Audemars Piguet has been considered by the leading watch aficionados to be a member of the holy trinity of watchmakers since 1875. Standing beside Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet is one of the most renowned watchmakers in the world. In this article, we’re going to discuss the brand, its history, milestones, and the watches you should consider as a part of your collection.
It Began 140 Years Ago
Most watch collectors immediately recognize the Vallée de Joux as the heartbeat of Swiss watchmaking. Some of the world’s most revered and complicated timepieces have been produced in the heart of the Jura mountains, with watchmaking first starting in the 1700s as a way to offset the lack of farming income during the harsh winters.
Audemars Piguet is no different than many others that also began in the region. The company was formed 1875, but for many years prior to that, the families of the Audemars and the Piguet crafted timepieces independently. One of the earliest documented watches is a pocket watch that is dated back to between 1740 and 1760 signed “Joseph Piguet – Le Brassus.”
The company itself began when 23-year-old Jules-Louis Audemars asked his 21-year-old friend Edward-Auguste Piguet to create a movement for a watch. He did just that and despite their tender ages, they had immediate success. They very quickly became known as top watchmakers in the region who not only competed with other watchmakers to produce complicated movements, but even competed against themselves to outdo their previous achievements. Both men grew up surrounded by watches. The two families both spent years making watches in the region and so despite being young, they had apprenticed as children under their fathers, which developed their immense talent for watchmaking.
They didn’t go into business together as a necessity, but rather because they both had a strong entrepreneurial spirit and wanted to team up to create the most complex watches around. Initially, the plan was to make movements for other watch companies, but they almost immediately realized that they had the capability to make their own timepieces from scratch.
Both knew their talents and limitations. Audemars designed and made the movement, and Piguet made sure they were accurate and functional, putting finishing touches on it as needed. Soon, they further developed their roles. Since the finisher needs to know how to assemble and create a movement, Piguet took over all production and Audemars managed the business side, focusing on sales and management.
They amassed a reputation for producing the finest timepieces in the region almost immediately and their ages made their success that much more incredible to their admirers.
In 1881, just before Christmas, Edward-Auguste Piguet officially launched Audemars Piguet with his longtime friend Jules-Louis Audemars. The date was December 17th, and by the dawn of 1882, they had created and presented their first complicated timepieces; a fob watch with minute repeaters, perpetual calendars, and chronographs.
By the end of the decade, AP held a firm position in the marketplace and opened their first branch in Geneva, with almost 100 workers creating timeless masterpieces. They continued to rapidly expand, and soon became one of the most prominent employers in the region.
With such rapid growth, Audemars Piguet was forced to build a new factory in order to keep up with orders. However, what seemed like ever-growing prosperity soon took a backseat with the onset of the war.
A Crisis Erupts
World War I created difficulties for all companies, including AP. Audemars passed tragically in 1918 and his partner died just a year later. Despite the founders’ deaths, AP continued its path in fine horology with the company being handed down to their sons, Paul-Edward Piguet and Paul-Louis Audemars. Both sons — having been in the business since birth — began to test the limits of horology and created some of the most astonishing timepieces of the century. They crafted the world’s thinnest pocket watch — at just 1.32mm — and the industry’s first skeleton pocket watch, which allowed the wearer to see the intricate movement through the dial.
As the 1920s hit, AP realized women were beginning to enjoy fine timepieces as well. They immediately created watches crafted from the finest and rarest jewels and gemstones as well as a jumping hour display that paid homage to the Art Deco period.
After finally coming back from after the war — which resulted in numerous manufacturers closing shop — AP was faced with another calamity, which was the Wall Street crash in 1929. On the verge of having to close up shop, AP decided to buckle down and ride out the crash of the stock market.
Just four years later, not only had they managed to persevere, but they hit another snag just as Audemars’ son Jacques-Louis took the company over from his father. As if they hadn’t been dealt with enough, the Great Depression came knocking and it resulted in mass layoffs, until just two employees remained in the entire company which once consisted of hundreds. Demand for luxury timepieces was so low that they only made three watches during the Depression.
