Audemars Piguet's Pioneering Collaborations Reach a Zenith With Tamara Ralph | Savoir Flair
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Audemars Piguet's Pioneering Collaborations Reach a Zenith With Tamara Ralph
article AUDEMARS PIGUET
by Grace Gordon 6-minute read January 22, 2024

Audemars Piguet has been breaking rules for decades. With its new Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon designed in collaboration with couturier Tamara Ralph, the iconic watch brand smashes expectations once again.

article AUDEMARS PIGUET

In 1875 in the quiet Jura mountains of Switzerland, a watchmaking legend was born. The dreamers behind the legend were Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet, who brought together their personal watchmaking expertise to found Audemars Piguet. They were only in their early 20s when they started a watchmaking brand that would quickly become renowned for its innovative complications, and perhaps it was their youth that led to Audemars Piguet’s reputation as a rule-breaker. 

Swiss watchmaking, dominated by longstanding tradition, embraced the swift and brilliant innovations that came flying out of the Audemars Piguet workshops. Chunky “repeaters” were created in wafer-thin proportions, they replaced watch hands with digital “jump hours,” they introduced the world’s first luxury sports watch in steel, and most importantly, they looked far beyond the insular Vallée de Joux to the universes of music, art, sports, and science for inspiration. Coupled with its brilliant craftsmanship and watchmaking mastery, Audemars Piguet’s audacious personality is what has always set it apart from other brands.

With a keen eye for creative partnerships, Audemars Piguet expanded its reputation brick by brick, paving the way for the industry at large, enriching the brand's legacy, and bridging the gap between traditional watchmaking and contemporary culture. As pioneers of collaboration, the brand folds in influence from the music world, like its recent limited-edition Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Openworked timepiece – an infusion of cool courtesy of Travis Scott’s Cactus Jack. It courts comic book enthusiasts with an ongoing collaboration with Marvel, yielding last year’s thrilling Royal Oak Concept Tourbillon “Spider-Man” watch. And it found a fashionable association by working with Matthew Williams, founder of the brand 1017 ALYX 9SM. In the vein of fashion, its latest collaboration – revealed this week on the runways of Paris Haute Couture Week at the Tamara Ralph show – really put the “haute” in haute horlogerie.

breaker_image CINDY BRUNA | AUDEMARS PIGUET
breaker_image NOUR ARIDA | AUDEMARS PIGUET
breaker_image CL | AUDEMARS PIGUET
article AUDEMARS PIGUET

This is not the first time that Audemars Piguet has worked with Tamara Ralph. Back in 2020, when she was with Ralph & Russo, the watchmaking brand created a selection of watches in a smaller 34mm size to complement the ephemeral couture dresses of the runway collection. This time, with Ralph flying solo at the helm of her own couture house, her design outlook is reflected in a new Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon. This remarkable limited edition timepiece encapsulates a design ethos that blends audacious femininity, limitless creativity, and enduring sophistication. Crafted in 18-carat pink gold, the timepiece is adorned with Frosted Gold finishing and showcases a distinctive spectrum of colors that transition from brown and bronze to golden shades. 

Ralph was a smart choice for collaboration. It doesn’t take a large leap of logic to understand that the female Audemars Piguet client and the Tamara Ralph client are often one and the same, moving in the same circles with the same desire for delicate watches that would emphasize the beauty and craftsmanship of their couture gowns. Ralph, hailing from a fourth-generation lineage of couturiers, stylists, and designers, has an innate flair for exclusive design that quickly positioned her at the forefront of luxury fashion. Internationally acclaimed, her visionary approach has secured a distinguished place in the luxury market. In 2014, Ralph gained the honor of being the first UK-based Creative Director in nearly 100 years to participate in the Paris Couture Fashion Week, sanctioned by La Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, and remains one of the few female Creative Directors in this elite group. Her brand philosophy marries luxury with impeccable craftsmanship, sharing the same philosophy with Audemars Piguet.

img TAMARA RALPH | AUDEMARS PIGUET

With my couture collection, each INDIVIDUAL LOOK is designed to be a piece of art that is cohesive in RELATION to the WIDER COLLECTION but also stands alone and tells its own story. This WATCH is very much the SAME.

