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planks. Another special feature of the battleships consisted in the octagonal muzzle door from where the cannon tips protruded. Audemars Piguet deliberately emulated this element while creating an octagonal Royal Oak bezel (frame of the dial). And then there were the visible mechanical design elements such as the white gold screws holding together the frame while simultaneously resulting in an unusual design.

“Critics lambasted the provocative design of the Oak and even many employees were less than enthusiastic,” said Guhl. Contrary to all predictions, however, the Royal Oak became Audemars Piguet’s most successful product. For Christoph Guhl, there is only one possible explanation for the surprising success: “The Royal Oak must have been miles ahead of the times, which probably also explains why it has been copied so many times.”

One piece of art with 648 components Thanks to the success of the Royal Oak and some technical innovations, the watches Made in Le Brassus survived the tough 70s. And so much more: the company still reaps the benefits of that time. Many enhancements of the traditional Royal Oak were released to date, such as the “Royal Oak Grande Complication”. The clock consists of 648 components, all of which are decorated and fitted by the same watchmaker. The entire assembly of a single watch takes six months and has, despite its enormous number of components, a width of only 8.55 mm. Even the best watchmakers require years of training to assemble a clock of such high complexity.

Already as a boy Christoph Guhl was fascinated by watchmakers. He consequently left his hometown of Zurich at the age of 22 and moved to the west of Switzerland so he could learn the craft. Now he’s already been working for Audemars Piguet for 28 years and intimately knows every detail of these highly complicated products. “Many things haven’t changed but lots has become more modern,” said Guhl. Plenty of manual work is nevertheless still required. Finishing and final manual edits of parts such as thinning, bevelling or polishing are all done by hand. Bevelling for example requires work pieces to be introduced with chamfers, which are then meticulously polished. Manual labour has its price, of course. A Royal Oak Grande Complication costs over a million Swiss francs and is therefore one of the most expensive watches in the world. The cheapest Audemars Piguet product, a Royal Oak in the standard version, still costs about 13,000 francs. Christoph Guhl said: “For me, our products are works of art communicating time in a wonderful way."

Modest growth as a matter of principle The 1150 employees manufacture more than 30,000 works of art per year. Nevertheless, Audemars Piguet made sure at all time not to lose its sense of proportion. “Since the company is still family- owned, it is not blindly pursuing an aggressive growth strategy,” said Guhl. “However, reaching the current production capacity cost us a lot of money.” The company invested in both the recruitment of watchmakers (the education takes several years) and the most modern CNC machines.

The latter is an ideal base for working with the highly precise boring tools of KAISER. But Audemars Piguet has recently started to rely not just on the KAISER boring heads but also on the tools of BIG Daishowa, KAISER’s Japanese partner. Didier Rethore is

18 | commercial micro manufacturing international Vol 7 No.3

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