A spiral-shaped glass pavillion in Le Brassus hosts a collection of timepieces spanning over two centuries of watchmaking history
Opened in June 2020, the Musée Atelier is located in Le Brassus, a village of the Vallée de Joux in the Swiss Jura. This is the historical location where the company of the luxury watch brand Audemars Piguet was established over 140 years ago. As a result, the venue unites contemporary architecture and traditional savoir-faire, expressing the brand’s blend of tradition and progress-oriented intuition.
The Musée Atelier links the original house where Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet first set business in 1875 – technically a start-up ante litteram – to a spiral-shaped glass pavilion designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (Big) and realized by the Swiss architecture office CCHE in collaboration with scenography specialist Atelier Brückner. Le Brassus will also host the new Hôtel des Horlogers, which will open in the summer of 2021, once again designed by BIG with CCHE.
The result of an architecture and museography competition launched in 2013, the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet required seven years of development. More than a thousand people – including architects, engineers and local artisans – have shared their craft, collaborating to the creation of this venue. Situated in this contemporary glass building, the main exhibition today presents some three hundred timepieces spanning over two centuries of watchmaking history in Switzerland.
Engineering meets design
This spiral pavillion rises on walls of curved structural glass, and was the first one of this kind to be built at such altitude. The construction also represents a studied combination of engineering and design. For instance, the steel grass-covered roof helps to regulate temperature while absorbing water, and, simultaneously, resembles the mechanism inside a watch.
The glass outer wall – which counts 108 structural panels – allows visitor to admire the landscape all around the museum. A brass mesh runs along the external surface to regulate light and temperature. The floor, instead, adapts to the natural gradient of the land. In this way, the spiral-shaped building is perfectly embedded in the surrounding landscape.
Following the curved glass walls, the museum path converges clockwise towards the spiral’s centre before unwinding in the opposite direction. The path is characterized by flowing transitions: depending on the time of day and the season, the optical impression changes. Apart from glass, defining materials are brass, bleached ash and glossy black lacquer as a surface coating.
A chrono-musical path
To offer visitors a diverse experience with crescendos, highpoints and contemplative moments, German scenographer Atelier Brückner imagined the composition of the exhibition as a musical score. Interludes, including sculptures, automata, kinetic installations and mock-ups of intricate mechanical movements, give life and rhythm to various aspects of horological techniques and design.
Visitors are also invited to try their hand at some of the ancestral techniques perpetuated by Audemars Piguet’s finishing experts, such as satin brushing and circular graining. The visit culminates at the centre of the spiral with the display of Grandes Complications.
Inspired by the solar system, the spherical cases containing Audemars Piguet specimens orbit around the Universelle (1899), one of the brand’s most complicated watches ever produced. Then, the watch exhibition ends on a rich collection of Royal Oak, Royal Oak Offshore and Royal Oak Concept models.
While following the path, it is also possible to admire special pieces like the ten specimens of Audemars Piguet’s vintage chronograph, which are among the rarest in the world with a total production of only 307 units before 1980. Or, the watch realized for Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, King of Persia (1848–1896), remembered as a promotor of modernity in his country.
Legacy and craftmanship
Conceived as a space of live crafts, the Musée Atelier brings visitors in close contact with the Manufacture’s artisans and watchmakers through three specialized ateliers situated at the heart of the spiral.
The first one is dedicated to the Grandes Complications, where each watch composed of more than 648 components spends from six to eight months in the hands of a single watchmaker before leaving the workshop. At present, this atelier counts twelve specialized artisans.
The second workshop hosts the Métiers d’Art, where Haute Joaillerie creations are conceived and crafted by highly skilled jewelers, gem-setters and engravers. The artisans face the landscape of the Vallée de Joux during their work.
The third one is dedicated to Restoration. It is in the workshop where Audemars Piguet debuted in 1875, at the top floor of the historical house. A handful of specialized watchmakers restore antique timepieces to their original condition: the fundamental tools and techniques have not changed in the last century.
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