27.11.2018 As a founder of Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi manufacture Giulio Papi has been involved in creation of very complicated movements for a couple of decades now. Chances are you all know his works, as they often appear to be the most talked about timepieces in the industry. And if you bear in mind that quite a few current watchmaking greats have started their careers under his guidance, you’ll probably agree – it is the perfect time to use the otherwise heavily misused word ‘legend’.
How many people work in APRP and how do you make all the crucial creative decisions?
Creative decisions are taken by the market, the user decides to buy a product or not. Finally, if the product meets the needs of the people then we can say the team did a good job. I am talking of a team – there are 150 people working at APRP – because it is useless to create an object nobody in the company or any subcontractor is able to produce and once it has hit the market, customers do not want it. My daily task consists in guiding teams to build products which are machinable, possible to decorate, reliable, very beautiful, sellable and generating emotions.
When making a caliber for other brand, who brings the main idea, you or the brand?
My job is to sublimate ideas, improve, review, champion, solve them and motivate the teams to move in the right directions. Even if in two cases out of three I deliver the base idea, what really matters is not who generates it but whether it is relevant. Here’s a sentence I worship: while it is impossible for all brains to imagine a new concept, everybody is able to draw one.
How long does it take to finish such a project?
When considered in its essence, i.e. technical and esthetical nature, a project takes between 10 and 12 months. But in this 12 months there are other things to take care of like the drafting and filing of patents, other contracts when and wherever needed, juggle with the supplier delivery timeframes, the product strategy and the launch on the markets. All in all a project needs 3 to 5 years.
What has your toughest project been? Why was it so complicated?
People often confound complicated and complex – these words are not synonyms. Here’s an example to illustrate this: it is not complicated to cook a plate of spaghetti, however it is complex to prepare two identical spaghetti plates in which all threads are arranged exactly the same way with the same amount of sauce on each dish. People who do not like spaghetti are complicated. It is complex to construct a minute repeater. We add an automatic release every quarter of an hour or every hour or not at all depending on the striking mode, we also leave the possibility to release it manually. In all cases, automatic or manual release has to be prevented during time setting; automatic or manual release has to be prevented when the barrel is empty; automatic release has to be hindered if a manual release has been operated during the last minute. And finally the automatic release system does not influence the chronometry.
The name of your manufacture is Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi, still you are making movements for other brands. Is there really no jealousy from AP?
You should ask Audemars Piguet directly. Joke aside, we can counter the question and affirm there is no reason to be jealous of what we achieve and develop with other brands. It helps to have a fresh perspective and keep your eyes open. These projects challenge you every time and prevent you from wandering in an ivory tower. All the thinking invested in solving new ideas result in added experience and skills for our own projects.
What was the most recent movement by APRP we now can see in the wild? What’s it special for?
The Richard Mille RM 50-03. The movement weighs 7 gr and contains several functions like the split-seconds chronograph and the tourbillon.
How did you now the mechanical watches have a future, when entering the watchmaking school in the early 1980s?
I did not know it, I followed my passion for mechanics.
Is it true that a handful of current watchmaking stars like Stephen Forsey, Peter Speake-Marin, Andreas Strehler, Bart and Tim Gronefeld were once your employees?
Yes that is right and it fills me with pride.
What do you consider the most important horological invention of the last 10-20 years and why?
That is a tricky one; so many ‘inventions’ are announced all the time it becomes very time consuming to find out which really are. Time will tell. Focused on APRP, I am very satisfied with what we achieved with the Royal Oak Concept Laptimer two years ago. That said, much has been done in the past without all the technological help we all have today. For example, Abraham-Louis Breguet has invented the gongs we use in every minute repeater more than 230 years ago. While we have improved the sonic experience in all repeaters equipped with the Super Sonnerie system, we still use the same gongs.
Can you name the most common misconception of starting up watchmakers?
The thought that watchmaking codes take precedence over mechanical good sense and that it is necessary at all costs to repeat the same gestures for the watch to work well. The truth is, watchmaking meets the natural laws of mechanics.
Do you consider yourself a watch collector?
Collecting is not part of my life. I am more of a user. I buy something to use it – move with it, dress, eat or drink it. On the other hand, what I buy has to be of quality.
What complications do you enjoy the most as a user and why?
I need the hour, minute and date for daily use. If the latter is perpetual and well readable, so much the better. My personal tastes prefer round dials and hour and minute indication from the center.
How would you describe the state of the modern market?
I am not a market expert and I do not have the analytical tools at hand for an accurate interpretation of things. However, we have worked with passion to create all watches as if they were for ourselves. I notice the main brands APRP has worked for have sold all we did. Orders do not diminish, it is quite the contrary. But we will only increase quantities if the teams are able to hold our quality standard.