Audemars Piguet’s new CEO, Ilaria Resta, talks about her mission to lead boldly

In an interview with Audemars Piguet’s new CEO, Ilaria Resta, she shares about creating innovation, passion and true emotion at the brand.

When François Bennahmias metaphorically and literally dropped the mic at the launch of his collaboration with Travis Scott, aka Cactus Jack, it marked the end of an era with resounding finality. And the decade during which he presided over Audemars Piguet will ensure that his name is indelibly inked into the pantheon of watchmaking’s greatest leaders.

Here is a man that took AP’s revenue from 600 million to a staggering 2.3 billion Swiss francs in a decade. More importantly, Bennahmias elevated AP’s brand equity to the realm of the luxury demigods.

Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet in Le Brassus, Switzerland
Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet in Le Brassus, Switzerland

He ensured that for each and every Royal Oak made, there was a multitude of prospective owners, creating a massive supply versus demand disparity. And while you might hate on his collaborations with everyone, from Jay-Z to Marvel Comics, one of the reasons that AP went critical mass was precisely his idea of connecting his brand with the zeitgeist of the contemporary world.

OK, you get it. He is a legend, a legend amongst legend, a horological Nietzschean Superman! But now a new CEO has taken over the helm. 

Ilaria Resta, CEO of Audemars Piguet
Ilaria Resta, CEO of Audemars Piguet

Her name is Ilaria Resta, and yes, by now you are all aware that she comes unabashedly from outside the watch industry. Now, let me stop you right there and cut to the chase.

Ilaria Resta is very, very smart. She gets what her brand is about and that — at its very core — Audemars Piguet’s greatest equity is its extraordinary sense of fearlessness and uncompromising passion for innovation and daring to be different.

And she is fiercely determined to safeguard and empower this value even further into the future. As she sits down beside me for this interview, she compliments me on my 1978 Royal Oak 5402BA and congratulates me on not polishing my watch.

She leans forward, looks me calmly in the eye and the statement of intent from her body language is clear. She is here to get to the essence of her mission.

And with that understanding clearly imparted to me, we are off … 

Audemars Piguet is at an all-time high with a turnover of 2.3 billion Swiss francs in 2023 and incredible brand equity gains. Going forward, if you increase the volume of production too rapidly, you could risk the desirability of the brand.

One idea is that you could instead focus on the women’s sector as the engine of growth while protecting the desirability of the men’s watches. Is that the plan?

The growth of the brand is just one vector for success. At the beginning of my journey with AP, I don’t want to focus excessively on growth.

Instead, I want to ensure the health of all the fundamentals of the brand, which will enable us to have perennial growth, meaning growth for the long term. So that is really my mission or, I would even say, my obsession at this stage, because growth will always come if your fundamentals are strong enough.

If we wanted to, of course, we could have double digit growth, because we have many more clients than watches we are able to produce. But we are limited by our pursuit of perfection, our quality of finishing and the overall execution of our watches at the very highest level achievable.

We have decided that our watches can only be made with a tremendous amount of hand work. You have visited our manufacture, so you know this is true. 

Growth is not my obsession. Instead, my obsession is the innovation of the future. 

The idea of pioneering new materials, new complications, new calibers. The idea of discovery, of trailblazing and going into the unknown requires a great deal of human effort, a great deal of research and development and, of course, a great deal of money.

Look at our Camouflage Gold and ceramic, for example. It took the creation of all-new processes in order to create these new materials.

Discovery is a process of trial and error and, as a privately owned company, we have the big advantage of choosing to direct our efforts in this way, even if it might be viewed as inefficient by others. Because in the end, creativity is and has always been our greatest asset.

You mentioned to me that fearlessness is such a power value for the brand. Can you elaborate?

What I love about Audemars Piguet is that it is an authentic disruptor. It is what John Mayer was explaining during the launch of our collaboration with him on his limited edition Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar; we want to create this sense of the unexpected.

There are companies that force disruption and it feels a bit unauthentic. But if you look at the creative process at AP, you will understand how this is rooted in the genetic code of our being.

Because we do not look at cause and effect. We do not look at input and output.

We do not have a timeline where we must compel ourselves to be creative, no deadline when we must launch groundbreaking achievements. No, we give our people the liberty to create meaningfully and only launch watches when they are ready.

From the outside, people might think the creative process at Audemars Piguet is chaotic, it is informal, it is uneducated. But this is exactly what I love.

Because there is beauty in that chaos. If you look at many of our fundamental achievements, the Royal Oak in 1972, the perpetual calendar in 1978, the Offshore in 1993, the Concept in 2002, the Double Balancier in 2016, the Marvel collaborations since 2021, anytime something wildly creative emerged, it came from somebody within the company and it was an idea that was unsettling in the beginning.

It challenged the audience. It even challenged us within the company and I loved that. 

People sometimes get upset when they see criticism on social media. For me, it doesn’t bother me.

