"Yes, there is no doubt about it, Audemars Piguet is one of the best performers on the Italian market." We are talking to Giampaolo Ziviani at SIHH in Geneva, January 2013. "From our point of view, the Italian market is going pretty well. We are maintaining our levels of sales and showing some growth, even though this year there is a dramatic economic crisis. Our position in Italy received a very visible confirmation with the Royal Oak Exhibition at Milan Triennale last year, which showed just how close art and watchmaking are. I am proud that this year we are sponsoring Art Basel, which will give us extra visibility in Basel, Miami and Hong Kong. There will be many opportunities to showcase our watches, amongst which this year's new piece, the Royal Oak Offshore Grand Complication. It is an astonishing piece both from the mechanical and aesthetic point of view."
This is no exaggeration. In the Grand Complication Royal Oak Offshore, the perpetual calendar is combined with 2 other complications, the chronograph split second, and the minute repeater. With 648 parts, each watch is assembled by a single artisan, who dedicates over 820 hours to the task. The fascination of the Calibre 2885 movement is enhanced by the openworked components that enable you to glimpse deep inside the watch, with even the tiniest parts superbly finished and bevelled.
The perpetual calendar is arranged within the classic sport-oriented Royal Oak design with its octagonal bezel and visible screws, creating a very masculine, distinctive watch, waterproof to 20 metres, and with excellent acoustics for the minute repeater. Not for everybody: in two versions, one with a pink gold case, one in titanium, just three of each will be made.
One could say that a watch of this type is a work of art?
"In a way, yes, but watches are more difficult, because they have to work! They are both art, aesthetics, and engineering. Craftsmanship and function. Watches such as the Royal Oak are pieces of design. It has become an icon, part of our heritage."
When it comes to heritage, Audemars Piguet is a company accustomed to protecting and preserving. "Since 1992 we have had a foundation for the environment, and we work on the protection of the forests around Le Brassus, a beautiful environment, as well as forests all over the world."
We asked Giampaolo Ziviani about his work with brand testimonials. "It was fun working with Simona Ventura in Italy. We developed a watch with Rubens Barrichello, and now we are working with Schumacher, Djokovic, Lionel Messi, and many golf players including Roy McIlroy. People like this have a lot in common with a brand like Audemars Piguet: precision, performance, being number 1!"
And do they understand watches, we ask?
"Schumacher is a great fan, and also an expert and a connoisseur. In a way, this is not surprising, because watches and cars share something very important, the aspects of functionality. Other personalities perhaps know less about watches, but they all appreciate our way of working and our aesthetics, and then they progressively learn more about the mechanical secrets. People in car-racing are accustomed to mechanics."
Is the brand is shifting its prices upwards, or downwards, or expanding their price range? "Audemars Piguet makes a very limited number of watches, just 31,000 pieces per year. We don't want to grow in volume, we want to maintain quality and upgrade our customers, moving them to more complicated watches. We don't want to go towards lower-entry products. We are happy doing what we are doing: we want to stay there."
And are there any upcoming developments in your retail network?
"Our boutique on Via Montenapleone was an important step. We will refurbish the boutique in September this year, and it will be an important affirmation of the brand, a totally new store concept. Its opening will be a world premier!
"As regards digital marketing, we have done a great deal to improve our Internet communications. Visitors to our website have increased four-fold, and we have a lot of Twitter fans. The Internet can do a lot for us, but I don't think that e-commerce will ever be replaced by the boutique experience. Nothing is better than touching a watch and trying it on. You have to feel the weight, what it looks like, how it feels. You buy an Audemars Piguet for life, it's not a plastic watch."
A last question: are female clients becoming more significant overall?
"Yes, definitely. Women are more interested in complication watches. For Audemars PIguet, this will be an important year for women's watches, with a campaign that will be presented in early March worldwide. Audemars Piguet was amongst the first manufacturers to make beautiful manual movements in a baguette setting in the late 19th century, with some really tiny movements, including the smallest minute repeater. We have always dedicated a lot of effort to creating superlative timepieces for women."
And so Audemars Piguet continues its path, unerringly making some of the most iconic timepieces in the world. We look forward to the new developments in women's watches, and the new boutique concept in September this year.