In Mathieu Lehanneur’s concept for Audemars Piguet – first seen at Art Basel Hong Kong in May and now headed for Art Basel Miami from December 4th to 7th – he deftly balances ideas of elegance and durability, key attributes of the Swiss watchmaker’s brand. His inspiration came from Maison Audemar Piguet du Brassus, the company’s mansion-like headquarters overlooking the Vallée de Joux in the Jura Mountains – a gently undulating landscape of trees and meadows punctuated by rocky outcroppings.
“I wanted to take ideas of extreme sophistication, of mechanical systems and even a scientific way of working,” says Lehanneur, “and combine that with pure, raw nature – violent nature. Something quite strong.”
The space employs a small palette of materials to evoke precision, on the one hand, and ruggedness on the other. Display and seating areas of the lounge are enclosed in glass boxes, rectilinear except for their slanted entryways. The glazed walls, reflected in the polished wide-plank wood flooring, have no visible supports, and are blackened at the very top with a smoky ombré finish, seeming to disappear into the darkened space that surrounds the spotlighted objects. And like the Vallée de Joux, the space is dotted with craggy boulders, which seem to merge with the walls, or hover precariously over the enclosures, bisected by the ceilings.
In the presentation backdrop, off-white display walls are divided into grids; in one laboratory-like enclosure, an acoustic paneled wall of tiny squares provides a meticulous context for a magnifying glass and polishing machine, while an adjacent wall features an expanded grid consisting of rows of shadow boxes that exhibit watches from the company’s nearly 140-year history. A wide circular table, positioned directly under the jutting mass of an overhead boulder, displays an expanded collection of artifacts.
The combination of rugged materials and clean lines is a reference that extends beyond the brand’s mountain headquarters to the timepieces themselves: Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak, an octagonal watch released in 1972, was the first to be made with a stainless steel case, and is considered a milestone in the history of modern watchmaking. The Royal Oak cost more to manufacture than most gold watches of the era, making it a risky proposition, but one that ultimately helped save a company struggling to adapt to a changing marketplace.