WATCHMAKING KNOW-HOW IN THE TEST OF TIME

It’s a long-term story, punctuated by technical and stylistic innovations. For more than 144 years, Audemars Piguet has been designing exceptional timepieces based on outstanding designs and daring mechanical developments. From the first unique pieces by Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet to the Code 11.59 collection by Audemars Piguet unveiled in 2019, the brand orchestrates virtuoso watch creations


Text: Marie de Pimodan-Bugnon – Photos provided by Audemars Piguet

The building is huge, its ultramodern architecture, alternating anthracite gray surfaces and large windows overlooking the valley of Joux. In the distance, a small river, the Orbe. In the background, the edge of the Jura forests. Peaceful landscapes of Le Brassus where, at the first frost, winter has already unfurled its white coat. The coming months will be rigorous and austere, long as an endless day.

Planted in this country-style setting, the Manufacture des Forges will not change its pace. Whether it’s snowing, selling or spring sunshine warming the green hills, nothing hinders the workings of Audemars Piguet watches. It is a few meters from here that everything began in 1875, in the House of Founders.

This postcard from 1907 presents the building housing the first Audemars Piguet workshops.

The Manufacture des Forges was inaugurated in 2008 at the Brassus, the place of origin of the brand.

This former family building currently under construction housed until recently the historic watches of the brand and, in the galettes, the restoration workshop, which will resume his rights at the end of the site. In the spring of 2020, the heritage collection will be exhibited in the new Atelier Audemars Piguet Museum, a futuristic spiral designed by the BIG ( Bjarke Ingels Group) architecture firm.

Synthesis image of the future Audemars Piguet Museum Museum and Hôtel des Horlogers, designed by the BIG architecture firm.

The Audemars Piguet Museum Museum will be inaugurated in April 2020.

View of the Risoud forest from the roof of the spiral.

In this setting where the remnants of the past are mixed with the aspirations of tomorrow, the history of this factory still in family hands continues to be written. It is here that unique pieces were born that collectors are now tearing themselves away with frenzy. The Royal Oak anchors its roots, the new collection Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet draws its nobility.

Chapter after chapter, watch after watch, intertwine the quest for precision, the mastery of the artisanal gesture, the complementary relationship of man and machine. A watchmaking epic punctuated by challenges and daring, spectacular complications and unusual designs, for more than 144 years.To trace one’s own way, to free oneself from the rules

In 1875 they are only two. Jules Louis Audemars (1851-1918) and Edward Auguste Piguet (1853-1919). Two watchmakers, entrepreneurs in the soul, who, without knowing it, pose the first stones of a factory called to become an empire of beautiful watchmaking. They have flair and know-how. And it is as settlers that they begin to make themselves known. Like a conductor capable of tuning the best virtuosos, the duo coordinates the activities of craftsmen specializing in their respective fields and their control all the components necessary for the realization of the watches.

Movement blanks, cases, dials, needles, and bracelets are thus produced outside the walls of the workshop where the two men are in charge of design, miniaturization of movements, assembly, and calibration of calibers. Each model is then created as a single piece, usually on order.

At the time, watchmakers all work well, the internalization of know-how is still a music of the future. Audemars Piguet is distinguished from his peers by his taste for challenge. Special orders are not insurmountable. On the contrary, they spice up their creativity. Belly watches, chronographs, astronomical indications … At the workshop, we do not refuse any audacity.

Since its creation, Audemars Piguet has traced its own path, freeing itself from the conventions of the watch industry. For more than a century, its craftsmen have explored countless aesthetic possibilities in terms of design. Michael Friedman, Head of Complications for Audemars Piguet

Between 1882 and 1892, the brand produced some 1600 pocket watches, 80% of which included at least one watch complication. In this respect, the 1899 Universal High Compression pocket watch is a striking example of the know-how of the Brassus workshop. This piece combines a split-second chronograph, a second dead and a jumping second, a large and a small ring, a minute repeater, an alarm and a perpetual calendar. A masterstroke!

The Universal pocket watch from 1899.

This is one of the most complicated Audemars Piguet creations ever made.

