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Audemars Piguet Expands in Manhattan

Like its watches, Audemars Piguet’s store just got bigger.

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Like its watches, Audemars Piguet’s store just got bigger.

The 134-year-old Swiss watch firm — known for its oversize Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore styles that have been worn by the likes of Jay-Z and Arnold Schwarzenegger — has opened a 3,000-square-foot store at 65 East 57th Street in Manhattan. The store is across the street from the company’s former flagship, which was 1,000 square feet.

The firm, which is the oldest manufacture de haute horlogerie still in the hands of its founding families, has one other U.S. store, in Bal Harbour, Fla.

François-Henry Bennahmias, president and chief executive officer of Audemars Piguet, said the goal of the design is to provide an oasis amid the frenetic environment that is Midtown Manhattan.

“We pushed the design envelope,” said Bennahmias. “We wanted it to have a warm feeling and to be comfortable. Our other store was very masculine. This is more laid-back, easy.”

The boutique, a combined design effort between Swiss firm Atelier Oi and Spin Design Inc., a commercial interior firm based in New York, offers such a mood amid wenge wood details, crème and golden sand walls, blown glass chandeliers and American black walnut floors, along with sumptuous seating areas for lounging.

The store’s nave features a long rectangular counter made of wenge wood and Bavarian brown leather on which watches are displayed in glass vitrines. The tables, which will sometimes serve as a dining table for private dinners at the store, are moveable.

There is an alcove for women’s watches, nicknamed the Boudoir. It is softer than the rest of the space, with cranberry silk tufted walls, beveled mirrors and an intricate chandelier by British artist Eva Menz. Women’s watches and jewelry represent 30 percent of sales, said Bennahmias, who intends to grow that portion of the business.

Other elements of the store include a facade with a double layer of laser-cut stainless steel inspired by the design made for the firm’s Tokyo Ginza store by architect Yasumichi Morita.

Bennahmias said business in the stores has been down by 15 percent in the past year, but expects next year’s business to increase from 30 to 40 percent.

“The average price point has gone down from $44,000 to $30,000,” he said, noting pieces from $150,000 to $400,000 are still selling because the supply is so limited and the demand of serious watch collectors remains high.

Prices start at $11,000 for a model in stainless steel.

One thing about which Bennahmias remains adamant, however, is discounting. Many fine jewelry and watch stores in the U.S. have been offering consumers discounts on styles since the recession started. Bennahmias said Audemars Piguet will not discount.

“The industry is changing so fast,” he said. “It’s a challenging world, but you cannot change your approach.”

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