Audemars Piguet The Circle of Life isn’t Octagonal
What is the link between the [Re]master01 chronograph, a chronograph wristwatch from the 1940s and the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet ?
Though it almost made it to the top 10 watches sold at Phillips’ November 2018 watch auction held in Geneva, the Audemars Piguet reference 1533 chronograph wristwatch of 1941 sure caught the attention of many because of its beauty, rarity and price. After it “ignited a fierce and lengthy bidding between passionate collectors”, as described by the folks at Phillips, the hammer price was finally nailed at CHF384,500 or USD382,539. That’s more than treble its highest estimated value at CHF120,000!
What’s so special about AP’s reference 1533 you ask? Well, it is one of nine examples made between 1941 and 1943, of which only three are in steel and gold. The remaining six are in 18K gold. This is one of the uber-rare three with the steel case and gold bezel combo and its home is now at Pygmalion Gallery, a Singapore-based company that specialises exclusively in the purchase, restoration and sale of vintage Audemars Piguet timepieces.
“I didn’t expect to pay such a price for this reference 1533,” says Oliviero Bottinelli, owner of Pygmalion, now a year-old company. “The AP factory already had one and probably weren’t in need of another so I guess there were other collectors out there who were eagerly eyeing this piece. I like the style and it was made in 1941, my father’s birth year. That is why I had to have it in Pygmalion,” reveals Bottinelli, who is also a member of the board, Audemars Piguet and the former managing director of Audemars Piguet Asia.
Oliviero Bottinelli © Audemars Piguet
Is Pygmalion acknowledged and approved by Audemars Piguet? “Around two years ago, I explained to the [Audemars Piguet] board that the brand did not have the clout it deserves in vintage pieces,” he explains. “I strongly felt that prices of vintage AP pieces should be higher than what they were. I wanted to buy vintage pieces - those that were made more than a quarter of a century ago, refurbish them and present them to the public, notably those who aren’t aware of the brand’s history. The idea isn’t so much as to generate profits but more to create an interest and excitement in the brand by showing such pieces in Singapore and in Asia. The board approved as they thought it was a good idea.”
“We aren’t pushing for sales,” surmises the affable Bottinelli. “I will probably never recoup the investments I made in this gallery. It is really my passion and it is a joy to share and show people that AP truly made beautiful pieces in the past as well. I believe such vintage pieces are currently at a good price range and they will eventually trend upwards over time.”
Coincidentally, the reference 1533 is the inspiration for the [Re]master01 flyback chronograph that commemorates the opening of the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet that takes the form of a spiral-shaped glass pavilion. “I actually purchased this piece before [Re]master01 was decided upon [by AP],” Bottinelli explains. “I didn't even know this was ‘cooking’. I never imagined that of all the pieces, it had to be the 1533.”
[Re]master01 Chronograph © Audemars Piguet
In fact, the reference 1533 that serves as the inspiration for [Re]master01 is from the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet and it is different in looks from what Pygmalion has. The [Re]master01 has a gold dial simply because it is modelled after the vintage museum piece that has a champagne dial. The reference 1533 at Pygmalion has a green gold dial. Yes, green gold – an unusual alloy and its use has long been discontinued.
“With the [Re]master01, we are showcasing how we can produce many beautiful things,” says Bottinelli. “The [Re]master01 shows that Audemars Piguet isn’t simply about the Royal Oak. AP has existed much longer than the Royal Oak.”
[Re]master01 Chronograph, Back © Audemars Piguet
Indeed, Audemars Piguet was founded in 1875 while the Royal Oak was introduced almost a century later in 1972. There is no denying that a great part of the popularity of the brand in its more recent history comes from the contributions of the RO and ROO with the characteristic octagonal-shaped bezels. These two sporty and stylistic collections are synonymous with the brand and showcase the brand’s innovativeness and derring-do. The heart and soul of Audemars Piguet, in my personal opinion, comes from its watchmaking legacy, notably in the creation of complications. This isn't limited to watch movements. Take the watchcases of the RO and ROO that are manufactured in-house. These cases are highly complex to produce yet AP had risen up to the challenge and mastered the creation processes. What’s more, all the RO and ROO dials are produced in-house.
The two founders, Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet, were both watchmakers who had, in the early years supplied complex movements to companies in Geneva that assembled them into finished watchcases which were then sold. From 1882 onwards, seven years after their partnership began, the two gentlemen officially sealed their partnership under their company, Audemars, Piguet & Co. What is noteworthy was the fact that their start-up capital included 18 complex movements in addition to 10,000 Francs. The founders had faith in their movements featuring complications and these became their wheels of fortune. Between 1882 and 1892, of the 1,577 watches produced, 80% featured at least one complication, specifically a repeater and/or chronograph function. This is proof of the brand’s watchmaking legitimacy and its legacy in creating horological complications. Interestingly, the reference 1533 on display at the Musée Atelier was previously sold by Phillips in November 2015 and it went under the hammer for CHF305,000, proving that demand for such rarities is underpinning rising prices when compared with the 1533 that was acquired for Pygmalion in 2018.
Audemars Piguet's Manufacture © Audemars Piguet
In his Metamorphoses narrative, Roman poet Ovid describes Pygmalion as a highly talented sculptor who falls in love with his own creation – an ivory sculpture of a lady he names Galatea. It was the Roman Goddess Venus (better known as Aphrodite in Greek mythology) who transforms his sculpture into a human, thereby granting Pygmalion’s wish. This explains the highly symbolic name chosen by Bottinelli for his business of passion because it is through his genuine love for vintage APs crafted by talented watchmakers that he is breathing new life into vintage timepieces.
“Perhaps we tend to become more sentimental when we age,” Bottinelli muses with an intense and deep smile. “In this current age of rapid consumption, it is nice to look back at objects of the past made meticulously with calm and with passion. I hope this passion can be passed on to my daughters.”
Interestingly, the transmission of such passion is also the raison d’être not just for the spherical Musée Atelier, but the the reference 1533 including its re-interpretation with the [Re]master01 and Pygmalion. Even for Audemars Piguet, the circle of life isn’t octagonal.
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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