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Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet takes visitors on a journey through the cultural legacy of the Swiss manufacturer

Audrey Simon
Audrey Simon • 7 min read
Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet takes visitors on a journey through the cultural legacy of the Swiss manufacturer
The museum designed by Bjarke Ingels Group marries the original workshop founded in 1875 with a contemporary all-glass structure
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A two-storey high sculpture of the March Hare graces the entrance of the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet in the Vallée de Joux. Several more iterations of this beloved character can be found inside the museum.

While it may seem an unusual juxtaposition, there is a curious synergy. In Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the association between the March Hare and time arises from the character’s perpetual living in March. Carroll utilises the notion of being trapped in a specific moment to express Wonderland’s surreal and dreamlike nature. This element further underscores the theme that time in Wonderland deviates from the real world.

This epitomises the essence of Audemars Piguet. A notable instance is the introduction of the inaugural Royal Oak timepiece around 50 years ago, which stirred the industry. The Royal Oak’s unique and unconventional design, marked by its octagonal shape, integrated bracelet and exposed screws, deviated from the more customary luxury watch aesthetics.

In an era dominated by timepieces crafted from precious metals like gold, the use of stainless steel was unconventional. However, perceptions evolved over the years as collectors recognised and valued its unique and attention-grabbing design, propelling it to become one of the most coveted timepieces.

See also: Wearable artistry

These are exactly the historical reasons why it was a privilege for the international media to visit the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet to trace the rise of the brand. The museum is designed by BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), which harmoniously brings together the original workshop, founded by Audemars Piguet’s visionaries in 1875, and a contemporary all-glass structure comprising two spirals seamlessly blending into the natural surroundings. 

To provide visitors with a diverse and engaging experience featuring crescendos, high points and contemplative moments, the German museum designer Atelier Bröckner conceived the exhibition as a musical score. Interludes, which include sculptures, automata, kinetic installations and mock-ups of intricate mechanical movements, breathe life and rhythm into various facets of horological technique and design. 

See also: Time’s treasure trove

Guests are encouraged to explore some of Audemars Piguet’s finishing experts’ old techniques, such as satin brushing and circular graining. The journey reaches its pinnacle at the centre of the spiral, where the display of Grandes Complications awaits. Check out and be mesmerised by the most complicated watch ever produced by Audemars Piguet, the Universelle (1899) pocket watch that contains more than 20 complications and 1,168 components for its movement. 

Natural beauty

We also viewed the Métiers d’Art, where Haute Joaillerie creations are conceived and crafted by highly skilled jewellers, gem-setters and engravers. This is where we saw the diamond-festooned Diamond Outrage timepiece. This avant-garde design is characterised by spiky cones reminiscent of an ice formation. The high-end creation evokes a sense of natural beauty and crystalline structures. 

As we strolled through the museum, our admiration for the brand grew as exhibits, historical insights and interactive displays guided us. We immersed ourselves in the history of watchmaking, tracing the evolution of timepieces from the past to the present.

For collectors, the craftsmanship, personal style, emotional resonance and historical importance of Audemars Piguet’s creations are truly noteworthy. Meanwhile, enthusiasts of vintage artistic appeal, especially those fond of old print advertisements, will likely find joy in viewing some old print advertisements.

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Later in our visit, product expert Emilia Marki looked closely at some of the watches, beginning with the Code 11.59 collection with a new 38mm case size. The design teams reimagined the proportions of the intricate three-part case for wearers with slimmer wrists. The timepiece is housed in an 18-carat pink gold case, adorned with an embossed dial in either purple or ivory. The watch runs on a self-winding movement, Calibre 5900, introduced in 2022. 

The other timepiece we saw was the Royal Oak Selfwinding series, which comes in 34mm and 37mm sizes. These timepieces boast a glittering array of brilliant-cut diamonds, ranging from 0.5mm to 2.2mm in diameter, skillfully set using the artisanal technique of snow setting — a ground-breaking feat within the Royal Oak collection.

