CEO of Audemars Piguet, François-Henry Bennahmias

There is no-one else who has a better grasp of Audemars Piguet’s business than François-Henry Bennahmias. With a tenure that spans over 20 years with the brand under his belt, the Frenchman worked his way up the corporate ladder to the top of the family-owned company in 2012. We spoke to him at the recent reopening of the brand’s swanky flagship boutique at Liat Towers.

What’s a highlight for Audemars Piguet in 2016?

The Royal Oak in yellow gold for men and women. Nobody else has launched yellow gold for the last eight years, so we took a bet and the outcome was really good; we started to sell watches very quickly in many stores in the world. The fact that we haven’t seen yellow gold for quite some time made a lot of people say, “It’s cool!”

The Diamond Fury (left) requires over 1,500 hours to produce and has 4,635 brilliant-cut diamonds

You also launched the Haute Joaillerie Diamond Fury, a follow up to last year’s Diamond Punk. Can you tell us more about it?

When we started with the Diamond Punk, the pitch was: We will never do high-end jewellery from the 19th or 20th century. I want to think tomorrow, not yesterday. I don’t want to see flowers or butterflies; I want to see edgy, modern. We pushed the envelope a lot further with the Diamond Fury—which could have been called the Game of Thrones watch or the Dragon watch because of the shape of the scales. I think our designers have a lot of fun in the studio at night. I don’t know what they do, but they come up with these crazy, brilliant ideas.

Why the decision to do such an extravagant piece given the economic climate?

I’m going to challenge your statement. Let’s assume for a second that the economic climate is so bad that not a single wealthy person in the world buys anything anymore. No cars, no planes, no art, no jewellery, nothing. Is that what’s going on right now? No. There are always people who can afford these watches. They want the wow effect, so we have to deliver something that they have never seen before. When the emotions are right, people will actually buy. The best proof of that is the new Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel Openworked in stainless steel. It was launched right after the fair—a rose gold version will be launched in October—and it is a success because every time it shows up somewhere, it’s sold out within the next few days. It’s our third bestselling watch in the world; and at $61,800, it’s not a cheap stainless steel watch.

The Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel Openworked features the world’s first double-balance wheel escapement.

How does the brand slogan of “There are exceptions to every rule” apply to your female timepieces?

Completely the same as it does for our men’s timepieces. The independence and purchasing power that we see in women today is completely different from two decades ago. Before, a woman had to ask her husband or boyfriend for an expensive item. Today, we see women buying their own watches because they have jobs, make money and they make decisions. People ask me: “Who is the Audemars Piguet woman or man?” I don’t care [about this]. I hate putting people in boxes; they are anyone they want to be. What I do care about are people who didn’t know anything about our brand and now are fans.

What would you recommend a woman looking for her first watch?

If she wants something simple, she can start with 33mm Royal Oak. If she appreciates the mechanical aspect of the brand, she can move to the 37mm or she could think: “Oh, the Royal Oak is too sporty, so I want the Millenary.” Right now, our best-selling watches for ladies are the 33mm and 37mm gold on gold Royal Oaks.

How have you seen an evolution of women who buy from the brand?

It’s not what they like; it’s that we see more women coming to our brand. That’s a big change. We see younger women coming into the boutique—women between 20 and 30 years old—who say, “I want to wear AP.” Women are also buying men’s watches; and this is a global trend.

  • By Charmaine Ho and Debby Kwong
  • This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore.