Olivier Audemars: Well, what Theo has done is to take material that by themselves have no value, tubes for isolating cables in ships. He imagined what he wanted to achieve and assembled them by using his ingenuity and maniacal attention to detail; he was able to transform what looks at first like inert skeletons into something that moves.
I personally want to thank Mr. Olivier Audemars for taking the time for this interview and for his sympathetic, passionate, and profound insights into the watch industry, and especially for his thoughts on us passionate collectors, bloggers, and readers. Audemars Piguet is a family business and one senses that immediately when speaking with Olivier. He’s down to earth, approachable, and makes you feel part of that AP family with his charming, unassuming, and candid demeanor. audemarspiguet.com
To take two examples, there are those who buy our products as a "status symbol." As a way to show off their wealth and success. However, there are also the more interesting category of buyers who buy the object because it speaks to them. It gives them an emotional connection, it sings to their hearts. And for these latter cases, they could care less what others think of their accessories since for them it speaks their language. So they will want to share this special connection with a friend with a similar emotional understanding.
Maximilien: I believe you understand our purpose and goals. Thank you very much Mr. Audemars.
So what this means is that the blogs are a venue for sharing and giving first hand accounts. What this also means is that the brands cannot lie, if they do, this will be noticed and revealed and shared. So blogs allow us to reach people in a different manner, an authentic fashion, while forcing us to have a coherent message, since any incoherence will be discovered and exposed.
Audemars Piguet has been a sponsor of the famed Art Basel in Miami Beach, FL, for the past two years. The relationship is ongoing, and Audemars Piguet uses the event as a means to introduce new ambassadors as well as to announce its ongoing commitment in supporting select artists and causes.
But if we look at things from a different angle, what we felt was that with the quartz crisis, what was going to happen is that people would change how they wore watches. People would normally be very careful when wearing their timepieces, with quartz watches, that would become more and more disposable, people would wear watches in more casual settings and activities. We wanted to continue making beautiful delicate movements, and we wanted to protect them. And the Royal Oak is the safe that protects this precious movement. It needed to be beautiful, but we needed to chose a material that was very strong and resistant to casual wear. And for this reason, we chose stainless steel as the material of choice.
You can imagine the joy I felt after asking a question to the artist, during the press conference, about the parallel (if any) of his Leonardo DaVinci-esque beasts’ design to mechanical watch movements, that Olivier Audemars (member of owning family and Chief Officer of Audemars Piguet) stood up and added a thoroughly philosophical yet personal viewpoint to my question. After that, it was clear that I needed to sit down with him and find out more.
Olivier Audemars: So what that meant is that we were lucky at that time to have people running our company who had a vision to anticipate a luxurious stainless steel sports watch. And today, in a world when everyone is connected and trying and carrying new technology, I tell myself that maybe if we get involved in this kind of art, we might be able to see and understand things in a perhaps different light, and therefore help us prepare for the future.
At this year’s show, the focus was on Dutch artist Theo Jansen, whose Strandbeests are mechanical automatons resembling massive, though what would be rather miniature, lifelike "beasts." Completely made of recycled PVC tubes, joints, and plastic bottles, these strange creations are powered by capturing and compressing air and using an ingenious logic model. By devising a so-called analogue NAND gate, the artist is able to create what are essentially logic circuits, so that the beasts can automatically decide when to stop (when one reaches the sea water) and continue when no water is detected and reserve power is plentiful.
Audemars Piguet along with the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, are sponsoring the artist’s first live exposition in the United States. Seeing the beasts in action is a sight to behold. By "sprinkling" some air and a few turns of some PVD switches, the beasts strangely come alive. This is at first creepy, but also wondrous and amazing. Seeing them felt very much like watching a live reenactment of Pinocchio in Geppetto’s workshop in the middle of Art Basel in beautiful Miami Beach, Florida – or like seeing a stopped mechanical movement start ticking away after winding or shaking it, bringing the balance wheel into motion.
I will give you an example that will help clarify and illustrate this point. Forty years ago, in the middle of the most significant crisis to the watch industry, due to the arrival of quartz wristwatches, we launched our most famous model, the Royal Oak. This was revolutionary at the time, since it broke all the horological rules of the trade, since during those days, every competitors’ wristwatches were made in precious metals that were either round or oval. But we created a watch that was octagonal, in stainless steel, with sharp edges and case, and with screws that were exposed. Really something opposite to the norms of the time, and we sold it for the same price of a gold Patek or the same price of two Rolexes.