The 34mm models mark the debut of fully gem-set timepieces in this diameter. The 34mm watch features 2,255 brilliant-cut diamonds, equivalent to approximately 6.6 carats, while their 37mm watches have 2,123 brilliant-cut stones, totalling around 7.2 carats. Each diamond adheres to the manufacturer’s stringent clarity, cut and colour standards.

The artistry of the gem setter is evident in the snow setting, where diamonds of varying sizes are thoughtfully chosen and placed on the dial, bezel, case and every bracelet link and stud.

This results in an irregular yet harmonious shimmering design. It resembles a mosaic of interlocking diamonds reminiscent of freshly fallen snowflakes catching the light. The individual crafting of each claw ensures a perfect fit for its dedicated diamond, while the careful arrangement of stones makes the gold components nearly unnoticeable to the eye.

We wish we had more time to fully appreciate the rich legacy spanning over two centuries, featuring an impressive collection of over 300 watches. Among these timepieces are remarkable feats of complication, masterful miniaturisation and unconventional designs. These extraordinary watches tell the tale of humble artisans from the nineteenth century residing in an isolated valley in the Swiss Jura. Their creations captured the attention of metropolitan clients abroad and persisted in enchanting watch enthusiasts worldwide to this day.

Historical landmark

Mentally and physically overwhelmed by the beauty of watchmaking history at the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet, we were glad to spend the night at Hôtel des Horlogers. In 2003, Audemars Piguet purchased and refurbished this historical landmark, which opened its doors to a new generation of visitors in 2005 under the name of the Hôtel des Horlogers. 

Then, willing to embark on a project more aligned with the brand’s values and evolving ecological norms, Audemars Piguet closed the hotel in 2016 to rethink its concept. The first stone of the new project was laid on June 4, 2018, and a few months later, it was awarded the Leisure Led Development Future Project Award at the World Architecture Festival.

This hotel, designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and realised by the Swiss architecture office CCHE, has an avant-garde architecture that mirrors the Vallée de Joux’s topography with its zig zag slabs that descend into the meadows. With floor-to-ceiling glass windows, we saw nothing but miles of greenery in front of us, with a few cows with no care in the world grazing in the meadows. This is all part of the design plan, where visitors are immersed in the natural environment of the Vallée de Joux. 

The modern lobby inside showcases clean lines and a sophisticated design, previewing the building’s more organic and rustic architectural features. An interior passageway mirrors the hotel’s distinctive zigzagging structure, seamlessly connecting the 50 rooms, ranging from the Valley Guest Room to the Signature Suite.

The gathering space

Conceived as a gathering place for locals, tourists seeking green spaces, watch and architecture enthusiasts and watchmaking brands, the Hôtel des Horlogers invites everyone to savour the moment and reconnect with nature. The hotel features two restaurants, a bar open to all, two seminar rooms and a wellness centre. For those dealing with jet lag, we recommend using the wellness centre and treating yourself to a relaxing massage at Le Spa by Alpeor.

Suitably kneaded, treat yourself to a feast at any of the three establishments that three-Michelin-starred French Chef Emmanuel Renaut curates. Begin your gastronomic journey at the Bar des Horlogers, offering an à la carte menu alongside signature cocktails crafted from botanicals sourced from the Risoud Forest. The Le Gogant offers a sophisticated and extensive menu, or experience La Table des Horlogers, a gourmet restaurant that showcases a daily tasting menu for a memorable exploration of culinary sensations.

The distinguished Boutique hotel, Certified Minergie-ECO, stands as a pinnacle of sustainability with a comprehensive approach that spans from its initial construction to day-to-day operations, effectively minimising its environmental footprint. Designed as a link for local and international enthusiasts of watchmaking, architecture and nature, the Hôtel des Horlogers actively promotes tourism in the Vallée de Joux. 

The avant-garde pavilion — inaugurated in 2020 — has already clinched nine awards, notably securing the Best Architecture Award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 2021. This recognition underscores its commitment to excellence in both sustainability and architectural innovation. 

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