Situated in the ‘the birthplace of fine watchmaking’, the Vallée de Joux, the Audemars Piguet manufacture has crafted watches since 1875, maintaining their luxury reputation for almost 150 years. Visitors to the new museum, which was built alongside the original workshop, can tour this historical legacy of fine craftsmanship within an architectural creation on par with the quality housed within.
The excellence inherent to Audemars Piguet timepieces was a pivotal incorporation into the museum’s building. Designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), the spiral structure is built primarily from curved structural glass, which, at up to twelve centimetres thick and comprised of up to seven layers, is the load-bearing component of the entire structure. The floor-to-ceiling glass windows and internal walls hold up the 470-tonne steel roof, which is topped with local grasses to create a swirling lawn. Light and temperature are regulated by brass mesh that runs along the upper external surface of the building, maintaining a comfortable interior without compromising the stunning views of the surrounding Swiss landscape.
Inside the museum, the floor slants in gradients that adapt to the natural slopes of the land, leading visitors in a spiral path towards the centre of the building. The curved glass walls shepherd visitors through the exhibit, with paths moving clockwise as people approach the centre and then unwinding in the reverse direction on the way out. In this way, the museum maximises the space available for use while ensuring that visitors needn’t double back on their path. Reminiscent of the spring of a timepiece, the building’s flow is uniquely suited to the exhibition, calling to mind both mechanical watches and the astronomical inspiration behind them.
The entire museum exudes an atmosphere of warmth, with abundant natural light and a brassy-brown palette giving the building a sense of welcome. The exhibit pieces themselves are housed in equally beautiful cases, particularly as visitors approach the central collection: the Grandes Complications. Each intricately crafted piece is held inside a semi-spherical display case, evoking a solar system revolving around the Universelle (1899) – one of the most complicated watches the manufacturer ever produced. The museum also boasts long benches at which visitors can try their hand at watchmaking techniques, as well as workshops where Audemars Piguet’s artisans and watchmakers can be seen crafting new timepieces.
The Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet is a study in designing for a purpose. The building is a perfect encapsulation of the exemplary quality of the watchmaker’s works, providing a beautiful display space that’s an attraction in its own right. The museum first opened midway through last year, and though it has since been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s set to reopen at the end of February this year.
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