Made-to-or­der MAR­VEL


India Today - - WATCH -

The Val­ley is what in­hab­i­tants of the high plateau of the Jura moun­tains re­fer to the Val­lée de Joux, in Switzer­land, as. Just 50 kilo­me­tres from the Geneva air­port, in the vil­lage of Le Bras­sus here, stands Aude­mars Piguet’s her­itage in horol­ogy. The set­ting is fairy­tale-like: the gen­tle swell of the Juras is car­pet­ted with ver­dant meadows, and mir­rored by the still wa­ters of Lake Joux that shine bril­liantly.

One sus­pects that this dreamy Swiss coun­try­side could have been the in­spi­ra­tion for early set­tlers in and around this area to take to com­pli­cated watch­mak­ing. It was in the 17th cen­tury that this pros­per­ous vil­lage, other­wise en­gaged in farm­ing, me­tal­lurgy, wood­work­ing and glass man­u­fac­tur­ing, be­gan to cre­ate parts for watch­mak­ers in Geneva. Later, a hand­ful of them de­cided to es­tab­lish their own watch­mak­ing houses, cre­at­ing fine time­pieces.

For en­thu­si­asts of haute horol­ogy this is the per­fect haven where watch­mak­ing his­tory can be re­lived. The ex­pe­ri­ence is only en­hanced by a stay at the Ap-run Ho­tel des Horologers. Just a short walk from the ho­tel is the com­pany’s old orig­i­nal man­u­fac­ture, circa 1875, which has now been re­stored into a pri­vate mu­seum, dis­play­ing an­tique watches, doc­u­ments, and equip­ment dat­ing from be­fore AP was born. The his­tory of the man­u­fac­turer reads like a ver­i­ta­ble en­cy­clo­pe­dia of watch­mak­ing’s most es­sen­tial tech­niques and forms.

It was here that two vi­sion­ary watch­mak­ers, JulesLouis Aude­mars and Ed­ward-au­guste Piguet, joined forces to pro­duce com­pli­cated watches.a fa­mous line from Charles Dicken’s novel Hard Times from the same era flashes through the mind, “Old time, that great­est and long­est es­tab­lished spin­ner of all!.... his fac­tory is a se­cret place, his work is noise­less, and his hands are mutes...” To­day, this mu­seum can be vis­ited by in­vi­ta­tion only.

For a watch­mak­ing com­pany founded 136 years ago, AP is very pro­gres­sive. Even more re­mark­able is the fact that it re­mains the old­est Swiss watch­maker still in the hands of its found­ing fam­ily. To­day the com­pany pro­duces close to 26,000 units a year, and the range is noth­ing if not am­bi­tious in its sheer breadth of vi­sion. The brand has now moved into its new in­dus­trial fa­cil­ity, Man­u­fac­ture de Forges, which ac­com­mo­dates 300 mas­ter watch­mak­ers un­der its mas­sive eco-friendly and self-sus­tain­able roof.

Among them is gifted watch­maker and chief of de­sign, Oc­tavio Gar­cía. He heads a depart­ment which is the heart of the watch­mak­ing hearth. AP, at its core, has a rest­less in­ven­tive­ness and in­ge­nu­ity, and above all, the ca­pac­ity to com­bine un­sur­passed tech­ni­cal wiz­ardry with fault­less taste. “It is the only high-end watch com­pany that ex­per­i­ments with new ideas and is open to sug­ges­tion from the clients,” says Gar­cía. Un­like an artist, who is free to ex­press his per­sonal vi­sion in his work, a watch de­signer must ad­here to a set of spec­i­fi­ca­tions and rec­on­cile aes­thet­ics with com­mer­cial goals, and tech­ni­cal lim­i­ta­tions. Yet, it’s not enough to swim with the times and the de­signer has to an­tic­i­pate fu­ture trends. Mod­els are con­ceived two years be­fore they go on the mar­ket, some­times more if the project is cus­tomised. A com­plex jug­gling act to say the least.

Régis Mey­lan, is the go-to man for such a re­quire­ment. Head of the Man­u­fac­ture’s Spé­cial­ités work­shop since 1981 he has catered to ev­ery elite con­nois­seur’s whim. Skele­ton watches in par­tic­u­lar lend them­selves to this kind of creative ad­di­tion. With an en­graved ro­tor made vis­i­ble thanks to the sap­phire case­back, the skele­ton has be­come a show­case for ev­ery pos­si­ble stylis­tic ef­fect. So whether it’s the ini­tials for a loved one, or Chi­nese and Ja­panese cal­lig­ra­phy, com­pany lo­gos, Cyril­lic writ­ing, as­tro­log­i­cal signs,or even the por­trait of a beloved, these cus­tomisa-

tions make a time­piece unique.

Each year, the com­pany han­dles 30 to 50 such cus­tomi­sa­tions.two watch­mak­ers sketch and pro­pose the project to the client, and then trace and cut these unique pieces by hand in a de­sired metal (say, plat­inum or pink gold.) Next, is the fine art of en­grav­ing—a prod­uct of a long tra­di­tion in the art of Swiss lux­ury watch­mak­ing. Util­i­tar­ian or dec­o­ra­tive, it in­volves adorn­ing each com­po­nent of a time­piece with minia­ture sculp­tures or ex­tremely de­tailed mo­tifs, a job that of­ten re­quires hu­man hand­i­work. With great skill, the en­graver cuts into the ma­te­rial and then places per­son­alised ro­tors in the time­piece.

The most ex­trav­a­gant re­quest? “An Arab sheikh wanted to have his coat of arms en­graved on 15 pieces for a busi­ness din­ner he was host­ing in his palace. Each guest left the event with a per­son­alised watch,” re­counts Mey­lan. The pat­tern en­graved in the ma­te­rial re­quires minute pre­ci­sion, “One time, a piece was re­turned to us be­cause we cut out a point when we skele­tonised the ro­tor, and in do­ing so the mean­ing of the word had com­pletely changed,” he says.

This jour­ney from past to present clearly in­di­cates that, Aude­mars-piguet, even with this rich legacy of watch­mak­ing, strives to in­vests in in­no­va­tion as a way of re­ward­ing its loyal cus­tomers. And as Mey­lan sums up, “It takes time to make time.” Who else could un­der­stand the essence of time but those who cre­ate it for you.

The Royal Oak Off­shore chrono­graph; Cal­i­bre2120, the world's thinnest move­ment with a cen­tral ro­tor

The orig­i­nal man­u­fac­ture of Aude­mars Piguet is now a pri­vate mu­seum

The iconic Millernary Self­wind­ing col­lec­tion by Aude­mars Piguet

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