This traditional watch manufacturer is the oldest manufacture of Haute Horlogerie, which was never sold by its founding family. Now as then the manufacture provides high-class mechanical watches with complications, precious jewelry watches and a jewelry series. Furthermore a successful series of sporty and elegant models could be established, with which the brand has created an unrivaled reputation. Audemars Piguet has won more awards at the prestigious Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève than any other company, with 14 as of 2020. It has also won more Watchstars awards, with 5 as of 2020.
The only 24-year-old Jules-Louis Audemars and his friend, the 22-year-old Edward-Auguste Piguet, share a combined passion to build special watches. In 1875 they join together for a watch production facility in their locality, the Swiss Jura village of Le Brassus. They are still working in private homes, as is usual in many watchmaker workshops. In 1881 they jointly found the company Audemars Piguet & Cie., Manufacture d’Horlogerie.
Initially Jules-Louis Audemars adopts the technical direction, while Edward-Auguste Piguet is responsible for the commercial activities. The focus is on manufacturing high-quality, mostly complicated pocket watches in the tradition of the Vallée de Joux, which are produced under their own or a foreign name. The used ebauche movements originate mostly from Le Brassus or from Louis Elisée Piguet.
How good the quality is which the two deliver, shows on their success: With models such as perpetual calendar, minute repeater or chronograph they have already made a sensation, but at the World Expo 1889 in Paris they win even a medal of honor with a "Grande Complication", which unites all above functions in one product. In 1891 they manufacture the world's smallest movement with minute repeater ever before. The era of the wristwatch has not even started, and yet at Audemars Piguet there is produced already in 1892 the world's first wristwatch with minute repeater.
After the death of the founders (1918/1919), the heirs focus on the production of fine and complicated wristwatches such as the Jules Audemars Equation of Time, which, among other things, includes a display of the equation of time.
The Modern Audemars Piguet
Audemars Piguet was lead by Georges Golay from 1966 through his death in 1987. Golay started with the company in 1945 and is credited for seeing the company through its most successful years despite the quartz crisis. Under Golay's leadership, Audemars Piguet became part of the so-called "holy trinity" of Swiss watch brands, along with Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin.
Golay was succeeded in 1987 by Stephen Urquhart as Commercial Manager and Georges-Henri Meylan as Production Manager. Urquhart was a 14 year veteran of the company, but Meylan had only been with the firm for three years. Still, the duo was able to lead Audemars Piguet together for a decade. Urquhart left the company in 1997 after an internal audit recommended a major reorganization, leaving Meylan as sole General Director.
In 1998, Audemars Piguet reaffirmed its commitment to remain independent, even as many other brands were merging into watch groups. Over the next years, Audemars Piguet sold its stake in Jaeger-LeCoultre to Richemont and increased its control over movement specialist Renaud & Papi. The company also moved distribution in-house and opened company-owned retailers, starting a major industry trend. And Audemars Piguet moved even more up-market, raising prices and moving from BaselWorld to the SSIH in 1999.
Meylan retired on January 1, 2009 and was replaced as CEO by Philippe Merk. Merk had been CEO of Maurice Lacroix until that point. Meylan would found MELB Holding in 2012, acquiring Hautlence and H. Moser & Cie. Merk was ultimately unsuccessful at Audemars Piguet and would be replaced by a young veteran of the company, François-Henry Bennahmias in 2012. Although announced as Interim CEO, Bennahmias would remain in charge as of 2020.
The Royal Oak writes watch history
The modern luxury watch Royal Oak, designed by Gérald Genta, has become the best known watch of the company. Because of its bold design it drew great attention on her appearance as the first luxury steel watch in the year 1972 and can now be regarded as a timeless icon of watch history.
The masculine sports version of the Royal Oak, known as "Royal Oak Offshore“, also became successful. By sponsoring the company with limited or special editions of this model gained much attention, for example in the fields of film (Arnold Schwarzenegger wore particularly made models of this series in the movies "End of Days" and "Terminator 3"), racing ("Juan Pablo Montoya“), as well as a sponsor of the team of the America's Cup champion Alinghi with the specially-built models ("Alinghi“, "Alinghi Polaris“, "Alinghi Team“).
The numerous special editions of both the Royal Oak and the Royal Oak Offshore belong to the most popular and most highly traded models with watch fans as well as with watch connoisseurs. There are variations of the basic models not only in terms of sportiness and design, but in the case of the Royal Oak were also realized complications, for which Audemars Piguet has been known from time immemorial. The Royal Oak Grande Complication, for instance, has the considerable number of the following additional functions: flyback chronograph, week display, minute repeater and perpetual calendar with moon phase.
And with the Royal Oak Chronograph Tourbillon one ventured even to a tourbillon variant. With the cases one also walks across the whole range of possibilities, from the stainless steel of the original model to yellow gold, rose gold and white gold, then to platinum, but also to new experimental materials such as carbon.
The classic ranges
The classic series of the brand include the series Jules Audemars with round cases, Edward Piguet with rectangular shape, the Millenary series with elegant oval/elliptical casings and a rich variety of complications, with which the brand — alongside with Patek Philippe and A. Lange & Söhne — presents itself on top of the narrow summit of watchmaking excellence.
Tradition, innovation and the pursuit of excellence
As our journey through the abundant range of models has shown, Audemars Piguet is explicitly committed to a broad balance between tradition and innovation. While most companies in the Swiss watchmaking attribute more to one or more to the other side and this is reflected also in the image of the brands, at this manufacturer we are experiencing a remarkable synthesis of the two poles. Here modern sportiness and tasteful classical are not seen as opposites, but one persistently pursues the vision to unite both under the banner of excellence.
- Das ZEITGEFÜHL-Uhrenbuch; Author: Gerd-Lothar Reschke; ISBN 3-938607-61-0
- Audemars Piguet. Meisterwerke klassischer Uhrmacherkunst; Authors: Brunner/Pfeiffer-Belli/Wehrli, Callwey-Verlag (1992) ISBN 3766710451; ISBN 978-3766710451
MANUFACTURE D'HORLOGERIE AUDEMARS PIGUET
Route de France 16
CH-1348 Le Brassus, Switzerland
Tel. +41 (0)220.127.116.110
Fax +41 (0)18.104.22.1681