Maximilien: What does the artist Theo Jansen and his masterpieces mean to you and to AP?
What it also allows us to achieve is to have a better understanding for the demand and evolution of our clients’ desires. Since, it’s also important to mention that we create products that we are proud of, that our watchmakers are proud of. And we also desire that the people buying our products be as proud of them. We hope that the products touch them emotionally.
As a young boy, I have one recollection of my grandfather (while to my chagrin, spending much time working, bringing watches home, and not allocating more time to play with me) did one time take me to his atelier in the house and showed me a mechanical movement that appeared still as an inert object. But then, he touched the escapement, and all of a sudden it started moving. In my young, 10 year old eyes, this was very magical. This object that was before dead, started moving. So when I first saw the videos of Theo’s beast, the thing that came to mind was this memory of seeing my grandfather’s watch movement come to life. And I told myself that we might be able to also learn something. Artists are people that tend to see things in a different viewpoint from most. If we could borrow his imaginary glasses, we might be able to evolve.
However, at the time, machining stainless steel was very difficult and expensive; particularly, to create shapes like the Royal Oak and its intricate bracelet. So for this reason, early prototypes of the Royal Oak were created in white gold. What this means is that it was, at the time, cheaper to create the Royal Oak in gold than in stainless steel! And this is an important point, what this means is that we at AP, are people for which the base material is less important. What is important is the work that is done with the material, this means that we took inexpensive steel, and with the works of our craftsmen, our designers, our watchmakers, we transformed this common base material into something that has more value than gold.
Maximilien: Thank you Olivier for a rather profound response; and even a philosophical one. Last question: What do bloggers mean to you? This group of passionate and fanatical people, such as myself, who is here today, simply because I love these little machines that companies like Audemars Piguet manufactures?
Maximilien: Like Theo, something magical. Very much, like Theo’s beasts, that’s it.
We in the horological domain, in particular for an enterprise like ours, what we do is to try to create complex mechanisms that are placed into small spaces. In fact, when we take the different elements individually,replica watch for women, they look like shiny metal scraps that are assembled and they remain inert objects. Even winding the movement there will not be any motion, the beast is still dead. But once you touch the escapement, everything starts moving, the heart of the watch starts to move; and the hands starts moving. We start with something that begins with iron at its base and we mold it into an object, a bit magical, that is, a complex mechanical watch. In that sense, his creations and ours are very much alike.
Olivier Audemars: Well, the bloggers are people that allow us to reach a segment of the population who are less affected by regular, traditional, media. This allows a deep dialog. And what we have observed more and more, is that many in the new generation believe less in what they read in the press or what they see on TV or other traditional media. What they believe in most is the opinions of their peers.
Olivier gladly agreed to spend 15 minutes with me for an interview that we did in his native tongue (as well as mine), French. What follows here is a transcript of the 12 minutes conversation (with minor edits), which consisted of only two questions. You can also hear the interview in its original French below.
Audemars Piguet & Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests At Art Basel 2014
While these kinetic objects are wondrous in themselves and more than sufficiently warrant Audemars Piguet’s sponsorship in my view, I wanted to dig a bit deeper into the meaning of the relationship. Especially with respect to what parallels or similarities existed between Jansen’s animated objects and the complex miniature world that is inside an Audemars Piguet timepiece. I don’t need to remind the audience of this site that Audemars Piguet and its subsidiary Renaud et Papi are the manufacturers of some of the most coveted and fantastic watch movements ever conceived by the human mind. Few manufactures have such a long and storied history than the family business that is Audemars Piguet.
Thank you Mr. Olivier Audemars for spending time with aBlogtoWatch.com.
So for us, bloggers and blogs are a means to reach that second category of patrons. Many may know the watches from our family and others do not. So if we are able to reach them via social media, it allows us to have more and more patrons that have shared this emotional connection with the products we create, and hopefully, appreciate it. And we are super happy to share with them these products that we are so proud to create, and it continues to fuel the energy to keep creating them. So it’s really a type of virtuous cycle, and the blogs are the best means to achieve this.
Olivier Audemars: My pleasure. I wish you a great evening.