DA MAN Caliber Exclusive: Audemars Piguet’s CEO François-Henry Bennahmias on Taking Things Slow: “We Didn’t Cancel Our Creativity”

The Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar in yellow gold


CA: Are minute repeaters going to be a long-term focus for the brand?
FHB: Minute repeaters have been a big part of the history of the company. During the first ten years of Audemars Piguet’s existence, we’re producing a lot of minute repeater mechanisms. So that is a part of who we are; it’s [the mechanism] in our blood. By bringing that to the 22nd century—it’s beyond the 21st century—we are making a statement, and we’re not done yet. I can guarantee you that there are many new things in the years to come, in the chiming mechanisms or in other watchmaking complications, by the way.

CA: Another striking emphasis today is the bright colors, not to mention yellow gold, for the 2016 Royal Oak collection.
FHB: Bright colors because in the last five years we’ve only seen black and red. It’s boring. I said let’s make something cool especially for the summer edition. We had colors like 15 to 20 years ago, so we didn’t create something totally new. But apparently it’s a great success because people buy them left and right, everywhere in the world. Why? People want to have fun. Because if it were a trend, the gold watches would have already been out there and we would only follow the trend. But, no, it’s a bet. We haven’t seen yellow gold watches since six to eight years ago in the collection. But, we made them in small quantities and wanted to see the reaction. The good news is that no other watch company is bringing in yellow gold, so we’re the only one to do that in both Geneva [at SIHH 2016] and Basel [at Baselworld 2016].


The Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie


CA: Also, one of the most interesting highlights is the Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel Openworked. What’s the story behind this?
FHB: I have a very important rule in business. No matter what you do in life, if you have been doing the same job for quite some time and you know what you’re doing, most likely you have good ideas as well. If you have an entry-level job, that doesn’t mean you don’t have ideas. So, what I want to give to everyone in the company is an open opportunity to bring ideas on how to do it better.

One of the biggest rewards this year is that skeletonized Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel timepiece. Neither the marketing nor the product department, nor I, asked for that creation. It’s our own watchmakers on their own who decided to assemble the mechanism, to test it out and to see if it would do better than prior editions. I saw that mechanism and asked, “Does it work better than the prior skeleton we had?” They said “Yes.” So, I asked then, “Can we start with the production for it?” “Yes.”

It wasn’t inquired by the company; they did this on their own. When you have the possibility in the company to do that, that’s a good sign. People are not boxed in anymore. You need to keep a little bit of a free spirit to be different, to make a statement. When I came onboard in 2012, some people were leaving the company. We now receive 2,000 resumes a month, and there are only 1,500 people in the company. A lot of people want to come and join Audemars Piguet, because they perceive us as a brand that delivers experiences, crafts and ultimate quality. They want to be part of the team that wins.

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