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Handing over the reins at Audemars Piguet
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Handing over the reins at Audemars Piguet

Friday, 30 January 2009
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

“The desire to learn is the key to understanding.”

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6 min read

At the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie 2009, Philippe Merk now succeeds Georges-Henri Meylan at the helm of Audemars Piguet. An opportunity to take stock with these two personalities from the watchmaking world.

You recently took up your new role as Chief Executive Officer of Audemars Piguet. What were the reasons behind this choice?

Philippe Merk: This isn’t a choice but a chance, and one that motivates me 200%. What’s more, we’re here at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie with a whole host of interesting products. We really have something to show this year. It’s in exactly the kind of difficult climate we face today that we need to tackle markets with a positive outlook. And this is what I intend to do.

How do you compare your new functions and your role at Maurice Lacroix?

Philippe Merk: Audemars Piguet is a far more established firm. At Maurice Lacroix, I was mostly involved with repositioning the brand, which is obviously far from being the case at Audemars Piguet, where we are concerned with optimisation. This means asking ourselves what we can do today, what will be the next phase in our development after five exceptional years. It’s a question of deciding how we can bring more added value to a company that already stands on strong foundations. I see this as a true challenge. Of all the values that define Audemars Piguet, daring holds particular appeal in my eyes. It means exploring new territories that will add to an already solid watchmaking tradition. Such daring is perfectly captured in the new models that we are presenting this year. Audemars Piguet has always demonstrated highly specific skills through watches of the highest quality. And I’m not doing marketing’s job here.

How do you see 2009?

Philippe Merk: There has been a lot of talk about bubbles of late. It’s true that we’ve been racing after production these past few years, although not as fast as the market would have liked. The task before us now is to strike a new balance, while maintaining the same volume of sales. I personally believe that Audemars Piguet has everything it needs to consolidate its position and maintain its performance. Audemars Piguet is and will remain a global brand. We must also remember that there are opportunities to be seized in today’s more challenging times, and many of these opportunities are in distribution. This is why we will carry on our efforts in this direction, and not just by opening new Audemars Piguet boutiques, of which there are currently 18.

Will you be realigning your product strategy?

Philippe Merk: Absolutely not, as Audemars Piguet products are already exceptional. We will continue along the same road, as the new models unveiled at the SIHH 2009 show. As for production, we will be able to catch up some of the backlog in deliveries, which is a good thing.

So you were drawn to everything that Audemars Piguet represents?

Philippe Merk: To the brand and the people behind it. I was personally acquainted with Georges-Henri Meylan, for whom I have the greatest admiration. I could also mention the stable shareholding, which is undoubtedly a major asset, and the power of innovation at Renaud & Papi. In a word, Audemars Piguet is a fabulous tool that would have motivated anyone. Not unlike a footballer about to transfer to Real Madrid.

Georges-Henri Meylan: It’s true that certain brands win the admiration of their peers, and this is probably the case at Audemars Piguet. Creativity, a characteristic long-term commitment to all that it undertakes, and the daring we mentioned earlier have doubtless contributed to its success. Just one example of daring: when we began to explore the possibilities of forged carbon, of the entire firm, only two of us believed in its potential. Today it is one of the technologies that distinguishes the brand, for which we have deliberately refused to file a patent because we want to keep the “recipe” secret.

As Philippe Merk said, there is also the huge advantage of working within a family-owned business as opposed to a floated company, where the interests of shareholders don’t necessarily coincide with the interests of management. The shareholders at Audemars Piguet, which include myself, understand the company’s activity, are fully involved in the business, and have a strong connection and lines of communication with management. A family firm thinks in terms of generations, not quarterly figures. This is a substantial asset for management when there is a storm to weather. It’s a question of mentality.

Philippe Merk: As a family-run firm, we also work with independent retailers who are themselves family businesses that share our values. This has a non-negligible role to play in how our business develops.

Which themes have you chosen for your 2009 collections?

Philippe Merk: Without hesitation, complication watches such as the Jules Audemars Chronometer with AP Escapement. This watch’s movement was developed by Renaud & Papi. It has a frequency of 43,200 vibrations/hour and the escapement requires no lubricant whatsoever, which ensures enhanced timekeeping precision. Further examples are the three Jules Audemars complicated skeleton models, including a Minute Repeater with Jumping Hours, the Millenary Chalcedony Tourbillon, and the Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph in forged carbon.

Georges-Henri Meylan: As you can see, power is being transferred smoothly, at the same time as knowledge. I’ve spent the last forty years in watchmaking and always with the same passion for the product, which must come from teamwork. Add a dash of daring, and you can never say that this or that project is impossible. We have no choice than to rack our brains and innovate in mechanisms, complications, materials and a combination of all three. The Alinghi adventure draws on the same philosophy. Audemars Piguet’s objective is therefore to continue to develop both in quantity and quality, in innovation, distribution and marketing.

Philippe Merk: Which is exactly what we are going to do, and we shall begin by exploring the full watchmaking potential of the brand.

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