Audemars Piguet’s legendary manufacture has been based at Le Brassus in the heart of the Vallée de Joux since 1875. They are one of the very few brands that have retained their independence from the larger conglomerates. An Audemars (Jasmine Audemars) and a Piguet (Olivier Audemars, great-grandson of co-founder Edward Auguste Piguet) still serve on the board of directors. The storied brand has a rich history of craftsmanship, ingenuity, and innovation. While AP’s main manufacture is based at Le Brassus, the brand has service centers throughout the world. These service centers provide after-sales service, accessories, and a place for owners to connect with the brand. The US service center is based in Clearwater, FL.
For years, the concept of watch servicing has been a mysterious affair. Many choose to send their watches to a friend that “knows watches” or maybe they choose an independent watchmaker purely due to cost. In recent years, this perception has changed, and the conversation now includes actual watch manufacturers running their own service centers.
This story begins last summer when I acquired a vintage Royal Oak two-day with the day-date and moon phase. The piece hadn’t been serviced for some time, and I wanted to get firsthand knowledge of the servicing process. I was lucky enough to visit the manufacture in Le Brassus last year, and when the opportunity to see the Clearwater facility and see my watch be serviced at the same time came up, I jumped at the chance. After a few conversations, Audemars Piguet was kind enough to let me peek behind the curtains for a few days. So last month, I flew down to Clearwater, Florida to see the magic firsthand, escaping the hustle and bustle of New York for the warm, sunny climate of Clearwater, Florida.
In order to service my watch, I had to get the piece to AP. I was shipped a postage-paid priority overnight box along with detailed re-packing instructions. I placed the protective soft plastic sleeve over the piece, then fit a foam cutout to the inside of the bracelet and inserted the piece into a soft foam container. All of this went inside of a hardened cardboard box that goes inside (you guessed it) another cardboard box. The assembled package is built like a tank. I then dropped the package off at FedEx.
I landed in Florida on an early April morning. The flight was short and I was happy to be in a warmer climate than the arctic paradise I left behind in NYC. The service center was approx. 20 minutes from the airport. When I arrived at the Clearwater facility, I had a chance to sit down and chat with Guillaume, the service center manager. We discussed the servicing process and strategies that AP employs to ensure service standards are met and upheld around the world. Most notably, I learned Audemars Piguet prides themselves on their turnaround times.
Depending on the caliber, the state of the watch, and the work that needs to be performed the typical turnaround time on an in-warranty timepiece, is about three to four weeks. For out of warranty pieces the expected turnaround is about six to eight weeks. For complications, tourbillons, minute repeaters, and extremely vintage pieces the turnaround will obviously be much longer. Considering the amount of craftsmanship that goes into servicing one of their pieces, turnaround times in weeks instead of months is quite impressive.
We took a quick tour of the facility and then we got to work. I documented the process with my Canon EOS M3.
As my timepiece ascended the small elevator from the basement to the estimating room, I couldn’t help but get goosebumps. I was about to be one of the only watch collectors in the world to see their timepiece be serviced by the original manufacturer.
Once the piece arrived into the estimating room, it was received and registered into AP’s global database and a repair file was created. At this point, the client would normally be notified of the safe arrival. Being there in person, we handled this process in person. The next step was an archive consultation; the team in Florida reported the case, movement, and reference numbers to Le Brassus via computer. In return, the local team looked up my timepiece in the system and was able to ascertain the approximate date of manufacture and the country the piece was shipped to. My piece was made in the early eighties and shipped to the German market. For a small fee, customers can request an extract from the archives during their service.
After a round of photographs, the piece hit the estimator’s bench. The estimator’s bench was manned by two AP watchmakers with a wide variety of experience. My piece was carefully taken apart, starting with bracelet removal and then the disassembly of the three-part case.
