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Audemars Piguet - François-Henry Bennahmias, CEO Audemars Piguet

Audemars Piguet François-Henry Bennahmias, CEO Audemars Piguet

In between Royal Oak's 50th anniversary events and two AP Houses openings, this powerful watch industry personality welcomed us to the Manufacture

How are the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Royal Oak being orchestrated?
They are scheduled throughout the year and in all markets, with a particular focus on Dubai, Zurich, New York and Shanghai. Product launches will also run through the fall, and we are preparing to publish a book on the 50 years of Royal Oak in September. We are seeing an attraction among young people that I think is extraordinary, because it's the children who are bringing the parents to the brand, not the other way around, so it's really great to know that Audemars Piguet is inspiring all generations. 

François-Henry Bennahmias, CEO Audemars Piguet

Royal Oak, 50 years of innovation © Audemars Piguet

In what way is Audemars Piguet disruptive today?
We are always curious about everything, open to all fields, and we have the ability to adapt very quickly, even though some ideas take time to be born. If I take the example of our collaboration with Marvel, our first discussions go back 17 years, and not much came out of it at the time. It wasn't until 2017, thanks to a new encounter with mutual friends, that the partnership was born because everything was in place to make it a success. Other meetings leading to new partnerships will be in the spotlight next year. It will be up to the public to judge whether they are disruptive or not.

Moreover, our AP House concept was a departure from the industry when it was launched. This year, our RD3 selfwinding tourbillon extra-thin is a continuation of the first two, but when RD4 is launched next year, we will be truly disruptive.

François-Henry Bennahmias, CEO Audemars Piguet

Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin RD#3 © Audemars Piguet

Do you play a role in this disruptive aspect of the brand?
I'm a very curious person and I like to be exposed to all kinds of worlds. But it's more about benevolent leadership, getting everyone on board so that youth follow and become better. It’s all running pretty well today, but we are constantly challenging ourselves. With a turnover of almost CHF two billion this year if all goes well, and 2,500 employees, Audemars Piguet is now a heavyweight in the watchmaking industry, but it has maintained its highly entrepreneurial spirit allowing everyone to make their own contribution. Young people play a role in challenging us, both on the employee side and the customer side, and if their ideas are relevant then we implement them.

François-Henry Bennahmias, CEO Audemars Piguet

François-Henry Bennahmias, CEO Audemars Piguet © Audemars Piguet

What do you think of the phenomenon of excessive speculation that affects a handful of brands?
It's a double-edged sword. This is new at Audemars Piguet insofar as four to five years ago none of our watches were worth more pre-owned than their retail price 4. The positive aspect is that the perceived value of the brand has increased among customers, which has created desirability. While the boxes for success are ticked, the downside is reflected in the opportunism of a new category of buyers who see our watches only as an investment, as if they were buying bitcoins, art or wine, without any particular affinity for watchmaking. This is where we have to start being careful in that things can get rapidly out of hand. In an ideal world, the price of a successful watch would rise steadily time. Today, we have to be wary of this madness because trees don't grow to the sky, and there is bound to be a correction one way or another.

What measures are you implementing to take this into account?
First and foremost, we must avoid arrogance, especially towards customers and prospects, who should continue to be addressed with kindness and respect. Two measures are necessary: transparency and perseverance to keep onboard the customers we cannot serve today, but to whom we wish to respond favorably as soon as possible. When we take the time to explain that we produce 340 units per year of a certain reference and that we have to distribute them among our 120 stores, that is to say three per store per year, then the customer understands the situation better. I take my hat off to all our sales staff because they are under enormous pressure from customers to get access to the watches. Two years ago, it was friendly pressure, but now it is less and less so. We nonetheless don't cheat on our quantities and we are not deliberately causing this situation, we just have production constraints. Besides, if we really did make 5,000 Royal Oak Jumbo watches instead of 1,500 a year, it would probably lose its desirability, and the original owners would blame us for that.

What is the status of your certified pre-owned (CPO) watch project?
We are continuing to make progress on the project, but it is not a goal in itself and we will only move forward if we are convinced of its relevance. What we do know after four or five years’ hindsight is that this is not a business where you can make a lot of money. You have to have stock and turnaround must be swift, otherwise it’s not profitable; finally, you make money when the watches are worth less than their retail price, but as soon as the market price is higher, things become much more complicated. However, almost 75% of the pre-owned AP watches are currently worth more than their retail price. We therefore see this project as an additional service for the customer, whom we wish to support over the long term. It remains to be seen how exactly, but several avenues are being explored.  

François-Henry Bennahmias, CEO Audemars Piguet

Royal Oak Concept SuperSonnerie © Audemars Piguet

How do you see 2022 in terms of new products?
As far as products are concerned, we are pursuing our momentum. Five years ago we launched the Royal Oak Concept SuperSonnerie, then the Royal RD#2 Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin followed, and now we are continuing to work on the chiming mechanism, the thinnest of the movements, and the materials. We are now planning product launches for the next six-seven years with exceptional timepieces, which I look at as representing continuity. As for the AP Houses, we are opening soon in New York, Korea, and Milan, while looking at Paris, Hamburg and Geneva. It's a new distribution system that suits us very well.

 

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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.

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