JASMINE AUDEMARS, CHAIRWOMAN OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS AND OLIVIER AUDEMARS, VICE CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD AT AUDEMARS PIGUET SHARE THEIR PASSION FOR INNOVATION AND TRADITIONAL FAMILY VALUES.
Jasmine and Olivier Audemars were both born into families of watchmaking. Their grandfathers were the founders of Audemars Piguet and today they continue to honour their heritage by being at the forefront of their family’s iconic watchmaking brand.
Jasmine Audemars is the Chairwoman of the Board of Directors of the brand. She grew up in the home of Audemars Piguet, and in fact the home of Swiss watchmaking; the Vallée de Joux. Her grandfather worked at the manufacturer and she spent many days visiting him and being fascinated by all the small parts and components involved in building a watch. Jasmine then went on to become a journalist and eventually held the position of Editor at the Journal de Geneve for 12 years. At the beginning of the 1980s, her father asked her to take over the presidency of Audemars Piguet. For her this was a new life. In 1992 Jasmine succeeded her father as the head of the Board of Audemars Piguet and has been at the helm ever since. Olivier Audemars is Vice Chairman of the Board. A personal watch enthusiast and former engineer, Olvier as a personal interest in the brand as well as a business one. He too is from the Audemars family and grew up very attached to the birth place of the company, something that is very close to his heart.
It is fair to say Audemars Piguet is perhaps the only watchmaker that still keeps it’s family heritage so close and is the only one not have left the property of its founding families. This is one of the running themes as we talk to Jasmine and Olivier, along with their vision on how they will keep innovating while maintaining the strong family values and tradition of the bran.
As we understand it has been a good year for Audemars Piguet?
OLIVIER: Yes we are lucky enough to have good years since 2015.
What would be the challenge for you as one of the very few family businesses still running in the world right now?
JASMINE: We have many challenges. The first one is to remain a very healthy financial company.
OLIVIER: The company was founded as a way to increase the chances of the tradition of making complicated watches worldwide to continue. Making watches in the Vallée de Joux – was also the solution people found to live freely in a place that otherwise would have been hostile. Because in the Vallée de Joux mostly there are just rocks, a forest and long winters so, the people who decided to set up were extremely open-minded. They didn’t want to live by the rules of someone else, and making things like watches was the way they found to survive in this otherwise difficult country. So you could say that all watches represent our independence. It was the way we found to remain independent. So it means that first this notion of independent adjustment that we talk about is extremely important. What we want is to be able to continue to provide good working conditions that allow people to make things that they are proud of and also to make watches that make the people that are buying them, happy when they look at them. So we are trying to do our best to ensure these traditions continue because we think it is important.
JASMINE: Yes, thanks to all that the Vallée de Joux became the cradle of watchmaking and the complicated watches is what we want to continue – that’s our challenge.
Being born in a watch making family, how heavy is the legacy to carry on?
JASMINE: I wouldn’t say it’s heavy, it’s a responsibility of course, but at the same time it’s a very exciting challenge. We are lucky – I consider myself very lucky to have such a challenge and such a responsibility.
OLIVIER: We are also aware of the fact that we are in this situation today not because of the fact that we are exceptional people, but because our fathers made huge sacrifices for the continuation of the company. So in that respect, we don’t consider the company to belong to us but to the people that are involved in working for it. It’s more a notion of stewardship than a notion of ownership.
Jasmine, you are a respected and successful woman in what some might say is a man’s world – can you tell me how challenging was the journey and if you have any advice that you would like to share?
I never found it difficult. You are right to say it’s a man’s world, especially on the technical and production part, but the changes I have seen during the years is that you have more and more women working in the industry. Chabi (Nouri) is the CEO of Piaget, and of course the Swatch family also has a woman at the helm, so I think things are changing very fast. Especially in the communication and marketing and PR as well. Now you are also starting to have female engineers. We are very optimistic!
Jasmine, you were previously a newspaper editor – how did that serve you with what you do now?
A newspaper is a business with people. When you have a newspaper or magazine, what you need is talented, committed people who have a passion. And if you look at the watch industry it’s exactly the same. The same values. It’s a people business and you need people with talent, passion and who are committed to the company and to their job.
To what extent do you think passion is very crucial in the watchmaking business?
JASMINE: I think it’s rule number one because if you don’t have passion it’s the worst.
In certain brands they create the story before the product, and others create the product and then the story – at Audemars Piguet how is it done?
