Audemars Piguet constantly reinventing the watch

Since its creation in 1875 in the village of Le Brassus, watch manufacturer Audemars Piguet has gone on to gain an international reputation. Its turnover has taken off over the past 30 years.

Audemars Piguet was born in the heart of the Joux Valley, in an area already well known for its expertise in complex mechanisms. "At the end of the 19th century, an industrial revolution came about in the field of watch manufacture in the USA, and watches were suddenly being made in their hundreds of thousands," explains Olivier Audemars, great-grandson of the co-founder and current vice-president of the board of the firm.

The company can be proud of the fact that it has remained independent to this day at a time when buy-outs by large groups are the norm rather than the exception. "By focusing on the bottom line and being based far away from the region where the actual work is carried out, these new ways of doing business are seeing watch manufacture lose its identity," Audemars laments. And yet while still maintaining its attachment to the region, Audemars Piguet is a brand that has acquired a global reputation. Its creations are sold in 80 countries via 17 different subsidiaries. The company has 1,600 employees, two-thirds of them working in Switzerland. "We are still a small business in international terms," says Audemars, " but our visibility is greater than our turnover."

« We are still a small business in international terms but our visibility is greater than our turnover. »

That turnover has now reached 900 million francs – having soared at the beginning of the 1990s and multiplied by 300 since the 1960s. Average productivity per employee has globally remained the same, which indicates the level of care taken over each piece. Right from the outset, the company knew that a spirit of innovation was the path to follow. In 1972, the Royal Oak was the first luxury watch to have a steel rather than a precious metal casing, revolutionizing the norms at the time. "Complicated movements are fragile, but we wanted to make models that would withstand the rigors of everyday activities," Audemars explains.

Perfect balance between tradition and innovation

This guiding principle of anticipating client needs and adapting to evolutions in society goes a long way to explaining the success of the company. Meanwhile complex mechanisms, which command a higher price, are the reason for the positive upward trend in profits. A restructuring of the company because of the economic climate saw the integration of specializations that had not historically been part of the business, such as dial-making but also contacts with wholesalers.

Audemars Piguet still sets itself apart from the competition by using hi-tech materials, looking for mechanisms that are ever more cutting-edge, and combining technology with tradition. This constant striving for innovation has generated expertise in miniaturization, which has directly contributed to the evolution of sectors where microtechnology is important, such as medical sciences, robotics, and aerospace.

And what does the future hold? "Attracting future employees, in particular women, by adapting to the new way of life of the millennials," says Audemars. For example, the firm is thinking of setting up shuttle buses between the manufacturing site and the city of Lausanne and perhaps also providing accommodation to employees who travel from afar.

A strong commitment to the canton of Vaud

Despite its significant growth, the manufacturer has always insisted on remaining in the village of Le Brassus. The site never seems to go more than five years without having another extension added, although the historical original building is still at the heart of what is now a very large complex. There is more to come, with a museum set to open by the end of 2019 and a hotel in 2020. "We believe that it is important to contribute to the tourism dynamic of the region – it is a logical part of our roots," says Olivier Audemars.

Audemars Piguet is well established in the economic fabric of the region, working with the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Western Switzerland (HES-SO), the Swiss Centre for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM) in Neuchatel, the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne (EPFL) for the technical aspects it requires (materials, microtechnology, and IT), and the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne hospitality management school. "We have learned how to look after our clients with the same level of excellence we reach when manufacturing watch parts."

In 2016, Audemars Piguet won the Vaud International Business Award (PVEI), a distinction given to companies which have contributed in an exemplary way to the international image and reputation of the canton of Vaud. "The tradition aspect of watch manufacturing was very much brought to the fore, as was the various backgrounds of those who work with us. Different points of view and experiences, when they come together, are what drive innovation," Audemars explains.