Thankfully, as before, the brand managed to stay afloat against all odds. Three years later, in 1936, the company was beginning to grow again and started to hit milestones selling their new chronographs.
Then, the world went to war again, and production slowed, but didn’t come to a full stop as it did previously. The company changed focus slightly and started creating ultra-thin timepieces that fetched top dollar for being so well made and remarkably innovative yet gracefully elegant.
As the 1950s gained traction, AP became a more dominant force in the luxury watch industry. They were prized internationally for their fine watches and revered by collectors from around the world.
In 1962, the company was enjoying such rapid growth that they decided to bring on Georges Golay as their business manager to handle day-to-day operations. By 1966, he had proved his worth and was promoted to CEO and managing director of the entire company, where he proudly served until retiring in 1987.
The 1970s proved to be a particularly rough time for Golay, as the world was introduced to the quartz watch. With its intense popularity, watch sales declined in Switzerland and Golay was tasked with figuring out a way to combat the odds and stay profitable.
So in 1972, Golay led the company in talks with their partners in Italy and launched a revolutionary timepiece called the Royal Oak. Never seen before, the Royal Oak capitalized on trending steel watches and became one of the most famous timepieces in history.
Milestones and Achievements
The continual pursuit of perfection that AP is known for has caused the brand to keep innovating. They have developed many complications and timepieces that will go down in history as firsts and have developed a handful of innovations their competitors have capitalized on. Here is a list of just some of the milestones and achievements that Audemars Piguet has been responsible for:
In 1891, AP invents the smallest repeater ever created at just 18mm.
In 1893, they created the world’s first minute repeater bespoke wristwatch made for Louis Brandt.
In 1896, the Grande Complication pocket watch is introduced with a grand and small strike, minute repeater, perpetual calendar, deadbeat seconds, chronograph with jumping seconds and split-seconds hand. This timepiece put AP on the map as one of the most advanced watchmakers in Switzerland.
In 1915, AP launches a limited 400 piece Grande Complication collection. If that wasn’t a big enough achievement, they also developed the world’s smallest five-minute repeater before the year was up.
In 1920, AP creates a 16 complication fob watch featuring an equation of time indicator, tourbillon, perpetual calendar, large and small chime, sidereal time indicator and a beautiful dial made from blue enamel with 315 hand engraved stars showing the night sky over London.
In 1921, the company launches the world’s first jumping-hour wristwatch.
In 1925, AP does it again and creates the world’s thinnest pocket watch at just 1.32mm.
In 1932, with just two employees and a handful of watches being sold, they still manage to introduce a new timepiece called the Women Jewelry timepiece.
In 1934, the world’s first skeleton watch since the 18th century is introduced by Audemars Piguet.
In 1946, after the war ended, AP develops a 1.64mm mechanical movement, making it the thinnest calibre ever created.
In 1957, AP begins to sell the first wristwatch that had a perpetual calendar.
In 1967, Audemars Piguet hits a new milestone and creates a 2.45mm automatic calibre, which is another record for the world’s thinnest.
From 1970 to the mid 1990s, AP banged out one innovation after another, barely allowing their competitors to take a breath, let alone compete. They launched the ultra-thin perpetual calendar wristwatch with a 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, the company created a self-winding wristwatch that becomes the thinnest one produced with two timezones. They also managed to develop a rectangular Art Deco wristwatch made from 412 pieces and featuring a jumping hour and minute repeater.
In 2000, AP releases the “Tradition d’Excellence,” a collection of highly sophisticated timepieces that are traditional and innovative at the same time.
In 2005, AP sells the renowned Edward Piguet Moss Agate Tourbillon, which was the first watch to ever be made with moss agate.
In 2006, AP begins selling the fifth timepiece in the Tradition d’Excellence series. It is a platinum, limited-edition watch inspired by watchmaker Robert Robin from the 1700s. Only twenty are made, making it one of the most collectible timepieces in the world.
In 2007, AP becomes the first watchmaker to design a case using forged carbon.
Today, every timepiece manufactured by Audemars Piguet is done entirely by hand, using the same traditional techniques as the original founders. Every part of the watch is produced in-house and they have continued to maintain a home base in Le Brassus, Switzerland, where the company was born.
