Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet are childhood friends that reconnect to form Audemars Piguet as we know it to be today. Audemars Piguet is pronounced as Ou-du-mahr Pee-geh and is still family-owned. It is an independent Swiss watch brand with a strong innovative spirit, pride, passion, and expertise. Having been around for over 140 years, four generations have led this brand to success. Audemars Piguet’s history shows that this brand influenced the watchmaking world considerably. That’s why we’ll be providing the brand story in this article to give you a better perspective.
Audemars Piguet History – The Founding Years
Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Piguet started learning how to make watches from a young age. They were raised in Vallee de Joux and grew up immersed in its right horological heritage. This area is a high-altitude valley in the Jura Mountains. It is susceptible to a chilly Bise wind and a high elevation. Therefore, this usually results in harsh, frigid winters. The area is famous as the Siberia of Switzerland.
Many people believe that Vallee’s unforgiving nature led its residents to take up watchmaking. Although they could farm in the warmer months, they needed a way to survive wintertime. Therefore, many families earned an income during the desolate winter months by trading/selling items they produced through different crafting skills. Popular professions were metal-working and other related professions because of the landscape of soil and rock that was rich in iron oxide.
The Huguenot immigrants introduced watchmaking into the area in the late 1600s. Most of them were skilled craftsmen, and by the 16th century, the valley was a significant part of the watch industry. To date, the Valle is one of the historic locations for fine mechanical watchmaking.
Audemar Piguet History – A Winning Partnership
Audemars and Piguet were only in their early twenties when they launched Audemars Piguet. Even then, both men had vast experience and all the skills they needed for their new business. They came from families with longstanding watchmaking traditions and had worked in the watch industry for quite a long time. Since both men knew each other from childhood, they worked well together. Their skills were complementary because they were experts in different areas of watchmaking. Audemars was technically gifted and could build complicated watch movements. Therefore, he was in charge of production and supervising product development. Overall, Audemars dealt with all the technical concerns in the manufacturing department.
On the other hand, Piguet worked as a repassuer, a master watchmaker that performed the watch’s final regulation. This position was well in-demand in the watch industry. Therefore, Piguet carefully inspected every completed movement component in their new venture. He also made necessary adjustments to correct imperfection and errors in the components. His duty was to assemble the movement into working order and bring the watch to life.
Although Piguet started as a repassuer in Audemars Piguet, he soon discovered he was even better with the business side of things; He started handling sales, management, and marketing. This way, they made an effective partnership. Together, they led the company throughout their lives. The Audemars family takes responsibility for the technical affairs while the Piguets handle business matters and everything finance-related. To date, this division of labor is still in effect.
Official Launch and the First Distinctions
Although Audemars and Piguet became business partners in 1875, it wasn’t till 1881 before they officially registered their company. However, the duo considers 1875 to be their founding date because they were already making strides in the watch industry right from the partnership. Both men aimed to establish themselves as leaders in creating complicated watches. Over the next century in Audemar Piguet’s history, this watch company would achieve a couple of first in complicated wristwatches and pockets.
First Wristwatch Minute Repeater Movement
The minute repeater is a complicated watch that sounds out the current minutes and hours with chimes. This allows the wear tell the time without looking at the watch. Before electric lighting became a thing, the minute repeater was a great way to tell time and night, and it was pretty convenient. To date, minute repeaters and other chiming mechanisms are popular amongst watch enthusiasts for their sophistication. Like other complications, the first-minute repeater were pocket watches. However, the founder of Omega, Louis Brandt, first introduced the first wristwatch minute repeater. Audemars Piguet built the movement of this piece, a thin Lepine style caliber.
The Universelle Pocket Watch
The Universelle pocket watch is another first in the watch industry by Audemars Piguet. This company is famous for its complicated pocket watches. This included watches created with several complications, including complex ones like a perpetual calendar. The Universelle was created in 1889 when Audemars Piguet launched a branch of their business in Geneva. The double-sided pocket watch featured an 18-carat pink gold casing. Its features were an alarm, jumping seconds, split-second chronograph, grand strike, deadbeat seconds, perpetual calendar, and a minute repeater. This Universelle pocket watch is one of the most ambitious timepieces the founders created in their lifetime.
Carrying on the Family Legacy with Many Firsts
Audemars Piguet continued to play a significant role in watchmaking history with several record-breaking timepieces. By 1907, over 70 highly-experienced watch experts worked in the company’s manufacturing site. Although the founders passed away in 1920, their sons Paul Louis Audemars and Paul-Edward Piguet were ready to take over leadership. Under the new leaders and their children in the future, Audemars Piguet remained at the forefront of innovation with different watchmaking technologies.
