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For Claude Emmenegger, becoming Audemars Piguet’s creative director earlier this year was like a homecoming. Emmenegger first joined the privately owned Swiss haute horlogerie brand in 1999, after having started his career with Longines, followed by Gucci. He worked at Audemars Piguet for four years, during which time he created the successful Royal Oak concept, which launched in 2002. A year later, he left to establish his own design consultancy, working with more than 40 brands over 12 years. The opportunity to return to Audemars Piguet and serve as creative director was too good to turn down.
WHITEWALL: After working for Audemars Piguet from 1999 to 2003, you left to found your own consultancy company. What lured you back to Audemars Piguet?
CLAUDE EMMENEGGER: I was mandated for a project, and after Octavio Garcia left, I was asked if the post would interest me. I had to really reflect because my own business was going well. But I was aware of the enormous potential of accepting this position. And although I loved the overall experience of working on the design of many different brands through my own company, I’d missed being fully involved in a brand and defending it. I had a desire to take things in my hands, touch the objects, be in touch with the sales team, and dive back into all that. I have the impression that I’ve been traveling around, like a student, and that now I’ve come home. I still know some of the people here, so it’s as if I’d never left.
WW: How did having your own design consultancy enhance your approach to watchmaking?
CE: I wanted to get to know products in other price categories and touch a very diversified palette. I worked with some brands that had tighter budgets so I learned a lot about diversity, DNAs of brands, management styles, and how to adapt accordingly. It gave me a broader vision toward watchmaking. In the morning, I used to work on exclusive pieces and then I’d work on fashionable pieces in the afternoon. There was a lot of confidentiality, but I can say that TAG Heuer was one of my clients.
WW: What’s your vision for Audemars Piguet?
CE: I’ve been here for only three months. So far, we’ve been having long discussions with the management team about creating more balance between the different collections and improving the details. Royal Oak is a very important brand, and we want to bring the manufacturing of the other brands up to the same level. We’re also going to expand the range of multiple applications. We intend to make a collection that will only be made in a certain quantity of pieces and be more upmarket. Our big news, though, is that we’re working on a new classical piece for 2017 and we want to bring out important pieces in limited editions.
WW: How are you planning to develop the women’s line?
CE: In two or three months we’re bringing out a new piece in the Millenary range and we’re researching a whole new line that will come out in two or three years. My aim is to work on the character of this new line. The style won’t be too girly or sweet. It’ll be womanly and ladylike, for a woman with a strong character and perception. We’re not interested in remaking classical pieces like everybody else. I want to do something a little bit shocking that will surprise everyone. So don’t expect something pretty with a pink strap.
WW: Where do you draw inspiration from when you want to create a new timepiece?
CE: I look at what was done in the past, both at Audemars Piguet and during my own professional experience working on other brands. It’s like an internal brainstorming! I was at Gucci for a long time and for 12 years I worked for trendy brands through my own company. When I want to design a new piece, I don’t just draw inspiration from watchmaking but from architecture, nature, and elements from the animal and natural world.
WW: Do you do a lot of drawings in a sketchbook?
CE: Yes, I’m very old school—I do a lot of small sketches and write down texts and phrases like a policeman or an inspector would. It’s as if I’m looking for clues in my notes about what to do! But I’m not a diva designer. There’s a real team spirit here, with everybody working on the women’s models. There are five or six in-house designers plus external designers.
WW: What kinds of concepts and functionalities are you thinking of developing?
CE: We have a department for researching new materials and components in ceramics and fibers. But it often turns out that many things are not possible to use in high-quality watchmaking. So it’s difficult because a lot of prototypes that we might do in ceramics don’t go into production because the quality isn’t precise or strong enough. We’re also working on developing ringtones with new technology and experimenting by looking at new inventions.
WW: Audemars Piguet has sponsored several contemporary art projects: “Curiosity” by Kolkoz in Miami in 2013; Theo Jansen’s “Strandbeest” in Miami in 2014; and “Synchronicity” by Robin Meier in Basel in 2015. Is this something that you intend to continue?
CE: For the moment, I’m not involved in any of this. But we have a history of art specialist and we employ curators to follow one or two artists. I love art and have been lucky enough to go to Art Basel for the last 25 years. I collect certain artists, such as [the Swiss artist] Christian Gonzenbach and [the Austrian, Geneva-based artist] Thierry Feuz. And it makes me happy that Audemars Piguet is involved in art projects.
This article is published in Whitewall‘s winter 2016 Lifestyle issue.