously the right de­ci­sion; the Royal Oak be­came one of the mai­son’s most iconic con­tem­po­rary cre­ations and un­of­fi­cially kicked-off of the era of the stain­less steel sports watch; be­com­ing the in­spi­ra­tion for nu­mer­ous watch­mak­ers who would follow suit with their own ver­sions of non-pre­cious al­loy sports watches.

Aude­mars be­lieves that this swift de­ci­sion-mak­ing abil­ity is only one as­pect of a fam­ily-run busi­ness that makes for more re­spon­si­ble and so­cially con­scious en­ter­prise. “We are al­ways look­ing at the long term good of the com­pany,” he says. “When­ever we make a de­ci­sion, we think in terms of gen­er­a­tions; what would my grand­fa­ther have done 50 years ago, and how will my grand­chil­dren han­dle this sit­u­a­tion 50 years later?”

This per­haps is one rea­son why con­ser­va­tion ini­tia­tives are clearly so dear to his heart – Aude­mars be­lieves that sus­tain­abil­ity will help in pre­serv­ing the brand’s her­itage and legacy for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. And, much like the 19th cen­tury famers who first set­tled in Val­lée de Joux to pur­sue a pas­toral life in­ter­twined with the fine art of watch­mak­ing, Aude­mars Piguet’s legacy thrives only when the land that drives its ex­is­tence does.

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