The watch industry is currently going through a tough time, yet AP seems to be riding the crest of a wave. What do you put this down to?

It’s a combination of several things, but mainly because the strategy we put in place several years ago is paying off. Basically that policy was fewer, bigger, better. We now have fewer distributors, fewer small retailers and a better overall collection. Audemars has always been a good brand but, trust me, it’s now becoming even better. We are monitoring every single move we make every day to make sure we stay as good as we can be. Few brands manage to stay at the top of the game – we are one of them but we are not complacent. We want to keep surprising people and making moves that no one else will make.

Overproduction seems to be a particular problem for brands right now. How are you dealing with this?

When I came on board as CEO I knew that we needed to limit production. We now create 40,000 watches a year and we will keep at that number for at least five years. The groups can’t do that because they have to deliver a growth no matter what. We don’t. We can slow down if we want to slow down; that’s the good thing about being independent. We are in charge of our own destiny and we are not pressured or pushed by anyone else. Customers respect that. Our only goal now with our 40,000 watches is to make them the best possible. We still have a lot to do in several areas and that will be our goal in the years to come.

So you are looking at slow, steady growth?

We could lose ourselves if we grow too fast. Today we make 40,000 watches and I know that a quarter of these we could make even better – and that is our goal for 2017 and on. We have great years ahead. We are like the Loch Ness Monster – we are awake and we are coming through the water.

When you were President and CEO in the Americas, you made AP into very much a lifestyle brand.

I didn’t say: “I want AP to be a lifestyle brand.” Sure, it is good to see your watches worn by people who are some of the best in their fields – whether athletes or performers – but for this to work in your favour, there needs to be a mix of several things. Lifestyle success without having genuine craftsmanship behind it is no good in the long-term. Without craftsmanship, exclusivity and innovation there is nothing.

The number of potential buyers that can afford high-end watches is growing and there is so much still to be done to attract these people. I always look at the glass as half-empty, not half-full, and we have to reinvent ourselves – not just Audemars Piguet, but the entire industry. Whether we are talking watches, sport or business, one of the biggest downfalls is complacency. The minute you start thinking you are great, you are going to lose and that’s the biggest issue in the watch industry right now.

So you need to keep improving and keep looking for new client bases?

Yes. Our only goals are to continue making great watches and looking at how we access these new people. People still want watches and we are not done. There are still so many people who have not been exposed to high-end watchmaking and do not even know about it, yet they can afford to buy watches. I was in Asia a few weeks ago and I was amazed to see kids aged between 18 and 20 who were wearing APs.

Are you deliberately reaching out to a younger market?

We have to. The biggest risk for a luxury company is when you age with your client and one day wake up and see you and your customers are all 70 or 80 years old.

And it is working. My 20-year-old daughter called me a few months ago and said: “Dad, have you heard the new song from Drake? He talks about AP.” She sent me the link. His album was Number 1 so many, many kids were hearing our name. Obviously he doesn’t talk about craftsmanship, but suddenly the name Audemars Piguet has reached young ears and for some of them, at some point, it will click into place and they will think: “Drake talks about them and also look at the incredible work they do…”

Did you foresee this when the lifestyle element was in its infancy?

I never said that I would build the success of the brand on that. The US is a huge country and we are a small company. When I moved to the US in the late-1990s, we sold about 5-600 watches a year there and I knew the only way to make it take off was to be seen on specific peoples’ wrists and build the business one watch at a time. We made the brand as big as it is now because we made it human.

You recently bought Marcus Margulies’s amazing Audemars Piguet collection. Why?

First of all, because we are building a new museum and we wanted the best possible collection to show. We knew that, over two decades, Marcus had been collecting some amazing watches and it was inevitable that at some point we would try to buy the collection in its entirety. It was pretty obvious to us from the start that Marcus wanted the watches to come back to Audemars Piguet and after a few months of negotiations the deal was done and the watches are now back where they truly belong.

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