NEW YORK — Audemars Piguet is sailing into Manhattan and in true Swiss style, it’s right on schedule.
Today, the Le Brassus, Switzerland-based watch and jewelry firm is opening its first U.S. boutique at 40 East 57th Street.
Like the complicated watches for which Audemars Piguet is synonymous, the boutique is filled with technical gadgets, from projectors casting images, films or live feeds from its Swiss manufacturing facility to plasma screens, multicolored fiber-optic lights and an audio system worthy of New York’s hottest nightclub.
“We wanted the store to convey the feeling of the house of Audemars Piguet and the lifestyle that goes with it,” said François-Henry Bennahmias, president of Audemars Piguet North America, who declined to give sales projections for the store.
The boutique will devote 2,000 square feet to retail space on the street and mezzanine levels. The top two floors now house the privately owned company’s U.S. subsidiary headquarters, while the third floor will be used for special events.
The boutique’s glass storefront features a large, engraved tourbillon movement motif. Once inside, customers will find a wall featuring a receded square motif that draws from the waffle dial found on the Royal Oak watch collection. There is also a framed wall display that will regularly showcase a theme close to the brand. For the opening, this features Royal Oak watches and a miniature yacht — Audemars Piguet supports Team Alinghi, the Swiss winners of the America’s Cup 2003 in New Zealand.
Georges-Henri Meylan, chief executive officer and president of the Manufacture Audemars Piguet & Cie worldwide, said that the New York unit is the culmination of the company strategy to take back control of its distribution network by establishing Audemars Piguet subsidiaries. He noted that opening freestanding stores allows the company “to control the brand image and, most importantly, to establish a direct dialogue with our clients.”
The company has boutiques in Geneva, Paris, Singapore, Hong Kong and Osaka, Japan. In the U.S., the brand is distributed in about 50 doors, including Cellini, London Jewelers and Wempe. According to Meylan, the U.S. accounts for 17 percent of the firm’s total turnover, which is about $152 million. That would bring the U.S. business to about $26 million. “We think we can go to 20 to 25 percent,” he said. “That’s one of the purposes of the store: to help our brand be known here.”The Manhattan flagship will offer the complete line of women’s and men’s watches, including a limited edition black Royal Oak Chrono that has the 57th Street storefront engraved on the case back, at $13,500. The store will be the launching pad of the Royal Oak La Mer jewelry collection and one-of-a-kind Haute Joaillerie pieces, which were previously not available here. This, said Meylan, is part of a strategy to shift the ratio of female to male clients. Men currently account for two-thirds of Audemars’ business.
“We are a little bit too macho,” said Meylan. “We need to get more women as customers to increase our market share. If she can buy a ring that’s a little less expensive [than a watch], it brings her to our brand, and afterwards she may buy a watch.”
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