The discipline of real luxury
In a rare face-to-face interview with the head of one of the most successful watch brands in the world, we sit with Jasmine Audemars to talk about luxury, the watch industry, and how offline and online will live and evolve together
Since 1992, the great-granddaughter of Jules Louis Audemars, Jasmine Audemars, has been the chairwoman of the Board of Directors for Audemars Piguet. She is a powerhouse who studied economics at the age of 16 to then become deputy editor of a major Swiss newspaper at the age of 29 and soon after, the editor in chief. For 12 years she was a hard-core journalist until her father asked her to take his place at the venerated Audemars Piguet manufacturer. At 77, she’s not only the head of the company, but a dynamic force of nature with profound insights and knowledge on luxury, the watch sector and the technological evolution around the industry. Always discreet and perennially elegant, she can speak at great length about the technical features of a concept watch, the pros and cons of the smartwatch trend and at the same time, overseeing multiple projects from research and development to humanitarian and social initiatives sponsored by her family name ventures. Jasmine Audemars is a woman we deeply admire
The industry has faced many challenges over the years for different reasons. And Audemars Piguet has been able to be on top of that.
Yes, we have been lucky to sail safely through these bumpy times.
What are the pillars that allows Audemars Piguet to navigate these ups and downs?
The main thing is to be a family company. That’s the big advantage, because we always have a long-term vision and through our history we know that there will always be difficult times. It’s never going to be paradise all the time. We are ready to face these difficult times. We’ve been educated for that. The main thing is to keep our long-term strategy. For instance, we decided to cap our production to 45,000 watches per year and we are sticking to that for the time-being and we focus on quality, exclusivity, working with our boutiques and some very, very good partners to get closer to our customers. It’s very important to have a real link with our customers. And to always have a very thin inventory: to have very healthy finances and to keep a balance between the different regions of the world. For instance, we have a very good balance between Europe and Asia or the US and the Middle East and we must never get carried on into one single market. We have been very happy with the 2015 and 2016 results and 2017 was a great year too. And we are optimistic for 2018 but are always realistic by sticking to our long-term strategies and not getting carried away by our own success.
In recent decades, there have been several group consolidations on Richemont, Swatch, LVMH and a lot of independent brands being absorbed by corporate entities. Audemars Piguet must be a very desirable brand for many of these groups. How do you manage to stay fully independent?
As long as we are very healthy financially and we can have a sound and steady development we will stay independent. We are all passionate and committed to the brand. And we are in Le Brassus and in the Vallée
Du Joux and we have a great responsibility for the region and for the people that works for us. So, for us, being independent is the main objective.
In terms of distribution, we’ve seen the rise of the smartwatch segment and also the consolidation of the Internet as a formal distribution point, either with strategic niche partners or with an in-house e-commerce operation. Where does Audemars Piguet stands on these new distribution channels?
We are studying it very closely. It is an important trend but we have to be careful. There’s no need for us to be pioneers in this new world, so we are studying it and maybe something will happen one time or another. We are not against it – we know it’s a trend and we know it’s coming. You have to find the right way to do e-commerce because otherwise you can damage the brand and make customers very angry.
Au de mars Pigu et has a very important leverage in terms of production with Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi. It’s a very impressive laboratory for ideas. What’s the scope of Au de mars Pigu et Renaud& Pa pi for Au de mars Pigu et and what’ s its importance for the overall business?
It’s very important because they have developed very interesting things in the past for us and they still do. I think we want for them to be creative and come up with ideas. This is our think tank, our laboratory, if you like. We are not going to tell them what they have to do. It’s very important to let them deliver their own ideas and then we discuss it with them. It’s a two-way street.
Can we talk about Richard Mil le?
Of course! Richard Mille is a partner and Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi work a lot for him. We are very happy to have that partnership with Richard Mille because he is very successful. He really has created a great brand.
Audemars Piguet started to support Richard Mille almost at the beginning of the brand. How do you or the board of Au de mars Pigu et interact with Richard Mil le?
In the past, a few times Richard Mille gave us advice in certain watches so we are always ready to work with him. We have a great relationship and wear every happy. What he does is just amazing.
High-end watches best represent the luxury industry. But luxury began a massification process a few years ago, especially in terms of fashion and accessories – which confused the customer as to what real luxury is. How would you define what real luxury now?
If you want to be abran din the real luxury world, you have to be exclusive. And as a definition, I like the one from Karl Lagerfeld, when he said that luxury is a discipline. You have to be disciplined if you want to be a genuine luxury brand. It’s very easy to make a very expensive watch if you put one ton of diamonds around it, but for me that’s not a luxury watch, it’s an expensive watch.
This year at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie Genève was the first time a concept watch was presented directly for a woman’s collection. Can youspeaktothat?
This year we have two models, the Royal Oak open worked and the concept. It is a new territory for us. We are exploring and we think there are customers for this kind of product. It is a very exciting challenge for us.
You were formerly a news journalist. Has this given you a unique perspective on the industry in terms of the marketing and content? And how do you think the off-line and online worlds are evolving?
I think both worlds will live together. Print is not dead, definitely not. But print will have to adapt and the digital world also, because it constantly changes. We even have new print publications now. In France, they just launched a new weekly. I’m not pessimistic but the way things work definitely has changed. Unfortunately, for the time-being, most media have less time and space to write in-depth stories; it’s very fast-paced and this is not ideal. I think we will be back to more analysis and more in-depth stories, rather than being bombarded all day long with breaking news.
You are very involved with the Fondation de la Haute H or log erie. Can you tell us about that?
We have a board at the foundation and we have a certain number of meetings during the year. We have a general secretary that studies all the projects and evaluates financing opportunities. We have to be very selective and stick to the goals of the foundation. So far, we have been able to finance over 80 projects in 40 countries. We have been all around the world with the exception of Australia. One day we may find a project down there.
Audemars Piguet has been very involved with Art Basel and other art projects. Are you also involved in these projectstoo?
No, Olivier Audemars, the vice-chairman is very much involved as a member of the art commission. He is our in-house specialist. But for us, it’s a very interesting trend. The world of art can bring us a lot of things. It can help us to see things differently, even about the region we live in. For example, to have the pictures of Dan Holdsworth, was for us something very new and now we see our own region in a different way.
Going back to the smartwatch business, some companies have jumped onto the trend right away, like Tag Heuer. And they are making a good profit out of it. Some people think that the user experience is not yet enough to be part of the high-end watches segment. What are your thoughts?
We are only at the beginning of the smartwatches trend. They have a few weaknesses like battery life, the OS obsolescence (which is the big topic now) but things will change anyway. It is another world and at least for the time-being it’s not a world for Audemars Piguet. But in the end, I think both worlds will live together.
There are three pillars in the current collection: Royal Oak, Millenary and Jules Au de mars. The last is traditional with excellent craftsmanship and high complications. This year there wasn’ t a Jules Au de mars launch…
Not yet. We always have projects in the pipeline and we don’t launch all our products at Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie.
Above: JasmineAudemars hasbeenthe chairwomanofthe BoardofDirectors forAudemarsPiguet since1992