in 1875 by Jules-Louis Audemars and Edward-Auguste Piguet
(Le Brassus, Le Locle and Meyrin)
History of the brand
Audemars Piguet (AP) is founded in 1875 by watch makers Jules-Louis Audemars and Edward-Auguste Piguet. Tiffany & Co, Cartier and Bulgari use Audemars Piguet movements. Audemars Piguet is often regarded to be among the highest end of watch manufacturers, sharing prestigious acclamation with Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, A. Lange & Söhne , Jaeger-LeCoultre and Breguet. The Swiss company designs and manufactures high complex mechanical watches, haute joaillerie creations and jewelry, and produces 36,000 timepieces per year.
The Audemars Piguet watch group is composed of 1,200 employees, 14 distribution subsidiaries and 16 boutiques worldwide. It comprises three production sites: Le Brassus, Le Locle and Meyrin in Switzerland. The brand is present in 88 countries. AP is one of the oldest watch manufacturers still owned by its founding family.
The Vallée de Joux, located in the Jura Mountains in the Swiss Canton of Vaud is famous for its extremely cold and snowy winters. It is known as the “Siberia” of Switzerland due to its NE-SW orientation and 1000 meter altitude. In the 18th century, farmers and villagers of the Vallée de Joux turned to watchmaking during the long harsh winters when the land lay dormant. The geographical location of the region offers iron oxide and forests. While burning, woods enable to extract the iron and mold it. For the inhabitants, watchmaking was a way to survive. Through the years, this craft became not only a family tradition but also a cultural heritage. Like other families, the Audemars and the Piguet crafted timepieces long before the establishment of the Audemars Piguet company. A pocket watch was created between 1740 and 1760 and signed “Joseph Piguet – Le Brassus” and still exists today.
From the beginning in 1875, Jules-Louis and Edward-Auguste showed an interest in complex mechanisms. Thanks to their watchmaking family heritage, they had developed all the skillsets necessary to create complex mechanisms. Even as a child, Jules Audemars used to craft control mechanisms for complicated watches. When they joined forces, they decided to manufacture complicated movements for other luxury watchmaking companies such as Gubelin and Tiffany & Co. They realized they could craft and sell whole watches themselves as they had the necessary tools and expertise to start their own production.
Jules-Louis Audemars and Edward-Auguste Piguet split their work. Jules-Louis produced and assembled movements while Edward-Auguste ensured the completed movements were correctly regulated. Thus Jules-Louis started producing component parts for movements and Edward-Auguste became a finisher, one of the top jobs in the watchmaking industry. A finisher is a watchmaker who performs the final regulation of the timepiece and put the finishing touches to the escapements. Later, the roles changed. Jules-Louis designed movements, created watches and dealt with technical responsibilities and managed the production and technical part of the business, while Edward-Auguste focused on sales and handled the financial side.
On 17 December 1881, Jules-Louis Audemars and Edward-Auguste Piguet officially founded “Audemars Piguet et Cie” in Le Brassus. In 1882, they presented their first complicated fob watches with perpetual calendars and minute repeater or chronograph. Since 1882, members of the Audemars and Piguet families have been on the board of directors and have, therefore, always been involved directly or indirectly in the running of the company. In 1889, AP opened its first branch in Geneva and rapidly began to grow and prosper. With its 70 workers, the manufacturer became one of the largest employers in the Vaud area.
In 1907, Audemars Piguet built a new factory to accommodate all of its employees. However, this favorable period ended with the onset of the First World War. World War I created difficulties for all companies including AP. Jules-Edward Audemars died in 1918 and Edward-Auguste Piguet died a year later in 1919. Despite the founders deaths, AP continued its path in fine horology. In 1918, Paul-Louis Audemars and Paul-Edward Piguet, the sons of the founders continued the business begun by their fathers and created ground-breaking watches such as the world’s thinnest pocket watch caliber (1.32mm) and the first skeletonized pocket watch. During the Roaring Twenties, Audemars Piguet launched jewelled ladies’ watches and later in the Art Deco period, Audemars Piguet produced the first watch with a jumping hour display.
After the Wall Street crash of 1929, the company faced a major crisis. The crash of the stock market slowed the development of many Swiss companies. At one point, AP like other watchmakers was on the brink of collapse. In 1933, Paul-Louis Audemars’ son, Jacques-Louis Audemars took over the company and gave it a new impetus but the Great Depression jeopardized the development of Audemars Piguet. Only two employees remained in the company and only a few timepieces were made.
