More than a half decade after Swiss luxury watch company Audemars Piguet revealed plans for a museum honoring its illustrious history, the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet officially opened in Switzerland’s Vallée de Joux—the brand’s very own birthplace, located about one hour by car from Geneva.
The clock had been ticking: Originally slated to debut in spring 2020 (but delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak), the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet opened on June 25 in Le Brassus, a village in the Swiss Jura Mountains where the heritage of watchmaking goes back centuries.
The striking museum links the original atelier where watchmakers Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet first set up shop in 1875 with a new spiral-shaped pavilion designed by Danish architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). The restored atelier, which still serves as Audemars Piguet’s headquarters, contains workshops where museumgoers can observe the company’s traditional watchmakers at work during their visit. The contemporary structure houses the main museum, showcasing nearly 300 timepieces from Audemars Piguet’s collection that span almost two centuries of watchmaking in the region.
With floor-to-ceiling glass windows that offer panoramic views of the Vallée de Joux, the BIG-designed museum appears to rise out of its surrounding landscape. Its curved exterior is encased by brass mesh to help regulate the building’s light and temperature. The steel roof, which is covered with grass from the verdant area, also helps to regulate the interior temperature while absorbing water from the outdoors.
Inside the museum, a terrazzo floor with stones sourced from the area slants to adapt to the land’s natural gradient. The exhibition path descends clockwise toward the spiral building’s center before unwinding in the opposite direction, guiding visitors through the museum as if they were moving through the spring of a timepiece.
The Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet includes exhibition areas such as “Mechanical Heart,” which teaches museumgoers about the components of mechanical watches, as well as “First Watchmakers,” which features rare centerpieces such as a pocket watch by Joseph Piguet, dated around 1769. In the center of the museum’s spiral, the solar system–inspired “Grandes Complications” display showcases a number of Audemars Piguet’s sophisticated watches orbiting around the Universelle (1899), one of the Swiss brand’s most complicated watches ever produced. The vintage timepiece contains 1,168 parts and features 21 functions and 13 hands.
While Europe is barring travelers from the United States until further notice due to the coronavirus outbreak, the new Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet gives future visitors to Switzerland something to look forward to. What’s more: Audemars Piguet is also working with BIG to build a new hotel neighboring the museum. The 50-room property, which will be built with a roof that doubles as a ski ramp, plans to open by the end of summer next year.
The Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet currently only offers guided visits by appointment for groups of up to 12 people. The 90-minute tours are available on weekdays through September 28, 2020 (offered in English, French, or German). Tickets must be booked online in advance.