AUDEMARS PIGUET EXCELS IN THE ART OF WATCHMAKING AND AIMS TO CATER TO EVERY WATCH FANTASY OF YOURS, LEARNS ANUSHREE BASU
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