This year, Audemars Piguet has presented one of its most complete collections ever. With the latest novelties bursting with colour and contrast, vibrant with new ideas, material combinations and design features. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Royal Oak Offshore, they issued a re-edition inspired by the 1993 model, incorporating all the knowledge and techniques of 2018 while remaining faithful to the timeless design of the original. The Royal Oak Offshore collection appeared as a larger, more rugged sibling of the Royal Oak in 1993. Since then, it has won a solid global fan base and has become a platform for innovation, constantly evolving into many different versions.
That’s not all, as Audemars Piguet has a superb concept watch, the RD#2, the thinnest perpetual calendar ever made, at a staggering 6.30mm thick, together with of course, many more watches. But the best way to introduce these novelties to you is to let François-Henry share his enthusiasm in our exclusive interview with him.
François-Henry Bennahmias was born in Paris where he began his career in professional sports. Ranked as number 25 on the French golf tour, he developed a keen instinct for the challenge, adventure and bold drive for excellence that marks a true champion and the highest level of perfection in any craft. Realising he needed to pursue a new challenge, he took the decision to refine his experience in the luxury fashion industry, where he worked for brands including Giorgio Armani, Gianfranco Ferré, Les Copains, Reporter, Peter Hadley and Vilebrequin, before starting his career at Audemars Piguet and Haute Horlogerie in 1994, becoming CEO in 2012.
When you took the helm of Audemars Piguet in 2012, what did you find and where is the company today?
I found a lot of things, the good and the bad! I made a few decisions without making too many changes, just important ones, focusing on what we did well. Fast forward six years and the company is in its best shape ever, breaking record after record every year. We are not increasing production from the current 40,000, and don’t plan to for 2018 and 2019, yet look to make an increase in 2020. So overall, I believe the company is in better shape, but we have not changed the DNA, our values, or what we stand for, instead we are just doing it better.
How are you adapting for today’s customer?
We are learning every day, and more so now as we have more stores and direct points of communication with our customers, allowing plenty of interaction. It is less about adapting, but more about learning how our customers differ worldwide.
As luxury becomes massified, how do you see the direction of luxury watch making?
We take Audemars Piguet in the opposite direction, as true luxury is exclusivity and scarcity. Our production is capped at 40,000 and we could easily sell over and above this, but instead we stand by our word and when we do increase it will be by small increments, taking it slowly to ensure the success we have today stays and remains and we continue our exclusivity.
Can a younger clientele enjoy luxury, and how do you connect with a younger market?
I just recently met a younger consumer wearing an Audemars Piguet watch, and if at that stage they are the fan of the brand it is great for us as they will stay a customer for many years in the future, (if we don’t make any mistakes). The good news is that we know our clients are getting younger. I see more and more younger clients in our stores and at events.
What are your biggest challenges this year?
Keeping momentum going, pushing people far in terms of training. Like sportsman, the key is continual training. You train, you win, and then the following day you go back to training. We need to avoid arrogance, because as good as you are, you need to work even harder to remain at the top.
What is the key to balancing innovation and history in your watches?
Sometimes by using it and sometimes by completely forgetting about it. A good example is the RD#2 where a new technique had to be designed as nothing could be used from history. This technique will now open more doors in high end watchmaking for many years to come, it’s a new era.
Tell us about how you use your sports background in business?
There are a lot of things that apply in both the sports and business world. As good as you are, you have to work, train, and learn every day to become better. When you think about sports alone athletes have changed the way they eat, recover, and train completely, and this evolution will filter into business in the form of food particularly, because it has such an impact on your efficiency. Also, you can look at business like a team sport, it is the addition of the different talents and the way that they are willing to play together. I don’t want just individuals and the best technicians, I look for leaders and team players.
Why did you choose golf as the sport to support with Audemars Piguet?
Golf is the only sport that you can bring clients to and allow them to be actors instead of just spectators. In golf you can win and beat a champion because of the handicap system, something that isn’t possible on a basketball court or racing track. Golf is also a sport that is played by many people around the planet.
How do you select your team of ambassadors?
I like to meet them, understand what is behind them, and believe that they are good people with a good personality. I want a great character with the right attitude. It is important that our ambassadors behave well with everyone, not just me.
What are your top achieving markets at the moment?
The United States.
How about your performance in the Middle East?
We again had an outstanding year, and in Dubai we sold 180 watches in one month alone.
To what extent do you think it is important for a brand to be disruptive?
You don’t want to actually be everywhere, and maybe we should be careful and make ourselves a little more discreet. So being disruptive could be to stop advertising for a year, which some very important brands do, and it doesn’t stop them being successful.
The Royal Oak is fundamental for Audemars Piguet, and you are marking its 25-year anniversary. Tell us about its evolution?
I can sum this up in one sentence quoting Muhammad Ali, ‘The best is yet to come’.