From 1936 to 1953, the chronographs’ production had a new lease on life but the Second World War slowed down sales. After the war, AP production focused on innovative, ultra-thin watches and continued to create traditional high-end pieces. In 1949, Audemars Piguet participated for the first time in the Basel Fair in Basel (Switzerland). From 1954 to 1971, the company enjoyed an era of prosperity and innovations. Its products achieved great success among international clients.
In 1962, Georges Golay became AP’s business manager. From 1966 to 1987, he served as managing director and CEO of the company. In the 1970s, watch manufacturers faced financial troubles due to “the quartz crisis”. The Swiss watchmaking industry registered dramatic drops in sales because of the quartz watches coming from Japan.
In 1971, Audemars Piguet realized that the company needed a revolutionary change and decided that it was time to introduce a timepiece that had never been seen before. After getting some feedback from the Italian market about the interest in steel luxury watches, Audemars Piguet created its most famous watch to date: the Royal Oak.
After the 70s, AP continued to release a staggering number of industry firsts, such as the ultra-thin perpetual calendar wristwatch with central rotor, self-winding ultra-thin tourbillon, self-winding grand complication, wristwatch equation of time with perpetual calendar and high frequency chronometer with double-balance AP Escapement.
In 1986, AP invented the first self-winding ultra-thin wristwatch with a second time zone. The tourbillon carriage was then the smallest ever made. The company also launched a rectangular wristwatch with minute repeater and jumping hour, composed of 412 pieces, and a ladies’ watch with minute repeater and carillon.
In 2000 came the launch of “Tradition d’Excellence”, a collection of crafted timepieces showcasing traditional and innovative complications.
In 2005, Audemars Piguet sold the Edward Piguet Moss Agate Tourbillon, the first watch made with moss agate. One year later, the company presented the fifth timepiece of the Tradition d’Excellence collection, inspired by an 18th-design by watchmaker Robert Robin (1742–1799). This watch was made in platinum, in a limited edition of 20 watches.
In 2007, Audemars Piguet crafted the first case in forged carbon.
In 2015, Audemars Piguet continues to create fine timepieces. All AP’s watches are produced in-house and are made by hand using traditional techniques. Audemars Piguet’s headquarters are still located in Le Brassus, Switzerland, where the company began.
Many celebrities have worn an AP watch, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Muhammad Ali. Like many other luxury watch brands, Audemars Piguet has a number of ambassadors, including: Stanislas Wawrinka, Sachin Tendulkar, Michael Schumacher, Lionel Messi, Sebastien Buemi, LeBron James, Michelle Yeoh, Novak Đoković, Serena Williams and many other personalities and athletes.
In the 1980s, Audemars Piguet entered into a partnership with the golfer Nick Faldo. On the high seas, AP supported the UBS Switzerland team skippered by Pierre Fehlmann. In 1996, chess champion Garry Kasparov became the brand’s ambassador. Two years later, Audemars Piguet created the Millenary Garry Kasparov model. This watch was equipped with a second time zone and a power reserve display.
Since 1999, Audemars Piguet has been the sponsor of the annual Queen Elizabeth II Cup, a 2000 metres Group One Thoroughbred horse race at Sha Tin Racecourse in Hong Kong around the end of April. In 2010, soccer player Lionel Messi became AP’s ambassador. The brand created the limited edition Royal Oak Leo Messi. The collection was limited to 1,000 pieces and was outfitted with an alligator skin strap. In May 2014, Leo Messi visited the Audemars Piguet factory in Le Brassus to see where his namesake watch was made.
In 2003, the Swiss team Alinghi won the 31st America’s Cup. Audemars Piguet, official partner, commemorated its achievement by creating the Royal Oak City of Sails, launched in a limited edition. Audemars Piguet was a sponsor of Team Alinghi, winners of the America’s Cup in 2003 and made a series of Alinghi limited edition watches. On 3 July 2007, Alinghi won the 32nd America’s Cup. To celebrate this victory, the company created the Royal Oak Offshore Alinghi Team chronograph. AP also established a partnership with automobile manufacturer Maserati in 2005. For the 90th anniversary of the Italian company, Audemars Piguet created the Dual Time Millenary Maserati.
In 2012, Michael Schumacher became the brand ambassador. A Royal Oak Offshore Michael Schumacher was made with the collaboration of the racing driver. Only 500 pieces were created. In 2014, the company established a partnership with the basketball team Atlanta Hawks. LeBron James continues to represent the brand.
Audemars Piguet has made a number of special and limited edition watches for celebrities and athletes. They include Stanislas Wawrinka, Sachin Tendulkar, Rubens Barrichello, Jarno Trulli, Quincy Jones, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sebastien Buemi, Shaquille O’Neal, Lionel Messi, LeBron James, Rory McIlroy and Jay-Z.