Originally founded in 1875 by Louis Audemars and Edward Piguet in the Vallee de Joux, Audemars Piguet is one of the most famous watch brands in the industry today and one of the few major watch brands that are still owned by its founding families.
The brand’s founders were both highly respected watchmakers with Louis Audemars actually gaining notoriety for his role in making complicated pocket watch movements for Tiffany & Co.
A member of the Swiss Holy Trinity alongside Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet has a rich history filled with many firsts in the watchmaking industry. In 1892 they created the world’s first minute-repeating wristwatch.
In 1889 they manufactured a grand complication pocket watch with seven complications which included a grande and petite sonnerie, an alarm, deadbeat seconds, perpetual calendar, chronograph, split-second chronograph, and a jumping hour hand.
In 1921 they created the first jump hour wristwatch and in 1946 they created the world’s thinnest watch at just 1.64mm. AP is also known for its technical watchmaking prowess in modern-day watchmaking too.
In 1995 they created the world’s first automatic grand complication wristwatch and in 2006 the first-ever direct impulse escapement.
These are just a handful of the incredible watchmaking accomplishments Audemars Piguet has achieved. But perhaps what defines the Audemars Piguet brand the most by modern standards is not their historical watchmaking prowess but rather the design genius of the greatest watch designer of all time.
In 1972, when the Swiss watch industry was turned upside down and in the midst of the quartz crisis, Audemars Piguet enlisted the help of Gerald Genta who designed what we know today as the Royal Oak.
Audemars Piguet Timeline
The Royal Oak
The Royal Oak was the first luxury sports watch of its kind and was initially received with very mixed reviews. It took AP over a year to sell all 1,000 of the original A-series 5402 Royal Oaks.
However, following this, sales began picking up and the rest is history. Today it is one of the most popular watch designs on the market today and AP has done just about everything one can do with the Royal Oak including offering it in various sizes, with various complications, and has created a number of offshoot models that are inspired by Genta’s genius design.
The Royal Oak Offshore
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Royal Oak, Audemars Piguet released the Audemars Piguet Offshore series. The Offshore line was originally designed by Emmanuel Gueit in 1989 and was later finalized and released in 1992. It featured a much larger 42mm case and again was received with mixed reviews.
However, this watch really took off especially in the early 2000s as demand for watch sizes got bigger and bigger. The offshore series also became a great medium for AP to experiment with alternative materials such as rubber, ceramic, carbon, titanium, and many others. It also allowed AP to push the boundaries of watch sizes with offshores having a diameter as large as 48mm on certain limited edition models.
Lastly, the Offshore provided a model for AP to partner with popular entertainers and athletes such as Lebron James, Michael Schumacher, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, to really push the brand to the forefront of popular culture.
The Concept Series
While the offshore provided a great medium for AP to experiment with sizes and materials, the Audemars Piguet Concept series has really become a medium for AP to showcase its watchmaking ability.
The Concept series was originally launched in 2002 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Royal Oak and served as a basis for Audemars Piguet watchmakers to design and create futuristic watches that showcased the technical watchmaking ability of the brand.
Essentially it was a way for AP to flex its talents and remind people that complicated watches are part and parcel of the brand’s DNA. The result was the CW1 – the first AP concept watch that has become a cult classic. Although it featured the distinctive octagonal Royal Oak bezel, that’s where the similarities end as the shape of the lugs, dial format and complication were totally unique and evocative of a steampunk watch from the future.
The movement was made by legendary movement maker Renaud & Papi, which was then a subsidiary of Audemars Piguet and is now owned by the brand.
The Concept also became a watch that allowed AP to experiment with many different materials such as carbon and titanium but it really became a series where AP could show off its watchmaking ability.
From supersonneries, to split-second flyback chronographs to tourbillon chronographs the Concept has seen it all including a more artistic side with AP’s release of the Black Panther concept in 2021 which really showed off the brand’s artistic ability and a more playful side to an otherwise very serious and somewhat stuffy and traditional industry.
While Audemars Piguet is known for the Royal Oak and the models that were inspired by it, Audemars Piguet has a number of models that are also historic and incredibly underappreciated. This includes the Jules collection which are very elegant watches that serve the purpose of being more traditional round case dress watches.
