The Prince



In a small country influenced by France, Germany, and Italy, Audemars Piguet alone of the great houses of Swiss
watch making shows an unusually strong element of Italian style. Perhaps this is a reminder that it alone of the Trinity is not of Geneva, but instead to the north in the vallee de Joux — a region whose history is steeped in the “atelier” workshop tradition of ebauche and complication manufacture.


It was there in December of 1881 that the collaboration of Jules Audemars, a maker of ebauches and complications, and his friend Edward
Piguet, an independent finisher and assembler of ebauches, was formalized in the creation of the manufacture Audemars
Piguet; focusing on the development and production of ultrathin and complicated watches. Initially a private label manufacturer for other brands, it wasn’t until the early 1900s that AP began producing watches under its own label. Despite the odds against it, AP remains the only independent Swiss manufacture that is still in the hands of the
descendants of its founding families (75% of shares), with Jasmine Audemars as Chairman of the Board of AP, and President of the Royal Oak Foundation.


In the past, arguments of “Who is the King of Watchmaking?” would have been fought between Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe. Audemars Piguet stood alone beyond the contest between Geneva’s best — the eternal Dauphin of Switzerland. With Patek Philippe and A. Lange & Sohne now fighting for the crown, the Prince of watchmaking houses forges on to the beat of its own drum — as it has for well over a century.


This year AP celebrates this long history of audacious innovation and design with 125 unique watches — one for each year since the beginning of the collaboration between Audemars and Piguet in 1875: 125 ans
d’audace. A thorough report on the celebration by Hans Zbinden is available by clicking
here.



The validity of Audemars Piguet’s self-adopted title “Manufacture
d’Horlogerie” is often questioned, and in terms of most of its production of both mechanical (75%) and quartz (25%) watches, this is simply not the case. Audemars Piguet depends primarily upon
Jaeger-leCoultre — in which it recently sold its stake to Richemont — for the vast majority of its mechanical and quartz
ebauches.



Audemars Piguet’s status as a “manufacture” lies primarily upon its haute horlogerie models. The “in-house” movements designed by wholly-owned AP subsidiary Renaud et Papi include a Tourbillon Minute Repeater
Rattrapante, the Minute Repeater Carillon shown above (cal. 2866), a Grande Sonnerie Minute Repeater Carillon (cal. 2890), and a Grande Sonnerie Quarter Repeater (cal. 2868). Other in-house offerings include the bumper automatic tourbillon shown below (cal. 2875), a hand-wound tonneau tourbillon (cal. 2871), a Grande Complication pocket watch, and the exquisite ultrathin automatic calibre 2120 which was recently brought in-house from
Jaeger-leCoultre — which is used by AP as both a stand-alone movement and as a base for many of its higher-end calendar complications. It, like the new hand-wound calibre 3090, are produced in-house at AP proper, not by a subsidiary.



Audemars Piguet may not be a “manufacture” to the extent that some would have it, but their choice of ebauches include some of the finest offerings of
Jaeger-leCoultre and Frederic Piguet, and for those who have means AP is a manufacture of some of the finest complications available anywhere. In truth a “Manufacture d’Haute
Horlogerie.”



The first of a trilogy designed by Gerald Genta, the Royal Oak was a gamble that paid off for a then
beleaguered Audemars
Piguet. Introduced in the same year that I was born, the design’s longevity places it firmly upon the short list of horological icons. In the refinement of its execution and finish, from its monocoque
case, fully suspended movement, and integrated bracelet, to the vast breadth of complications offered, it remains the paragon of steel bracelet watches.


Unlike the standard Royal Oak, the oversized “Offshore” models do not use a monocoque case. Instead there are separate sets of screws for bezel and back. As always in AP’s “sportsman” watches, a number of different complications beyond the original chronograph are used throughout the line. A special edition in black with yellow numerals and a velcro strap was used by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the recent film End of Days.


The best news recently released by AP is the imminent return of the classic “Jumbo” Royal Oak. This wider, thinner version will be fitted with ultrathin calibre 2121, a variant of 2120 with date
guichet.


The Royal Oaks presently form 45% of AP’s 15,000 watch (approx.) annual production.



Perhaps due to the background of its namesake, the Jules Audemars collection is one of the most interesting lines in any brand’s portfolio. While lacking the consciously implemented breadth of Blancpain’s
Classique/Six Masterpieces group, the Jules Audemars collection places a heavy emphasis on some unique variations of carillon and repeater complications. It also includes a relatively accessible “Sunrise and Sunset”
Equation of Time Perpetual Calendar, a simple savonnette
handwind, and of course the Grande Complication (both as pocket and wrist watches). In every detail these watches are unapologetically luxurious.


This series was also the first to see AP begin the transition from the earlier 21,600 vph 33 jewel calibre
2125 to the 28,800 vph 36 jewel calibre 2225 based on
Jaeger-leCoultre’s 889/2. In this collection it is used as a base for a two register chronograph module.



First introduced in 1996, the Millenary collection is one of the youngest members of the Audemars Piguet family, and I think it shows the greatest Italian influence. The curvature of the case slightly
exaggerates the sensuous curves of the Jules Audemars line previously mentioned. Designed to mark the coming of the 3rd Millennium, their cases introduce our age of a shape once popular with pocket watches in the late 1500s. They are no doubt the most misunderstood, ridiculed, and
lampooned watches produced by AP. Personally, I have found that what may appear strange in print, is
surprisingly elegant on the wrist.


The limited edition (80 pieces) perpetual calendar shown above was created in 1998 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Classique Perpetual Calendar — the first ultrathin automatic perpetual calendar produced by AP. It displays a wonderful symmetry with its rarely-seen pointer moonphase
subdial, and its understated guillocage. Like most of AP’s perpetual calendars it is based upon calibre 2120. On this particular model the rotor has been elaborately engraved, pierced, and gilded.



Like many brands with diverse offerings, AP has a few lines that are relatively unknown. The Edward Piguet collection, which as a counterpart to the Jules Audemars line is also named after one of the founders of AP, features watches in cambered rectangular cases. The offerings include everything from simple automatics to a unique handwound tourbilon (shown). Of particular interest is a rare perpetual calendar based on
Jaeger-leCoultre’s calibre 822 — rarely seen other than in Jaeger-leCoultre’s signature Reverso collection.



Even less well known than the “Masterpiece” line of its Le Brassus neighbor, is AP’s small Classique collection. Based exclusively on ultrathin movements, they are the most elegant showcase for AP’s hand-wound calibre 2003 and automatic 2120 (shown above). Very simple, refined, and expensive. Like AP’s haute complicated watches, these best exemplify the spirit in which Audemars Piguet was founded.



Le Manufacture d’Haute Horlogerie Audemars Piguet will probably never be considered the greatest in the world, or even of Switzerland. Its vision is too unique and too little understood. Amongst wristwatch connoisseurs it is either loved or hated, and to the populace at large it is unknown. But for those of us who cherish daring design and technical innovation, there can be no substitute — even after 125 years.



Photo Credits:
Grande Complication and Jules Audemars Tourbillon by Rob Cook

Calibre 2866, Grand Sonnerie Carillon, and Edward Piguet Tourbillon by Audemars Piguet &
Cie, S.A.


Royal Oak Dual Time by Mike Margolis

Millenary Perpetual Calendar by Jing H. Goh

Classique and calibre 2120 by Gisbert Joseph

Used with Permission.

Portraits of Cosimo and Ferdinand de’Medici by il Bronzino (Agnolo di Cosimo
Allori; 1503-72).

Copyright Carlos A. Perez 2000

All Rights Reserved

 

 
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