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Audemars Piguet Watch Company History
A trio of warships christened Royal Oak, named after the legendary "royal
oak" (a hollowed out tree which offered King Charles II a safe hiding place
from his pursuers) lent their distinctive name in 1972 to an equally
distinctive luxury sports watch -- the Royal Oak by Audemars Piguet. Since
then, the Royal Oak has become the leading model of the world-famous firm in
Le Brassus and helped the stainless steel wristwatch attain respectability
among watch lovers around the world.
The Audemars Piguet story begins in 1875 when twenty-three-year-old
watchmaker Jules Audemars and future partner Edward-August Piguet, just
twenty-one years of age, met in the Vallee de Joux. Both had learned the
watchmaker's trade after finishing public school in their hometown of Le
Brassus by training at the bench. They had returned to the Vallee de Joux to
find jobs in the local watchmaking industry.
Jules Audemars was soon producing raw components for watch movements,
while Edward-August Piguet sought employment as a "repasseur" (a master
watchmaker who performs the final regulation on a watch). Shortly after
their meeting in 1875, the two talented watchmakers decided to join forces
and founded the firm that would someday come to be known as Audemars Piguet
Almost from the beginning, Audemars was in charge of production and the
technical side, while his partner Piguet focused on sales. Their partnership
was not an immediate success, however. In fact, the Audemars Piguet
trademark was not even registered until 1882 and the firm's "official
founding" did not take place until 1889. Already, however, Audemars Piguet
et Cie had become the third largest employer for watch manufacturing in the
Canton of Vaud. More importantly perhaps, both men had deliberately shifted
their focus towards the production of high-quality, complex ultra-precise
Shortly after the official founding in 1889, a branch office was built in
Geneva and the partners decided to produce all of their components and
assemble the finished watches in-house. This allowed the firm to maintain
strict quality control over their products and as a result, only products of
the highest quality left the workshop.
In short order, the greatest, most renowned retail jewelers were ordering
watches from Le Brassus. Today, one can find many Audemars Piguet pocket
watches identifiable as an Audemars Piguet only by their serial number --
the result of prestigious jewelers, such as Gubelin and Tiffany & Co.,
wanting only their own name engraved on the movement and case, and not that
of Audemars Piguet.
It is interesting to note that between 1894 and 1899, a mere 1,208
watches were produced. Among these were some of the most sophisticated
timepieces ever made, including the legendary "Grande Complication" series,
which is still being produced today. Aside from normal time indication, a
Grande Complication timepiece offers minute repetition, perpetual calendar
Around this same time, the retail operations in Geneva and London were
transformed into full-service branches where watches were not only serviced
but also assembled. By 1914, Audemars Piguet launched a project to develop a
watch so complicated that it would take six years of continuous production
before the watch could be delivered to Guignard & Golay in London.
The watch in question was a pocket watch with two dials and a one-minute
tourbillon mechanism. As well as a tourbillon, this double dial Lepine gold
watch included a minute repeater, a chronograph with 60-minute and 12-hour
counters, perpetual calendar with displays which "jump" at midnight, display
of the leap year cycle, the "age" and phases of the moon, and power reserve
The second face showed an additional 24 hours based on the sidereal hour,
moving a pair of independent hands. A special system connected to this
gear-train makes it possible to see the changes in the London sky at any
time of the day or night, through an oval-shaped opening in the rear dial.
The sky is represented by 315 stars engraved on a plate of gold, enameled in
blue. The stars, with their respective names, are all clearly visible.
Unfortunately, it was the last triumph for the founding partners.
Audemars died in 1918. The following year, so did Edward Piguet.
After the founders' death, Audemars Piguet continued to prosper,
establishing several technical milestones with the creation of the world's
smallest minute repeater watch, having a diameter of just 15.8 millimeters;
the debut of a Hunter Model (hinged-lid pocket watch) with a jumping second
hand, also featuring a barometer, quarter repeater, independent second hand,
the date and day of the week; and in 1925, another first: the world's
thinnest pocket watch, measuring just 1.32 millimeters. The year 1928 also
saw the development of the world's first skeletonized pocketwatch.
Needless to say, then as now, Audemars Piguet was considered one of the
finest watch manufacturers in the world. Business boomed, as did the world
economy. Customers of Audemars Piguet included such prestigious jewelers as
Gubelin, Tiffany & Co., Cartier and Bvlgari.
Unfortunately, the company's success ground to a shocking halt in 1929
when only 737 watches were sold. By contrast, nearly 2,000 watches had been
sold in 1920. With the stock market crash in 1929 and the subsequent
Depression, there were suddenly very few customers for expensive watches.
Like other Swiss watch companies, Audemars Piguet was forced to lay off most
of its workforce, before hitting rock bottom in 1932, when just two watches
Despite the hard times, the company bounced back following World War II,
thanks to the success of its chronographs and ultra-thin (the famous
nine-ligne calibre 2003) dress watches.
The 1950s and 1960s saw a major rebound in the firm's sales. In 1967, in
cooperation with Jaeger LeCoultre, a new record for the thinnest (2.45 mm)
automatic movement, with a centrally placed rotor of 21 carat gold, was
established. Just three years later, in 1970, the watchmakers of Audemars
Piguet premiered the world's thinnest movement (3.05 mm) to include date
display and a central rotor made of gold. The year 1972, of course, marked
the debut of what has become the signature model for Audemars Piguet, the
Designed by the legendary watchmaker Gerald Genta, its octagonal shape,
steel edges and the use of prominent hexagonal screws as a design feature
strike a perfect balance between power and elegance. Worthy of its name, the
Royal Oak has since become a legend. Its octagonal design, originally
produced only in high-grade steel, took the breath away even of many
professionals. However, when the Royal Oak was unveiled at the 1972 European
watchmaking fair in Basel with a price tag of just 3,300 SFr. -- unheard of
for a watch bearing the Audemars Piguet name -- its success was beyond even
its creators' expectations!
In 1993, the company museum, housed in the original workshop of Jules
Audemars and Edward Piguet, was established. This museum, a tribute to the
company's visionary founders, allows watch enthusiasts to discover Audemars
Piguet technology "from A to Z."
Its exhibits retrace the key stages in the company's history, and show
many of the creations that made Audemars Piguet famous, including the Grande
Complication. As well as its unique collection of antique watches, and in
particular of watch complications, this very unusual museum enables visitors
to see the intricacy and precision required in horology by observing two
master watchmakers at work in the modern Audemars Piguet atelier, which is a
permanent feature of the museum.
That same year, a new model in the Royal Oak collection premiered: the
Royal Oak Offshore, which is water resistant to a depth of 10 atmospheres.
The Offshore model offers the following functions: chronograph to 1/5
second, tachymeter, 30-minute counter, 12-hour counter, date display,
seconds display, and automatic movement with central rotor in 21-carat gold.
Three years later, in 1996, a wristwatch version of the famous "Grand
Complication" premiered at Basel. More than 600 components are contained in
an integrated movement that does not exceed 8.5 mm in height. It is a
technical marvel that marries old-fashioned craftsmanship with cutting-edge
technology, such as computer-aided design (CAD). It was also in 1996 that
Audemars Piguet embarked on a new era, becoming one of the first major watch
companies to represent itself on the Internet with its official Web site.
Today, Audemars Piguet remains one of the most prestigious watchmakers in
the world -- and one of the few that is still family owned. Yet despite the
company's enormous success, every watch is still made by hand the
old-fashioned way -- one at a time. Today, along with Patek Philippe and
Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet is considered to be one of the "big
three" as one of the finest watches in the world.