Inside the Lines
Navigating the creative process at the industry’s most established firms.
Faced with an opportunity to update the landmark Royal Oak Offshore on the occasion of its 40th anniversary, Octavio Garcia, the creative director at Audemars Piguet, was tempted to make radical changes to the popular model. Then he consulted the fans of the watch—collectors, friends of the company, even journalists—and he tempered his approach. “Ultimately it is our responsibility to curate the collection,” he says. “In essence we are defending a set of ideals we share and are looking after the stylistic integrity of the watches.” Garcia’s changes, including the sharpening of certain details like the hands and dial treatments, reengineering the case, and creating consistencies in sizes and details within the line, have produced a thoroughly contemporary Royal Oak Offshore. They also offer a window into the sometimes-overlooked creative process at the major watch brands.
Today it is the charismatic auteurs at small boutique companies who have captured the spotlight for their willingness to bend or break watchmaking’s design traditions. Those responsible for product development at the larger firms, by contrast, often face the arguably more arduous task of creating successful new products within tight and complex design codes, and under the scrutiny of not only management, but legions of clients and collectors who feel they have a personal stake in the continuation of a brand’s legacy. But while there are limits of all kinds in this area of creation, designers also have the opportunity to work with forms that are imbued with both history and emotion. “When I was in school, I knew there would be constraints in any art-based industry,” recalls Garcia. “But my first experience in watchmaking taught me that we were essentially transmitting culture through design. That mindset allowed me to build my confidence and gave me a level of creative freedom to explore while still maintaining certain codes.”
Garcia received corporate encouragement as he built on established models such as the Royal Oak Offshore, in part because Audemars Piguet is a forward-thinking company with a reputation for doing new things. The environment is more challenging at Breguet, which works under the mantle of history’s most celebrated watchmaker, Abraham-Louis Breguet. So as not to be too constrained by its past, Breguet’s CEO, Marc Hayek, who also supervises design and development, must walk a careful line in proposing new products. “You have to try new things until you have a watch that captures a certain feeling,” explains Hayek, who also heads the fellow Swatch Group–owned brands Blancpain and Jaquet Droz. “I think it’s great to find elements from things that have been done, but what really interests me personally and what I think is important for the brand is to keep the original spirit.”
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