A feat of engineering and design, the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet offers visitors a glimpse into Audemars Piguet’s visionary spirit and traditional savoir-faire.
Audemars Piguet’s deep-rooted origins in the Vallée de Joux, in the village of Le Brassus, date back to 1875 when founders Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet first established their workshop. Today, the region is synonymous with the birth of fine Swiss watchmaking.
The remoteness of the location and its long winters enabled its predominantly agricultural workers to develop and perfect the minute tools and skills necessary to craft remarkable mechanical timepieces. In addition, the rugged terrain and majestic landscapes served as inspiration to watchmakers for generations. Many of AP’s complicated mechanisms have captured the passage of time dictated by astronomy, a testament to the clear night sky observed from this region.
Today, following in the footsteps of their founders, AP is committed to perpetuate the art of fine watchmaking in the Vallée de Joux with the launch of the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet, a space that weaves together the watchmaker’s rich heritage and forward-thinking spirit, while paying tribute to the art of generations of craftsman. Complementing AP’s oldest historical building, the adjoining spiral-shaped pavilion – the Musée Atelier – offers a pristine setting for visitors to meet the artisans and delve into the history of watchmaking.
The architectural marvel is designed to blend seamlessly into its surroundings. Meanwhile, the structure’s inner layout is stretched into a linear continuous experience that allows guests to travel through the building as they would through the spring of a timepiece. The Musée Atelier is split into several sections that comprise traditional workshops that allow guests the opportunity to try their hands at ancestral techniques perpetuated by AP, as well as an exhibition space with travelling artworks created by commissioned artists. At the heart of the spiral sits the Grandes Complications and Métiers d’Art Ateliers, which showcase numerous feats of mechanical mastery and design, as well as housing some of the brand’s most emblematic and highly complicated timepieces.
Ahead of its unveiling last month, Sébastian Vivas, AP’s Heritage and Museum Director, shared with Prestige the details of this unique undertaking. Since joining the brand in 2012, Sébastian and his team of historians, watchmakers, and archivists have added hundreds of timepieces that have enriched AP’s Heritage Collection. In addition, he has also co-authored numerous books, collaborated on exhibitions, and headed workshops to restore antique timepieces. Most notably, Sébastian initiated and co-directed the development of the Musée Atelier, which offers a unique perspective into AP’s universe.
The Musee Atelier Audemars Piguet symbolises the past, present and future of AP’s watchmaking history. How are these represented in the design of the spiral?
This spiral shape is surprising, and even slightly puzzling. Some people have seen it as a watch part (hairspring), some others as a snail, a shellfish, or even a “skaters paradise”! In fact, this shape is born of a study of the natural and built environment, and results from the architecture competition program. In perfect contrast with our oldest building, where the company was born in 1875, it symbolises the link between the past and the future. Technically very innovative, and full of complex details, its ability to find the perfect balance between aesthetics, craftsmanship and engineering is really close to an Audemars Piguet Grande Complication watch. This is probably the reason why, seven years ago, the jury of the architecture competition fell in love with this project. At that time, I was quite new in the company and when I heard Jasmine Audemars, our Chairwoman, say “this is crazy”, I did not know yet that it was the best appreciation possible.
Take us through the different sections within the spiral.
Inside, the German museographer Atelier Brückner has imagined the visitors’ journey as a musical score, with themes introduced by surprising and interactive interludes. Visitors are first immersed in the origins of the Vallée de Joux. They discover how a network of talented watchmakers transformed raw material into masterpieces of complications in workshops established in their homes. In the following sections, visitors learn about the watches’ mechanical hearts, and discover some of the manufacturer’s most complicated timepieces. They even see screws so small that they look like dust. Visitors are then invited to try their hands at some finishing techniques before encountering a collection of over 90 Royal Oak models spanning from 1972 to today.
What would you say are the key highlights?
I think the human dimension of our museum is probably the highlight here. Since the beginning of the project, our dream has been to offer everyone an unforgettable experience. Accompanied by a guide, each visitor will be in connection with our craftsmen over the course of a journey interspersed with playful and informative animations. From its beginnings in a small village nestled in a remote valley of the Swiss Jura Mountains, the company has gone on to create extraordinary watches for collectors worldwide. This human adventure, driven by a strong family spirit and a forward-thinking attitude, has enabled AP to stay independent. More than ever, our strength is based on our craftspeople’s passion and ability to share. This is the heart of the Musée Atelier, the reason why we started the project and our main difference.
Tell us about some of the exceptional timepieces exhibited here.
300 masterpieces, dating from the 18th to the 21st century, are exhibited in the Musée Atelier, including highly complicated watches, masterpieces of design, high-jewellery brooches and necklaces, as well as several world firsts. At the centre of the museum resides the so-called ‘Universelle’ pocket watch from 1899, one of the world’s most complicated watches. It took four years for our specialised watchmakers to restore its movement, which is made of 1,168 parts (316 screws). During this process, we managed to convince its previous owner that the best place for it was in our museum. Another major watch exhibited here is the unique chronograph wristwatch, pre-model 1533, from 1943. Its beautifully balanced aesthetics inspired the recently launched [Re]master01, another symbol of the bridge between past and future.
What about the different workshops and how they pay homage to the craftsmen?
The two workshops situated in the Spiral are dedicated to the inside and the outside of the watches. The most complex movements are created in the Grande Complication workshop, where a watchmaker can dedicate up to eight months for a single watch. The most complex cases are created in the Métier d’Art workshop, where it takes up to one year to produce one high jewellery watch. These two workshops are situated in the Spiral building because their craftsmen produce the timepieces of today and tomorrow. A third workshop is situated at the exact location where Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet started the company in 1875, where the restoration watchmakers take care of the historical watches. They perpetuate the traditional know-how to make sure that the future generations will always be able to repair the mechanical marvels made in La Vallée de Joux.
What do you want the visitors to take away from their experience at Musee Atelier Audemars Piguet?
Actually, we have decided to offer the best of who we are to each visitor, regardless her/his profile. We have aimed to express the most important facets of our brand – its history, craftsmanship, passion for mechanics and design, its free spirit and, of course, its people – in the most exciting and interesting way. Based on that, we hope that everyone, from the most experienced watch collectors to amateurs of architecture and tourists discovering our beautiful region, find something that will move them. Wherever they come from, and whatever their age is, we hope that they say “wow” a few times and experience something surprising and memorable.
“A blend of tradition and forward thinking” – what does this phrase mean to you personally?”
There is an image I particularly like, which could illustrate the link between these two notions: the walking man. To move forward, one foot is always in behind the other. One in the past, the other in the future. Long-term is the cornerstone of our watchmaking world. The timepieces of the 19th century are still delivering the time precisely. The watches we produce today will still work in 100 years. As long as the watchmakers are trained to master the traditional know-how, the watches will continue to tick for centuries. The past is our basement. We have to study it, to respect it and transmit it to the future generations. On the other hand, like our predecessors, the construction of the future is our constant focal point. All our projects, our lives, our energy, are about building a better future. In our challenging era, we need to reinvent ourselves every day, and this is precisely what makes life exciting.
To find out more, visit audemarspiguet.com.