Current Offerings for Your Consideration
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|Audemars Piguet MILLENARY||$$$|
|Audemars Piguet Royal Oak TOURBILLON||$$$|
|Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Black Dial||$$$|
The Royal Oak
In April 1972, AP participated in the annual European watchmaking fair in Basel, Switzerland. On the eve of the fair, AP’s managing director, Georges Golay, called his chief designer, Gérald Genta, in the early evening hours and told him he had heard a rumour that the Italian market was expecting a sports watch that was unlike anything the world had seen — made from steel and completely revolutionary — with finishes so exquisite you would want to wear it to the most elegant galas despite it being intended for sports. Golay asked him to create something that met these requirements. He gave Genta until the following morning to come up with something ready for presentation to the world. The next day, as the fair began, Golay presented a timepiece so extraordinary that no one could believe how quickly it was designed. That masterpiece was the Royal Oak.
Genta had modeled the watch after once seeing a diver put on his helmet while visiting Lake Geneva. A rounded octagon, it featured sharp angles that were unlike the traditionally round dials the world was accustomed to. It had visible screws and was so avant-garde that it could have easily perished as quickly as it inevitably flourished. Thankfully, the bet paid off and, priced at ten times more than a Rolex Submariner, it became the world’s most expensive sports watch ever created.
It was the world’s first luxury sports watch made entirely from steel. Its diver helmet shape is boldly fastened using eight hexagonal screws made from white gold. It featured a guilloche engraving on its dial, which became known as grande tapisserie, and it used a bold and matching bracelet with eight in-your-face bolts on the back. It was a risk, but one that was worth the reward of creating such a captivating and unique timepiece.
At first, sales were slow. Collectors were finding it difficult to justify the high price, and critics were quick to talk about the watch — but not always in favorable terms. In time, some trendy collectors began to pick it up and soon many celebrities began wearing it, which resulted in a huge boom in sales.
Even though the first collection — known as the A-Series — took more than a year to sell, that first series — officially called the 2000 Royal Oak — is actually the most popular and sought after timepiece of all collections due to its overwhelming popularity today.
By 2000, AP had managed to sell more than 100,000 Royal Oaks and today it represents 45% of Audemars Piguet’s annual sales.
In 1981, AP launched the first Royal Oak with a perpetual calendar. It used calibre 2120/2800, which made it another world record for being the world’s thinnest timepiece.
In 1983, a lunar phase and lunar calendar was added to the collections and a year later the Royal Oak was given a perpetual calendar.
In 2004, AP took the Royal Oak to new heights and a manual tourbillon chronograph was released in a limited edition collection of just twenty watches. Made of platinum instead of steel, it featured a double ten-day power reserve and a 30-minute counter.
Who should buy this watch: The Royal Oak is ideal for men who spend more time at the lake house and less time at the office.
How to wear it: The entire line works well with casual wear and even business casual attire.
Price range: Starting at around $15,000, they rapidly increase in price.
The Royal Oak Offshore
The most successful watch in the Royal Oak series is arguably the Royal Oak Offshore. Despite there being a vast number of collections released, the Offshore has proven time and time again to be everything that sports watch collectors are seeking.
It was actually designed by a 22-year-old named Emmanuel Gueit. Created in 1992, it was released for the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Royal Oak.
Tucked inside a bold 42mm case, the Royal Oak Offshore became the watch that started the trend of wearing oversized timepieces. It capitalized on the futuristic appearance noted in the original Royal Oak, and although it’s not considered oversized today, at the time of the release, 42mm was gigantic. Made from a blend of carbon and rubber, it was designed with the adrenaline junkie in mind.
Nicknamed “The Beast,” the Offshore became a hit with professional athletes and was soon adopted as a style-staple by America’s urban rappers. Despite most of their fans being unable to afford one, the prominent use of the watch by hip hop artists caused it to become one of the world’s most popular watches. It has also caused it to become one of the world’s most counterfeited timepieces. In 2014, AP successfully sued Swiss Legends for creating and selling counterfeit versions of the Royal Oak.