The collection is meant to pay homage to one of the brand’s founders and ranges from time-only watches to grand complications and everything in between. Overall these watches are not very popular and were never well received by the mass market as they didn’t really align with most Audemars Piguet buyers who were focused on the Royal Oak.
Audemars Piguet also paid homage to Edward Piguet with their Edward Piguet range which was square and rectangular-shaped watches also part of their museum collection. Likewise, these never gained any real following from Audemars Piguet collectors and watch collectors alike.
The Millenary is another collection from Audemars Piguet which is not the most popular. Originally launched in 1995, the Millenary collection is easily identifiable by its oval case shape. The watch was inspired by an Audemars Piguet watch from the 1950s which had an oval profile.
This was another collection that simply never took off for AP. Although they positioned it as a super contemporary watch and made numerous efforts to push it both for men and women, the Millenary simply never gained a dedicated following or collector base. The oval case shape and overall design of the watch were arguably a little too bold and ahead of its time.
Audemars Piguet has also learned from their mistakes from the Millenary, Jules, and Edward Piguet collections they took a lot of care with how they released their new Code 11.59 model line in 2019.
The release of this collection was an effort from Audemars Piguet to move away from their heavy concentration on the Royal Oak and create a new and contemporary model line. The collection was received with mixed reviews. The design was unlike anything AP had made before given the code’s curved crystal and complex case and lug construction with the mid-case of the watch being a Royal Oak case.
The Code also was a turning point for AP as the line featured new in-house movements whereas they previously relied on third-party movements. However, many critics disliked the fact that the design and dials of their watches were mostly bland and uninspiring. Audemars Piguet has since come out with new dials and has experimented with new materials such as having a rose gold case with a ceramic mid-case Code 11.59 and these have been generally well-received by the broader public.
The Code has reached a point where they are selling quite well at retail and are holding their value well also on the grey market as opposed to Millenary, Jules, and Edward Piguet models which hit the market at huge discounts from their retail price. Overall it remains to be seen how the Code 11.59 model line will continue to evolve and if it will gain the long-term following and collector base of Audemars Piguet and watch collectors alike.
Another important factor in the success of the Royal Oak and the models that were inspired by it was the people who were wearing their watches. From Jay-Z to Kevin Hart to John Mayer to Lebron James, Royal Oak watches were and are worn by the world’s biggest athletes, actors, and celebrities.
And it was also popular among women such as Serena Williams, Kim Kardashian, and Ellen Degeneres. For AP and specifically the Royal Oak, its casual yet still formal aesthetic lent itself well to the more casual fashion trends of the early 2000s to today.
Seeing it on the wrist of the most famous and popular people in the world also helped create the perfect storm that led to the Royal Oak being one of the most popular watch models in the industry.
A lot of credit also has to be given to their current CEO Francois Bennahmias who took over the role of CEO in 2012 and has brought the brand a long way since then. His vision was to make Audemars Piguet more exclusive and go back to its roots of being that mom and pop company that was born in 1875 and this strategy has been achieved quite successfully.
His bold strategy of expanding AP’s offerings, experimenting with new materials, exploring fun and inventive marketing campaigns and collaborations, and going back to AP’s roots have really paid off.
In 2019, Audemars Piguet adopted a boutique-only strategy where their watches would no longer be sold by authorized AP dealers but rather only by boutiques was a first for the watch industry and definitely caught many by surprise. However, it has proven to be the right move as Audemars Piguet has really exploded in popularity in recent years and Audemars Piguet now has complete control over who they sell their watches to and more importantly, where they are sold. In 2021 Audemars Piguet surpassed their longtime rival Patek Philippe and became the 4th highest-grossing watch brand with revenues totaling 1.58 billion CHF.
Audemars Piguet is not only one of the most historic brands in the watch industry but also among its most popular. While the genius of Gerald Genta helped propel AP more broadly into popular culture and gain the notoriety and status it benefits from today, there is no question that Audemars Piguet is and will continue to be a titan in the watch industry for many years to come.
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