Audemar Piguet Famous Watch Collections
Throughout Audemar Piguet’s history, the company offers different watch types and styles. To understand the brand’s unique personality, we’ll be exploring the brand’s famous watch collections. Below, you’ll find some of the company’s big releases worth mentioning.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
In Audemars Piguet history, the Royal Oak is one of their most famous offerings. They introduced this watch at the 1972 Baselworld fair, and it was the world’s first luxury sports watch. This watch featured impressive shock and water resistance, making it a durable option for outdoorsy users. However, this watch revolutionalized the industry with its unusual construction and appearance. The traditional brass diving helmets inspired the watch, and its design defied many established conventions in luxury watchmaking.
Designed in a Day
Most watch designs feathered complex aesthetic and technical decisions. Therefore, the process of designing a watch usually took a while. However, the Royal Oak was one of the top watches designed in less than 24 hours. Its story began in 1970 after a Japanese watch firm Seiko released the first quartz wristwatch called the Astron. This event marked the beginning of the quartz crisis as the low cost of these watches from Japan drove many Swiss watch brands to extinction.
Suddenly the rich tradition and years of expertise in the mechanical movement didn’t help many companies stay competitive in the watch industry. Even Audemars Piguet needed to embrace quartz or ignite interest in mechanical watches once again to survive in the industry. Bearing this in mind, Georges Golay, its managing director, took stock of their collection and was dissatisfied. He felt there were no unique watches that would help the company stay afloat, so he needed to change that.
He called up one of their most talented designers Gerald Genta who was the mind behind several luxury watches in the industry. Golay commissioned Genta to create a new and outstanding watch design, but it needed to be ready by morning. Genta didn’t disappoint and built the Royal Oak design, which he presented before the company the following day. Although Jacques-Louis Audemars, the grandson of Jules Audemars, was horrified by the unorthodox design, the management approved it for production.
The Offshore Chronograph
The Offshore Chronograph was launched in 1993 to celebrate 20 years of the Royal Oak. The company tasked one of their junior watch designers, Emmanuel Gueit, with the duty of recreating the Royal Oka for a new generation. Gueit was only 22 and seemed the perfect person to help Audemars Piguet draw in younger watch enthusiasts. However, the public met his concept for the Offshore Chronograph with skepticism like with the Royal Oak. The new design took several parts of the original Royal Oak to new extremes.
Just like watches like the Royal Oak were nonexistent before the watch came to be, the sporty Offshore Chronograph was the first of its kind in 1993. The Offshore Chronograph is available in 42mm sizes far larger than its predecessor. This earned the watch its nickname ‘the Beast.’ Additionally, it is pretty thick, and Audemars Piguet found it challenging to find a movement that would sit snugly in its diameter case. Therefore, the company placed a smaller movement into an anti-magnetic ring to get the ideal fit. The overall look is bolder, less sleek, and more rugged than the Royal Oak.
Although there was a cold response to the Offshore Chronograph at first, Gueit’s instinct about the younger watch crowd turned out accurate. The watch was a hit amongst celebrities, including big-name athletes, Hollywood stars, and hip-hop artists. These endorsements moved the company into the center of pop culture, gaining several new fans.
The Royal Oak Concept
Audemars Piguet introduced this watch in 2002 to honor the Royal Oak’s 30th anniversary. It is an audacious lab watch that’s futuristic in function and style. Although this watch appears high, it is light because of its movement designs and unique casing. The watch also provides several features like the 50G shock resistance and a power reserve indicator. It also introduced a new feature called the manual wound watch called the dynamograph. This feature helped to display the mainspring tension.
Although Audemar Piguet wanted the watch to be a limited edition, it later expanded it into a standard collection. This collection features Audemars Piguet’s most innovative mechanisms, designs, and limited editions.
The Millenary line is another top mention amongst Audemars Piguet history. It was a watch created in Audemars Piguet history to celebrate the turn of the millennium. The company launched this watch in 1995, and one of its main features is the unique dial placed off-center. This dial revealed a skeletonized caliber that’s beautifully crafted. Despite their large size, Millenary watches are pretty comfortable and wearable because of their lightweight movement.
The response to this watch was apprehensive at first, but it is one of the brand’s most famous offerings today. The brand recently created new Millenary models for women to widen its customer base. Some designs include fancy ornamentation like gem cabochon crows and diamond-studded bezels.
Audemars Piguet’s history shows how the company revolutionized the watch industry with many innovative designs. From the beginning, Audemars and Piguet took a risk going forward with many of their designs. Although there were chilly responses initially, their products are amongst the most sought-after watches by watch enthusiasts. This company debuted many of the world’s first, with the Royal Oak being its most celebrated addition to watchmaking history. A look into Audemars Piguet’s history shows a clear timeline of technical innovation.