How Audemars Piguet is Experimenting New Models of Retail


Dino Auciello | February 04, 2019

In an exclusive interview, CEO François-Henry Bennahmias talks about the launch of the new CODE 11:59 collection, increasing production numbers and moving towards e-commerce. Find out more about Swiss luxury watch brand Audemars Piguet’s plans for 2019.

You just launched a new collection that has been much talked about. Why only now?

CODE 11:59 was 7 years in the making from the movement to the case. We worked a lot to finally come up with this new line. What we wanted to do with it is to write a new page in the history book of Audemars Piguet.

We set aside the idea of creating classical watches for almost 20 to 25 years. But to put things in perspective, Audemars Piguet didn’t have the Royal Oak in its collection until almost 97 years into the business. That said, it was about time that we started showcasing our legitimacy in the field of classic watches again. We needed to showcase our craftsmanship, our skills, and our talents in coming up with a line that is not a reflection of yesterday, but instead presents a forward-looking contemporary feel.

Are you going to increase production?

I announced in 2015 that we would stick to creating 40,000 watches a year for the next 5 years. And now in 2019, we have come to the end of that cycle. In 2019, we are going to produce 2,000 CODE 11:59 watches. To do that, we will have to reduce production numbers of the Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore by 2,000. At the same time, we are actually planning to increase the production of the Millenary collection as well.

So, in 2020, we will be revisiting this topic of production, opening new doors and increasing numbers. However, we can’t go from producing 40,000 to 50,000 watches overnight. So we will probably start by producing 42,500 to 43,000 watches next year.

In 2018, the total sales of Audemars Piguet watches hit one billion Swiss francs. What is the next objective?

First of all, the numbers are not everything. The numbers are always a consequence of a strategy put in place. Revenues grew drastically over the last seven years, and 2018 is the seventh year in a row that we have broken a record. We have been doing pretty well so far.

We want to keep this momentum going, and we want to do so by building up CODE 11:59. It’s going to give credibility to the rest of the collection. And hopefully, if everything goes well, revenues are going to increase.

How do you engage with the new generation of consumers?

The question is how to adapt to what they do, who they are, what they want, and how to talk to them. That’s the real challenge! But in these last three to five years, we have seen a lot of young people coming to Audemars Piguet. A lot!

Last week, I got an email from a 24-year-old from the UK that congratulated me doing what I am doing with the brand. He said: “I just bought my first Royal Oak and I am going to buy many more as long you are doing a good job.”

It’s funny to actually interact with those kids. We can call them kids; I’m 54 years old. This is how we make feel like they belong. This is how we bring them on board. Because every time we deliver a good experience to one of those kids, they’ll talk about it to their friends. Then, they want to bring more of their friends on board. This is how you go about it: One watch at a time; one experience at a time; and one person at a time.

Last year, you launched a pop up store on WeChat with the help of JD.com. What are the results so far with the Chinese e-commerce ecosystem?

We tested the waters with JD.com. It was really a test. We are going to do a second wave of tests in the US in the last quarter of 2019. And why do I use the word test? Because we don’t know exactly what clients really want out of the experience.

We know that this is not a means to an end. The goal is not to sell 40,000 watches on internet. The goal is to use internet as a new communication language, to give us access to people that may not have a store nearby or that don’t want to actually go to a store. The ultimate goal will always be to create direct interactions with our clients. We can’t just have screens or computers in the middle all the time. At the end of the day, we have to be able to engage.

How do you adapt to the fast changing retail landscape?

Four years ago, who would have thought that we would open a space in Hong Kong that spans 350 square meters, and that the store would actually perform extremely well? No one. It was a bet, and so far, it’s a winning bet. We will see where we go with that.

Maybe, in the years to come, we will challenge the retail industry even more ­– compared to what it is today and what it could be tomorrow. I always say the best is yet to be. The world is evolving quickly. We have to adapt and adjust every single day. Listen, and move on.

You are also experimenting new models of retail with the Audemars Piguet Houses. Tell us more about it.

It’s a new way of selling. We have opened stores in Hong Kong, Madrid, Milan, Munich.  We will open two more in May: London and New York. We will also open one in Bangkok.

What we discovered with the AP House is that clients are spending at least twice as much time there, as they would normally spend in any store. They don’t see as many watches, but they can schedule breakfast meetings there, throw baby showers, and even hold wedding proposals as well.

There are many things going on here. The spaces we offer are sort of a “home away from home”. That’s the feeling we want to give to our clients. That is the energy we want to deliver. We want to trigger specific emotions and see people get attached to the brand, not because it’s a club, not because it’s stuffy, but because it’s just a sort of a “home away from home”.

Your new Museum in Le Brassus is set to open in 2020.

Actually, funnily enough, we launched CODE 11:59 in our Museum last Saturday (Editor’s note: January 12th). The event was held at a construction site – because it’s still a construction site – but we managed to turn the place into a sort of castle for four days. We were there with 25 guests, on Saturday evening, to launch the CODE 11:59. It was an amazing experience. It was neither the official opening of the museum, nor the soft opening. We still have a lot of work to do.

In the days following that, we went back to the sort-of construction site. We will do a soft opening  for the museum in October or November of this year, with a real official opening in 2020. This new museum is going to add to the legitimacy of the brand, to what we want to put together in order to show the world that, yes, we have been in the business since 1875, but at the same time, we are always looking towards the future.

This interview has been conducted at SIHH, together with our partner Europa Star.