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Touring The Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet: A Tribute To The Swiss Manufacture's Cultural Universe Past

The Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet offers a unique perspective of the Vallée de Joux and of the history of watchmaking—an ambitious architectural and museographical project made possible thanks to the creativity and collaboration of a host of experts, including architects, engineers and local artisans, as well as numerous departments within Audemars Piguet.

Next to the original Audemars Piguet workshop, on the outskirts of the small village of Le Brassus, secluded in a high mountain valley of the Swiss Jura, where Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet set up their workshop in 1875, now stands the new and magnificent Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet, a space of live craft and encounters which entwine contemporary architecture and traditional savior-faire, in an exemplification of the the spirit of visionary workmanship the Manufacture has always championed. 

The Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet–an iconic total work of art of the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and ATELIER BRÜCKNER, the scenography specialist, is scheduled to open its doors on 25 June. A feat of engineering and design, it is the first construction of its kind to be built at such altitude. The curved glazing entirely supports the steel roof, while a brass mesh runs along the external surface to regulate light and temperature. The green roof further helps regulate temperature, while absorbing water.

“The Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet is a unique place of discover, learning and conviviality where knowledge and savior-faire are passed on to the next generation. The technical complexity of its architecture and scenography connects it to the highly complicated movement of a Grand Complication," says Sebastian Vivas, Audemars Piguet’s Heritage and Museum Director. 

In 2014, BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) won the architectural competition Audemars Piguet hosted to expand its historical premises. The firm designed a contemporary spiral-shaped glass pavilion to complement the company’s oldest building, where Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet set their workshop, technically a start-up of the old times, in 1875. This architectural combination symbolises the blend of tradition and forward-thinking at the heart of Audemars Piguet’s craftsmanship while honouring its deep-rooted origins in the Vallée de Joux. BIG’s high-concept spiral, seamlessly rising from the ground, offers a pristine setting for the masterpieces of technicity and design which have taken shape, year after year, in this remote valley of the Swiss Jura Mountains.

A tour around

Traditional workshops, where some of the Manufacture’s most complicated timepieces are still perfected today, have been included in the museum’s spatial experience to bring visitors in close contact with Audemars Piguet’s craftspeople. The Grandes Complications and Métiers d’Art Ateliers, situated at the heart of the spiral, infuse life into the numerous feats of mechanical mastery and design exhibited throughout the museum.

In the light-filled new building, ATELIER BRÜCKNER has incorporated a rhythmically flowing route through the exhibition. It starts in the historic building and, going in a clockwise direction, slopes gently down into the heart of the spiral, after which it rises again on the contrary direction – filled with energy like the springs of a watch. Visitors experience the route as a flowing continuum with a composed narration. Each chapter has its own design language and is introduced by an interlude, a mechanical sculpture, or an artistically designed display item. The showcases are positioned within the architecture precisely. Their appearance changes, depending on the particular part of the narration being provided and the architectonic requirement. Apart from glass, defining materials are brass, bleached ash and glossy black lacquer as a surface coating.

The history of the company serves as a starting point of the narration. A ferrous boulder references the significance of metal for the development of a tradition of craftsmanship in this isolated region. This is followed by a kinetic model that illustrates the geographical location of the village of Le Brassus and its distance away from Geneva, to which the components of highly complex watch mechanisms were delivered from the 17th century onwards. A three-dimensional genealogical tree provides an overview of the Audemars and Piguet families and how families in the Vallée de Joux worked together to make watches.

More than 300 timepieces – each one unique and a superlative exemplar – are shown in the exhibition. A start is made with early works of the watchmaking art, including a pocket watch by Jules Louis Audemars made of 18 carat rose gold, which combines a perpetual eternal calendar with the mechanism of quarter-hour repetition and the independent "jumping" second. The complicated pocket watch by Joseph Piguet, dating from around 1769, is the oldest object of the exhibition and undoubtedly its masterpiece. The items are presented in black showcases that are reminiscent of angular blocks of iron ore.

After the "First Watchmakers", the focus turns to the "Mechanical Heart" of the watches, which is introduced with an artistic sculpture by François Junod and accompanied by mechanical models, which visitors can use to see how individual components interact with each other. The wheel train, the escapement and the balance wheel become visually accessible and comprehensible.

With this knowledge, the visitor now approaches the "Complications" in the heart of the spiral. They are the core feature of the company's brand. The most well-known complications, which have been associated with the name Audemars Piguet since time immemorial, namely "Astronomy", "Chiming" and "Chronograph", are demonstrated by mechanical installations. The larger the number of complications, the more complex the watch mechanism. At the centre of the architecture and the exhibition, there is a single watch that has an incredible 21 complications: the "Universelle" is the most complicated watch that Audemars Piguet has ever created. The unique specimen from the year 1899 has exactly 1168 individual parts. It is presented in a glass sphere, whereby the front and rear are shown as equally valuable views. Eight other watches with Grande Complications are placed around the "Universelle". The design is reminiscent of a solar system with planets rotating around a sun on their orbits. After all, astronomic cycles are what determine the essence of watchmaking. 

 Following the "Complications", there are the "Superlatives" with the thinnest and smallest watches, introduced by the installation "Seeing the Invisible": microscopes designed as telescopes illustrate how unbelievably small and fine the components of a watch are – in some cases as thin as a human hair. In the "Designing Time" area with its suspended showcases and poster  reproductions, the exhibition is dedicated to watches as an expression of their time from the Belle Époque to the 21st century. And finally, individual masterpieces can be seen that make reference to the design process. 

At a workbench, visitors can re-enact the technical and design aspects of this craft as well as the design process. At this moment at the latest, the difficulty of the work that the professional watchmaker does becomes clear. Workshops for "Grandes Complications" and "Métiers d`Art" are integrated with the extended route through the exhibition and can be viewed at any time. The degree of concentration the work requires can be sensed directly; it necessitates craftsmanship of unbelievable precision.

What comes out brilliantly from this tour of the Musee in scenic Swiss territory is how all individuals involved have pushed the limits of their craft to reach new heights, to create a timepiece and a true legacy...  

                           

 

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