A step inside of Audemars Piguet's US Service Center to see my Royal Oak receive a factory service (Part I)
June 2, 2016
Audemars Piguet’s legendary manufacture has been based at Le Brassus in the heart of the Vallée de Joux since 1875. They are one of the very few brands that have retained their independence from the larger conglomerates. An Audemars (Jasmine Audemars) and a Piguet (Olivier Audemars, great-grandson of co-founder Edward Auguste Piguet) still serve on the board of directors. The storied brand has a rich history of craftsmanship, ingenuity, and innovation. While AP’s main manufacture is based at Le Brassus, the brand has service centers throughout the world. These service centers provide after-sales service, accessories, and a place for owners to connect with the brand. The US service center is based in Clearwater, FL.
For years, the concept of watch servicing has been a mysterious affair. Many choose to send their watches to a friend that “knows watches” or maybe they choose an independent watchmaker purely due to cost. In recent years, this perception has changed, and the conversation now includes actual watch manufacturers running their own service centers.
This story begins last summer when I acquired a vintage Royal Oak two-day with day-date and moon phase. The piece hadn’t been serviced for some time, and I wanted to get firsthand knowledge of the servicing process. I was lucky enough to visit the manufacture in Le Brassus last year, and when the opportunity to see the Clearwater facility and see my watch be serviced at the same time came up, I jumped at the chance. After a few conversations, Audemars Piguet was kind enough to let me peek behind the curtains for a few days. So last month, I flew down to Clearwater, Florida to see the magic firsthand, escaping the hustle and bustle of New York for the warm, sunny climate of Clearwater, Florida.
In order to service my watch, I had to get the piece to AP. I was shipped a postage paid priority overnight box along with detailed re-packing instructions. I placed the protective soft plastic sleeve over the piece, then fit a foam cutout to the inside of the bracelet and inserted the piece into a soft foam container. All of this went inside of a hardened cardboard box which goes inside (you guessed it) another cardboard box. The assembled package is built like a tank. I then dropped the package off at FedEx.
I landed in Florida on an early April morning. The flight was short and I was happy to be in a warmer climate than the arctic paradise I left behind in NYC. The service center was approx. 20 minutes from the airport. When I arrived at the Clearwater facility, I had a chance to sit down and chat with Guillaume, the service center manager. We discussed the servicing process and strategies that AP employs to ensure service standards are met and upheld around the world. Most notably, I learned Audemars Piguet prides themselves on their turnaround times.
Depending on the caliber, the state of the watch, and the work that needs to be performed the typical turnaround time on an in-warranty timepiece, is about three to four weeks. For out of warranty pieces the expected turnaround is about six to eight weeks. For complications, tourbillons, minute repeaters, and extremely vintage pieces the turnaround will obviously be much longer. Considering the amount of craftsmanship that goes into servicing one of their pieces, turnaround times in weeks instead of months is quite impressive.
We took a quick tour of the facility and then we got to work. I documented the process with my Canon EOS M3.
As my timepiece ascended the small elevator from the basement to the estimating room, I couldn’t help but get goosebumps. I was about to be one of the only watch collectors in the world to see their timepiece be serviced by the original manufacture.
Once the piece arrived into the estimating room, it was received and registered into AP’s global database and a repair file was created. At this point, the client would normally be notified of the safe arrival. Being there in person, we handled this process in person. The next step was an archive consultation; the team in Florida reported the case, movement, and reference numbers to Le Brassus via computer. In return, the local team looked up my timepiece in the system and was able to ascertain the approximate date of manufacture and the country the piece was shipped to. My piece was made in the early eighties and shipped to the German market. For a small fee, customers can request an extract from the archives during their service.
After a round of photographs, the piece hit the estimator’s bench. The estimator’s bench was manned by two AP watchmakers with a wide variety of experience. My piece was carefully taken apart, starting with bracelet removal and then the disassembly of the three-part case.
During the initial diagnosis, the watchmaker checked functionality and consulted my client notes to determine the course of action for the service. During triage, it was discovered that my timepiece hadn’t been serviced in some time (AP recommends servicing every 4-6 years). As you may know, mechanical timepieces utilize a variety of different lubricants and contain many precision gears and parts that are in constant movement. If not regularly serviced, the lubricants can dry causing friction and wear. Servicing at regular intervals protects against wear and tear and ensures your timepiece will work for more than your lifetime.
Typically, during the estimation process, AP will create an estimate of parts and costs. This will be sent to the owner or boutique for approval. For most standard model, the Audemars Piguet boutiques technical advisors can also provide an immediate quotation as well as some US retailers. Since I was on site, we handled everything right at the watchmaker’s bench. I opted for a traditional service and replacement of the dial.
Next up, the estimator drafted a list of potential parts required for my service and sent it to the parts department for fulfillment. Once the parts arrived, they were placed in a clear plastic container and sent to a watchmaker. The case, bezel, and bracelet were packaged separately and sent to the refinishing department.