With the glamorous Diamond Punk and its 7800+ diamonds, the new ladies Millenary collection, and last but not least, the unprecedented sound of Royal Oak Concept RD#1 - a prototype piece, Audemars Piguet’s novelties point to a prevailing trend of women’s complications, we have a chat with Audemars Piguet Historian Michael Friedman for some serious insights.
“The history of women's watches has been one of the most neglected stories. Audemars Piguet is starting to tell how beautiful, technical and unique this history is, as it relates to the past, present and future of time-keeping,” Friedman begins. Perhaps the oversight of women’s watch watch was an untimely phenomenon. “I think, during the second half of the 20th century, the watch press put focus on men's watches while the jewellery press to women's jewellery. Therefore, women's watches gradually faded out of the picture as they were not the focal point of publications at that time.”
However, Friedman explains that women and men of a certain economic status always had a watch throughout history. “A well-to-do lady in 1640 Holland was more likely to possess a watch than a working class man at that time. Having a watch was not a matter of gender but economic status.” With women’s increasing purchasing power comes the rise of ladies complicated watches. “By 2015, women no longer have limitations on what kind of watches they can wear. They would buy an elegant Audemars Piguet watch just as they would a Royal Oak Offshore.
“Also, there's been an increase in the number of women collectors over the last 20 years at auctions. When I bid and acquire pieces for the Audemars Piguet museum, I'd see both women and men bidding for a historical watch.” Fast-forward to the present moment when women’s complicated watches are enjoying their heyday. “We are very excited about the new Millenary which blends the elegance of women's watch design with the industrial nature of the movement. Certainly, the diamonds and mother of pearl are beautiful, but so are the finishings of the calibre - a combination that would have been unimaginable 10 years ago. It's our reaction to the feedback from our ladies collectors who desire something more horlogical. The Diamond Punk is another example. Only Audemars Piguet would have dared to combine an haute joaillerie piece with time keeping.”
Speaking of the historical development of women’s watches, Friedman begins to make a case for their role as pioneers in the industry. “They were not just objects of beauty but objects of great complications since the beginning. The history of science and technology has all been about miniaturization. If you think of the miniaturization of cellphones, television sets, medical equipments and satellites today, there was also a quest for miniaturization during the age of machineries.
“So, women's watches were the platform for miniaturization. One of our most sophisticated watches was the minute repeater in a pendant watch. Twenty years later, Audemars Piguet developed the first minute repeater wristwatch for men because it had already mastered miniaturization of the timepiece for women.
Friedman also has us thinking about the future of haute horlogerie by contrasting it with today's digital era. “For those of us who love watches, half the time when we look at our watch, we don't so much register the time on our mind as admire its craftsmanship. This is very different from looking at our phone where we check an app or email. It is something purely functional and not so much an 'object of beauty.’”
It becomes apparent that Audemars Piguet has one foot in the past and one foot in the future, as Friedman emphasizes. “Jules Audemars and Edward Piguet were able to strike a balance between the popularization of mass machineries and craftsmanship. This balance is still maintained today. When you visit our factory, you will see machineries, but also an expert craftsmen who perform all the finishings by hand, as the machine can never amulate what the human hand can do.
Friedman also points out an important link between the history of time-keeping and scientific progress: “You can only have accurate navigation, astronomical and scientific observation once you have accurate time keeping tools. The watches we make are not meant to exist only for years and decades, but for centuries. This is what sets us apart from technologies that are meant to be replaced every year.”
Thus, we gain a new perspective in Audemars Piguet’s identity – timelessness. “We are the last watchmaking brand to remain in the hands of the founding family and this will not change, in my opinion. History is not only 100 years ago. It is yesterday. Our heritage department keeps track, makes records of every single piece created, as our past continues to grow and our future extends in front of us. We will keep acquiring the cherished pieces and share their stories. We will keep innovating in mechanical horology, and make pieces that are meant to stand the test of time.”
Audemars Piguet 2015 Novelties
Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Tourbillon Chronograph
Two-Tone Selfwinding Royal Oak
Royal Oak Offshore Diver