Audemars Piguet

Audemars Piguet (AP) is a Swiss manufacturer of complicated mechanical watches founded in 1875 by watch makers Jules-Louis Audemars and Edward-Auguste Piguet. Audemars Piguet is considered by many experts and aficionados to be one of the most prestigious watch manufacturers and a leader in haute horology.

The Swiss company designs and manufactures mechanical watches and jewellery and is famous for it’s avant-garde styling and being industry leader in establishing new product categories such as stainless steel luxury sport watch with it’s Royal Oak line.

The Audemars Piguet watch group is composed of 1,450 employees, 14 distribution subsidiaries, and 18 boutiques worldwide. It comprises three production sites: Le Brassus, Le Locle and Meyrin in Switzerland. The brand is present in 88 countries.

Audemars Piguet has been continuously producing watches since 1875, making it one of the world’s oldest watch manufacturers. The company is still owned by its founding families.

Audemars Piguet vintage watches are highly sought after by collectors and aficionados as are their contemporary watches.

Background

The Vallée de Joux, located in the Jura Mountains in the Swiss Canton of Vaud. In the 18th century farmers and villagers of the Vallée de Joux turned to watchmaking during the long winters. The geographical location of the region offers iron oxide and forests. While burning, woods enable to extract the iron and mold it. For the inhabitants watchmaking was a way to survive. Through the years, this craft became not only a family tradition but also a cultural heritage.

Like other families, the Audemars and the Piguet crafted timepieces long before the establishment of the Audemars Piguet company. A pocket watch was created between 1740 and 1760 and signed “Joseph Piguet – Le Brassus” and still exists today.

The roots of AP date back to 1875. Audemars Piguet was founded by Jules-Louis Audemars and Edward-Auguste Piguet in the village of Le Brassus in the Vallée de Joux, Switzerland. The 23-year-old Jules-Louis Audemars asked his childhood friend, Edward-Auguste Piguet, then 21, to establish and produce watch movements. The two soon had success with their customers.

From the beginning, Jules-Louis and Edward-Auguste showed an interest in complex mechanisms. Thanks to their watchmaking family heritage, they had developed all the skill sets necessary to create complex mechanisms. Even as a child, Jules Audemars used to craft control mechanisms for complicated watches.

When they joined forces, they decided to manufacture complicated movements for other luxury watchmaking companies such as Gubelin and Tiffany & Co. They realized they could craft and sell whole watches themselves as they had the necessary tools and expertise to start their own production.

Jules-Louis Audemars and Edward-Auguste Piguet split their work. Jules-Louis produced and assembled movements while Edward-Auguste ensured the completed movements were correctly regulated. Thus Jules-Louis started producing component parts for movements and Edward-Auguste became a finisher, one of the top jobs in the watchmaking industry. A finisher is a watchmaker who performs the final regulation of the timepiece and put the finishing touches to the escapements.

Later, the roles changed. Jules-Louis designed movements, created watches and dealt with technical responsibilities and managed the production and technical part of the business, while Edward-Auguste focused on sales and handled the financial side.

From the beginning, Jules-Louis and Edward-Auguste’s watches were prized by admirers of fine mechanical timepieces for their high quality and the precision.

On 17 December 1881, Jules-Louis Audemars and Edward-Auguste Piguet officially founded “Audemars Piguet et Cie” in Le Brassus. In 1882, they presented their first complicated fob watches with perpetual calendars and minute repeater or chronograph.

Since 1882, members of the Audemars and Piguet families have been on the board of directors and have, therefore, always been involved directly or indirectly in the running of the company.

In 1889, AP opened its first branch in Geneva and rapidly began to grow and prosper. With its 70 workers, the manufacturer became one of the largest employers in the Vaud area.

In 1907, Audemars Piguet built a new factory to accommodate all of its employees. However, this favorable period ended with the onset of the First World War.

Innovations

Perpetual calendar moon phases with thin automatic movement
Through the years, AP adopted avant-garde techniques and developed many innovations including world firsts in the fine watchmaking history. Its two world firsts were the smallest five-minute repeater caliber and the jumping second hand (i.e. the second hand jumps from second to second in quanta rather than progressively) pocket watch. Other inventions were the thinnest watch and the first skeleton watch.

