Tracing the History and Innovations of Audemars Piguet

exciting timepieces

Few watchmakers have impacted the world of horology as permanently as Audemars Piguet. Founded in 1875 in the Swiss village of Le Brassus, the company remains to this day an institution and a legacy that prides itself on ancestral expertise and a drive for innovation.

This article will explore the evolution of a brand that isn’t afraid to break the rules – but only after mastering them first.


Founded in Le Brassus, a small village within the Vallee de Joux region of Switzerland, Audemars Piguet (pronounced “oh-duh-mahr Pee-geh”) is a unique manufacturer because it’s still family-owned. This watchmaking heritage provides a foundation that is the catalyst for innovation, and few companies have had as much of an impact on horology as Audemars Piguet.

The brand’s history is full of milestones. Audemars Piguet produced the first minute repeater wristwatch in 1892, the first skeletonized pocket watch in 1934 and even the world’s thinnest wristwatch in 1946. But it was the 1972 release of the Royal Oak that would forever carve Audemars Piguet’s name into the hallowed halls of horology.

As the Quartz movement threatened to displace traditional mechanical movements, Audemars Piguet commissioned legendary designer Gerald Genta to come up with something bold, modern, and never before seen. The result was the Royal Oak, and it revolutionized the way people looked at luxury watches.

While many people think that the name of the brand is simply a combination of Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet’s first and last names, it actually references the friendship between the two men. The pair met as childhood friends, but their professional paths diverged until the early 1870s when they reconnected and began creating mechanical timepieces together in Le Brassus.

The pair’s combined efforts led to numerous technical breakthroughs such as the development of a grand complication pocket watch in 1899 which featured a minute repeater, alarm, perpetual calendar and split-seconds chronograph among other innovations. This was followed by the creation of the first-ever minute repeater wristwatch which drew the attention of the global media.

Even today, Audemars Piguet strives to break the mold and create new and exciting timepieces. Their research and development facilities are filled with the latest tools to push the boundaries of what’s possible in the realm of haute horology. They also work to promote and empower young minds around the world, knowing that the future lies in their hands. By providing scholarships and partnering with institutions, the brand ensures that opportunities are available to all, regardless of socioeconomic status.

The Royal Oak

Audemars Piguet’s storied legacy of innovation — from extra-thin movements to refined aesthetics — is a key component of the brand’s appeal. Its pioneering spirit has led to countless firsts, many of them achieved at the same time when others were playing it safe.

This esprit de boldness was never more evident than in the 1970’s when traditional watchmakers were facing the impact of the Quartz Crisis. Audemars Piguet’s managing director, Georges Golay, asked Gerald Genta to design a stainless steel sports watch that would redefine horological tradition. Genta drew up the Royal Oak sketch in one night, drawing inspiration from a range of sources, including the diving helmet he remembered from childhood.

Launched in 1972, the Royal Oak was a revolutionary model for its time. Its tough armour was crafted from stainless steel, an unconventional material for haute horlogerie and much more difficult to work than gold. The design’s angular, geometric lines were a bold departure from the classic round cases of the day, a look that became a signature of the watch.

As the Royal Oak grew in popularity, it began appearing on the wrists of some of the world’s most influential people. Its avant-garde style also helped attract a younger generation of fans.

To this day, the Royal Oak remains a benchmark of Audemars Piguet’s technical and artistic mastery. It is the perfect embodiment of a watch that transcends eras and trends, while keeping true to its deep-rooted values.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this iconic design, the brand has reimagined the Royal Oak to mark a new chapter in its story. Its 2022 offering brings it to a whole new creative dimension, with refined and ergonomic aesthetics as well as latest-generation movements. Whether in precious metal or ceramic, this collection offers a variety of ways to appreciate the Royal Oak’s legacy and explore its future. This is a testament to how the brand’s innovation continues to thrive and push beyond the limits of what was thought possible. This is the spirit that has always guided Audemars Piguet and will continue to drive it into the future.

The Calibres

In a world where precision and beauty intertwine, Audemars Piguet has set itself apart. The brand, the only traditional Swiss watchmaker still family-owned 140 years after its founding in 1875 in Le Brassus, Vallee de Joux, combines an inimitable combination of expertise and passion that pushes boundaries.

The brand’s namesake comes from the union of two childhood friends, Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet. Having drifted apart in their early teens, they would re-connect in the Vallee de Joux and establish their namesake company. The founders brought their expertise from generations of families that had worked in the region for centuries. Audemars took charge of the technical management, while Piguet focused on the commercial activities.

With their combined expertise and vision, they crafted movements with an ingenuity that is unparalleled. Their in-house calibers are a symphony of gears, levers and springs that orchestrate the intricate dance of timekeeping. The meticulous attention to detail exemplifies the passion of master artisans and engineers who are constantly seeking ways to push the envelope of horological artistry.

This commitment to pushing the envelope also extends to the use of materials. From lustrous precious metals to innovative ceramic, Audemars Piguet uses only the finest quality materials for their mechanical masterpieces.

The company’s artisanal approach is visible throughout the museum-like space that houses their workshop. The Musee Atelier is a unique experience that enables museumgoers to step into the world of the master craftsmen, who create their mechanical marvels. It’s a place where the history of watchmaking and its innovations come to life, transforming museumgoers into explorers of this remarkable art.

After establishing themselves as pioneers of new complications in the 1990s, Audemars Piguet continues to develop out-of-the-box watches that combine heritage, innovation and creative designs. The Millenary collection, whose design drew inspiration from the Colosseum in Rome, was an example of this creative thinking and out-of-the-box designing. During this decade, the brand also increased its collaborations with jewelry and watch retailers around the globe, from Bulgari in Rome and Cartier in Paris to Tiffany & Co in New York. These exclusive partnerships helped build the brand’s reputation among affluent customers, which would serve it well in future economic hardships.

The Movements

The movement is the heart of a watch. It is a meticulously crafted symphony of gears, levers and springs, orchestrated by master artisans with a keen eye for precision and passion to push the boundaries of watchmaking. Audemars Piguet develops its own in-house calibers, but it also produces movements for watchmakers around the world who lack the in-house expertise to realize their horological vision.

Audemars Piguet has long placed a premium on innovation in movement making. The first truly thin manually wound movements in wristwatches were created by the brand in 1938, when it introduced its 9ML calibre, a petite 1.64mm in height. It was the slimmest movement available at the time and was used in both jump hour watches and minute repeaters, which rely on internal hammers and a slide-piece to produce chimes that indicate the exact hour, minute, and quarter on demand.

As a result of its innovative movements, the company became a favorite amongst jewelry and watch retailers across the West. These partnerships allowed Audemars Piguet to reach new markets while securing loyal, wealthy clients, a reputation that would prove beneficial during the second worldwide calamity of 1939.

After the ravages of war, the company resumed production of highly complex pocket watches and introduced its first automatic perpetual calendar chronographs. In the ’60s, Audemars Piguet took another bold step forward when it clad the Royal Oak in stainless steel, an unconventional material for Haute Horlogerie at the time. The new cases and bracelets exhibited refined decorations and alternating satin-brushed and hand-polished finishing, establishing the Royal Oak as a distinctive style icon.

A decade later, Audemars Piguet began developing out-of-the-box designs to mark the third millennium of watchmaking, starting with a series called Star Wheel that paid tribute to wandering hour complications from the 1700s. Next came the Millenary collection, which was launched in 1995 and is characterized by its elliptical case, decentralized dial, and smooth, skeletonized movement.