Audemars Piguet was founded in 1875 in the Vallée de Joux, Switzerland as a result of collaboration by two passionate watchmakers: Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet. Ever since, all the way down to today, Audemars Piguet has been on the technological and creative cutting edge, designing collections of watches featuring rigorous technique while exhibiting an ability to respond to their users’ wishes.
Audemars Piguet is the oldest fine watchmaking manufacturer still in the hands of its founding families (Audemars and Piguet). Since 1875, the company has written some of the finest chapters in the history of haute horlogerie, including a number of world firsts.
In the Vallée de Joux, at the heart of the Swiss Jura, numerous masterpieces are created in limited series embodying a remarkable degree of horological perfection, including daring sporty models, classic and traditional timepieces, splendid ladies’ jewellery-watches, as well as one-of-a-kind creations.
From the legendary Royal Oak to highly complex timepieces along with the sporty Royal Oak Offshore, the elegant Jules Audemars and the audacious Millenary, the collections from the Manufacture offer devotees of Fine Watchmaking a broad choice of timepieces combining exceptional techniques and refined aesthetics.
Vallée De Joux
Within this fold in the Jura mountain chain perched at an altitude of 1,000 metres, the character of its inhabitants has been honed through contact with a harsh climate and a natural environment that can only be tamed by showing it respect.
The Vallée De Joux in the Swiss Jura Mountains has for millennia been a harsh and unyielding environment, a place of raw nature and unforgiving climate. It was not until the 6th century that monks first settled in the Vallée as they saw in its austere surroundings a place of serenity and spirituality. By the 13th century, the inhabitants of the Vallée worked the land during summer while rapidly developing skills in working with iron and glass to see them through the harsher months.
Huguenot immigration in the late 17th century brought watchmaking skills to the region. By the even, Northern Light, the craftsmen of Le Brassus concentrated on mastering the most complex mechanisms known to watchmakers. During 18th century, building on their experience in metal-working, many locals added horology to their farming. In 19th century, the workshops of the Vallée de Joux became an international centre for complex watch movement.
Jules Louis Audemars & Edward Auguste Piguet
Two natives of the region – Jules Louis Audemars, born in 1851 into a family of watchmakers in Le Brassus; and Edward Auguste Piguet, born in 1853 and hailing from a watchmaking family also from the Vallée de Joux – were to carry the name of the village well beyond regional and national borders.
In 1875, Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet joined forces to design and develop watches featuring complex mechanisms. This remote valley naturally provided opportunities for patient observation of human nature; a chance to take the pulse of a swiftly changing society.
The organisation of transport and of work, radically transformed by the industrial revolution, saw the emergence of engineers, entrepreneurs, and long-distance travellers. Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet soon grasped the nature of these new types of individuals. It was with them in mind that they clearly defined the vocation of the House. The latter was to be dedicated to developing and entirely making watches with complex mechanisms (referred to within the trade as “complications”) that would push back the limits of human intelligence and the art of horology.
Audemars Piguet & Cie
Audemars Piguet & Cie was officially founded in 1881. Its main purpose was to produce and directly market watches equipped with complex mechanisms. It soon met with spectacular success and its fame spread beyond national borders, with each of the two associates playing a pioneering role in their specific field of expertise.
While Jules Louis Audemars constantly innovated with original movements, Edward Auguste Piguet became one of the first watchmakers to set up sales subsidiaries in Europe and in the USA. He did so exclusively via retailers and agents in order to achieve perfect market control. This combined approach led to a steady stream of mechanical and commercial accomplishments.
- 1882: Birth of a Grande Complication pocket watch. Ten years later, Audemars Piguet & Cie created the first wristwatch with a minute repeater – a major horological complication that remains one of the hardest to produce, and which has become a speciality of the Manufacture during the course of its rich history.
- 1921: In 1921, the watch company introduced the smallest five-minute repeater movement ever made, measuring just 15.80 mm in diameter. It represented a double challenge, as the complexity of the repeater mechanism was further heightened by the extreme miniaturisation of the components. That same year proved especially fruitful, since the brand also created the first jumping hours wristwatch and made its mark in the highly exclusive field of extra-thin horology by launching the world’s thinnest pocket calibre at just 1.32 mm thick.