During the initial diagnosis, the watchmaker checked the functionality and consulted my client notes to determine the course of action for the service. During triage, it was discovered that my timepiece hadn’t been serviced in some time (AP recommends servicing every 4-6 years). As you may know, mechanical timepieces utilize a variety of different lubricants and contain many precision gears and parts that are in constant movement. If not regularly serviced, the lubricants can dry causing friction and wear. Servicing at regular intervals protects against wear and tear and ensures your timepiece will work for more than your lifetime.
Typically, during the estimation process, AP will create an estimate of parts and costs. This will be sent to the owner or boutique for approval. For most standard models, the Audemars Piguet boutiques technical advisors can also provide an immediate quotation as well as some US retailers.
Since I was on-site, we handled everything right at the watchmaker’s bench. I opted for a traditional service and replacement of the dial.
Next up, the estimator drafted a list of potential parts required for my service and sent it to the parts department for fulfillment. Once the parts arrived, they were placed in a clear plastic container and sent to a watchmaker. The case, bezel, and bracelet were packaged separately and sent to the refinishing department.
The main watchmaking floor at AP Clearwater is a sight to be seen. Before entering, guests and employees are required to don shoe booties (to protect from dust and dirt). The watchmaking room resembles more of a clean room than a facility for repairing and servicing luxury timepieces. Each watchmaker has a state of the art workbench and all of the tools they need to do their jobs. The watchmakers are assigned their daily work by their manager and the workload is prioritized by challenge and complications to ensure the watchmaker has a wide variety of different pieces to work on throughout the week.
My watchmaker, Billy Janshon, was assigned my piece earlier in the week. He has been with AP for 15+ years and he was very excited to show me his craft. At a minimum, each AP watchmaker is trained on AP’s base movements. After a few years, the watchmakers are able to take certification classes to expand their knowledge and take on other complications (like chronographs, day-date, moonphase, perpetual calendar, equation of time, tourbillon, minute repeaters, etc.).
Billy began the movement servicing by stripping my 2124-2825 movement down to the base movement (removing the complications). Once the complications were removed, the movement went through a visual inspection and was placed on a timing machine. After close inspection, we saw that the lubricants in the jewels and pallet fork had all but dried up. Additionally, the mainspring barrel was worn, and the watch was keeping poor time. Once Billy was able to diagnose the issue, we did the second round of parts procurement and the remaining movement parts were sent to the ultra-sonic cleaner.
After we had a fully disassembled movement, and all of the right parts to bring it back to life, Billy began the process of re-assembling the movement. Any part that was subject to normal wear and tear (mainspring, mainspring barrel, some gears, screws (if scratched), and seals were replaced. The oscillating weight (aka rotor) was replaced with a newer version with ceramic bearings. The newly reassembled, cleaned, and lubricated movement really began to look like new. Once the movement was back together, Billy gave it an ever so slight flick and the balance spring roared back to life! It was great seeing the heart of my watch beat again.
Getting the movement cleaned, serviced, and operational again is just the start of an AP service. Once the movement was ticking, Billy got to work regulating the escapement to the new balance spring (by hand) and worked to get the timing to spec. Once the movement was beating at the right rate and amplitude we tested for an extended period of time on a timeographer. Once Billy was satisfied with the test results, the hands and dial were put back onto the movement.
The movement will go through a series of further tests before it’s ready to be put back into the watch. For now, let’s head to the refinishing room.
For my piece, we opted for a light refinishing. AP advises that a timepiece’s case, bezel, and bracelet can usually only be refinished up to five times through the watch’s life. (Depending on the thickness of the part and how much material is removed each time)
So for those of you looking to refinish your watch every time, it’s serviced, keep in mind this can reduce the lifespan of your watch. Refinishing is an invasive process that takes metal away in return for restoring the luster of a watch.
The refinishing room at AP Clearwater resembles a jeweler’s lab. I was surrounded by various polishing machines, lapping machines, cleaning equipment, and even a laser welder! Since I opted for a light refinishing, the re-finisher (Rick) began by resurfacing the angles on my bezel. The bezel of the Royal Oak has three different polishes (satin on the front, high polished on the side angle, and a small satin angle where the bezel meets the case). Rick began the tedious process of restoring the bezel angles by putting the bezel into a custom AP clamp and then refinished each angle by hand on a lapping machine.