In 1882, Audemars Piguet began producing complication watches. The Swiss brand started to be known as the leader of the firsts in the watch making industry. In 1889, Jules-Louis and Edward-Auguste exhibited some of their more complicated watches at the Universal exposition in Paris, France. In 1891, they created the smallest repeater movement in the world (18mm diameter). One year later, they launched the first minute repeater watch.

In 1893, Audemars Piguet began making wristwatches and produced the first wrist minute repeater in the world for Louis Brandt. Three years later, the “Grande Complication” pocket watch was launched. It was equipped with grand and small strike, minute repeater, perpetual calendar, deadbeat seconds, chronograph with jumping seconds and split-seconds hand. In 1915, Audemars Piguet presented its Grande Complication collection which featured 400 pieces. The same year, the company created the smallest five-minute repeater movement.

In 1920, the company produced a sophisticated fob watch comprising 16 complications (tourbillon, large and small chime, equation of time indicator, perpetual calendar, sidereal time indicator, and a blue enamel dial engraved with 315 stars which reproduced the night sky above London, where the watch was delivered. One year later, the first jumping-hour wristwatch emerged from the AP workshops.In 1925, Audemars Piguet introduced the world’s slimmest pocket watch (1.32mm).In 1929, for the first time, sales of wristwatches outstripped sales of fob watches but with the 1929 stock market crash followed by the Great Depression, consumers could no longer buy expensive watches and the company was forced to lay off most of its employees.

Starting in 1932, sales rebounded and Audemars Piguet continued its development. In 1934, AP developed the first skeleton watch, a watch making specialty forgotten since the 18th century. The skeleton watch allowed the moving parts of the caliber to be seen beneath the dial.

The two world wars were very tough times for companies. As the others, Audemars Piguet had suffered. During this period only two watchmakers were working for the company. Few timepieces were created. The Women Jewelry timepiece dated 1932 was one of them.

After World War II AP was able to rebound on the market by producing a range of ultra-thin chronograph models. In 1946, Audemars Piguet created the smallest mechanical caliber in the world (1.64mm). The sales of Audemars Piguet started growing in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1955 Audemars Piguet introduced world’s first perpetual calendar wristwatch with leap year indicator ref. 5516.

In 1967, the company developed the world’s thinnest automatic movement (2.45mm) with a gold central rotor.

After the 70s, AP continued to release a number of industry firsts, such as the ultra-thin perpetual calendar wristwatch with central rotor, self-winding ultra-thin tourbillon, self-winding grand complication, wristwatch equation of time with perpetual calendar, and high frequency chronometer with double-balance AP Escapement.

In 1986, AP invented the first self-winding ultra-thin wristwatch with a second time zone. The tourbillon carriage was then the smallest ever made. The company also launched a rectangular wristwatch with minute repeater and jumping hour, composed of 412 pieces, and a ladies’ watch with minute repeater and carillon. In 2000 came the launch of “Tradition d’Excellence”, a collection of crafted timepieces showcasing traditional and innovative complications. In 2005, Audemars Piguet sold the Edward Piguet Moss Agate Tourbillon, the first watch made with moss agate.

In 2006 the company presented the fifth timepiece of the Tradition d’Excellence collection, inspired by an 18th-century design by watchmaker Robert Robin (1742–1799). This watch was made in platinum, in a limited edition of 20 watches.

That year Audemars Piguet introduced AP escapement, a lubricant-free escapement that beats at 43200 bph (6Hz). The innovative design combines the reliability of a traditional Swiss lever escapement with high efficiency of a direct impulse escapement thus ensuring the optimal energy transmission and longer power reserve. The adjustment of the escapement is assured by two hairsprings placed on top of each other but offset at 180°. This particular disposition optimizes the mechanical precision by automatically compensating for possible defects in the equilibrium of the balance. It also allows for the replacement of the terminal curve, which is very delicate to make by a single spring barrel, thus allowing for better regulation.

In 2007, Audemars Piguet crafted the first case in forged carbon.