- 1938: In 1938, it set a new record for slenderness, this time on a wristwatch. From the 1930s onwards, Audemars Piguet distinguished itself in another field of the watchmaking art: that of open-working or “skeletonisation”. In parallel, the Manufacture pursued its relentless quest for mechanical excellence, unveiling in the 1950s its first wristwatch-sized perpetual calendar – another major complication only mastered by a handful of brands today.
- 1967: 1967 brought a new record with the creation of the world’s thinnest self-winding calibre with a central rotor (2.45 mm). However, it was in 1972 that Audemars Piguet definitively overturned the conventions of modern watchmaking with the Royal Oak, the first luxury sports watch to be made in steel. The model destined to become a timeless icon featured a powerful sports design with the signature octagonal bezel secured by eight hexagonal screws, a dial bearing a “Tapisserie” guilloché or engine-turned motif, along with a bracelet fully integrated with the case. The Royal Oak was named after a British Royal Navy ship with octagonal-shaped cannon scuttles. The vessel itself was thus named in tribute to the oak in which the future king of England, Charles II, took refuge in 1651 after his defeat by Cromwell. The tree had since become a symbol of protection and power.
- 1978: In 1978, Audemars Piguet presented the first extra-thin (4.05 mm) selfwinding wristwatch with perpetual calendar and a central rotor. 1986 witnessed a new milestone in contemporary watchmaking history with the first extra-thin self-winding tourbillon wristwatch measuring just 5.5 mm thick including the case. It remains the thinnest of its kind and its tourbillon is still the smallest ever made.
- 1990s: The 1990s saw a flurry of wristwatches with complex mechanisms, including a Grande and Petite Sonnerie model with quarter repeater on two gongs in 1994, followed by a first Grande Complication in 1996, and a Grande Sonnerie Carillon minute repeater with three gongs and three hammers in 1997.
- 2000-2007: The dawn of the new century and the new millennium saw the birth of the first Equation of Time wristwatch with sunrise and sunset times, perpetual calendar and astronomical moon. In 2006, Audemars Piguet invented a direct impulse escapement, before producing the first watch featuring a forged carbon case in 2007. Two years later, the Manufacture in Le Brassus launched the race for high frequencies with its chronometer featuring an in-house escapement and a double balance-spring.
Royal Oak Collection
1972 marked a milestone that revolutionized the wristwatch market: Audemars Piguet presented a Gerald Genta design, the Royal Oak, which became an immediate symbol of elegance. Forty years later the Royal Oak is the watch most sought-after by collectors, and its emblematic, screw-adorned octagon remains an icon. The new ground the Royal Oak broke in the early 1970s and its survival through the years following, with the creation of collector’s models that continue to transform the art of watchmaking even today, illustrates how the legitimacy of a traditional piece can he harmonized with a revolutionary design, one recognized by the media and collectors alike as a “work of art”.
Audemars Piguet, Today
Today, Audemars Piguet is pursuing its mission based on a number of cherished priorities: preserving vanishing crafts by promoting their practice and their transmission to new generations; perpetuating a heritage based on independence and on the highest standards; and looking to the future while demonstrating respect for global issues.
Each “complication” timepiece admirably epitomises these principles. It represents the culmination of months of dedicated work and of the innate expertise of Audemars Piguet – a place where time is experienced and imagined like nowhere else.
Nearly 140 years after its founding, Audemars Piguet faithfully perpetuates the heritage of its founding fathers. It is indeed currently the only Swiss watch brand to have remained entirely in the hands of the founding families, four generations after its creation. Over the decades, it has consistently developed and enlarged its production sites in Le Brassus and Le Locle.
A generous brand with a strong commitment to its art, the Manufacture has opened its own museum in order to share the horological marvels that have punctuated not only its own history, but that of an entire region. It is indeed this region that inspired the creation in 1992 of the Audemars Piguet Foundation, which since that date has supported several sustainable development projects, with part of the proceeds from each watch contributing to this environmental commitment.
Faithful to the values that have forged its success, Audemars Piguet is writing its history with a view to the long term. Indeed, the brand guarantees the in-stock availability of all supplies for a mechanical movement even after production has ceased, since the Manufacture in Le Brassus firmly believes that an exceptional watch must be capable of defying time itself.