The first of the Marvel collaborations: Limited-Edition Royal Oak Concept “Black Panther” Flying Tourbillon (2021)
The first of the Marvel collaborations: Limited-Edition Royal Oak Concept “Black Panther” Flying Tourbillon (2021)

Because when you see a sort of mundane democratic acceptance for something, it means you are OK for far too many people, but you are not great for anyone. I would anytime prefer a watch that is polarizing because there is real emotion there, and creation of emotion is everything to us.

I always say if you want a square but you let everyone touch it, it becomes a circle. But I don’t want a circle, I want a square, meaning I want precision, uniqueness and boldness in a concept, and I want to see it all the way through.

I want to preserve the idea that anyone in the company can come up with a great idea and if we greenlight it, I don’t want anyone touching it, changing it, dumbing it down. 

I love that as a CEO you are leaning into the discomfort, leaning into that which is polarizing because historically that has always been the engine of growth for AP …

If you fit with your character, and you are able to protect the spirit of innovation and creativity in whatever company you go to, you will always be able to succeed. The people who kill companies are the ones that try to adjust them to their own perspective, to their own way of doing things.

I want to preserve this creativity because it is what will allow AP to endure for centuries. This idea of these scrappy creative misfits that are unafraid to try new things, this entrepreneurial spirit, is what I love about AP and is precisely the foundation on which the brand is built.

As such, the brief is never that we need to create something clients will love, never that we need to disrupt the market, never that we need to win over the others. There is none of that at AP.

Every person in the company is obsessed with invention for the sake of pushing boundaries. 

This Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin model introduced bulk metallic glass into the collection for the first time. It can be found on the bezel, caseback and bracelet studs
This Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin model introduced bulk metallic glass into the collection for the first time. It can be found on the bezel, caseback and bracelet studs

Lucas [Raggi, AP’s director of research and development] is focused on making new materials like bulk metallic glass, because there is a higher performance level to metal that has not been achieved before by changing its molecular structure. This can bring something very real to watchmaking.

This is real disruption. When you have commercially guided disruption, it shows in the product.

You see through it. It feels fake.

If you spend all your time trying to forecast success, you will never be successful.

OK, on the subject of discomfort, I’ve got to ask you a hard question. There is a dichotomy about how AP treats its clients.

On the one hand, you’ve created amazing AP Houses, and you’ve created one of the most incredible initiatives, “Hi-Care” insurance, against damage or theft. On the other hand, new customers are angry that they have to submit their CVs to be considered to buy a watch …

OK, the first thing is that I recognize this dichotomy you speak of and I will admit we are not quite there in terms of client experience. But we are making real efforts to open the door to far more people.

The problem we have with new clients that want to engage with us is that we have limited availability, part of this is a sales network that is restrictive. We have a limited number of points-of-sale and boutiques.

AP House Milano
AP House Milano

But honestly, the beauty of our network is that we go deep and we don’t go broad. To me, I never want to damage the existing relationships to maximize the number of new contacts.

If you ask me, are we going to go for quantity or quality — we will always go for quality of relationship. On the other hand, we created AP Lab to reach out to a much bigger audience, the doors open, people can flow in.

That’s the motivation behind opening much bigger AP Houses such as the one in Milan so we can accept a much larger flow of potential clients to teach them about AP and about watchmaking in general. 

What’s the mission of a great AP salesperson today?

We try to fit with the life of the prospective client. I can tell you about my own experience when I visited an AP boutique incognito.

After speaking to a sales representative for one and a half hours, I realized that what I had walked into the boutique to purchase was not fitting with my lifestyle or even my personal style. These conversations and exchanges are important, because it allows us to go deeper into the relationship with the clients and suggest the right watch that fits their life.

Because the reality is a lot of new clients might walk in with a preconception of what they want, because that’s what their friends have, or they’ve heard that’s the watch to have. But actually when they look deeper into the brand, it might be something else that fits them better. 

Talk to me about CODE 11.59. One of the few criticisms I could levy at you is that AP is a mono-product brand. Is CODE really the answer to this?

CODE 11.59 is proving to us every month that it has the merit to become a strategic pillar in the long term. It now represents 12 percent of our business and has sustained interest by our clients.

We realized that, until recently, we’ve been mono-sized when it comes to the CODE. The watch was only offered in 41mm until last year.

Despite that, the following for the watch has grown so much. By launching the 38mm version of this watch, we opened it up to an all-new clientele and by creating the steel version of this watch, we became relevant to a whole new demographic.

So, we see this watch as a pillar to continue to grow and expand, and from a watchmaker’s perspective, it’s an incredible case to host complications. Without the CODE 11.59 case, we could have never created a watch like the Universelle, which won the Geneva Grand Prix Aiguille d’Or last year.

Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Starwheel
Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Starwheel

We could not have created a watch like the new Starwheel with its wonderfully poetic complication. We always try to push the limits of watch performance so we can continue learning.

It is thanks to the RD#1, #2 and #3 that we managed to do the RD#4, but it is also because of the CODE case.

The RD#4 Universelle is an amazing watch because it responds to the needs of a grande complication customer today, who will never read an instruction manual. Does this watch point the way for the future of your complications?