The technical achievements of the brand are quickly establishing its reputation. A few years will be enough for the craftsmen of Le Brassus to impose their signature. Over time, the cases of the watches will appear in unexpected forms, the dials will break the traditional codes, requiring the manufacturer to combine the handmade gesture with new technical developments.

Consisting of thin 24-carat gold layers, the Audemars Piguet signature of the new collection is made by galvanic growth. The odyssey of extraordinary designs

“The skins they created were based on basic geometric shapes such as the circle, square or rectangle, sometimes in combination with rarer shapes, such as trapezius or octagon,” says Michael Friedman, Head of Complications for Audemars Piguet. To these unusual boxes were added dials that we’re able to express a true artistic vision, especially through the use of multiple materials, colors or figures. “

Anticonventional, avant-garde, the manufacturer does not shrink from stylistic effrontery. In 1917 already, Audemars Piguet frees himself from the classic nineteenth-century shackles with a first octagonal wristwatch. In 1929, the aesthetic Art Deco is invited in its workshops with a watch mixing the rectangle and the cushion shape. The years 1930-1940 are marked by great creativity applied to the dials. The end of the Second World War brings a new era, that of an elegance driven by sobriety. Witness a 1945 watch which, under its clean air, conceals a great complexity. When the watch is viewed from the front, the horns appear long and rectilinear but, in profile, the latter reveals a complex and faceted polygonal geometry.

Later, the 1960s will give way to new aesthetic experiments. A 1961 watch ingeniously combines the rectangle, circle, and square while a 1962 model allows the follies of an asymmetrical case and dial. 

A decade later, it’s time for the Royal Oak to come on the scene. Designed by Gérald Genta, it is a milestone in the history of watchmaking design. Imposing by its size, powerful by its aesthetics, its silhouette is carved in a steel body, a first in luxury watchmaking, and plays on the octagon, faceted, rounded, married circle and barrel shape. Then came the Royal Oak Offshore in 1993, an increasingly disruptive version of this striking design, the futuristic Royal Oak Concept in 2002 and today the new Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet.

Round at first sight, simple in appearance, the latter summons the octagon on its flanks and conceals a world of details. “We make no compromises,” says François-Henry Bennahmias, General Manager of the brand. The degree of technical and aesthetic complexity of this collection is such that it has been necessary to develop new tools and new skills. It is a story of human challenges, a story that tells the story of watchmakers, engineers, and designers who are passionate about their art, who have remained true to their convictions and have been able to persevere and push their limits. “Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet: ancestral techniques combined with the technologies of the future

To get rid of the rules, you have to master them first. Audemars Piguet made this sentence his maxim. Given the history of the brand, it is not an empty concept. With each new challenge, whether technical or aesthetic, the factory had to adapt its production tool. The culture of the artisanal gesture has remained, machines from the latest technologies have always been integrated into the manufacturing process.

Manufacture of the box and the bezel.

New packaging boxes have been specially developed.

3D design of the box.

To design the new line Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet, the brand has had to challenge the standards of watchmaking production, deploy new technical developments, create new tools, pushing ancestral techniques of decoration to their limits.

To understand it, just observe one of the 13 models that make up the collection. Here, everything is about details. Some, even, require observation with a magnifying glass. There is the case, first of all. Its complex geometry combines a bezel and a round box bottom to an octagonal build. Opened for a more airy profile, its horns are welded on their upper part to the extra fine bezel, the lower part resting on the bottom of the box, without being attached to it.

This design, which observers describe as pure madness, required brand engineers to explore new welding techniques. “We had to develop and coordinate new precision technologies and new machines to complement our traditional skills,” says Friedman. 

“First, to assemble the bezel and the horns, we used the precision of the laser fusion, which was a first for Audemars Piguet. Another example, to test the resistance of the part, it was necessary to create a specific machine because our equipment was not adapted. To carry out the conception of design, all these developments required the involvement of many people. Teamwork and collaboration are essential components of the success of the creative process. ” 

Double curved glass offers better readability.

The box combines a bezel and a round bottom to an octagonal build.

The box combines a bezel and a round bottom to an octagonal build.

The ergonomic design of the box fits all wrist sizes.

