Lifestyle

Complicated Relationship

Watchmaker Giulio Papi has been an expert in making dizzying complications for over 30 years. The director of research and development at Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi watch laboratory told YACHTS ME how he creates, what inspires him and how he stays calm when things go wrong.

Rob Chilton

Meeting people is good for ideas, it’s inspiring.
When you create a product there is a right way and a wrong way. A watch can have a good structure or a story but it might not reach the true need of a consumer. A good product should recognise the specific need of a consumer and then match it.

About nine years ago, Michael Schumacher came into our manufacture and asked if we could make a mechanical lap timer.
My first question was: why? He was racing vintage cars back then and drivers are not allowed to use electronic devices. I recognised the needs of the consumer – in this case a professional racing driver – which were accuracy, shock, vibrations. We understood it and we designed the object. That was true creativity.

When I have ideas I sketch and write them down.
I have a general idea in my brain but it’s only when I write it down does it become clear. An idea can come from anywhere, perhaps when I use an object, such as this spoon. I start to think about the practicality of the object and how to improve it.

When you design you have to calculate physics and chemistry.
Maybe your idea is impossible so you change your calculations and you do it again. You have to think about the industrial process – how are we going to make this? It might be a good idea but a supplier might not have the component – can we resolve this? Are we going to spend five years doing this?

We launched our company in 1986 but we never had a business plan. 

We were just two guys, Dominique Renaud and I. Our first job was for IWC and it was a success. We had a good reputation for making complicated watches. Our timing was good and we were lucky because our passion matched the need of the market for complicated watches. We met the right people and grew quickly.

In 1992 we needed more money to complete the manufacture.
We needed management too. It’s not enough to buy good machines and hire good mechanics. In a manufacture you need to know how to work together and create a structure. We lost time and the bank didn’t want to help us because in 1992 nobody believed in the future of watchmaking.

We asked Georges-Henri Meylan who was then the CEO of Audemars Piguet for help.
He was a smart guy and understood everything. He wanted to help but wanted 52 per cent of the shares. He became the true boss but we wanted to manage our company and keep control. 
We asked him to respect our commercial strategy and he agreed. Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi was born and it was a good partnership. I love Audemars Piguet because they are always interested in making complicated watches.

Watchmaking is my passion.
But I am always calm and that’s how I win the war. It’s a British philosophy: keep calm and carry on.