This is exactly what we want. The brief for the Universelle was never to create the world’s most complicated watch, because we are not interested in that.

We were interested instead in precisely fitting our clients’ lifestyle. This is very important because if you look at our growth, it is mainly driven by complications.

Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Universelle RD#4
Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Universelle RD#4

When I say complications, I mean the QP [Quantieme Perpetual], the tourbillon, the minute repeater, the grande comps. So, when you look at the growth represented by this segment, it is strongest by far — even more so than all the other pieces combined.

One of the big differences with AP is we see more and more new clients opening the door by moving straight to complications. We see so many new customers entering through the QP or even a tourbillon.

John Mayer talked about how the Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar made the complication relevant to the new generation. He is right.

I would also add that our tourbillons, especially the RD#3, made this complication relevant to the new generation. So, complications are super important to us. 

Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin (RD#3) 37mm
Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin (RD#3) in 37mm

We realize that complications are our future. As such, we want to ensure that our complications have the greatest ergonomy in the industry.

Now you can think of ergonomics as how a watch fits on the wrist. And we have done everything we can to maximize this sense of comfort and having the right feeling for every element.

But there is also ergonomics related to lifestyle, meaning how well does the watch fit our clients’ daily lives? Can our tourbillon be worn playing sports?

Is our Supersonnerie water resistant? Can the Universelle be operated without ever reading the instruction manual?

Ease of use and lifestyle ergonomy will become the focus for us. Also, think about the fact that it is AP that made complications ergonomic for both the wrists and lifestyles of women.

Watches like the Royal Oak Concept “Tamara Ralph” made the tourbillon relevant; the 37mm RD#3 made it ergonomically relevant to women. 

I love the collab with John Mayer. And talking a bit with him, I was impressed with how passionate and smart he is.

Tell me what this collaboration means to you …

John is a genuine watch lover. He is a true watch geek in the best sense of that description.

But at the same time, he helps us by pushing our boundaries. And [that] makes us better.

John Mayer and the Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar “Crystal Sky”
John Mayer and the Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar “Crystal Sky”

Yesterday we came up with the title for him as “Creative Conduit,” because the whole point is for him to be a bridge between the outside world and the world of AP. To us, as creative people, the artistic point of view is critical.

We are at the zeitgeist of music, cinema, art and sports. We need to be a brand that is forever young and forever relevant, and so you cannot, as a watch brand, exclude yourself from society.

No, you must live in the center of society. You mentioned that staring into the watch is like looking into the future.

That is exactly what these partnerships are — being a bridge to the future. 

We are approaching our 150th anniversary. So we will soon be considering [not only] the 150 years in the past, but also what the future 150 years will hold.

That is why this [the John Mayer edition] is the last QP, because soon there will be a new QP that is part of the future. If there is one complication that symbolizes our spirit of innovation, the movement we will forever be remembered for, it will be this.

What will greenlight a collaboration for you?

Any collaboration must be rooted in the same values, meaning rooted in the desire to push ourselves further. One thing that must always happen is that we become better watchmakers than before.

If you take the Marvel collabs, which have been polarizing, it was also a big challenge for us from an artistic standpoint because putting a three-dimensional character inside a movement with a tourbillon was not an easy task. Even though these challenges are not technical, they are still challenges from a métiers d’art perspective.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Tourbillon “Spider-Man” © 2023 MARVEL
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Tourbillon “Spider-Man” © 2023 MARVEL

Sheer commercialism should never guide what collaborations we do. Underlying these partnerships now and in the future will always be the idea of challenging ourselves to make ourselves better. 

When I first got into watches, it was all about the Offshore. Now that the luster has faded a little, what can you do to empower this model?

I always say the answer to all your questions is always rooted in the past. We will now, moving forward, reposition the Offshore to be true to its origins — sporty, playful, colorful and fitting with the life of an outdoor person. 

Sporty doesn’t mean it has to be big. You did great mid-sized Triple Calendar Offshores with colorful dials in the past.

I can only say hang in there and be patient.

Back to the original question, how important is the women’s watch sector?

We have the opportunity to be in touch with more and more women and we are listening to what they want. There is a demand for jewelry watches.

But there is also a demand for complicated watches for women. The complications for women don’t necessarily have to be the same as those for men.

They have to be hosted in a certain type of caliber and a certain case dimension; again, it’s about ergonomics in both senses. I’ll give you an example.

The Starwheel is an amazing watch that is very much loved by women. But at the moment, it only comes in a 41mm diameter case.

It is very appealing to women as a poetic representation of time and as a design statement, so of course we need to look into this. 

More on AUDEMARS PIGUET

John Mayer collaborates with Audemars Piguet on a new Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar
Mar 8, 2024
Audemars Piguet 2024: All the novelties from Royal Oak to Code 11.59 to Offshore
Mar 7, 2024
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Audemars Piguet opens new AP House in Milan
Mar 5, 2024
Leap Year Luxury: Modern Masters of the Perpetual Calendar
Feb 29, 2024
Under the Lens: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding 37 mm “Turquoise”
Jan 2, 2024

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