SAVOIR FLAIR'S EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH TAMARA RALPH

How did your personal aesthetic and the iconic style of the Royal Oak Concept converge in this project?

I would say the main objective was to create a design that honored both my brand as well as that of Audemars Piguet, fusing them together in a seamless and authentic way that represented our overall design aesthetic and brand pillars. I approached the design of this watch in much the same way as I would a piece of couture, given both require enormous attention to detail and often painstaking technique. Fortunately, I had the incredible guidance of and collaboration with the Audemars Piguet team. The result, I feel, is a wholly unique limited edition version of the Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon that captures the essence and spirit of both of our brands.

I think that what I have created is a blend of our combined aesthetic but with an element of fresh modernity – it is boldly feminine, uniquely elegant, and effortlessly timeless.

In the realm of couture fashion and luxury watchmaking, the design process is intricate and deeply nuanced. Can you walk us through the key stages of the design process for this collaboration and how you integrated the distinct identities of your couture house and Audemars Piguet’s DNA?

It all begins with inspiration – regardless of what I am designing – and I drew inspiration from my new brand and my debut collection, which revealed an evolution of myself as a designer. Whereas I was previously quite well known for very feminine, soft, romantic, and ethereal designs, my new brand and collection unveiled something entirely different; a much bolder femininity. With elements of modernity juxtaposed with an Old World nature and techniques synonymous with couture, the result is a much stronger, confident, and unapologetic aesthetic. This translated perfectly when it came time to design this watch with Audemars Piguet, as it very much encapsulates the same essence and the same spirit. 

Once I solidified my inspiration for the piece, I then moved into sketching. I actually ended up sketching at least 50 designs for this piece! From there, Audemars Piguet and I worked closely to narrow this down into what would eventually become the singular design, and we collaborated over many, many months to bring the design to life.

The core inspiration for this timepiece was the notion of cognac; cognacs are a collection of assemblages representing the finest, most exceptional eaux-de-vie. I mixed metals and materials to create this concept, incorporating the ornate foundation that is symbolic of watchmaking, which can be played with in terms of textures, colors, and designs, allowing the savoir-faire of couture to be applied. Rich materials, unique color palettes and master craftsmanship are combined, creating an exquisite limited edition of the Flying Tourbillon inspired by couture. I wanted the design to represent both brands and for the customer to experience excellence at every touchpoint.

In keeping with the inspiration behind the design concept, hues of cognac are brought to life with a combination of shades of gold, including 18-carat pink gold and frosted gold, set upon an iridescent metallic alligator strap. This rich color palette and use of mixed materials evoke a sense of texture with a sumptuous, tactile quality. They are sophisticated, elegant, and truly timeless – while also being incredibly bold and feminine.

How familiar were you with the world of haute horlogerie before beginning this project? Was there a learning curve to speaking the lingo and collaborating with the craftspeople?

Very familiar! I have long been a lover of exquisite timepieces and a client of Audemars Piguet myself. I have always had deep admiration for the brand and its iconic designs, which truly stand the test of time and are wholly unique. As such, I could not be more delighted nor excited to be working with the brand on this new venture – especially during such a special time for myself, with the recent launch of my brand.

In terms of a learning curve, designing a watch is certainly new territory for me and a challenge in and of itself. However, I am very fortunate to have had the incredible guidance of the talented team at Audemars Piguet throughout the process. It has been so fascinating and incredibly rewarding to work with the team, and specifically the artisans, at Audemars Piguet. While there is so much overlap between our two worlds, haute horlogerie requires a completely different level of technique given its inherently ornate nature and complexity, and bearing witness to this has really challenged me while also inspiring me to test my own limits.

The curvaceous layers of the watch dial are quite reminiscent of the layers you bring to your silhouettes. What helped you land on this creative direction for the watch? What was your “Aha!” moment?

