The New Audemars Piguet Museum Is A Spiral-Shaped Architectural Marvel
Since 2012, Audemars Piguet has been labouring behind the scenes on a massive project that is set to change the landscape of its manufacturing centre in Le Brassus, literally speaking. Designed by architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group, the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet makes a striking contrast against the bucolic setting of the Le Brassus village in the Swiss valley of Vallée de Joux with its unusual spiral-shaped exterior seemingly emerging like a submarine from underground.
Featuring curved glazing supporting a green roof, this modern pavilion integrates seamlessly into its surrounding landscape, with the floors slanting to mimic the natural gradient of the land. This gently sloping feature provides the perfect template for museum designer Atelier Brückner to create “an experience with crescendos, high points and contemplative moment” akin to a musical score.
At its climactic peak is a display of over 300 grand complications that have helped shaped the history of this storied manufacture. The most notable timepiece here is the Universelle pocket watch from 1899, Audemars Piguet’s most complicated watch ever.
The museum is also the new home of its intangible heritage in the form of two specialised workshops: one for grand complications and another for métier d’art where its high jewellery are also created.
Connected to this spiral glass marvel is the historical house where Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet established their watch workshop in 1875. Recently refurbished, it currently houses the register room and its restoration atelier tasked to restore antique timepieces.
To help us gain a better insight into this magnificent ode to history, Tatler Malaysia speaks to its Heritage & Museum director Sébastian Vivas.
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What is the role of Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet?
Our dream is to offer each visitor an unforgettable experience as well as to express the most important facets of our brand— its history, craftsmanship, passion for mechanics and design, its free spirit and, of course, its people—in the most exciting and interesting way. Audemars Piguet’s oldest building is connected to a futuristic spiral-shaped glass pavilion, facing the pristine landscape of the Vallée de Joux. The Musée Atelier is conceived as a living museum with live ateliers at the centre of the spiral to bring visitors in closer contact with our craftspeople.
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What are the highlights of the museum?
The first surprise is the architecture as complex as a grand complication watch. Visitors are first immersed in the origins of the Vallée de Joux. They discover how a network of talented watchmakers transform raw material into masterpieces.
In the following sections, visitors learn about watches’ mechanical hearts and discover some of the manufacture’s most complicated watches. They also see screws so small that they look like dust before experiencing a parallel history of Audemars Piguet and the world. Visitors are then invited to try their hands at some finishing techniques before encountering a collection of over 90 Royal Oak models from 1972 to today.
What do you like most about the spiral-shaped architecture?
This spiral shape is surprising, if not puzzling. Some people see it as a watch part like the hairspring, others say it looks like a snail, a shellfish, a mini golf course. This shape is borne out of a study of the natural and built environment. It emerges from the green soft slopes and plays with the surrounding landscape.
In perfect contrast with our oldest building next door, it symbolises the link between the past and the future.
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What values do you think the museum adds to the watchmaking side?
Shared passion! From the start, we have aimed to create a living space, where the visitors and the watchmakers could meet, discuss, share their passion, their ideas and their know-how.
The two workshops situated in the spiral are dedicated to the inside and the outside of a watch. The most complex movements are created in the Grande Complication workshop, where a watchmaker can dedicate up to eight months to a single watch. The most complex cases are created in the Métiers d’Art workshop, where it takes up to one year to produce one high jewellery watch.
A third workshop is situated at the exact location where Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet started the company in 1875, the restoration watchmakers take care of the historical watches. They perpetuate traditional know-how to make sure that the future generations are able to repair the mechanical marvels made in the Vallée de Joux.
Why is history important?
The past is our foundation. We have to study it, respect it and transmit it to future generations. On the other hand, like our predecessors, the construction of the future is our constant focal point. All our projects, our lives, our energy are about building a better future. In our challenging era, we need to reinvent ourselves every day, based on what we learnt.
Will there also be a display of artworks collected over the years through Audemars Piguet’s art commission programme launched in 2014?
The Musée Atelier will be a fitting exhibition venue for some of the travelling artworks created and lent by our commissioned artists. For the opening, the works of friends of the brand Dan Holdsworth, Quayola and Alexandre Joly will be on display in the peripheral spaces. The artworks by these artists offer creative interpretations of our geographic and cultural origins in the Vallée de Joux.
Audemars Piguet, however, does not collect art. Artists retain full ownership of the commissioned artworks.
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- Images Courtesy of Audemars Piguet