Tra­di­tion lies at the heart of her­itage watch­maker Aude­mars Piguet, but a re­newed fo­cus on the art world is in­spir­ing a wave of in­no­va­tion that keeps the com­pany tick­ing boldly in the now. By Cushla Chauhan.

VOGUE Australia - - CONTENTS -

Tra­di­tion lies at the heart of her­itage Swiss watch­maker Aude­mars Piguet, but a re­newed fo­cus on the art world is in­spir­ing a wave of in­no­va­tion that keeps the com­pany tick­ing boldly in the now.

Amisty rain is fall­ing in the sto­ry­book sur­rounds of Switzer­land’s Val­lée de Joux. Just an hour’s drive from Geneva, this lush land­scape – a jour­ney through forests, cob­bled streets and pitched-roof houses with painted shut­ters – is the heart of Swiss horol­ogy, where for more than two cen­turies gen­er­a­tions have honed their watch­mak­ing skills. It’s here that Aude­mars Piguet, one of the world’s most re­spected and en­dur­ing lux­ury watch­mak­ers, re­sides. Lo­cated on a quiet street filled with bird­song and the earthy aroma of wet soil and grass, the com­pany’s man­u­fac­ture and bu­colic set­ting is not some might imag­ine for an il­lus­tri­ous brand, but for the fourth­gen­er­a­tion own­ers, the provenance of the lo­ca­tion is still rel­e­vant to­day.

Founded in 1875 by Jules Louis Aude­mars and Ed­ward Au­guste Piguet, the com­pany set down roots in the val­ley due to its rich iron ore sup­ply and in­spir­ing beauty, while its iso­la­tion and cold cli­mate nur­tured pa­tience in the pur­suit of per­fec­tion and ground­break­ing mech­a­nisms or de­signs.

Al­most 150 years on and those tenets still hold true, as ev­i­denced in­side the man­u­fac­ture’s light-flooded work­shops, where men and women sit with calm, med­i­ta­tive fo­cus. Wear­ing white lab coats, head­band mag­ni­fiers and with workspaces an or­derly dis­play of tools, they ap­pear like sur­geons at task. Which in a way, they are. Each ex­pert has a spe­cific role in con­struct­ing the hand-as­sem­bled pieces, from pol­ish­ing in­ner work­ings to po­si­tion­ing hands, while a team of masters is ded­i­cated to the brand’s famed ‘grande com­pli­ca­tions’

– those in­tri­cate fea­tures of a me­chan­i­cal time­piece that re­quire un­fath­omable pre­ci­sion. One screw, for ex­am­ple, in­vis­i­ble to the naked eye, is so tiny it can float on wa­ter.

While a strong sense of place and his­tory is cru­cial to this her­itage com­pany, stay­ing rel­e­vant in a fast, tech-ob­sessed world has also meant bal­anc­ing tra­di­tion with in­no­va­tion and, more re­cently, forg­ing closer ties to the art world.

“We de­cided to build a link be­tween the world of art and our watch his­tory and watch char­ac­ter­is­tics, be­cause we think what we make at Aude­mars Piguet is a kind of art,” says Jas­mine Aude­mars, great­grand­daugh­ter of Jules Louis Aude­mars and cur­rent pres­i­dent of the board of di­rec­tors. “With watch­mak­ing there is sci­ence and math­e­mat­ics, but also cre­ativ­ity and in­no­va­tion. These artists see our val­ley, our world and where are roots are dif­fer­ently, and for us it’s a new way to dis­cover our world and in­spires us.”

As such, Aude­mars Piguet has been a global part­ner of Art Basel since 2013, invit­ing artists to visit its habi­tat and ate­lier and through their work, ex­plore the themes of com­plex­ity and pre­ci­sion in­her­ent in watch­mak­ing.

