by Walt Odets

Following on the unparalleled success of its “Millenary” collection, introduced at the 1996 Basel Fair, the prestigious firm of Audemars Piguet of Le Brassus has announced a new line to complement the Millenary. Like the Millenary, the new Beyond Millenary collection is designed to carry the firm, founded in 1092, well into the 21st century–and even further. Known “in house” simply as the BM collection, this new line of watches breaks new ground in almost every respect. According to Jacques Pepin, future president and CEO of the firm, “The BM collection will go beyond anything we imagined was possible. We have spent years of careful research and have arrived at design solutions that were unimaginable only a few years ago.”

M. Pepin revealed that AP is taking a position of leadership in the Swiss watch industry by moving in several new directions with the BM collection. The first of these is the large military-style watch exemplified by the new Beyond Millenary BIG. With a case diameter of 89 mm, new design challenges confronted the AP design team on every front, including the problem of how to fit a leather strap. In a combined effort with the German firm Siemens, AP was able to respond to the challenge with brand new technology. The jointly developed LSD technology–short for leather stretch by distress–is used for the first time in the BIG and provides one of the BIG’s most distinctive design elements. The BIG also uses AP’s tried-and-true calibre 2125 but with another new technological twist befitting a watch for the 21st century and beyond: synthetic lubricants are used throughout. These new lubricants reduce service intervals to three years regardless of the environmental rigors to which the watch is subjected.

The second new development in the BM line unveiled at the Basel ’99 preview is the very special Dashboard Convertible, which represents a nod to the auto enthusiasts among AP’s loyal customer base. (For those who did not read my column last month, AP is also the sponsor this year of the Pike’s Peak Race in the majestic Canton of Colorado in the Mid-Western United States.) As with all the BM line, the Dashboard, too, presented special technical challenges, not the least of which was how to fit the tried-and-true AP calibre 2125 into a rectangular case that would also convert by attaching to the dashboard of the owner’s car. The solutions, once again, were startling. Finding that a 38 mm wide base metal ring around the movement added too much weight, AP settled on a startling, appropriately “high-tech” solution: Delrin plastic. Likewise, attachment of the dashboard magnet to the back of the case was a special challenge that AP engineering staff rose to with aplomb: Crazy Glue. Finally, the Dashboard Convertible offers another first. For the first time in Audemar Piguet’s history, a watch is available in custom colors by hand-enameling of the dial to match the customer’s automobile. Contrasting or coordinating straps may also be fitted. M. Pepin is very clear on the subject: “We will go to no limits to meet the needs of our very special customers.” The illustrated example in one of the very first custom-enameled Dashboard Convertibles produced, in this instance to match the Facel Vega of a very special, long-standing customer of the Audemars Piguet firm.

Third in the Beyond Millenary line is the new Dali, which needs no introduction and no explanation. Suffice it to say that the Dali presented numerous technical challenges of its own, and that it mandated solutions on the cutting edge of technology. The Dali, too, is fully lubricated with synthetic oils and also offers the customer a convenient three-year service interval. Furthermore, a rubber O-ring gasket of very special materials and shape is used on the snap-on back to provide water resistance to 0.2 ATM. According to M. Pepin, “The Dali picks up where others have left off.”

Not to forget the ladies, the fourth introduction in the Beyond Millenary collection is known as The Madame. The petite 3 mm diameter case (illustrated 15 times life size) demanded use of many new technologies, one among them a technology accidentally discovered in pursuit of the new LSD technology used in the BM BIG. This “fallout” technology–known as Pinch and Squeeze, or PAS for short–is apparent in the strap attachment for the very diminutive The Madame. As for the movement, suffice it to say that the AP design team was up late nights fitting the venerable cal. 2125 into the elegantly sized and proportioned 3mm platinum case. In keeping with the styling themes of the BM collection, the The Madame includes a guichet date at 3 o’clock. Due to space restrictions within the diminutive case, it is non-functional and suitably ornamented with an obstruction designed to complement the choosen PAS strap. Of course, the The Madame also benefits from the use of synthetic lubricants, but less of them (for the same reason the date doesn’t work). As a result, the The Madame provides the customer with full three-month service intervals. Never let it be said that wristwatch enthusiasts of the fairer sex are disregarded by the design teams at Audemars Piguet!

Finally, perhaps the crowning touch in the new Beyond Millenary line: The Classic. Returning to its familiar routes in the Vallee de Joux, Audemar’s designers have produced a perfectly round case for the first time in many years. Designed on the principle of Plato’s Golden Sections of Circles and Squares, the The Classic measures 35mm in diameter any way you measure it. In keeping with the advanced techology exemplified in the entire BM collection, the The Classic is available in platinum, rhodium, tantalum, titanium, white gold, yellow gold, rose gold, green gold, or steel. Like others in the BM line, the The Classic is powered by AP’s calibre 2125. Unlike the The Madame, the The Classic offers a functional guichet date at 3 o’clock, faithfully showing the full 31 days of the month every month of the year.

The planned introduction of this stellar collection at next year’s Basel Fair makes one thing clear: Audemars Piguet has a continuing, indisputable position in the future of fine Swiss watchmaking. As M. Pepin clearly and eloquently elaborated the Audemars Piguet position at the champagne reception following the introduction of the Beyond Millenary line: “One thing is clear. Audemars Piguet believes there is a future and we believe in it.”

And what is beyond Beyond Millenary? Well, all that Mr. Pepin would say is that his lips are sealed and he hopes that we will be at Basel 2000 to find out. He did, however, hint at an entirely new development in Swiss watchmaking and provided a press kit with illustration. This remarkable new creation, called the Einstein, is a single watch existing in four dimensions simultaneously. “In a sense,” M. Pepin commented, “you might say that the Einstein represents the very essence of time.” As for the strap, M. Pepin emphasized that it’s construction is–and will necessarily remain–a closely guarded secret. It is, however, in the words of M. Pepin, “The most complex leather watch strap ever produced.”