It has been a phenomenal year for the watch world. To round off 2022, we are celebrating the hits, the wonders, the visionaries and all the people in watchmaking who have made it so memorable in our annual Revolution Awards and Power Lists.
Today we award our Lifetime Achievement Award, and we can think of no worthier winner than Audemars Piguet CEO François-Henry Bennahmias.
François-Henry Bennahmias is affectionately known around the world as “The Boss,” though I think Capo di tutti Capi, meaning “Boss of all Bosses” or “Godfather” would be equally descriptive. Regardless of what you want to call him, you have to admit the man is absolute genius.
First was his meteoric rise from golf pro to working for Audemars Piguet in Singapore, to becoming the boss of Audemars Piguet in North America. It was in the U.S. that he made Audemars Piguet the very first luxury Swiss watch brand to jump head first into contemporary culture with appearances on Entourage, a limited edition with Jay-Z and LeBron James, and so much more. He recognized early on that a watch doesn’t need to be confined by its “timepiece” category but could be the hottest and most dynamic means of luxury self-expression for men. Yes, more than a car, a house, a boat or a plane, he recognized that it’s your wristwatch that tells the world who you are.
In his role as CEO of Audemars Piguet, he then transformed the watch that gave birth to the entire integrated bracelet sports watch category — the mighty Royal Oak — into the single most recognizable and lusted-after timepiece on the planet. Then, he did something even more incredible — as he spread the gospel of Audemars Piguet, fanned the flames of desire and evangelized to all the most important tastemakers in the world, he simultaneously limited the pace of production for his most in-demand models. This delta between finite supply, capped by him to ensure quality, and ever-surging demand created a perfect storm of desire. The Royal Oak became the very first modern watch to trade at crazy multiples on the secondary market, assuring its place as the most desired timepiece in the world.
In the meantime, Bennahmias continued to elevate the quality and technical innovation of his brand. Recognizing that Audemars Piguet’s manifesto is to always be daring and disruptive, he was the very first amongst the highest echelons of traditional Swiss watchmakers, and the only one from amongst its hallowed holy trinity, who adopted alternative materials such as carbon fiber and ceramic. Then he whipped up another frenzy of desire and created even more global awareness by partnering with the likes of Marvel Comics. He also launched Audemars Piguet’s first truly dynamic and ultra modern round watch, the CODE 11.59. When the smoke cleared, Bennahmias had increased Audemars Piguet’s revenue twofold, making it a clear member of watchmaking’s billionaires’ club with an annual turnover in 2021 of 1.58 billion Swiss francs. But more than that, he’s empowered every single watch, and I mean every single model made by the brand, to be a grail in its own right. So much so that the only challenge faced by his sales staff today is deciding who to allocate the coveted timepieces to.
There will never be another watch brand leader like Bennahmias. Larger than life, badass, brilliant, he took a good brand and transformed it into something so much bigger and better that it transcends watchmaking itself.