The Swiss watchmaking firm Audemars Piguet can repair any watch. No matter if it was made two hundred years ago or if it includes parts that contain mercury— an element banned in almost every country. The legendary watchmaker gives life to ancient models in the same building where the company was founded in 1868 in the Swiss village of Le Brassus, in the Joux Valley, the cradle of watchmaking. The Spaniard Francisco Javier Pasandin, an expert on antique watches who spent 33 years in the firm mastering the most ancient techniques, leads the restoration workshop.
When a damaged or broken watch arrives, the first thing the experts do is dismantle it to start from scratch. That is the usual process even if they find themselves facing the most complicated mechanisms in the world: ultra-thin, chronograph, with simple or perpetual calendar or minute repeater. When the timepieces have engraved the Audemars Piguet logo, the work is easier. But they also serve the owners of pieces signed by Joux Valley watchmakers, a brand that no longer exists. After opening the watch, they usually discover fragments that have been welded or previously handled. Some clients like to venture into watch repair, often with catastrophic results.
However, there is nothing Pasandin, and his team cannot revive. They travel all over the world to find the necessary materials and parts, which could be as small as hundredths of a millimeter. Other fragments are exactly reproduced using tools made by the team itself, trying to recapture the same instruments used at the time the watch was created. Of course, they can also opt for new materials such as ceramic in some cases.
The Audemars Piguet repair and restoration workshop takes approximately 200 hours to restore every watch they receive. They charge $144 per hour and sometimes the work takes the whole year. Just fixing a broken screw could require more than a quarter of an hour, and a pocket watch has more than one hundred screws. In total, the workshop repairs around 100 old models a year. The firm maintains the boxes where the 19th-century masters kept the parts stacked and stored in cabinets inside a room overlooking the idyllic Joux Valley.
Once the work is finished, the watch is delivered to the client. If it is a historical piece, it will be accompanied by a small book that contains a detailed record of its restoration. ■