By staging exhibitions around the world, Audemars Piguet has found the perfect way to showcase the connection between art and watchmaking.

Since 2013, Audemars Piguet has been active in the world of art, having formed a successful partnership with Art Basel, an international art fair that has three shows a year in Hong Kong, Basel and Miami. This annual contemporary art show has proven to be the perfect platform for Audemars Piguet to showcase its pioneering spirit in the world of art and watchmaking by inviting artists to interpret its heritage and origin. At every Art Basel, Audemars Piguet’s aim is to give visitors a rare insight into the birthplace of Audemars Piguet in Le Brassus in the Swiss Vallée de Joux.

Tim Sayler, Audemars Piguet chief marketing officer, explains: “We wanted a serious engagement in the art world and when we became a part of Art Basel, we had a platform and a context where we could present our watches as cultural objects, because that’s what they are.”

He explains that when a person buys an Audemars Piguet watch, it goes beyond the functions — it is all about emotion and beauty. To bring this point across, Audemars Piguet works with various talented artists. Options recalls that for Art Basel Hong Kong 2013, Audemars Piguet commissioned renowned British photographer Dan Holdsworth to produce images after spending time in the Vallée de Joux, absorbing the beautiful and raw nature of the place. The results were amazing photographs of the forest and its many rock formations at various times during the day as well as through the four seasons.

In the 2014 instalment of Art Basel, in Hong Kong and Miami, award-winning designer Mathieu Lehanneur created a three-dimensional installation art piece based on what inspired him in the Vallée de Joux. Using resin and fibre moulding, Lehanneur reproduced the rock formations found in the isolated valley — he called his design concept Mineral Lab.

Besides static displays, Audemars Piguet also showcases other art forms such as sound. To do this for the 2015 Art Basel in Hong Kong, Basel and Miami, Alexandre Joly was commissioned to provide sound and visual art. Joly did a remarkable job of capturing the natural sounds By staging exhibitions around the world, Audemars Piguet has found the perfect way to showcase the connection between art and watchmaking The art of time Sayler: This is the biggest exhibition the brand has ever done in its history from the valley as well as the industrial sounds and images of timepieces during the manufacturing process.

Encouraged by such past collaborations, this year, Audemars Piguet developed one of its most ambitious projects yet. From Oct 27 to Nov 14, it unveiled a new exhibition titled To Break the Rules, You Must First Master Them at the Yuz Museum in Shanghai. This is the core philosophy the brand lives by. The exhibition successfully captured the brand’s pioneering spirit in the world of contemporary art and watchmaking.

“This is the biggest exhibition the brand has ever done in its history and it’s really a complete brand exhibition,” says Sayler. “It tells the entire history of the brand — right from its foundation, with all the [watch] creations and unique spirit of the brand. All these are developed together with designers and contemporary artists.” The end result, as Sayler describes it, is “beautiful” and “stunning” as more than 200 watches from private collections were on show, along with art works by three contemporary artists.

Conceived by Lehanneur, this exhibition once again features the photography of Holdsworth and the sounds of Joly, but with the addition of Chinese artist Cheng Ran. Cheng, who also spent time in the Vallée de Joux, created a video titled Circadian Rhythm that was inspired by the sounds of nature as well as that of the timepieces. Cheng was able to capture the sounds of a mechanical watch and match them with images of the Jura Mountains and the intricate inner workings of an Audemars Piguet timepiece.

This exhibition is a stunning architectural installation in the form of a large-scale ring with a copper finish that measures 30m in diameter. The exhibition space is structured around a rock that was created by casting replicas of the rocks found in the Vallée de Joux. Around it, there are 12 doors, each revealing a story about Audemars Piguet — from its origins to the 21st century, from watchmaking to contemporary art, from the Vallée de Joux to Shanghai.

On display are 200 historical and contemporary timepieces showcased in 12 rooms within the ring, curated by Audemars Piguet museum director Sébastian Vivas. This is the largest collection of Audemars Piguet timepieces ever to be shown outside of the museum. The exhibition also explores a selection of horological arts and crafts that the brand has mastered over the centuries.

“It is a very interactive exhibition where we even have a room where you can try [watchmaking] techniques such as decoration and finishing. There are 12 rooms; it’s a bit like a watch face, and each room offers a different chapter of the story. There are rooms where you have watches on show, rooms screening movies, rooms with art pieces... It’s a very diverse, dynamic and interactive experience,” says Sayler.

Such an experience can only be achieved at a location that is able to provide such a space; The Yuz Museum in Shanghai used to be an airplane hangar. As this is a travelling exhibition, finding the right location may prove to be a challenge. In 2017, the exhibition will be in Dubai. Sayler will be spending the next few months scouting for a location that is big enough to hold an exhibition of this scale. Apart from that, he is also planning other marketing events for the coming year.

It looks like Sayler has his work cut out for him. He says: “We started the exhibition in China but it’s not an exhibition we made exclusively for the Chinese market. It’s a complete brand show and, as such, we absolutely want it to travel around the world. The next stop for next year is Dubai. It’s going to be a lot of scouting around for venues. It’s not always going to be held in a museum because not all cities have such spaces in their museums. It needs to be the quality of the space; it needs to fit visually, aesthetically; and it needs to be accessible.”

After Dubai, Sayler says he is looking at the Americas as he wants to bring the exhibition to as many countries as possible. He is also considering launching one big show a year. That will take time, he says, as these are not weekend events but will instead last two to three weeks.

There is much to look forward to from Audemars Piguet as the independent watch brand is clearly keen to share with the world the connection between art and watchmaking.

 This article appeared in the Options of Issue 757 (Dec 5) of The Edge Singapore.