If the Valle de Joux is the cradle of Swiss watchmaking, then the headquarters of Audemars Piguet, the last of the valley’s great brands that is still in the hands of its founding families, brings those traditions to tangible, vivid life. And if you are interested in learning about the creation of the brand’s extraordinary Grande Complications watches—which is why I have come here, to the small town of Le Braussus—the Audemars Piguet Museum and Restoration Workshop are crucial sites of passage.
The museum is in the same building where Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet, both members of watchmaking families, formed their partnership in 1875 and opened their workshop. The several hundred watches here, dating back over 200 years, come from the Audemars Piguet collection. In them, you can see the evolution of the maison from a small partnership to a brand renowned for innovative design and technological prowess—whether it be the pocket watches Audemars and Piguet made before they became partners or their earliest Grande Complications, watches that feature a perpetual calendar, a minute repeater and a split-second chronograph.
All these complications are technological marvels, but my favorite is the minute repeater, which was incorporated into the first watches Audemars and Piguet made. The sounds made by these minute repeaters are so crystal clear; they feel almost ecclesiastic. A minute repeater watch requires a unique melody for every minute of a 12-hour cycle—720 different musical patterns, all emanating from the body of a pocketwatch or wristwatch.
The Restoration Workshop is where two of the brand’s finest watchmakers, Francisco and Angelo, restore and maintain historic watches. Audemars Piguet crafts its timepieces to last for generations, but here, in this L-shaped room with long work benches and abundant natural light—a boon for the watchmakers—owners can have historic watches returned to their original glory.
Infused with a sense of history, Francisco and Angelo are deeply humble men. “With each watch, I learn something from the watchmakers before me,” Angelo told me. The two restore not only Audemars Piguet creations, but also watches from other makers in the Vallee du Joux that are no longer in business. If a watch needs a new part, Francisco and Angelo will make it from scratch, along with additional components for future use, often utilizing traditional tools. A large cabinet that occupies one wall is filled with small, meticulously labeled wooden and cardboard boxes; they contain parts made for a variety of complex watches and calibers that have been worked on at the Restoration Workshop over the decades. “These watches,” Angelo says, “are a window into the people who made them.”
As he says it, I realize that just as every watch tells the time and, often, other useful information, it also tells a story, a narrative of technological advancement infused with human artistry. The watches kept at Audemars Piguet’s headquarters are scientific instruments. But they are also a labor of love.
Richard Bradley is Chief Content Officer at Worth. This is part two of a four-part series.