Audemars Piguet’s AP House: A New York City Eyewitness Account
What, exactly, is the AP House? That’s a question I’m unlikely be able to fully describe here, but I’ll give it my best shot: it’s a fairly novel concept that Audemars Piguet has revealed around the globe over the past few years.
The first AP House opened in Hong Kong in 2018 in those halcyon pre-pandemic days when going somewhere didn’t involve masks and vaccine cards. In May 2022, Audemars Piguet opened its thirteenth “House” in New York City’s Meatpacking District. Other locations include Zurich, Barcelona, Tokyo, and St. Barths.
The relatively extensive list of cities alone reveals a few things. First, it illustrates Audemars Piguet’s commitment to the AP House strategy. It wouldn’t have surprised me if amid the pandemic the brand pressed pause on the House rollout, if only out of precaution. Yet here we are with more than a dozen of these spaces waiting for visitors.
Undoubtedly, the experience AP House guests encounter is as diverse as the list of locations itself. For example, in St. Barths guests have the pleasure of oversized rectangular windows facing the Port of Gustavia. No other AP House at present can offer an expansive lookout on nautical traffic in the Caribbean. I mention this not to diminish what is available at the other Houses, but rather as an example of how going to one AP House probably means you’ve gained an understanding for that House’s offering alone. The only way to thoroughly appreciate the full range of experiences is to “collect ’em all,” as they say in the Pokémon universe.
There are a few things that almost all AP Houses have in common, though. First, if you use Audemars Piguet’s website to search for the brand in a particular location, and there is a House in that region, the House will appear at the top of the list. It’s clear that Audemars Piguet prioritizes the Houses as the top destinations for those interested in the brand.
Second, all of the Houses are described as “boutiques.” Aside from the wrists of other guests, you will not encounter other brands in an AP House. When I first learned about the AP Houses, I also wondered if they were some kind of diversification play involving international real estate.
This kind of thing has precedent in the watch industry. In 1995, there was a rare public scuffle between Rolex and Swiss bank UBS. In May of that year, an article in Le Nouvelle Quotidien indicated that Rolex owned a large number of UBS shares as well as 27.8 percent of the voting rights in BK Vision (an investment company).
What does this have to do with the AP House? Both Rolex and Audemars Piguet find themselves in the enviable positions of having wildly profitable watch designs in their catalogues. All the money they’re earning has to go somewhere, and sometimes it ends up in other assets such as equity and/or real estate. However, credible word on the street is that Audemars Piguet does not own the property upon which the Houses sit.
Beyond these common features, though, the AP Houses do show variety. For example, some Houses answer to the Swiss headquarters alone, while other Houses involve a local partner. The aforementioned AP House in St. Barths is a partnership with Diamond Genesis, a multibrand watch, jewelry, and diamond retailer (I deduce this from the fact that the contact email address for the House is diamondgenesis.com, not exactly Sherlock Holmes-level sleuthing but I do what I can).
Luxury retailer Material Good lists the New York AP House on its own web page, suggesting that there is a local collaborator in the NYC location as well. Perhaps one of the more practical differences between the Houses is that just over half are listed as service centers while the others are not. Make sure you check twice before you head off to a House to have a link removed from that Royal Oak bracelet.
Ground truth: New York AP House
Here are my observations about the AP House experience based upon a recent opportunity to visit the New York City location as a guest at a breakfast event hosted by Ginny Wright, Audemars Piguet’s North American CEO. Audemars Piguet’s recently opened House in the downtown Meatpacking District sits on cobblestone streets. More specifically, it is located on Gansevoort Street, which Google Maps tersely and amusingly describes as “meat warehouses turned hip retail hub.”
Personal confession: my visit marked one of my first major post-Covid-19 social events (if we can call our present circumstances post-Covid). I wasn’t really sure how the whole thing would go, especially given that I didn’t really know what was in store (pun intended). For me, it was a testament to the AP House that all of my concerns were unfounded, and I ended up really enjoying the visit.
