Audemars Piguet is one of the increasingly rare watch brands to have celebrated a centenary while continuously being family owned. Founded in 1875 by Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet in the Vallée de Joux, Switzerland, it was officially named Audemars Piguet & Cie in 1881. In 1892, the company produced the world's first minute repeater wristwatch movement and went on to create the first jumping hour wristwatch in 1921. The world's first skeleton watch was produced by the brand in 1934. The second and third generation of company heads were both Audemars and Piguet descendants, with the fourth (and current) generation still involved in the management. The luxury Swiss watchmaker is among the few to remain an independent company with François-Henry Bennahmias as the current CEO. Jasmine Audemars is the company Chair with Olivier Audemars as the Vice Chair.
Audemars Piguet is most recognized today for the Royal Oak collection, launched in 1972 as the first luxury sports watch comprised of stainless steel. With a unique, unprecedented shape and integrated bracelet, famed watch designer Gérald Genta created one of the most iconic sports watches to this day. Contemporary pieces range from tourbillon and minute repeater models to chronographs and traditional time/date steel models, but all share unmistakable traits. The octagonal bezel with exposed screws was inspired by old brass diving helmets and the name “Royal Oak” came from eight ships of Britain’s Royal Navy with the same name (hence the eight-sided bezel). The watch was polarizing when launched at the 1972 Basel fair with such a bold design and high price tag, but it soon became an iconic symbol of the brand itself as collectors and influencers showed great interest. The next generation of the Royal Oak line launched in 1993 to mark the 20th anniversary of the collection. This new Royal Oak Offshore had a larger 42mm case (from 39mm) and continued the massive success of its predecessor.
The brand is also known for ultra-thin pieces with one of the thinnest tourbillon watches in the world produced in 1986 (5.3mm with Calibre 2870). The Royal Oak RD#2 became the thinnest automatic perpetual calendar in 2018 with the new Calibre 5133, which uses a single-level architecture instead of the traditional 3-layer construction. Back in 1946, the company launched the world’s thinnest watch at the time with a movement only 1.64mm thick. Other recent innovations include the first direct-impulse escapement, based on a design from the 18th century. The escape wheel transmits an impulse directly to the balance wheel while it is unlocked /locked by the anchor, eliminating the need for lubrication while increasing the frequency to 6Hz for greater precision. The Royal Oak Carbon Concept introduced a carbon case in 2007. In 2019, the Calibre 4401 was produced as a new in-house, integrated chronograph movement (for the Code 11.59 collection). Before this, most of the brand’s chronograph movements were either outsourced entirely or utilized a module over an existing in-house calibre – with some exceptions, such as the Royal Oak Concept Laptimer Michael Schumacher.
Additional collections beyond the Royal Oak include the aforementioned Code 11.59, Millenary, Jules Audemars, Haute Joaillerie and Classique. Whether a piece features a tourbillon, minute repeater, perpetual calendar or simple time/date combination, Audemars Piguet demonstrates the magnificence of haute horology throughout its entire range. A slogan was introduced in 2012 that truly encapsulates the brand, “To break the rules, you must first master them.”