You Are There: San Francisco Collector Master Class With Audemars Piguet
From time to time, the life of a collector is brightened by the arrival of an email or phone call extending an invitation to attend an upcoming “collector event” hosted by one of the major brands or in honor of a visiting independent.
While these events lack the overwhelming intensity of a big show like the SIHH or Baselworld (please read Why We Love Baselworld: The Show That Never Ends for an idea of it), that’s generally a good thing. These events are intended to provide an opportunity to learn more about a brand and its offerings in a relaxed setting while getting the opportunity to hang out with current watch buddies and meet new ones.
On this particular occasion, the invitation was to to a San Francisco event hosted by Audemars Piguet in collaboration with WENY, an acronym that is pronounced exactly the way my mom would wish it weren’t, but reflects the fun-loving character of the members of Watch Enthusiasts of New York.
On hand and representing WENY was an old friend, noted watch expert and collector William (Rohr) Massena. For more information on William, please read New Jury And Categories At The 2014 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.
Following a great start to a full day of splendid hospitality arranged by Audemars Piguet’s events manager, Julien Mazoue, the event began when we donned watchmaker coats and moved into a room fully equipped for learning or practicing (as the case may be) the fine art of watchmaking.
In a room containing six watchmaking benches, we had the benefit of being taught by no fewer than three master watchmakers from Audemars Piguet: Gary Cruz, Ornella (Ella) Vincent, and Emmanuelle (Emma) Schaer.
In addition, the top-floor hotel suite had been transformed into a Vallée de Joux workshop! As you can see in the photo of Ella below, each window in the room had been covered with a translucent mural of the Swiss countryside as seen from Audemars Piguet’s workshops in order to make the experience just that little bit more (sur)real.
I’ve been to a few other brand-sponsored watch assembly classes in the past, and while I’ve loved them all, this one was different from the others. Rather than emphasizing the number of operations completed and moving rapidly through the disassembly and re-assembly of a movement, we started with a bare base plate in a holder and added only a small number of components.
What we did do was to spend time, under Gary’s guidance, carefully inspecting each component we handled and understanding the multitude of finishing techniques used by Audemars Piguet even on the “entry-level” Caliber 3090 movement.
I have to say that it was quite an education: from the beveling of the screw heads to the bright-polished rings on barrels and wheels, polished pinion leaves, snailed barrel finish, and beveling both on the bridges and on the spokes of each wheel, we were treated to a view of these tiny parts that you just can’t get by looking at the assembled movement.
With patient instruction and a few inside tips on how to get those tiny pieces to mesh, we made our way through the class with no tears and only one or two dropped screws among the group.
After a quick break, it was time for lunch, during which I had the pleasure of getting to know Michael Friedman, the New York-based historian for Audemars Piguet and someone whose name I had often heard over the years.
Lunch was consumed with watch gossip and the opportunity to check out what everyone was wearing that day (including Michael’s very early A-Series Royal Oak). After lunch, our group had the wonderful opportunity to see, handle, and wear a variety of Audemars Piguet watches, including a selection of vintage pieces brought for the occasion.
First up was a lovely minute-repeating pocket watch with a perpetual calendar made for Swiss retailer Gübelin. This was immediately followed by another repeater, this time in wristwatch form, based on what was originally a ladies’ pendant watch repeater movement made by Audemars Piguet. For information on a vintage Audemars Piguet minute repeater that also began life as a ladies’ pendant watch, please read Audemars Piguet Minute Repeater Wristwatch Reference 5528 From 1885 Has Feminine Roots.
I won’t show all of the great vintage watches we saw, but some of the other highlights included a very discreet Depression-era jump-hour watch in white gold, a gorgeous Valjoux-based chronograph with salmon-colored dial, and a classy triple-date watch with moon phase based on a LeCoultre ébauche.
After Michael finishing dazzling us with historical knowledge and the pieces to back it up, Jasmine Bapic, Audemars Piguet’s U.S. retail director, took her turn with pieces from the brand’s current collection. There were, of course, lots of Royal Oaks, each of which seemed to fit my wrist better than the last, including this beautiful blue-dialed example.
Among the really big guns: the gorgeous Millenary Minute Repeater in pink gold with proprietary AP escapement. For me, the Millenary is one of those watches that just has to be seen on the wrist, where its shape suddenly takes on much more meaning than when seen on a display stand. And if you look carefully, you can see the blued repeater gongs that start in the block just above and to the left of the balance wheel and go around the perimeter of the watch.
Just when I thought we were finished, Jasmine had one more stunner: a skeletonized tourbillon chronograph in platinum in the classic Jules Audemars case. Recently, I’ve been very much taken with watches that combine white metal cases with visible dial-side detail in colored gold; and for me, this one with its brushed subdials, relief-engraved name plate, and blue chapter ring is just killer.
What a morning and afternoon! But we weren’t done yet, as in the evening Audemars Piguet had arranged for a reception with golf legend and brand ambassador Sir Nick Faldo, coupled with a Scotch whiskey tasting courtesy of Glenmorangie.
Sometime soon, I promise to come back to the topic of celebrity endorsements of watches seen from a collector’s perspective. The spoiler alert is that I’m probably not a member of the consumer segment that brands are addressing with these endorsements, but I do understand why the brands have ambassadors and I’ll look forward to diving into the topic in more detail.
Play the video above to watch Sir Nick Faldo “Finding the Swing”
That said, it was a great deal of fun to listen to Faldo talk about his experiences. And Michael Friedman did an excellent job asking several perhaps unexpected questions on the importance of tempo and perceptions of the passage of time as seen by athletes in competition that I, for one, found quite interesting.
And, of course, the Scotch tasting that wrapped up the event was both educational and delicious!
So: at the end of the day, am I more likely to call up the Audemars Piguet boutique and order up this limited edition Royal Oak?
Stay tuned! I did come away from the day with a greater understanding of Audemars Piguet, its heritage, and very importantly its commitment to high-quality components, design, and finishing from the bottom of the product line all the way to the top.
And I hope that you enjoyed sharing a bit of my experience at the event!