Audemars Piguet is the most frequent winner of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.

All AP’s watches are produced in-house including movements and are made by hand using traditional techniques. Audemars Piguet’s headquarters are still located in Le Brassus, Switzerland, where the company began.

Products

The Royal Oak

Royal Oak Offshore watch by Audemars Piguet
In April 1972, Audemars Piguet participated in the annual European watch-making fair in Basel, Switzerland.

On the eve of the fair, AP’s managing director, Georges Golay, called the designer Gérald Genta and told him that the Italian market was expecting an “unprecedented steel watch”. Golay needed a special watch to present at the fair. In less than a day, Gérald Genta invented the Royal Oak, which became AP’s masterpiece The look of the watch was inspired by what Genta had seen on the shores of Lake Geneva: a diver being fitted with a diving helmet.

The Royal Oak was characterized by a revolutionary design in the form of a rounded octagon. At the time, luxury watches on the market were all round, slim and in gold. Genta designed an avant garde octagonal watch in steel with sharp angles and visible screws. Priced at 3,650 Swiss francs when first launched, it was the most expensive luxury sports watch, priced ten times more than a Rolex Submariner (costing around 300 Swiss francs in circa 1973).

The Royal Oak was the first high-end sports watch made of steel, recognizable by its octagonal bezel with eight hexagonal white gold screws, the guilloche engraving on its dial (known as grande “tapisserie”), its integrated bracelet and eight visible bolts on the back. The watch was slim (7mm) and had a case diameter of 39mm. The cost for producing the case (not including the material) of the Royal Oak in steel became much more expensive than a similar gold watch.

On 6 September 1651 Oliver Cromwell’s troops pursued King Charles II, the future king of England, Scotland and Ireland. To escape them, he took refuge in the branches of an oak tree. The tree became the Royal Oak and a symbol of power and protection.

In commemoration of this historical event, eight ships of the British Royal Navy took the name of HMS Royal Oak between 1664 and 1939. Gérald Genta took inspiration from one of them, built in 1862.

This battleship was reinforced with steel plates, had octagonal gun ports for its cannons that were secured by eight visible bolts. These features served as a basis to imagine and create the shape of the watch case.

When the Royal Oak was released in 1973, the idea of making a high-end sports watch in stainless steel was considered a high risk.

Its price and original design disconcerted the market. Therefore, its launch was slow at the beginning. But collectors and trend setters began adopting the watch and the Royal Oak became a success.

The first series of 2000 Royal Oak (called the A-series) took more than a year to sell. These watches are the most sought after by collectors. They recognize them by the AP initials placed above 6 o’clock rather than at 12 o’clock like successive series.

At the beginning, AP made a limited edition of 1,000. In 2000, the brand finally sold 100,000 Royal Oak. The watch represents around 45% of global sales.

The first Royal Oak featuring a perpetual calendar caliber 2120/2800 was designed in 1981 to be the world’s thinnest timepiece. The Royal Oak Day Date Moonphase was then launched. In 1983, the Royal Oak was equipped with lunar phases and a lunar calendar. One year later, the watch had a perpetual calendar. In 2004, Audemars Piguet created the Royal Oak hand-wound tourbillon chronograph, a limited edition of 20 pieces.This watch had a double ten-day power reserve indication and a 30-minute counter. Its case and its bracelet were made of platinum.

Royal Oak Offshore
Over the years, Audemars Piguet has introduced many variations of the Royal Oak but the most successful is the Royal Oak Offshore, an extreme sport version of the Royal Oak, created in 1992 to celebrate the Royal Oak’s 20th anniversary. It was designed by 22-year-old Emmanuel Gueit.

With its 42mm case, the Royal Oak Offshore was the world’s first oversized watch. This new watch had an oversized 42mm wide case (a normal size today but unusual at the time) and featured a 300m water resistance and rugged materials such as carbon and rubber.

This timepiece was named “The Beast”. In 1999, AP paired with actor Arnold Schwarzenegger for the End of Days. In 2003, the company continued the partnership. In the movie Terminator 3, the actor wore the Royal Oak Offshore T3 chronograph.

