Owned by It’s Founding Families since ‘1875
Nearly every great traditional brand in the watch industry has come under new ownership at least once in its history, but not Audemars Piguet. The spirit of the firm’s founders has continued to live through their direct descendants ever since Jules-Louis Audemars joined forces with Edward-Auguste Piguet in the late 19 century. The family- owned manufactory writes new chapters in its history at precisely the same location where the two founding watchmakers first took the daring step into professional independence: namely, at Le Brassus in Vallee de Joux, which is affectionately nicknamed the “Valley of Tinkerers.” A success story par excellence began here in 1875, when the region was suffering through an economic crisis and the young Jules-Louis Audemars, who was born in 1851, designed and built his first complicated movements, devoting all his passion and skill to this complex metier.
Well-filled order ledgers soon prompted him to seek competent support, which he found in the watchmaker Edward-Auguste Piguet, who was also familiar with business-related tasks. Their collaboration prompted them to found a jointly owned company. They signed a contract to establish Audemars Piguet & Cie, Manufacture d’Horlogerie in Le Brassus on December 17, 1881. The objective stated in the contract was to use the latest production methods to manufacture fine and complicated watches, e.g., repeater movements, calendar calibers, chronographs, etc. Jules-Louis Audemars served as technical director, while Edward-Auguste Piguet took care of administrative affairs. This time-honored division of labor continued after the founders’ deaths; members of the Audemars family remained primarily responsible for technical concerns, while the Piguet family looked after commercial matters.
Audemars Piguet & Cie employed a staff of ten people in 1889. Unlike many other businesses, these employees received salaries bodi summer and winter. The successful development continued into the early 20th century, so construction of a new building began directly alongside the traditional headquarters in 1907. This building, which has been enlarged and modernized several times, remains the home of Audemars Piguet today, while the older edifice serves as the company’s museum.
The watchmaker Paul-Louis Audemars took over his father’s posts as president of the administrative council and technical director in May 1917. After attending a school of watch making and business, Paul-Edward Piguet joined the firm in 1919 and continued to serve as its commercial director until 1962.
Incidentally: the firm’s directors have allowed the staff to share in the company’s business success since 1912. Thanks to a consistent quality and product policy, Audemars Piguet has earned global renown and an illustrious clientele which includes Dent and Frodsham in London, Tiffany in New York and Paris, Cartier in Paris, Bulgari in Rome, Gubelin in Luzern, and Durrstein in Glashutte and Dresden.
The disastrous crash of the stock market in New York on October 24, 1929 led to a long-lasting downturn. The global economic crisis triggered by the crash, coupled with protectionist measures implemented in many countries, caused a precipitous decline in the demand for luxury watches. In 1930, all watchmaking factories in Vallee le Joux felt compelled either to put workers on shorter hours or to temporarily close their facilities altogether. Some never reopened their gates; others survived with new owners. Survival at Audemars Piguet was assured by a strong sense of family coherence, which was also cultivated by the watchmaker Jacques-Louis Audemars, who joined the firm in 1933. As head of production, he brought new vitality into the languishing production at Audemars Piguet, which fabricated a mere 116 timepieces in 1935.
The situation had improved somewhat when Georges Golay joined the company on May 1, 1945, but the traces left by World War II were impossible to overlook. Acting on advice from this thoroughbred businessman, the directors commenced an operative restructuring. In its wake, the new signature “Audemars Piguet” was introduced onto the watches’ dials and the suffix “& Cie” was eliminated. As general director from 1966 to 1987, Georges Golay formatively influenced the structure, philosophy, and appearance of Audemars Piguet to a greater degree than anyone before him. His name is associated with the launch in 1972 of the undisputed leader model ‘Royal Oak,” which currently generates more than 70 percent of Audemars Piguet’s revenues. Golay initiated a profound restructuring and reorganization in 1973. Workshops too underwent urgently needed expansion. Early in the 1980s, Golay established AP Technologies, a small but ultramodern factory for micromechanical and electronic specialties. Following Georges Golay’s death in 1987, the company’s business affairs have been entrusted without exception to external managers, but the important chair of the administrative council has always been occupied by a member of the founding family. The council is presently chaired by Jasmine Audemars, a great-granddaughter of the firm’s founder.
Owned by It’s Founding Families since ‘1875