Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet: Glass spiral into the heart of time

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Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet is a unique institution bringing together the tradition and the avantgarde that is Audemars Piguet. The museum in Le Brassus, in the Swiss Alps, is a keeper of the manufacturer’s history, present and future

The glass pavilion spiraling under the dark night sky sprinkled with stars looks like a spaceship that landed on the grassy green expanse, just outside the dense pine wood. You’d be shocked to see how well the avantgarde building blends in with the bucolic surroundings of the Swiss Jura and Vallée de Joux, the cradle of Swiss watchmaking, and the home – in the village of Le Brassus – the atelier Audemars Piguet.

Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet Dron 01
The museum of 2500 square meters was built in a form of watch spring that inspired architect Bjarke Ingels

Peek into the peculiar history of the Swiss clock valley

Nestled in the valley some sixty kilometers from Geneva, Le Brassus is home to just over 1300 people – most of them farmers, vintners, or, as fate would have it, luxury watch makers. Their newest point of pride, the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet, rises from the ground like a bridge between the old and the new – the two very old two-story houses in which Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet opened what today would be dubbed a clock-making start-up in 1875.

The very new museum allows visitors to peek into the peculiar history of the Swiss clock valley and admire the masterpieces created by modest artisans who conquered the world. The heart of the spiral houses the 900 square meters of exhibition space, divided into two ateliers. The first, Grande Complication, is dedicated solely to the very demanding – complicated – watches whose fabrication takes up to eight months, some of them counting as many as 650 parts.

The manufacture is honoring the opening of the museum in their specific way, with creation of the new version of the 1943 chronograph, made only in 307 units

The star of this pavilion is the 1989 Universelle pocket watch, the most complicated watch Audemars Piguet have ever made, with 1158 components and 21 functions. The other atelier, Metiers d’Art, is the place where precious stones meet precious watches. The 300 models on permanent exhibition, many of them unique, have been crafted using the many skills master watchmakers learn during a lifetime – the skills that have crafted the past, present and future of Audemars Piguet. Visitors can reserve tours online and observe the masters as their work, through glass.

Audemars Piguet pocket watch No. 6142, called the 'Universelle'
Audemars Piguet pocket watch No. 6142, called the ‘Universelle’

‘In watchmaking, a lot of the disciplines are what you could call getting the maximum amount of impact with a minimum amount of material. Watchmaking like architecture is the art and science of imbuing metals and minerals with energy, movement, intelligence and measure to bring them to life in the form of telling time’, says Bjarke Ingels, the Danish architect whose studio BIG designed the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet.

In their fifteen years of activity, BIG has opened offices in Kopenhagen, New York, Barcelona and London, and designed a building for Google’s North Bayshore campus. For the museum in Le Brassus, they cooperated with Swiss architects at CCHE, award winning studio renowned for sustainable projects and socially responsible architecture. BIG and CCHE are working on another project for Audemars Piguet, adhering to the same principles of efficiency, sustainability and quality: the luxury Hotel des Horlogers should stretch across 7000 square meters, and be opened in summer 2021.

Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet Inside View 01
The main room of the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet in Le Brassus

Audemars Piguet Heritage Department

Ingels says his vision very much differed from the Swiss architecture in the Jura mountains. ‘Swiss building rules, to say the least, are very strict. I was told a building here must resemble other buildings, meaning to have a double sided angled roof’, he revealed at the preview of the project, built in the form of a watch spring, his obvious inspiration. The walls of the glass pavilion have a thickness of 12cm, enough to support the 470-tonne steel structure. The brass mesh that stretches around the outer wall doesn’t stand in the way of the view, but regulates the levels of light and heat in the museum. The roof provides additional temperature regulation, as it has water absorption abilities, is covered in snow in winter, and grass during summer.

Unlike the modern glass spiral, the old, historical building is sturdy and solid, made in wood and stone. Gentlemen Audemars and Piguet set up their manufacture on the top floor of that building, as it abounded in light. The restoration of that building erected in 1868 brought together many local craftsmen, who consulted the Audemars Piguet Heritage Department. Their joint efforts allowed all original woodwork to be restored, and the building now houses the archive of the Heritage Department, the Audemars Piguet Foundation and the restoration atelier, where highly specialized watchmakers repair and restore antique watches.

[Re]master01 Selfwinding Chronograph
Audemars Piguet [Re]master01 Selfwinding Chronograph
The Audemars Piguet Foundation is dedicated to preservation and restoration of biodiversity, protection of woodlands and protection of environment in Switzerland and abroad. The foundation is planning to plant a tree, snowy mespilus (Amelancher rotundifolia) in the heart of the glass atrium of the museum as a symbol of their work, and after two years transplant outdoors, as part of a local preservation project.

Head of the foundation is Ms. Jasmine Audemars, chairwoman of the board of directors of Audemars Piguet and daughter of Jacques-Louis Piguet, who set up the foundation in 1992. The manufacture is honoring the opening of the museum in their specific way, with creation of the new version of the 1943 chronograph, made only in 307 units. The (Re)master01 will be part of the limited edition series counting 500 units and will in every aspect evoke its lustrous predecessor.

Text Dubravka Tomeković Aralica

Photos & video Iwan Baan & Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet

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