In 2009, AP launched the Royal Oak Offshore self-winding chronograph rose gold, that featured a black dial, a date display at 3 o’clock and a black rubber bezel. In 2013, AP presented the Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication.

Royal Oak Concept
In 2002, Audemars Piguet launched the Royal Oak Concept for the 30th anniversary of the Royal Oak. The manually wound watch was equipped with dynamograph, tourbillon, linear power reserve indicator and function selector. One of the materials used for its bezel was the titanium. The case was made of alacrite 602 and featured a Kevlar strap. The Royal Oak Concept edition was limited to 150 pieces.

In 2010, AP launched the Royal Oak Equation of Time combining four high complications: a perpetual calendar, a precision display of the lunar cycle, the equation of time, and civil sunrise and sunset times.

A year later, the Royal Oak Complication was released. The watch boasted 52 jewel movements and was self-winding. It had a perpetual calendar indicating the day, the week, the moon phases, the month and leap years, minute repeater, split-seconds chronograph and small seconds at 9 o’clock. It had an 18-carat white gold case and a bracelet with a transparent sapphire case back.

In 2012, the Royal Oak celebrated its 40th anniversary.

In 2014, AP presented the Concept GMT Tourbillon. This watch had a titanium case and integrated rubber strap combined with a white ceramic bezel. The Royal Oak Concept GMT Tourbillon featured a twin barrel ensuring 10-day power reserve, tourbillon and second time-zone GMT display. The same year, AP launched the Royal Oak Dual Time with multiple complications, a second time‑zone function, a day/night indicator and a power reserve, contained in its 39mm case. The Royal Oak has often been copied. In March 2014, Audemars Piguet won a lawsuit against Swiss Legends that produced and sold fake models of Audemars Piguet’s masterpiece.

In 2015, AP launched the The Concept Laptimer Michael Schumacher. The same year, AP launched the Royal Oak Concept RD#1. Its particularity is the acoustics of its minute repeater. This work on the sound’s watch is considered as a new innovation of the company.

To create that sound, eight years of research were necessary. Audemars Piguet launched a research program in 2006 in collaboration with the prestigious school Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne to craft this minute repeater. AP created an Acoustic Lab to explore chiming watch artistry that used to be developed by watchmakers when waterproofing was not in progressas water-resistance muffles sound. A musician, an academic consultant from the Geneva conservatory and a sound engineer composed the team. Now, the Acoustic Lab has an educational purpose. It explores sound and emotional response to it.

In 2016, Audemars Piguet released the production model of the Concept RD#1, called the Supersonnerie. The Supersonnerie is similar to the Concept RD#1 of 2015, except that the casing houses an extra bridge towards the top holding the name “Audemars Piguet”, coloration of the chronograph seconds hand, chronograph minutes hand, and the outer chronograph minutes track.

Audemars Piguet has three patents pending for its Royal Oak Concept RD#1.

Millenary
In 1996, AP launched the Millenary collection. It featured oval-shaped cases and self-winding caliber movements.

In 2009, Audemars Piguet created the John Legend Millenary Pianoforte watch. This limited edition was made to raise money for charity. The timepiece featured piano keys on the dial, a black crocodile strap, transparent sapphire caseback and an 18-carat white gold encasing. On one watch, John Legend signature was engraved on the back.

Jules Audemars
Named after one of two brand’s founders, Jules-Louis Audemars, watches from this classic collection can be immediately recognized by their timeless elegance, streamlined bezels, roundness of cases and clearness of their dials. The first timepiece from this line was created in 1999, as the part of the brand’s Tradition of Excellence Collection. It was haute horological masterpiece that featured a minute repeater, a tourbillon and a split-second chronograph complication. Expressing the noblest in watch-making traditions, Jules Audemars timepieces incorporate high-end mechanisms with plethora of complications such as minute repeaters, perpetual calendars, tourbillons, moon-phase indicators, equations of time and rattrapante chronographs.

Haute Joaillerie
Disrupting traditional ideas of gem-set watches while displaying a true desire to break the rules, technically and creatively.

Classique
Pocket-watches exemplify Audemars Piguet’s time-honoured excellence and have been gracing its heritage for more than a century.

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