Yesterday, ultra-luxury Swiss watch manufacturer Audemars Piguet unveiled its new private exhibition at the Yuz Museum in Shanghai, entitled “To Break the Rules, You Must First Master Them.” In a show that combines the history of watchmaking, artistic flair, and the company’s current collection, Audemars Piguet’s approach to raising brand awareness through a museum exhibition is one that many top luxury brands have been embracing in China.
With a goal of raising the brand’s watches to the status of art with the help of a setting in a renowned museum as a venue, the exhibition is designed with 12 rooms creating a circular journey reflecting the inside of a watch. The rooms include a watchmaking lab area, a history of the birthplace of Audemars Piguet in 1875—the Vallée de Joux—and collections of timepieces through the ages.
Despite 2016 proving a turbulent year for the watch industry within China, Audemars Piguet has seen no decline in global business for the past five years, with the company making a turnover of 800 million Swiss Francs in 2015. CEO François-Henry Bennahmias told Jing Daily ahead of the opening, “our figures are still good, but we remain cautious. However, it is when the going gets tough that there are more opportunities to get ahead of the others and that is what we’re trying to achieve here. We are benefitting from the geographically well-balanced commercial strategy that we have been implementing for years now, and that probably explains why we might not be as impacted by the economic situation in China as some other brands have been.”
Audemars Piguet maintains that it has never put its efforts toward just one country, but its latest exhibition opening in Shanghai is a unique way to raise brand awareness in a market in which it is less well known. “We have to call a spade a spade,” admitted Bennahmias, saying that “in China, we are not that well known yet, and in bringing the exhibition to China, it gives us the opportunity to explain who we are.”
A key part of the company’s global strategy has been to cap production of the watches at 40,000 last year, a plan Audemars Piguet intends to stick to for at least the next five years. The CEO says this is to ensure “exclusivity, innovation, and that each and every watch is made in the right way,” and certainly supports the image of the company as an ultra-luxury and intimate brand that is still owned by its founding families. Olivier Audemars, the great-grandson of Audemars Piguet’s co-founder Edward Auguste Piguet, and member of the board of directors, explains, “We want the history and beautiful tradition to continue. This is art, not just artisans. We want to provoke emotions in people. We want to show people where we come from, and for people to really truly feel what we are all about.”
The exhibition includes the work of Chinese artist Cheng Ran, who was approached by Audemars Piguet to make a piece exclusively for the show. His video work, displayed in one of the 12 rooms, is set in the Vallée de Joux, and transports the audience to a picturesque landscape while displaying a visual journey into the center of the watches.
Bennahmias further explained that the company is not trying to provoke growth, but rather emotions, and is not always pushing to do more in terms of value. “One thing missing from the luxury world in China is emotional luxury—the view that everything you see is real, everything has real heart to it. It is because of this that Audemars Piguet is doing well so far, and that we’re able to create this spectacular exhibition. We’re going to keep working harder to do even better.”