Masterstrokes of Time
Text by Teerin Julsawad
In the serenity of Le Brassus, where emerald hills undulate beneath the clear Swiss sky, an edifice of history and innovation rises from the landscape, its silhouette in perfect harmony with the contours of the Earth. This spiraling architectural marvel, a luminary landform in its own right, is the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet. Established to coexist and reflect the legacy of Audemars Piguet’s original 1875 workshop, the museum intertwines history, watchmaking mastery and architectural brilliance into an immersive journey through time.
Designed by the renowned Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), in collaboration with Audemars Piguet and local firm CCHE, the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet stands as an enduring testament to the symbiosis of human ingenuity and the splendor of the natural world. The spiraling, glass-enclosed edifice melds seamlessly with the verdant landscape of Le Brassus, a beacon of modern design integrated respectfully within its environment.
This eco-conscious design extends beyond aesthetic considerations, embodying principles of sustainability that ensure it treads lightly on its picturesque surroundings. The brass mesh that wraps the pavilion controls the influx of natural light, thereby maintaining the interior temperature, while the green roof actively contributes to the local ecosystem.
THE SPOTLIGHT ILLUMINATES TRADITIONAL WORKSHOPS WHERE AUDEMARS PIGUET’S MASTER HOROLOGISTS EXECUTE THEIR PRECISE CRAFT.
Visitors step into the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet and embark on a journey similar to the coiling path traversed by a watch’s mainspring. The fluid, flowing interior, its design contouring to the land it inhabits, leads guests on an intimate exploration of the Audemars Piguet legacy. As if navigating the intricate internals of a timepiece, visitors meander through exhibits showcasing the transformation of Audemars Piguet from its origins to the present, and catch glimpses into the future.
Inside the exhibition space designed by Atelier Brückner, which the German scenographer likened to a “musical score,” visitors explore the museum’s vast collection. Each timepiece is a distinct note within the symphony of Audemars Piguet’s history, collectively resonating with the tales of complexity, miniaturization and bold designs that have shaped the brand’s narrative.
At the heart of the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet, the spotlight illuminates traditional workshops where Audemars Piguet’s master horologists execute their precise craft. The watchmakers, the custodians of a tradition stretching back to 1875, bring life to meticulously crafted timepieces under the watchful eyes of museum visitors. This fusion of active workshop and exhibit adds a dynamic dimension to the museum, an echo of the pulsating life that powers every Audemars Piguet creation.
Just beyond the museum, the recently inaugurated Hôtel des Horlogers complements the immersive horological experience that Audemars Piguet offers. An architectural masterpiece in its own right, designed by BIG, the hotel extends the narrative woven within the museum.
The 50-room avant-garde structure zigzags along the landscape, with each room providing a floor-to-ceiling panorama of the serene Risoud forest. The intimate ties to horological heritage are palpable throughout the hotel, from the watchmaking literature in the lobby library to the glimpses of the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet, which is just a short walk down the road.
Venturing beyond these architectural marvels, the wider region of the Vallée de Joux beckons. Known as the Watch Valley, this area is an emblem of the indelible mark left by centuries of fine Swiss watchmaking, home to a host of historic watchmaking centers and offers a variety of immersive experiences for visitors. The valley, stretching from Geneva to Basel, is a testament to the blend of tradition and innovation that has made Swiss watchmaking a symbol of precision and prestige. It’s here where the horological heart of Switzerland pulses rhythmically, tracking not just the passage of time, but also the evolution of watchmaking.
Many of the manufacturers, such as Jaeger-LeCoultre and Zenith, have opened their doors to the public. Horology enthusiasts can register online for exclusive tours, providing a behind-the-scenes look into the meticulous craft of timepiece creation. For some, private visits to manufacturers like Ulysse Nardin and Parmigiani can be a riveting experience (the latter offers a fascinating insight into the intricate restoration of historic clocks and pocket watches).
The horological journey extends beyond the watch manufacturers themselves. Espace Horloger, an interactive museum in Le Sentier, guides visitors through the story of the Vallée de Joux’s rise as a watchmaking hub, leveraging films, touch screens, installations and historical timepieces. In addition, the Helvetica Horlogerie boutique offers a curated selection of timepieces from over 70 brands, including independents that aren’t widely distributed.
Still, at the heart of the Watch Valley is the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet, serving as the region’s crowning jewel. But as visitors will discover, the entire region is a treasure trove of horological history, culture and craft.