For me, the most impressive part of the bezel refinishing was the restoration of the satin finish to the top side of the bezel. The bezel was placed in the special clamp and was then run across high grit sandpaper until all of the scratches were removed and the bezel looked like new. Bracelet refinishing is akin to a similar process as the bezel. The satin surfaces are put through a similar refinishing process and the angled edges are sharpened via the lapping machine.
Next up was the case, which was put through a similar process as the bezel. The lapping machine was used to restore the angles, and polishing wheels were used to restore the high polished angle on the backside of the case. A small lathe was used to restore the circular satin finish on the base case (where the logo and serial number reside). One of the more notable textures on the back case is the sandblasted case edges. Rick delicately taped off the edges of the piece and sandblast the remaining metal.
Essentially, every angle, satin finish, and the high polish surface was refinished by hand. Seeing this painstaking process over the course of the week really restored my faith in high watchmaking. The end result was just incredible.
Once the case, bracelet, and bezel were refinished they were put through another cleaning, and then everything was sent back to the watchmaking room after being inspected, reassembled and the case pressure tested.
Reassembly and testing
Once the movement and case/bracelet parts were complete, both the refinishing and watchmaking kits went back to Billy’s bench. Billy carefully placed the movement into a case ring and gasket (sort of a rubber exoskeleton to protect the movement from water infiltration) and began to insert the crown tube, crown, and other gaskets. The movement slid back into the case like a glove and Billy did a final check of the fit and checked for dust under a microscope before placing the crystal on.
Once the movement was snug in the case, the crystal gasket was applied over the crystal and the bezel was fit to the case. Everything was secured by the Royal Oak’s signature case screws torqued to AP specs. The assembled case was given a final visual inspection and placed in a pressure tester to check for water tightness. The finished case passed with flying colors. Finally, the bracelet was attached to the case and sent to QC (quality control).
After my watch was re-assembled, it was sent to AP’s QC department. While the QC department is located right off the main watchmaking floor, not much is known about AP’s QC procedures. The brand keeps their QC processes a tightly guarded secret. While the servicing of my watch took multiple days, the QC process can take up to two weeks. What we do know, is that during QC the watch is tested in multiple positions under a variety of different environmental conditions. QC is the final step in any servicing and after a successful QC test, the watch will be shipped back to the owner or originating boutique.
Audemars Piguet prides itself on its high horology and craftsmanship, and AP’s independent spirit makes all of this possible. While in Florida, I was treated like a member of the AP family. Strapping my newly serviced watch back onto my wrist for the first time in months felt great. I hope this article has helped to lift the veil on the servicing process. If you take anything away from this article, I hope you have a new appreciation for the workmanship that goes into servicing a timepiece. For many collectors, the prospect of servicing their watch many years after the initial purchase may seem like something they never have to think about. Keeping on top of these service intervals can be key in making sure your watch runs for many years to come.
In the past few years, I’ve seen many comments on Instagram and forums about servicing horror stories. I can tell you firsthand that sending your watch in for servicing isn’t something you should bid out to the lowest bidder. Sending your watch back to the brand that manufactured it can bring many benefits. Think of it, if you have a Ferrari, why would you take it to a Chevy dealer for an oil change? The same goes for watch servicing, most brands have access to a full range of parts and highly-trained talent. After taking a watchmaking class while in Florida, I can attest that AP’s training and post-sales service is second to none. If you’re in the Clearwater area, and are an AP owner, stop by for an espresso!
One note on accessories, the AP Clearwater facility stocks a wide range of aftermarket metal, leather, and rubber straps for most of the pieces they’ve sold. Their strap selection software can help you chose the right strap for your piece, and even provide a visual of what the strap would look like. For more information, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on Audemars Piguet servicing, go to https://www.audemarspiguet.com/en/service
For more information on Audemars Piguet servicing, go to https://www.audemarspiguet.com/en/service