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November 03, 2017

Audemars Piguet Historian Michael Friedman On The Brand’s Evolving Legacy

Interview by Sitanshi Talati-Parikh

“I like to say that we have one foot in the past and one in the future”

Michael Friedman may have had an extensive career in watches and clocks starting in 1996, but today, as the historian for Swiss watch manufacturer Audemars Piguet, he has the responsibility of acquiring the brand’s rare watches, nurturing relationships with auction houses, collectors and experts, and developing brand content. It helps that he’s an established horological appraiser, curator, lecturer and auctioneer.

What makes Audemars Piguet one of the most iconic watch brands?
I like to say that we have one foot in the past and one in the future. We occupy multiple spaces at once. In terms of the mechanics, the watches are very traditional — but with the casing, we get unconventional at times.

Typically, how would a vintage buyer pick up an Audemars Piguet watch?
There are a few different ways of doing so. There’s the global auction market and also smaller and regional auction houses throughout the world. There are many dealers and vendors… many of whom have increased their online sales. Instagram, for dealers, has become a sales tool! They post a picture of their watch, they have thousands of followers, and they’ll find a buyer immediately. I know some old-school vintage guys who have closed their storefronts, moved to by-appointment-only offices and sell often on Instagram. It’s very next-gen. Once you find something you like, Audemars Piguet will help validate that watch for you. Of course, we have to have the piece in hand to do an absolute thorough inspection — our restoration workshop does this every day.

In the battle between vintage and new age, which is the winner of the future?
Every single object is on its way to becoming vintage. The question is — what can remain fresh and relevant? This is what people are always asking. Audemars Piguet watches have been thoroughly documented in our archives and can be immediately researched. This has given a lot of confidence to buyers. For us, the museum, heritage, retail and marketing units are very cohesive, working closely together on a daily basis.

Has the trajectory of the traditional buyer changed over the decades?
Yes. There really is no traditional buyer with Audemars Piguet. This is one reason why the brand has a strong position today. Our demographic is very wide. I meet aspirational teenagers, 20-somethings and 30-somethings who already collect, as well as those well into middle age and beyond. When you look at our sales globally, it’s all very balanced. The beauty of being a private, independent, family-run company is that we’re more flexible. We can swim fast, we can manoeuvre quickly.

Audemars Piguet is still owned by the founding families. What is the direction that’s been passed down over the years?
Empowering the craftspeople who make the watches. The absolute key factor, what the family, the board and the employees push for, is to give all the watchmakers the room that they need to create their product. Many of the brand’s greatest developments in history were not decided in boardrooms. They were decided at the bench — not by high-level executives, but by watchmakers. The beauty of being family-run and being independent is that skill always comes first.

Reputation-wise, will there be another Royal Oak?
A watch is a cultural object. There will definitely be products in the future that will be instant classics. Certainly, we’ll create new case forms that will capture the imagination and passion of our collectors; whether they will be a global phenomenon like the Royal Oak is hard to determine — we’ll have to wait and see.

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