This is a combination of posts that were originally published in April 2009, following my visit to the Audemars Piguet manufacture in Le Brassus.

I visited Basel, Switzerland in March, to attend the 2009 Baselworld show. And because I was already in Switzerland for the show, I decided to visit the Audemars Piguet factory as well. So after my final day in Basel, I took a 3-hour train ride to Geneva. The following morning, I traveled about an hour to the Audemars Piguet factory and headquarters in Le Brassus – located in the Joux Vallée.

(Part I) AP: Forged Carbon Department Tour
This is the first part on my recent tour of the Audemars Piguet factory and museum, in LeBrassus, Switzerland. My tour started in the “forged carbon” department.

First the raw fibers are unrolled, measured and cut. The small strands of carbon are then weighed on a digital scale, where they must be accurate to 1/100th of a gram. If the weight is off, even a hundredth of a gram, the process will not work.

The weighed fibers are sealed in a small, dust-free container and taken to an adjacent room. Here, the carbon fibers are inserted into a metal mold for forging. This is done within a work surface that features a semi-sealed electronic dust filtration system. Dust can easily cause a piece to be rejected, so many steps are taken to prevent this.

(Part II) AP: The CNC Department

Cases, bezels and rotors ready to go to quality control and finishing departments

The second stop on my Audemars Piguet factory tour, was the CNC department. In this department, automated CNC milling machines are used to manufacture cases, bezels, watch hands and more. Most of the machines in this department are controlled by CAD/CAM software, however, some machines are still operated the old-fashioned way, by hand.

AP recently added the capability of making watch hands in-house. (Below are a few shots of the area where watch hands are now made.)

Part of the milling process that still requires the use of hand operated machines

Gold watch hands ready to go to quality control and finishing departments

Machine used for milling watch hands

Drill bits used to mill watch hands on automated CNC machine

Below is a CNC machine used to produce the casebacks for the Royal Oak Offshore. (ROO “Survivor” backs shown).

Royal Oak Offshore caseback in CNC machine

Finished Royal Oak Offshore casebacks

Metal rods for watch cases and bezels

Gold shavings that are left behind after machine milling process

I offered to help clean up these shavings, but my offer was kindly turned down.

(Part III) AP: After Sales Department

AP Grand Sonnerie, with temporary wax protection around bezel, in for service/repair

The third part of my Audemars Piguet factory tour was a visit to the AP after-sales department. This was a very fun department to visit because I could sense a true passion for watchmaking. And because laying on top of the different workbenches, were some of the most complicated timepieces I had ever seen. Grand complications, minute-repeater, quarter-repeaters, tourbillons and more.

Grand Complication pocket watch in for service/repair

Old-Fashioned watchmaking machine

AP- Maintains a digital archive of all watches sold

Pocket watch in protective case, awaiting service/repair

AP- Tourbillon in for repair/service

Watchmaking repair/service/adjustment tools

Minute repeater in for service/repair

Head of After-Sales Department holding document that is provided to all clients after their timepiece leaves AP

AP PR Director and master watchmaker

Fire safe full of old AP parts and unfinished calibres

Box with parts dating back to 1898

One of the master watchmakers

Master watchmaker hard at work

Parts bin for timepiece that was being repaired

(Part IV) AP: Museum tour with Martin Werhli
The final stop on my Audemars Piguet tour was the AP museum. The museum is housed in the old building where Audemars Piguet was founded in 1875. It is one of the most popular horological museums among serious collector’s, because the collection is so far-ranging, that almost every important complication is on display.

Audemars Piguet T3

To show me around was AP Museum Director & Curator, Martin Werhli. During the tour we went room to room, viewing every piece of this truly amazing collection. Each room and each piece with its own story. Martin explained the historic and chronometric importance of every timepiece in the collection, whether it was the world’s smallest minute repeater or the first ever Royal Oak Offshore. Telling a story of rich watchmaking tradition, that began 250 years ago in the heart of fine swiss watchmaking – the Vallée de Joux.

Audemars Piguet Ultra-Thin Tourbillon

Audemars Piguet Museum

Audemars Piguet- Classic timepiece

Photo Credit: Audemars Piguet “Inside Museum”

World’s Smallest Minute-Repeater

World’s Smallest Minute-Repeater

Photo Credit: Audemars Piguet “Inside Museum”

World’s Smallest Minute-Repeater

World’s Smallest Minute-Repeater

I would like to say “thank you” to Juliane Gauthier, Martin Wehrli, Michel Golay, Sylvie Morselli and the entire staff of Audemars Piguet for their courtesy, kindness, hospitality and assistance in making this amazing tour possible. Spending an entire day learning about a brand that dates back to the late 1800’s was an unforgettable experience.

Jason Pitsch
Posted by:Jason Pitsch

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