In addition to the above – speaking to inspiration and the thought behind the design – when it came to the watch dial specifically, we wanted a face that really drew your attention to the watch itself. The radiating rings in shades of gold and rose gold cascade the eye into the beautiful detailing of the diamond pavé and, behind this, you are offered a glimpse of the incredible craftsmanship, revealing a discrete aspect of the watch's mechanical beauty. To me, as a creative, it is symbolic of giving a look into the incredible savoir-faire of design while showcasing its preciousness. 

We also opted not to have any hour markers, and I love the simplicity and cleanliness of the design. The design detail on the dial adds such richness and an element of modernity, and I wanted the stunning elements within the design to take precedence.  

What type of woman does this watch speak to? How do you see her incorporating it into her wardrobe?

A woman who knows who she is; she is confident and self-assured, she is bold with her choices, she is feminine but in a way that is refreshingly modern.

Aside from function, I think a woman will wear this watch to feel pulled together, polished, and elegant. A watch – in my opinion – is very much the finishing piece for a look. In fact, I often feel as though something is missing if I don't have one on myself!

Is this the kind of timepiece that is versatile for both day and night?

Absolutely. In fact, I kept this in mind when designing this piece, as I wanted it to be incredibly bold and unique but also conducive to being worn from day to evening. I see this as a permanent fixture in a woman's wardrobe and very much the final touch regardless of the outfit or the time of day.

How do you see this collaboration influencing future trends in the high fashion and luxury watchmaking industries?

There was a time when women were largely attracted to quite delicate, feminine styles. On the opposite end, there are also many women who prefer to wear a men's watch, though this seems to be more of a recent development. I feel that this watch combines both, in a way, as it is still feminine but with a boldness and an edge that complements its elegance.

I think that we will continue to see evolution in design within the watchmaking industry and incorporation of more unisex designs or designs that are not overwhelmingly feminine or masculine.

Throughout your illustrious career, you've consistently pushed the boundaries of fashion. How has this collaboration with Audemars Piguet contributed to your personal and professional growth?

Both the collaboration and the Audemars Piguet team pushed me as a designer. Alternately, I, as a designer, pushed Audemars Piguet as a brand. It was very exciting and inspiring to delve into new territory as a designer, and while it did not come without its challenges, it led me to think in a new way and approach. These types of experiences only add to your skillset as a designer and are also fulfilling on a personal level as you certainly grow and expand individually as well.

Audemars Piguet was groundbreaking in the luxury world for its efforts in collaborating with people outside of the watchmaking universe. It must have been a proud moment for you. What alignment do you see between your couture house and Audemars Piguet?

It was and still is an incredibly proud moment, especially as I continue on this new journey with my eponymous brand. I am so fortunate to have a longstanding relationship with the incredible Audemars Piguet brand and the team that represents it. Having worked together before on a partnership, we have long discussed the possibility of collaborating on a watch design. 

Similar to couture, haute horlogerie evokes the very same elements of uncompromising craftsmanship, incredible attention to detail, and savoir-faire paired with a unique and distinctive design aesthetic. My brand and that of Audemars Piguet are built upon and centered around the same aforementioned pillars. With both of our brands, pieces are individually crafted and created to the highest and most exacting standards while constantly pushing the boundaries of creativity. We both have a passion for elegance, innovation, and true luxury.

With my couture collection, each individual look is designed to be a piece of art that is cohesive in relation to the wider collection but also stands alone and tells its own story. This watch is very much the same.

Looking back at the journey of this collaboration, what are you most proud of? And looking forward, can we expect to see more intersections between your brand and the world of luxury timepieces?

There have been many memorable moments, but I think that what I am most proud of is two-fold. Firstly, being able to forge a partnership with such an iconic brand that I have long been an admirer of, who is at the top of its field. And second to that, I am proud of willingly and openly taking on new challenges and continuously finding ways to push myself as a creative, as an individual, and as an entrepreneur. Delving into a completely new category and way of thinking certainly presented many challenges along the way, but I feel that I met them head-on and with unwavering excitement.

In terms of what might be next in this sphere – time will tell! 

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