Back in 1972, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak was the first luxury watch to move away from gold and adopt stainless steel as its case material. This year, the Royal Oak is presented in a series of yellow gold references, incredibly bright, and a potent expression of value. They are like ingots that tell the time. We discussed this new departure, and some of the other innovations introduced this year by Audemars Piguet, with Filippo Nembrini, Retail and Operation Manager for the brand in Italy.
Filippo Nembrini: “This year we wanted to move back to the tradition of yellow gold and diamond-setting, features that were very successful in the past and that give us an edge today because this year we are the only brand to feature yellow gold. This is something of a risk, but I think that next year, all the other brands will be following our lead. The yellow gold case is particularly elegant in combination with the blue dial, and it is a visual surprise because everyone is so accustomed to pink gold. A good example is the Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar, with the manufacture movement Calibre 5134, which keeps track of date, day, month, moon phase and leap years. There are many new women’s products, such as the Royal Oak Quartz 33mm edition, with or without diamonds, available at relatively accessible prices.”
LUXOS: In another of the new watches, the double balance wheel is an interesting innovation. Was it developed principally to add visual interest?
Filippo Nembrini: “The Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel Openworked has the Audemars Piguet dual balance, that can be seen both from the dial side and through the caseback. You are watching the heart of the movement, and it’s as if there are two hearts beating in unison, like a watchmaking love story! Its beauty is enhanced by the openworked movement, another Audemars Piguet speciality. At the same time, the double balance increases the watch’s precision. Having our own innovations and patents is important, and in this case, the single pivot sets our system apart from the competition.
LUXOS: This year your Royal Oak Offshore Diver chronographs combine your habitual craftsmanship with funky colours and fun design...
Filippo Nembrini: “That’s right, they are lovely summery pieces, in four colour variants, including acid green available exclusively in the Geneva boutique, while the orange, yellow and blue versions will be available worldwide. The rotating inner bezel is controlled by the crown at 10 o’clock.”
LUXOS: What is the reason for making special boutique editions?
Filippo Nembrini: “The retail channel is very important for us, and having some pieces available only in our own boutiques is a fundamental part of our strategy. We are growing fast, and we sell 20% in our own-brand boutiques, the rest go to independent retailers. The group’s strategy is to keep the total number of watches made per year below 40,000, and so the trend is towards a reduction in the number of independent retailers, privileging those that are truly committed to our brand. Exclusive boutique editions help focus interest on our own-brand points of sale, while helping to ensure that there enough pieces both for our own boutiques and for our most important retailers.”
LUXOS: In Italy, was it important for you to be able to open a boutique on Via Montenapoleone?
Filippo Nembrini: “It was fundamental. It is at the heart of the high fashion district, one of the most important showcases in Europe. After Expo last year, I think that Milan has become one of the unmissable destinations in Europe for shopping, on a par with Paris and London, and for a brand like Audemars Piguet, Via Montenapoleone is really the only option, considering its potential in terms of traffic, customer typology and sales. We are lucky in that we are currently enjoying a very positive phase. The projections regarding an increase in visitors and sales in Milan during Expo, of the order of 15-20%, were borne out by reality.”
LUXOS: Audemars Piguet has always been hallmarked by a commitment to research. The Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie is a triumph of sound... one of the very few repeaters that you can hear across a crowded room.
Filippo Nembrini: “Audemars Piguet has a tradition for complications and above all repeating watches, and this goes right back to the brand’s origins. One of the first two watches, built as part of the founders’ degree dissertations, was a repeater. The great challenge was starting from last year’s prototype, RD#1, and taking it into production in the space of just 12 months. It represents the culmination of eight years of research, and it comprises a lot of innovations regarding materials, for example titanium, which has a greater capacity to transmit sound into the air. The patented solutions include the gong, which is not rigidly connected to the interior side of the case or the mainplate as in conventional repeaters, but is given greater freedom of movement, helping to increases sound diffusion. In practice, the sound-producing system can be compared to a guitar, with the gongs like the strings, and a dedicated soundboard. In addition, the background noise produced by the movement has been decreased. Sound exit routes have been made in the case, so that sound can spread more easily. The piece is exceptional amongst repeaters in that it is waterproof to 30 metres, not so much to enable the user to swim with the watch, but rather to ensure that the movement is sealed against the entrance of dust, which would reduce sound purity.”
LUXOS: I imagine that it’s a very exclusive piece...
Filippo Nembrini: “It won’t be made in large volumes, perhaps ten this year, ten next year. It’s a watch for a very small number of collectors.”
LUXOS: Audemars Piguet is one of the very few watch brands that could still be described as a family enterprise. What’s it like working for a company of this sort?
Filippo Nembrini: “It’s marvellous, for several reasons. You’re right, it’s a family company with a relatively small number of employees, and so it is more flexible and highly reactive, it can accept more challenging tasks when compared to larger organizations. There are just a few degrees of separation from new recruits to the top levels. This means that there is lots of room to make oneself heard. Even in times of crisis such as the present, it keeps on growing. Just consider the range of new pieces, with highlights that include the extraordinary Diamond Fury, a high jewellery masterpiece bristling with attitude and a rebellious spirit.”
LUXOS: Could you tell me about the watch that you are wearing?
Filippo Nembrini: “I wear a dual time, a brand icon, 39mm in diameter. It’s self-winding, therefore powered by my own movements. In my case, the mainspring is always at maximum power... I am Italian, I gesticulate a lot!”