Anne-Gaëlle Quinet On The Importance Of Ergonomy In High Complications
We caught up with Audemars Piguet’s new Head of Complications, Anne-Gaëlle Quinet, about the making of RD#4, the future of the Concept line and more
Earlier this year, Audemars Piguet unveiled the Code 11.59 By Audemars Piguet Universelle – the brand’s very first ultra-complicated self winding wristwatch. Conceptualized and developed over the last seven years, this watch posed the ultimate challenge for AP’s team of engineers, designers, watchmakers and craftsmen. Packed with 23 complications, the Code 11.59 By Audemars Piguet Universelle or the RD#4 is based on the brand’s major technical innovations in recent years — the Supersonnerie technology employed in the RD#1, the ultra-thin perpetual calendar movement launched in the RD#2 and the selfwinding flying tourbillon movement seen in the RD#3 last year.
According to Anne Gaëlle Quinet, Head of Complications at Audemars Piguet, the RD#4 represents the brand’s ultimate goal to make complications smaller, lighter and more ergonomic. In an interview with Wristcheck’s co-founder and CEO, Austen Chu, Anne-Gaëlle talks about the making of RD#4, the future of the Concept line and the importance of ergonomy in high complications.
Excerpts from the interview:
You were born and raised in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Do you think you were destined to be in the watch industry?
I have to be very honest with you. When I was a teenager, I didn't know what I wanted to do but I trusted destiny, for sure. So maybe, it was my destiny. Yes it was. My mother was working at Breguet as Area Manager in the sales department and since I didn't know what to do, she encouraged me to try watchmaking. It wasn’t the most popular career choice for young people at the time and I wasn’t very enthusiastic at first, but I ended up loving it! I remember, the first time I disassembled and assembled a movement, it was so satisfying. I was so happy to have done it and I still enjoy that feeling. It was magical!
You started as a tourbillon specialist. What do you think of the importance of this complication in modern watchmaking?
I actually specialized in hairsprings. I loved the delicacy of the process and the challenge of regulating these tiny components. In terms of functionality, they no longer have the same function for modern wristwatches as they did back then, but it is very important to keep the know-how. It’s the emotions that matter here and not so much the practicality of it.
As the Head of Complications for AP, what are your goals for the brand over the next decade?
It has been a really exciting few years for Audemars Piguet. In addition to all the technical innovations going on at the manufacture, I can mention the Musée Atelier that opened during the pandemic and that is inspiring us in many ways. In the future, we will continue to develop user-friendly timepieces with the use and lifestyle of our clients in mind. The Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Universelle, for example, is our most complicated watch but it’s so simple to use. So we will be definitely working on a similar user experience for all our watches.
The RD#4 is presented on the new Code 11.59 case measuring only 42 mm in diameter and 15.55 mm in thickness. How did you achieve this amazing feat of engineering?
The Calibre 1000 started to be developed at a time when the Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet collection didn’t exist. As the project progressed, the Code 11.59 was chosen as the best platform for the Universelle. This posed an even bigger challenge because of the octagonal middle case and the various angles within it. The RD#4 is a culmination of our know-how seen in some of the most exemplary watches in recent years. It incorporates some developments of the three previous watches: the Supersonnerie of the RD#1, the ultra-thin perpetual calendar of the RD#2 and the oscillator with increased amplitude premiered on the RD#3.
Can you explain how the moon-phase indication on the Universelle is so unique as compared to other watches with the same complication?
The RD#4 depicts a realistic moon. So we have two concentric disks with six moon positions that combine to form ten different images. These images represent the transient phases of waxing and waning between the new moon and the full moon. It's all about getting an accurate representation of the moon, and I think we've accomplished a real feat with this feature on the RD#4. The new moon phase indicator only requires manual correction once every 122 years if the watch is kept fully wound. The new moonphase indicator requires manual correction just once every 122 years if the watch is kept fully wound.
The Universelle uses a patent chiming technology. Would you say this is the most advanced Supersonnerie in the market right now?
Yes, what we have achieved with the chiming technology for this watch is absolutely fantastic. The gongs are no longer attached to the main plate but to a separate component that acts as the soundboard. This was a really challenging task but we made it! Our engineers also wanted the clients to appreciate the mechanism, so they developed a double case back with a “secret” extra-thin cover and a new 0.6mm-thick soundboard made out of sapphire crystal. It took them three years to develop this special sapphire crystal component with the right geometry and thickness. The “secret” cover features tiny openings to let air through to boost the sound. Once the cover is open, you get a glimpse of the split-seconds mechanism and the platinum oscillating weight.
The ultra-complicated Caliber 1000 in the RD#4 is made of over 1100 components. How many pieces are you able to make in a year?
This year, we will produce seven pieces. We are aiming to release more pieces next year and also explore new materials for customization of the RD#4 by 2025. It will be a very limited production, as it's an extraordinary watch and not many watchmakers are able to assemble it. There’s one dedicated master watchmaker working on one watch.
Audemars Piguet has a rich history of bespoke commissions. Is that something you would like to explore with the RD#4?
Yes, we would like to offer our clients some customization options for the RD#4 in terms of colors and materials. I also think it’s very important we work with talented craftsmen to add value to these special pieces.
What are the other key innovations that have contributed to the amazing ergonomics of the Universelle?
We started designing this watch with its ergonomics in mind. This watch is based on three main pillars – the first is human adventure, as it involves a lot of people. The second is, of course, the quality of the complications, because this is the most complicated wristwatch Audemars Piguet has ever produced. And the third one, which is most important, is the ergonomics. Everything on the watch can be easily adjusted thanks to the six crowns and pushers, symmetrically placed on either side of the watch. While the date can be adjusted by the crown at 3 o'clock, the month can also be adjusted in either direction using the crown at 4 o'clock. The semi-Gregorian perpetual calendar mechanism is tuned to automatically advance the day, date and year as per the number of days in a month. The best part is that the watch won’t need a manual adjustment until 2400! One of the other highlights of this watch is the integration of the split-seconds mechanism within the thickness of the central rotor’s ball bearing. This superimposition helped the engineers reduce the case thickness by almost 1.1mm.
What’s the future of the Royal Oak Concept line at Audemars Piguet? How do you see it evolving in the next decade?
The Concept line has always been the canvas of experimentation for us, as it allows us to develop futuristic movements. The RD#4 is going to inspire the next generation of Concept watches. The goal is to make complications smaller, lighter and more ergonomic.