OLIVIER: For us this is our story. So it’s not something that we have to make up. What we are trying to explain is where we are coming from, why the company cannot be separate from the Vallée de Joux, and how this Vallée was the cradle that makes us what we are. If you take the Vallée de Joux – again the resources that we had were forests, rocks and long winters, and people actually discovered on some of those rocks that they had rust. So using the wood from the forest they created fires and transferred this rust into aluminium. They specialised in making small objects from this. Then moving forward to watches, the thing that they had plenty of was time, because of the long winters, and that is why they started making complicated watches. So this story actually was what led to the development of those watches – you cannot separate the two things.
So we don’t have to make up stories – what we are trying to do is explain to the people that you cannot take Audemars Piguet out of the Vallée de Joux. Also one of the reasons why we are trying to bring more people to the Vallée de Joux is because we think that this experience is something that will help people to understand what we are. That’s why we are building a new museum, we are building a new hotel, because we want to bring more and more people into our home. So what we are trying to do is to stay true to what we are. We don’t want to say something that we consider to be untrue, because somehow it will damage the image that we have of ourselves, and at one point things will come out so we would never do that.
JASMINE: We don’t need to invent any stories or history because we have it already. In the museum they can prove what we did. It is true a few brands are inventing their history, but for us it’s not very important because people know about it [our history]. It is even dangerous for a brand to do something like this.
What are the main values that the company live by?
JASMINE: I would say one that is very important for us is that the watch has to be as beautiful inside as it is outside. Even if the customer never sees the movement of his watch, he must know that the movement is beautiful and finished by hand.
OLIVIER: Another one could be the fact that we want our people to do things that make them happy and proud. At the same time that will make the people that are buying the watches happy. We want to build it in a way that it is a virtual cycle, because when the customer is happy it gives a lot of energy to the watch maker, the watch maker is happy as well so we make even better watches. So that’s what we are trying to do.
What’s your vision for the near future of the brand?
JASMINE: As a family company we always have a long term view. So what I personally see is steady but very strong development. We are mountaineers. It’s one step after the other, we don’t want to rush and make fireworks. But I can see Audemars Piguet is going along the same path in a few months, steady and one step after the other. So I would say a development, but no explosion!
OLIVIER: Something that is also important is that we want to continue to combine tradition and innovation. If you don’t innovate you become irrelevant, and if you innovate in the wrong way you also become irrelevant. So the key is to continue to innovate in a creative way that’s a tradition made on relevant innovations.
What is an objective that you would like to see done at Audemars Piguet that has not been done yet?
OLIVIER: It is difficult to say. What I would like us to become is a company that’s making innovations. In the past we have made products that wouldn’t have a place in the museum and I think we need to ask ourselves if this is the case. Some things are easy to sell but are not really something that would help to build the company. I want to do less and less of that and make sure that every watch that we are introducing is worth a place in the museum.
How much are you involved in the final decision of the watch that we see ready for the customer in the market?
OLIVIER: We are not involved in the design. What we are involved in is more the long term vision of the company. I’m also following some of the engineering side as that is my background, but it’s a section that might become products in seven or eight years. It’s actually important for us to differentiate the role of the board and the family and the role of the designers.
The visuals of the communication of Audemars Piguet haven’t changed much – do you think that is because you always want to roll the message of being true to the origins of the brand?
JASMINE: Yes exactly – True to our soul and our roots.
Do you think overcommunication is killing desirability?
OLIVIER: I think so. I think one of the things that is the problem sometimes is that people think that they always have to say something different because if they repeat themselves nobody will listen, but I think that is completely wrong. You need to have consistency in the message that you are delivering. In the past we used to have a communication campaign that we were changing every years, but now we have a strong statement that is true to what we are.
Do you have any mottos that you live your life by?
JASMINE: Break the rules!
OLIVIER: I think this motto comes back to the Royal Oak watch. It was perceived to be going against all the rules of horology. It was the first stainless steel watch that was ten times the price of a Rolex Chrono for example and actually it was a huge success because it was completely current. So it was perceived as going against the rules but it was completely current with what we are. To break the rules it doesn’t mean that you have to do anything that’s crazy, it means that you can do things that are perceived to be completely against the rules but that will succeed if you are true to what you are.
What do you promise for the future?
JASMINE: All the new products you can see. We have some beautiful watches this year. And we have even more launches coming.
How would you describe each other?
OLIVIER on JASMINE: The moral compass of the company, making sure that we always stay on the right track.
JASMINE on OLIVIER: An engineer and a poet.