The Slovenia Times

Audemars Piguet, Big Watchmaker in a Small Village



We visited their manufacturing headquarters, located in the Joux Valley and home of many prestigious brands of watches. An hour after we left Geneva and climbed the winding road, away from the city streets and advertising signs, we saw the sign next to the road: Le Brassus. The small village is surrounded by mountains and vast forests, so it soon became clear why haute horology flourishes in such a remote area.

The Secluded Joux Valley

This success story was written because of the distance from large cities, the working rural population, poor soil and iron ore deposits. The Joux Valley was first inhabited in the sixth century by monks in search of a peaceful environment for prayer. In the short summer months they farmed but were hampered by infertile soil. The true development of settlements in the valley began with the discovery of iron ore deposits which they used to make farming tools, blades, guns and locks. The long and harsh winters that people spent in the shelter of their homes contributed to the diversification of their products with patient and precise work, developing simple watch mechanisms.

In the nature-surrounded village, the story of haute horology is told by the buildings of Audemars Piguet. Each building represents a chapter in the history of this watchmaking family empire. In order to really understand their origins and historical significance, we first enter into the oldest part: the house where Jules Audemars and Edward Piguet founded their watchmaking workshop 140 years ago and which now houses a museum of their watchmaking legacy. The extremely rich family collection of timepieces contains functional pocket and wristwatches with numerous complications, and various chronographs and minute repeaters, unique pieces, limited editions and much more.

The Magical Restoration Workshop

There is also something for the enthusiasts of the watchmaking craft: we visit the workshop where they assemble extremely complex tourbillions and a restoration workshop where they breathe life back into old timepieces. This history-filled place takes us back in time to the beginnings of manufacture. When one of the restorers opens an almost unnoticeable closet, full of neatly labeled wooden boxes, we are finally sucked into the past. The unfinished mechanisms are from a century ago, the letters that were exchanged between the watchmakers and clients, as well as hand-drawn designs with precise instructions, written in beautiful script, portray the true meaning of the word tradition. The masters study the contents of these priceless boxes with precision because they serve as references for renovation and repairs.

The Meditative Silence of Manufacture

We enthusiastically head towards the modern manufacturing facility which is located a few hundred metres away. Hundreds of watchmakers work in this huge facility where they make various components, assemble mechanisms and complete watches. There is an almost meditative silence in the workshop that we visit. All we hear is the slight buzzing of the machines, the sounds of polishing and quiet music. The workshop resembles a high-tech laboratory and the watchmakers sit behind bright, extremely clean and neat tables, completely focused, assembling complex mechanisms with incredible precision.

On the day of our visit, Audemars Piguet introduces the new Royal Oak wristwatch with a perpetual calendar and so we are able to view the first samples of this masterpiece. The ultra-slim case, with a 41mm diameter, hides the mechanism which is equipped with a perpetual calendar complication and is only 4.31mm thick. The perpetual calendar is a mechanism that can display the date for more than 125 years without correction - the future owners will never need to set the date during their lifetime. On the dial, we see a moon phase indicator, which is a laser-engraved micro-reproduction of a photo of the moon, and a specific hand that indicates the week of the year.

The Grand Complication, the Pride of the Company

Our visit was concluded with a visit to the workshop where a small team, comprised of the best watchmakers, assemble the complex and prestigious watches - grand complications, which have a perpetual calendar, a minute repeater and a rattrapante chronograph. Each of the masters makes and assembles the entire watch on their own, which takes more than eight months. When the watch gains an owner, all the maintenance and repair works of that complex mechanism are taken care of by the person who knows it best: the one who assembled and manufactured the watch.

Combining Traditional Watchmaking and Modern Design

The timepieces with the Audemars Piguet signature are not only extremely precise, handmade and hand-assembled indicators of time but carry even more meaning. During the dominance of corporations that combine and transform watchmaking brands, they have remained faithful to their tradition. After 150 years, the company is still in the hands of the founding families who, with sincere affection, maintain the rich watchmaking tradition and follow the philosophy of Jules Audemars and Edward Piguet. When designing new technical and design solutions, they demonstrate their deep knowledge of traditional watchmaking, which they are continually complementing with many innovations.

Royal Oak: from Horror to Legend

Contemporary spirit most definitely manifests itself in the Royal Oak collection, which has dictated a new era since its inception in the 1970s, a fusion of traditional watchmaking and contemporary design. The wristwatch from this collection was met with strong disapproval upon its presentation in 1972: the design genius, Gerald Genta, protected the delicate mechanism with a robust case made of steel, which was something completely outrageous for that time. The disapproval turned into enthusiasm after a few years and the Royal Oak created a new trend of sporty-elegant timepieces and the iconoclastic creation has paradoxically become a watchmaking classic.

Breaking the Rules

After two decades of success of the now iconic Royal Oak collection, in Le Brassus they decided to approach the younger crowd with a new design. They presented the Royal Oak Offshore which, believe it or not, suffered the same reception as its predecessor. The watch was marked as a "beast" and even Gerald Genta disagreed with the new design. Despite the discontent of many, Audemars Piguet managed to reach the global public. The watch subsequently appeared on the wrists of many celebrities: the bold design was embraced by those who wanted something more out of a watch, just as happened 44 years ago.

Many see Audemars Piguet as an example of overcoming challenges since it demonstrates that mere adaptation to change is not enough. When you know the rules of the game, it is necessary to take a step forward, which can often mean that the rules must be written anew. 


More from Nekategorizirano