The New York City AP House has a unique “capsule” that exhibits several watches from the Audemars Piguet Museum in Le Brassus, Switzerland. The pieces are obviously carefully curated and, based on Instagram posts, it appears the capsule gives a visitor some notion of what it is like to visit the museum proper. I left New York City more determined to make a trip to the Audemars Piguet Museum sometime in the near future; I’d expect others to feel likewise.
Through conversations with the House team, I concluded that Audemars Piguet has successfully addressed a regular complaint from serious collectors regarding interactions with boutique staff who actually do not know much about their watches. The staff member I spoke with explained many details regarding Audemars Piguet’s history and how the watches relate to that history. When I asked about an artistic, oversized, “exploded” movement display (seen above), I was offered many details that I would not have realized on my own. The AP House team member even explained the strategy that motivated the choice of watches on display and how they connect to different design themes in Audemars Piguet’s history.
A second highlight from the visit was the salon-like atmosphere during the event (salon in the sense that the visitors had a shared interest). Many of the other guests were creators who work in the watch space. There were writers, podcasters, and a photographer. I wouldn’t be surprised if AP House events around the world are planned similarly, bringing together those with multiple shared interests. If so, interaction with the brand will more naturally mesh with other social interests.
There was also a particular moment that I think I’ll remember for a long time. As part of 2022’s fiftieth anniversary of the Royal Oak, Audemars Piguet created a massive book containing photography and details of different Royal Oak designs over the decades. The term massive is not an exaggeration: the book was roughly as tall as a kitchen countertop and it was propped on a floor stand. Another guest joked that the book was definitely a coffee table book because it was literally large enough to serve as a coffee table.
When I asked the AP House team if it was an actual book, I was told it was and was offered a look at the different pages. It took two people to turn and hold down the pages and we toured every page in the book, discussing the designs and their unique features. Several visitors shared in this experience.
It is these kinds of serendipitous moments that one typically would not enjoy in a traditional retail setting. Increasingly, going to look at watches may result in disappointment since a watch one might be interested in is not even in stock. One may even experience tension at the nearest AD. It just isn’t enjoyable to stand behind a locked door waiting for security to let you in (an experience I had later in the day after departing the AP House). That kind of visit evokes security lines at the airport, an association very few brands would probably want to cultivate (yet grow it they do).
AP House: an idea whose time has come, but will it stay?
The plural of story is not data; it is difficult for me to know how universal my own experience at the AP House was. Just a few days ago, though, I noticed that one of the accounts I follow on Instagram posted photos from a visit to an AP House on the other side of the world. I recognized the photos of the interior and sent a DM to ask about the experience.
This particular individual interacts with a lot of brands and he’s visited many retail spaces and authorized dealers. He is not prone to exaggeration and he calls out problems when he sees them. I asked what he thought of AP House. His response: “It’s truly historic, possibly the best store I’ve ever been to.”
With AP House, the watchmakers from Le Brassus have executed a strategy enhancing the social dimension of the watch community, a dimension that has been sorely missing since early 2020. Almost all collectors are drawn to a space that offers community and shared experiences, especially when these involve good meals and/or newly released watches. Many other industries long ago realized the importance of hospitality as a compliment to the core business. Airline lounges are a good example.
The challenges associated with extending the watch business into previously uncharted territory are not small. It remains to be seen if Audemars Piguet will find that its bottom line benefits from the resources expended on this stretch. The early signs are certainly encouraging, though.
With the recent announcement that Audemars Piguet CEO François-Henry Bennahmias will depart in 2023, we will undoubtedly see some adjustment to the AP House strategy. Those adjustments will be the pages of the forthcoming chapter for AP House.
For more information, please visit www.audemarspiguet.com/com/en/stores.
Brendan M. Cunningham, PhD is a professor of economics at Eastern Connecticut State University and founder of www.horolonomics.com. He has written a just-published book on the history of Rolex, which you can order at www.sellingthecrown.com.
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