June 25, 2020
Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet Unwinds Timeless Treasures
ATELIER BRÜCKNER has crafted an exacting and celestial exhibition space for the legacy watch brand.
Based on the idea of a musical score, German designer ATELIER BRÜCKNER has devised a fluidly clocked exhibition space for Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet. The museum, which opens today, will offer visitors a moving experience with crescendos, high notes, and contemplative pauses.
The composition pays tribute to Audemars Piguet’s 145 years of fine watchmaking. It gives life to the Swiss horologist’s new Bjarke Ingels Group–designed building, which functions as a museum, archive, and workshop.
In 1875, Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet set up shop in Le Brassus, a village in Switzerland’s remote Joux Valley. The recently restored historic atelier connects to the spiral-shaped glass pavilion that houses the show, which will present over 300 unique timepieces.
“Working with watchmakers meant looking at complexity and scale intrinsically differently,” says Wassim Melki, ATELIER BRÜCKNER’s senior architect and project manager.
ATELIER BRÜCKNER staged the exhibition as a flowing, clockwise continuum with a composed narration. Gently descending to the central base of the spiral, and then rising again in the opposite direction, the course of motion feels energetic—like a watch’s spring.
Because the curving exterior walls are load-bearing, the interiors of the museum contain no walls or columns. According to Melki, tailoring the exhibition to this wide-open interior was a central challenge during the project.
The solution was to structure the narrative into sections, like movements in a symphony. True to concept, visual interludes in the form of brass-made mechanical sculptures or artistically designed objects introduce the various parts.
“We chose brass because it’s a common, yet noble, watchmaking material,” Melki says. “It stands out and fits the architectural color palette.”
Each narrative presents a design motif. The appearance of the watch showcases changes depending on the theme and architectural requirements.
Narration starts with a historical and geographical introduction, the highlight of which is a three-dimensional family tree. (Audemars Piguet is still family-owned to this day.) The “First Watchmakers,” “Mechanical Heart,” and “Complications” areas follow. A pocket watch by Joseph Piguet, dated around 1769, is one of the centerpieces in the “First Watchmakers” section and is the oldest object in the exhibition.
Renowned automaton maker François Junod’s artistic sculpture introduces the next chapter. “Mechanical Heart” teaches connoisseurs about the components of a mechanical watch: winding, drive, gear train, escapement, balance wheel, and hand movement.
The “Complications” design motif resembles planets orbiting a universe, a reminder astronomical cycles determine time.
In the exhibition’s epicenter, a glass sphere displays “Universelle”—a pocket watch from 1899 equipped with 21 complications and 1,168 individual parts. From there, the ascending path leads to episodes titled “Superlatives,” “Designing Time,” and “Designing Masterpieces.”
“Superlatives” celebrates the thinnest and smallest watches produced by Audemars Piguet. The installation “Seeing the Invisible” introduces the section: Microscopes designed as telescopes illustrate the delicacy of a clock’s components.
The “Designing Time” area, with its hanging showcases and poster reproductions, deals with clocks as an expression of their era from the Belle Epoque (1871–1914) to the 21st century.
In “Designing Masterpieces,” ATELIER BRÜCKNER uses wood to present watches from the past 200 years. “Trees are a witness to time,” explains Melki, remarking that “wood adds warmth to the cold glass and brass.”
The exhibition ends with the company’s Royal Oak collection. First released in the 1970s, these luxury sport watches featured sharp edges and visible screws and bolts. “Back then, the aesthetics were daring. We wanted to mirror this boldness,” Melki says, referring to five monolithic displays that the designers have programmed to open and reveal selected Royal Oak models as visitors gather around them. “The black, opaque glass in a simple, angular shape acts as a bit of brutal material expression, juxtaposing the transparent, curved glass walls,” Melki adds.
Guests can observe the manufacturing process and even test their skills at watchmaking through hands-on activities. Other peripheral experiences include a sound lab and the Architecture Hall, which shows the building’s evolution alongside the Audemars Piguet brand—including a hotel by BIG, which is still under construction.
“Everything the team set out to do, from a design, material, and narrative perspective, we achieved in the end,” Melki says, describing the firm’s approach as non-compromising.
“That’s what working at the highest level of craft really means.”
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