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Audemars Piguet’s New CEO on Working With John Mayer and the Brand’s New Space in Milan

When François-Henry Bennahmias, the longtime chief executive of the Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet (AP), announced in 2022 that he would be leaving the company at the end of 2023, many fans and collectors wondered if AP would be able to sustain the growth and excitement it enjoyed under his charismatic tenure.

After all, Bennahmias, who joined the brand in 1994 and became CEO in 2013, had presided over AP’s meteoric rise over the past two decades, from a prestigious but obscure maker of luxury watches, to an aspirational brand name-checked in rap songs, and sought after by celebrities, speculators and watch lovers, with sales last year totaling a reported CHF 2.4 billion, or about $2.7 billion.

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A clear indication that AP’s fans have little reason to worry came in Milan in early March, when Ilaria Resta, a former fragrance industry executive who officially took over from Bennahmias on Jan. 1, and singer and watch collector John Mayer welcomed attendees to the new AP Social Club in the heart of Milan, Italy.

Audemars Piguet's AP House in Milan
Audemars Piguet's AP House in Milan

“When I travel the world and meet all the clients, I realize that the relationships we have are connected by a common passion for watches,” Resta said. “And it’s amazing how contagious this passion is. You can sit at the table and all of a sudden, you start telling stories about your collection and what you know about watchmaking.

“But at the same time, there is something more that I discovered from our own people: The desire to push limits, the desire to go beyond,” she added. “There is a healthy sense of dissatisfaction when I meet the watchmakers and the intent is really to keep looking beyond what’s possible. ‘Seek Beyond’ is not only for me the tagline of a wonderful marketing campaign. Seek Beyond is the way we operate, it’s the way we think and it’s the way we push every day the limits of watchmaking to deliver excellence.”

Audemars Piguet's AP House in Milan
Audemars Piguet's AP House in Milan

In her spirited presentation, Resta also spoke about the new AP House Milan, which just opened its doors in a new five-story space located in the former Garage Traversi, on Via Bagutta. Designed in collaboration with Lissoni & Partners, an architecture and interior design studio based in Milan and New York, the new location replaces the original AP House Milan, which opened in 2017, marking the debut of AP’s experiential retail concept. Since then, 19 additional locations have opened in cities around the world, including Amsterdam, Bangkok, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Tel Aviv and Tokyo.

“The AP house launch is part of our intention to create with our clients a different type of relationship from the one you can have in a boutique,” Resta said. “This is not a transactional place. For us, it’s an opportunity really to share our history and spread the world of watchmaking. And at the same time, an opportunity for you to engage with our passions, the passion for music and the passion for art.”

Audemars Piguet's AP House in Milan
Audemars Piguet's AP House in Milan

The renovated space, originally designed in the 1930s by architect Giuseppe De Min to serve as the city’s first multi-story car park, features a watch exhibition floor highlighting contemporary and heritage timepieces, a lounge area decorated with vintage furniture and works by famous Milanese designers, an entire floor dedicated to service and the art of watchmaking, and a scenic rooftop with views of Milanese landmarks, including the Sforzesco Castle, the green dome of the church San Carlo al Corso and the “Madonnina,” the highest spire of the Duomo.

Following Resta’s opening remarks, Lucas Raggi, research and development director, took the stage to introduce a new precious metal alloy called Sand Gold, as well as the new 41 mm Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Openworked timepiece encased in it.

Audemars Piguet AP House Milan
Audemars Piguet AP House Milan

The 18k gold alloy, a combination of gold and palladium, looks gray or rose depending on the angle of the light. “We used to have plays of light; now we also have plays of color,” Raggi said.

“AP puts gold in the spotlight for 2024,” he added.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Frosted Gold 37 mm
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Frosted Gold 37 mm

He wasn’t kidding. In addition to the Sand Gold tourbillon, AP unveiled a slew of precious metal pieces, including the new Royal Oak Selfwinding Frosted Gold 37 mm and the 41 mm yellow gold Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph, both featuring smoked dials, as well as two Royal Oak selfwinding models in 34 mm cases, one in pink gold with a baby pink tapisserie dial and the other in a chic two-tone execution of pink gold and steel.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph 41 mm
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph 41 mm

AP Social Club concluded with a conversation between Yoni Ben-Yehuda, head of watches for the New York City-based retailer Material Good, and singer-songwriter John Mayer, about the new Royal Oak perpetual calendar limited edition that Mayer designed in collaboration with the brand.

“This project started in a really authentic way: me designing a piece unique, changing it both visually and practically,” Mayer said, referring to the model’s striking “Crystal Sky” blue dial as well as a couple of subtle changes to the perpetual calendar display that he proposed. “It’s nice to change the colors but if you can change the practical qualities, that can bring a piece to life.

Audemars Piguet x John Mayer Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Limited Edition
Audemars Piguet x John Mayer Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Limited Edition

“I sent my idea to François back in 2021,” Mayer added. “And he said, ‘We should make several of these.’ And that set us on process of redesigning the dial. The only bittersweet thing is I had to wait three years. Now, I get to share the watch that I most wanted.”

But that wasn’t all. In Milan, Mayer announced a new, more formal relationship with the brand in which he will serve as a “creative conduit” between AP and collectors.

“I’m acting as a bridge between the manufacture and clients, telling the story of certain pieces like the QP, and also representing clients back to the brand, in a constant dialogue,” Mayer said.

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