Audemars Piguet Natural Born Instincts
The Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet is the epicentre of not only the makings of a great brand but how the brand helps sustain one of Earth’s greatest resources – its forests.
The Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet will be one of the newest must-visit attractions in Switzerland’s Vallée de Joux for horological buffs and fans of the brand. Designed as a spiral-shaped form, it is, as watch enthusiasts might have guessed, symbolic of the hairspring or balance spring of a mechanical watch escapement. The Musée Atelier, located at the birthplace of Audemars Piguet, is so-named because two workshops, the Grandes Complications and Métier d’Art ateliers, are housed within the spiral-shaped glass pavilion that looks out to the wondrous Risoud forest.
Manufacture d'Audemars Piguet © Audemars Piguet
From what we understand, realising this museum in such a manner was an architectural dream and an engineering nightmare. Designed by BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) and supported by the Swiss architectural firm CCHE, the spiral is formed using curved glass. “There are no [steel] pillars whatsoever, even the steel roof, the green roof, is supported by the glass,” says Oliviero Bottinelli, member of the Board, Audemars Piguet and former managing director of Audemars Piguet Asia. “Every curved glass panel is different as each has to be cut differently. What’s more, the glass has to withstand the different temperatures of this valley. In winter, it can as cold as minus 20 degrees Celsius and extremely warm in summer. The engineers had to come up with a solution and ensure everything works out fine. The realisation of the museum was complex and it gave our CEO [François-Henry Bennahmias] and our internal architects loads of stress.”
Oliviero Bottinelli © Audemars Piguet
Though the Musée Atelier is now ready, its public opening, initially scheduled for the end of May 2020, has since been pushed back to the end of 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “Audemars Piguet is about complications,” he adds. “We therefore wanted something complicated and beautiful for our museum. The museum had a difficult ‘birth’ and now it has been born during a difficult time. Having said this, AP will be there for years to come and this is the beauty of the brand. When I first viewed the design plans, I pictured myself from inside the museum. What I liked was that I could envision the scenery staring back at our watchmakers for the past 145 years in front of me – the comforting green fields and the forest. It is beautiful; changing all the time but yet, never changing at the same time.”
Manufacture Workshop Original © Audemars Piguet
“There are more than 300 pieces on display that takes visitors through different times of AP,” Bottinelli says, brimming with pride. “At the heart of the museum [the centre of the spiral] is one of our most complicated pocket watches made in the late 19th century. It is an absolute beauty and not too many people know about it… yet. By visiting our museum, one will understand the history and legacy of the brand.”
Though the dial is signed “Union Glashütte”, the super-complication, known as the Universelle astronomical pocket watch, packs more than 20 complications and its movement was made by Audemars Piguet in 1899.
Royal Oak fans will not be disappointed. The museum has a rich showcase of pieces from the Royal Oak, Royal Oak Offshore and Royal Oak Concept collections. “When I caught sight of the first Royal Oak of 1972, I immediately think of my uncle,” he remembers. “I call him uncle – Georges Golay, the CEO and president of the AP board from 1960 to 1987. He took the brand to another level under 27 years of his leadership. The Royal Oak wouldn’t be there without him. He had called Gérald Genta and decided that it was what we needed. When the drawing was done, he had to push it through because the board then wasn’t entirely convinced by this model.”
Complication watch © Audemars Piguet
“When I see this and the extra-flat 1978 perpetual calendar automatic, I also think of Georges Golay,” says Bottinelli. “From the museum, I can even see his house. It became my family home. This house is where I experienced Christmas every year for the first 18 years of my life. When I walk around the museum and even outside it, I remember the times when I was a little boy. The view from the museum, the green fields and the forest brings back childhood memories and powerful emotions.”
The Audemars Piguet Foundation is now housed within the Musée Atelier, within the older refurbished historical building previously used for the former museum. Founded in 1992 by Jasmine Audemars, daughter of Jacques-Louis Audemars, the foundation’s focus is on environmental conservation and it has been involved in providing financial support to more than 133 projects globally, including the preservation of the protected Risoud forest and even activities in Borneo, Indonesia, Thailand and the Kuala Selangor Park in Malaysia. It is little wonder why Jasmine Audemars insisted that the Musée Atelier had to obtain the Swiss Minergie certification ensuring the low-energy consumption within the facility.
“There are many things we can do but we have to be selective,” Bottinelli states matter-of-factly. “The idea for the AP Foundation came from Jasmine Audemars. It was a natural step to take because of what surrounds us – the environment where AP lives. We decided to help the forests first and that led to reforestation activities in Switzerland and elsewhere around the world. We also educate the young and explain why the forests are important and the need to preserve them. Everyday is ‘Earth Day’ for the AP Foundation.”
Like the AP Foundation that promotes environmental conservation, the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet naturally serves a somewhat similar purpose – and that is preserving the history and legacy of a great brand.
The author dedicates this article to Ornella, Gioia and Stella.
Audemars Piguet is one of the few independent family-owned watch businesses and has been based in Le Brassus, in Switzerland's Vallée de Joux region, at the heart of the fine watchmaking industry, ever since the company was first established in 1875.Find out more >
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