In his article Patek Philippe Rules – Here’s Why, our man Franz introduced readers to Swiss watchmaking’s Holy Trinity: Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet. With its 136th Royal Oak variant, the uninspiring, much maligned Code 11.59 and the Black Panther Marvel Watch, AP’s place in the Trinity is no longer secure. Franz reckons it’s F.P.Journe in, Audemars Piguet out. Here’s his reasoning . . .
I love Audemars Piguet. I revere the Swiss watchmaker’s illustrious history. I respect the technical achievements that helped secure AP its place in The Holy Trinity. But it’s true that AP has become the third wheel to Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin, vulnerable to usurpation (if not outright defenestration). Ironically, Audemars Piguet’s decline stems from its success.
In the 1972, Audemars Piguet found itself at the famous crossroads. Like Eterna and Breguet, like all the storied Swiss watchmakers, AP was bruised and battered by the Quartz crisis (Seiko 35A movement above).
Le Brassus’ favorite son faced a stark choice: innovate or die. Audemars Piguet CEO Georges Golay decided to continue the maison’s mechanical mission. If watchmaking ends, we will end with watchmaking, parbleu.
Mssr. Golay ‘phoned the most prolific watch designer of the era. He commissioned Gerald Genta to produce a new luxury watch – by the next morning.
Armed with cigarettes and coffee, unencumbered by technical committees, focus panels or half-assed marketing managers, Genta penned the Royal Oak. A watch that invented an entire segment – luxury sport – and saved the entire Swiss luxury watch industry’s collective ass. [Click here for a more complete history.]
Fast forward to today. Jean Francois Bennahmias (above left) sits in Golay’s chair.
During his eight year reign, Audemars Piguet’s latest CEO has continued to squeeze the Royal Oak lemon in every possible way (over 120 models). At huge expense and considerable confusion, he launched the Code 11.59 – a watch meant to replace the Royal Oak at the front of the hit parade. And didn’t.
More recently, Bennahmias publicly and personally championed the Black Panther Marvel watch – a timepiece that earned AP a mega-tsunami of scorn, laughter and derision. Gentlemen, the curtain.
Enthusiasts and industry insiders smell blood. They’re casting about to see who will assume Audemars Piguet’s place in the Gotha of world watchmaking.
There’s no shortage of suitors – unimpeachable watchmakers who could occupy the seat orphaned by our Wandering Prince. Although A. Lange & Söhne (Lange 1 above) and Grand Seiko spring to mind, tradition demands that the pretender should be Swiss.
My attention has shifted to the rising star inflaming the souls of watchmaking enthusiasts worldwide (yours truly included): F.P.Journe.
Mssr. Journe’s motto – Invenit et Fecit (He Invented It and Made It) – connects the Maison with the true traditions of Haute Horlogerie. Producing just 800 watches per year, the Geneva-based manufacturer has brought watchmaking technology back into the spotlight, combining it with classic elegance.
F.P.Journe’s Chronometre Bleu is a tantalum watch with a blue dial whose white indexes float ethereally. The 18-carat yellow gold in-house movement shines in its satin glory, visible through the open sapphire crystal case back.
The prestigious double dial Chronometre à Résonance (top of this post) exploits the phenomenon of resonance between the two balances that beat in unison to regulate themselves. It sold for over $1m at auction. [Click here to check out Christie’s 10 things to know about F.P. Journe watches.]
F.P.Journe’s watches are more exclusive, elegant, technically stunning, quintessentially Swiss and inherently desirable than Audemars Piguet’s 60k watch output.
That said . . .
F. P. Journe (above) founded F.P.Journe in 1994. AP’s been around for 146 years. Could upstart F.P. replace once venerable AP in the The Holy Trinity? As they say, there’s no fool like an old fool.