One’s 40th birthday is a big deal – but could one imagine an International expensive blow-out for a watch? Well, leave it to Audemars Piguet to throw a blow-out bash to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak – simply the worlds’ most amazing watch brand.
Was interesting for a uber-luxury brand to host an event which is open to the public – and was held at a very unique building – the Park Avenue Armory (which spans an entire city block and even this lifelong NY’er had never before been inside).
Once inside the simply amazing space, one felt they were transported to a mansion from hundreds of years ago, and as the designer said the space felt he wanted to “immerse every visitor deep in the Vallée de Joux, the birth place of Haute Horlogerie in Switzerland.” He succeeded – and I think the event was a major success from a marketing standpoint. Many of the watches were displayed, and as the opening line in their exhibition booklet said about Audemars Piguet “Some stories are akin to legends.” This event in NYC was the continuation of that legend.
The event will travel now to stops in key worldwide cities, including Milan, Paris, Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing and Dubai.
I discuss Audemars Piguet at length in my book, in a section called: The Secret Language of Luxury:
Established in 1875, the upscale watch brand Audemars Piguet (nickname: AP) has been around for quite some time. Throughout its first hundred years, the company traditionally marketed its wares primarily to European aristocrats. In 1972 it introduced the Royal Oak, its first high-end sports watch, which was daring at the time. Timepieces now start in the low- to mid-five figures and go into the six figures for limited-edition styles. This brand’s success requires downplaying overt marketing and instead strategically placing products or services within specific communities and subcultures that make for an organic fit. Audemars Piguet has perfected this strategy. In the HBO series Entourage, character Ari Gold receives an Audemars Piguet watch as a gift from John Ellis, the fictional chairman of his company’s parent company. Ellis describes it as “perhaps the finest timepiece in the world.”
The brand makes only 26,000 pieces per year, and each one is made by hand. The brand, like many other luxury brands, uses ambassadors to spread the word about the product. These are normally high-profile people who are already established fans and customers. In 1993 the company introduced the Royal Oak Offshore line, stretching the boundaries of how large a watch could be—some versions are 48 millimeters, or nearly two inches across. The brand took off and the company continues to innovate in terms of size and design.
Some saw it as risky when Audemars Piguet partnered with celebrities to make limited-edition watches, such as the 20-piece Offshore Chronograph Jay-Z Special Edition Platinum watch (Which costs around $70,000, if you can find one) and the Royal Oak Offshore Shaquille O’Neal Chronograph (which costs about $30,000), or hire them as ambassadors for the line, such as motor racing pro Michael Schumacher.
Celebrity involvement in branding does present challenges because people are people, and human nature means anyone can screw up and cause embarrassment for a brand. In this case, however, it’s been a brilliant move. Among a sophisticated, watch-wealthy audience, making a celebrity association with these fashion-forward but luxurious timepieces was right on point. A watch is the only jewelry many men wear, so seeing certain handpicked celebrities wearing the watches resonates with many core consumers. The company doesn’t have to sell a lot of watches to make a lasting impression on a certain group of ultra wealthy consumers. In fact, nearly all of its watches increase in value.
John Mayer, the musician, wanted to buy a specific limited-edition Royal Oak I own. He approached me one night in a nightclub (we didn’t know each other at the time) and offered me $10,000 more than its original price. I declined, but we ended up having a lengthy discussion about the Audemars Piguet brand and watches. Each time he sees me now, he asks about the watch. That’s what I would call a well-honed secret language—one spoken and understood by the few people who love, appreciate, and can afford these watches. Audemars Piguet speaks this language brilliantly and it’s been great PR. Its watches don’t look that expensive. If you don’t know the brand you wouldn’t necessarily see or understand the cost or value of one of its timepieces immediately.
All part of a strategic secret language the company uses for the brand. It’s a very clever way to market to a select group of people. Many people know, for example, that Rolex is a luxury brand and recognize it as such, even though Rolex watches cost, in most cases, a fraction of an AP timepiece. AP doesn’t need a huge audience or broad public awareness—just to talk to the consumer who can afford one. In the process, the company has managed to reinvent itself as a brand that not only appeals to old Europe but to the young, wealthy, and hip as well – (or the young at heart, yet wealthy).
It has also maintained and expanded its original authenticity with great dexterity.