Forbes Travel Guide and Audemars Piguet brought a piece of Swiss watchmaking history to The Peninsula Beverly Hills last week with a multifaceted pop-up for fine timepiece addicts that included a curated exhibition ranging from rare 19th-century watches to the showpiece, $800,000 Royal Oak Grande Complication. Awash in afternoon light, the Pen’s Verandah Room as a backdrop added sparkle to an already impressive collection. We had the good fortune of an information-packed personal tour guided by Michael Friedman, AP’s historian.
Friedman’s vast and detailed technical knowledge of AP’s history is wrapped in a hip, gracious manner that makes this kind of access a special opportunity for the most obsessed Audemars Piguet collectors and the curious to participate in the brand’s rich culture while viewing showstoppers like the Jules Audemars Chronometer with AP escapement, learning about AP’s time-honored craftsmanship firsthand and, possibly, picking up a new bit of wrist candy.
“Our collectors want to understand every aspect of our watches,” says Friedman. “An experience like this gives our clients a chance to spend some time with the pieces in hand, to spend time with a master watchmaker, and leave with 100 percent gratification that AP watches will always be something to aspire to.”
We began at the beginning. Long before the fine craft of Swiss horlogerie became the hallmark of Switzerland’s Vallée de Joux, the lush, lake-speckled region was known for metallurgy and a formidable iron industry. These traditions gave rise to watchmaking and the area’s oldest fine watchmaker, Audemars Piguet, established in 1875 by Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet. Still owned by the founding families, AP’s ethos lies in the balance of time-honored tradition with technological innovation. Today the company prides itself on the use of numerous high-tech materials. “We’re constantly forging ahead,” says Friedman. “Yet we look to the future while respecting and honoring the past.”
From museum pieces such as the 1891 chronograph pocket watch to Audemars’ first perpetual calendar wristwatch to a trailblazing 1986, ultra-thin, self-winding tourbillon to the signature, eight-sided watch bezel of Royal Oak of the early ’70s to the current collection of dive watches and the forged carbon, AP collectors are as eclectic as their watches. The company even keeps detailed records of every watch they’ve ever made and sold. All this attention to the small stuff — sports watches, concept collections, intricate complications and diamond motifs — yields 33,500 hand-hewn watches per year priced at about $32,000 apiece.
As afternoon tea service begins elsewhere in the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star hotel, collectors subtly circle the watch cases ready, perhaps, to seal the deal. “We want to surprise collectors with something to aspire to,” Friedman explains. “We want to keep stoking that desire.”