The ergonomic design of the box fits all wrist sizes.A world of excellence that is read in every detail

The dial is also a technological feat. Consisting of thin 24-carat gold layers, Audemars Piguet’s signature is achieved by galvanic growth, a technique similar to that of 3D printing. The letters are thus connected by gold threads almost as fine as hair and positioned by hand on the dial with little almost invisible feet.

A work of extreme delicacy that can be seen through a sapphire crystal, the realization of which also represents a real technical challenge. Doubly curved, the latter has an arched profile, its internal surface taking the form of a dome, while the exterior is curved vertically from 6 to 12 hours.

The high point of the show, the finishes of the case, the bezel and the horns are made with care identical to the decorations generally reserved for Haute Horlogerie calibers. This is not a first at Audemars Piguet.

“One of the central elements that link the watches we manufacture today with those of the past is based on an interesting geometry composed of angles,” says Friedman. This is of utmost importance in terms of finishes. The play of light between manual and mirror polish, for example, has been part of our aesthetic codes for over 100 years. The angles and surfaces of our watches form a blank canvas on which the talent of our polishers can be expressed. “

Due to the complexity of the Code 11.59 design by Audemars Piguet, only a manual gesture of absolute dexterity can highlight each element of its faceted case, even those that remain invisible to the naked eye. To do this, Audemars Piguet relied on the expertise of some polishers and satin specialists. A shock team for a degree of excellence that confirms the brand’s almost obsessive dedication to precision and detail. 

Between the walls of the factory, many things have changed. The seasons have passed, water has flowed under the bridges, the establishment workshop of 1875 has gradually turned into a high-tech factory. The most powerful machines allow today to achieve what was unimaginable yesterday.

But the culture of the artisanal gesture is alive, and the visionary spirit of Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet endures in the hands of their descendants. President of the Board of Directors of the house, Jasmine Audemars watches over the legacy: “Today, Audemars Piguet has many stories to tell about his watches, their inspirations and what they inspire, the craftsmen who have them manufactured, as well as the origins, traditions and uncompromising spirit of the Manufacture. “

The story can continue. She is still in her first chapters …

Period registers allow dating and identification of watches. Interview. From the workshop to the factory, a wonderful story of the time

It’s hard to imagine that the image and the power of attraction enjoyed by Audemars Piguet today are part of recent history. In 1950, the workshop had barely 30 employees. At the heart of the quartz crisis, there were a hundred, then just 500 in 2004. They are today 1600 to wear high the colors of the brand all over the world.

From the small workshop founded by Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet to the industrial tool currently available at the Manufacture, in Le Brassus, Le Locle and Meyrin, where the new Code 11.59 collection by Audemars Piguet is produced. to the world. Back on this slow but perfectly mastered evolution with Michael Friedman, Head of Complications for the brand.

How has the Audemars Piguet Manufacture gone from the manufacture of unique pieces to a series of watches?

The evolution has taken place in recent decades. Until 1951, Audemars Piguet only produced unique pieces. When the first serial watches arrived, a change took place. Today, we would talk about industrialization. But in reality, the work of establishment continued as before. It was simply necessary to recruit a greater number of watchmakers and craftsmen. Over time, the commercial network has grown, the market has continued to grow, which has been the case for much of the high-end watch industry at the time of the economic recovery post -Second World War. At that time, Audemars Piguet, who specialized in ultra-thin watches, began to increase production and sales. 

In 1974, Audemars Piguet’s production represented 9000 watches. Currently, we produce 40,000 annually. Michael Friedman

The vertical integration of production came much later, in the 1990s …

Absolutely, but the evolution has been gradual. In the 1980s, for example, some movements were produced internally, such as the extra-flat tourbillon caliber 2870. Several drafts Valjoux movements were also openwork and skeletonized as the caliber 5030. The skills developed over generations are always at the heart of our work ethic. They shape our identity.

Has the progressive development of your production tool helped to accelerate growth?

Things went slowly. In 1974, Audemars Piguet produced 9000 watches. In 1993, production reached 15,000 pieces. 2120, 2121 and 2120/2800 calibers were all critical to the brand’s growth. For the last five years, we have produced 40,000 watches annually, but this number will increase slightly from 2020. As an independent family business, it is important that our growth is not too fast for watchmakers, craftsmen, engineers, and technicians to maintain optimal conditions to express their talent.

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