Capitalizing on the influx of customers AP received from the watch being worn in the media, they partnered with action star and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to create a new watch that he wore in Terminator 3. Named the Royal Oak Offshore T3, it became an instant success following the release of the film and introduced Audemars Piguet to a new demographic of customers.
In 2009, AP created an automatic chronograph in rose gold with a black dial and rubber bezel. Four years later, the Grande Complication became available for sale.
Who should buy this watch: Despite many wearing the Royal Oak line as a dress watch, it is ideal for those who appreciate its rich history with the diving world. If you like the features of a diving watch paired with a more elegant profile, this watch is a great choice for you.
How to wear it: This line works well for those who plan to wear it with casual and sporting attire.
Price range: Starting at around $15,000, they rapidly increase in price, with some costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Royal Oak Concept
On the 30th anniversary of the Royal Oak, AP launched a new timepiece called the Royal Oak Concept. Released in 2002, this timepiece was a manual wrist watch with a tourbillon, function selector, linear power reserve indicator, and a dynamograph. With a case made from alacrity 602 and bezel made of titanium, the 150-piece limited edition watch featured a kevlar strap made from the same material as bullet proof vests.
Eight years later, a new collection in the series was released. It was called the Royal Oak Equation of Time and featured a mesmerizing lunar cycle display, perpetual calendar, sunrise and sunset, as well as equation of time.
Then, in 2011, the Royal Oak Complication was introduced to the world. Self-winding, with 52 jewels, the timepiece had a perpetual calendar with the day, week and moon phase, the month and leap years, a split-second chronograph, a small second display, and a minute repeater. The case and bracelet were crafted from 18k white gold and featured a sapphire caseback that showcased the movement.
In 2014, the Concept GMT Tourbillon was launched. This time, AP used titanium for the case and a rubber strap. The bezel was made from ceramic with a twin-barrel 10-day power reserve, a tourbillon and a second timezone GMT display.
Not to be outdone, they also launched the Royal Oak Dual Time in the same year, which featured a second time‑zone, a day/night indicator, and a power reserve, tucked neatly into a smaller 39mm case.
In 2015, the RD#1 was launched. It is the result of almost a decade of research and trials that culminated in a timepiece known for just one achievement: its sound.
In collaboration with Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, AP developed a secret lab where they re-invented the chime of the minute repeater. This creation is considered a new innovation of the company. The research team was led by an academic from the Geneva Conservator, a musician, and a sound engineer. They explored the sounds of the chime and focused on the emotional response people had to hearing a minute repeater. To date, there are three separate patents pending for this concept.
Who should buy this watch: Ideal for those wanting something even more special than the Royal Oak. A perfect watch for the collector who wears his watches with nothing to prove.
How to wear it: This line works well for sporting and casual attire, as well as some casual business wear.
Price range: Prices are available upon request. Contact your nearest AP boutique or authorized retailer for details.
It was 1996 and fashion was still reeling from the disaster of the 1980s. Audemars Piguet decided to create a new series of watches featuring an oval case with an automatic movement. They called it the Millenary.
Despite the dwindling trends of the nineties, the watch continued to gain momentum in the new millennium. By 2009, AP created a limited edition Millenary called the John Legend Millenary Pianoforte watch. It was not designed for sale, but instead, to raise money for charity. The dial featured piano keys, an exotic crocodile strap, and a sapphire caseback. The watch was fully encased in 18k white gold and one of the watches featured John Legend’s signature engraved on the back.
Who should buy this watch: This watch is ideal for AP enthusiasts who need something slightly more formal than the Royal Oak for use with business attire. It is perfect for young tech moguls and those wanting a youthful and contemporary timepiece that’s respected by their elders.
How to wear it: These are more suited for business attire and most will pass the “cuff test,” which allows the watch to slide under the cuff of your dress shirt.
Price range: The Millenary watches start at just under $15,000 and also rapidly increase in price.
Audemars Piguet currently sells its timepieces in Europe, Asia, North America, Middle East, Africa and Oceania. The brand is present in 88 countries. They are, to date, one of the most well-established watchmakers and certainly one of the three most respected. What do you think of Audemars Piguet? Would you buy one?