For this year’s Art Basel, Chilean-born, New York-based artist and de­signer Se­bas­tian Er­razuriz re­alised his third con­cept lounge for Aude­mars Piguet. En­ti­tled, Foun­da­tions, the del­i­cate in­stal­la­tion, made up of hun­dreds of pieces of 3D-printed scanned and hand-moulded rocks, pays homage to the iron ore sourced in the Val­lée de Joux. Er­razuriz says the par­al­lels be­tween the art of watch­mak­ing and artists lie in the phys­i­cal and men­tal en­durance in­volved in work – an all-con­sum­ing con­cen­tra­tion jus­ti­fied by love, pas­sion and ob­ses­sion.

For his hyper-re­al­is­tic work Re­mains, Lon­don-based Ital­ian visual artist Da­vide Quay­ola vis­ited the forests of the Val­lée de Joux to “cap­ture a mo­ment in time” in a way that ref­er­ences tra­di­tional land­scape painters of the past. The eight large-scale, high-def­i­ni­tion 3D dig­i­tal prints are haunt­ing and ethe­real, and ex­plore the idea of “dif­fer­ent types of see­ing”.

Physics and hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence, mean­while, com­bine in Halo, an im­mer­sive in­stal­la­tion by Bri­tish artist duo Ruth Jar­man and Joe Ger­hardt of Semi­con­duc­tor. Dra­matic, sur­real and sublime ( the ex­pe­ri­ence feels like ly­ing un­der the stars at night while float­ing on mys­ti­cal sound­scape), the visual and acous­tic work ex­plores the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence of na­ture, fram­ing it through sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy. De­spite the com­plex­ity of the art­work’s con­cept – the mo­ment when two bunches of pro­tons trav­el­ling close to the speed of light col­lide – Jar­man stresses that an au­di­ence doesn’t need to know any­thing about the sci­ence be­hind it to feel moved. “Lots of things ex­ist be­yond the lim­its of our per­cep­tion – such as par­ti­cles col­lid­ing at the speed of light – so we use sci­en­tific tools to re­veal those things. We want to try to cre­ate an ex­pe­ri­ence that’s a bit like when you go into na­ture and have that feel­ing of the sublime – some­thing that’s very in­tan­gi­ble and over­whelm­ing.”

The power of na­ture and emo­tional en­rich­ment is key to the ap­peal of Aude­mars Piguet’s time­pieces too, speak­ing of the very hu­man need to find mean­ing­ful con­nec­tions in our in­creas­ingly vir­tual world.

“What we make is a prod­uct that is alive; you can see the heart of the watch beat­ing,” says Jas­mine Aude­mars. “On your wrist you have a beau­ti­ful ob­ject with a very high level of crafts­man­ship that is a mix­ture of tra­di­tion and in­no­va­tion. It’s an ob­ject with soul.”

It’s a sen­ti­ment af­firmed by Olivier Aude­mars, vice-chair­man of the board of di­rec­tors and the great-grand­son of Ed­ward Au­guste Piguet. “As tech­nol­ogy moves ex­po­nen­tially, we might see our­selves re­treat­ing to ar­eas of safety of emo­tional tran­quil­lity,” he pon­ders. “Ob­jects that we keep, that we can touch, such as a beau­ti­ful watch, we cher­ish; there is a stronger emo­tional com­po­nent.”

Vanessa Bardet, a mas­ter of grande com­pli­ca­tions, has worked at Aude­mars Piguet for 21 years. Cre­at­ing things of beauty with mean­ing and soul is seem­ingly part of her man­i­festo. “I like the small scale of ev­ery­thing I get to work on – giv­ing ev­ery com­po­nent its beauty, giv­ing your best so they per­form as they have to,” she ex­plains.

A beau­ti­ful con­ver­gence of sci­ence and art, then. And the rea­son the art of watch­mak­ing, the hu­man hand that goes into the cre­ation of a thing of mag­nif­i­cence born from ded­i­ca­tion and pas­sion, is val­ued now more than ever.


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