Smell of Metal

✨⚙️ A Journey Into Watchmaking

The Story of Renaud & Papi

Many people have heard of the company called Renaud & Papi, named after Dominique Renaud and Giulio Papi. Many people even know that the company they founded is now called Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi. But not many know their story and how these two ambitious men grew their skills and the watchmaking industry at large.

It all began in the year 1980…

Young Dominique Renaud & Giulio Papi at the bench and in front of their freshly founded workshop in the 1980’s.

Between 1970 and 1988, what was known as the „quartz revolution“ throughout the world, was known as the „quartz crisis“ in Switzerland. This event rendered many famous Swiss watch houses bankrupt, shrinking 1,600 producers to just 600 and 90,000 total employees to only 28,000. At that time, the two men you see in the picture decided it’s the right time to start studying the art of watchmaking.

These two men are Dominique Renaud and Giulio Papi. They met in 1984, while working at Audemars Piguet as watchmakers. What connected them was their passion for skeletonized watches and grand complications. When they were told that, if all goes well, they’ll be able to work on grand complications after about 20 years of practice, they decided to quit their jobs on respectful terms and start a watchmaking laboratory of their own – registering their company, founding their manufacture and becoming officially know as “Renaud & Papi SA” in 1986.

Being young and inexperienced, they soon sailed into troubled waters…

Dominique Renaud looking into the distance and contemplating about his future.

After Renaud & Papi established their own workshop, focusing on the study of new horizons of watchmaking – they were, given their conditions, surprisingly successful.

Their first client was the late Günter Blümlein – the head of IWC and Jaeger-leCoultre and highly connected to A. Lange & Söhne. Young Dominique and Giulio looked at him like students look at a mentor. Blümlein commissioned Renaud & Papi to create a minute repeater module for the IWC Grande Complication, which was introduced in 1990. Even Robert Greubel was a part of that team.

After their success with the IWC Grande Complication, Renaud & Papi broadened their manufacture and expertise but managed to completely pulverize their capital in the process. They were in trouble, and even the banks didn’t want to help them out.
There was only one option left: To speak with their previous employer – Audemars Piguet.
The CEO of AP understood everything agreed to help them out, but under one condition – they’d sell a 52% stake in the company to AP. Renaud & Papi agreed and went forward with the deal, even making a complete minute-repeater movement for AP. This is when Renaud & Papi became Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi – in short: APRP.

Another one of their projects, given to them by Blümlein, was a constant force escapement for A. Lange & Söhne, similar to the ones used in old chronometers. They had a variety of projects going on, while AP was, bit by bit, transferring the complex movement research and development to Le Locle.

But at one point, in the year 2000, Dominique Renaud suddenly called it quits. He decided to sell all his shares to Audemars Piguet and left.

Not much was known of Dominique after that, besides the fact that he’s rumored to be running a bed & breakfast in the south of France somewhere…

The provenance letter of Giulio Papi’s first ever pocket watch.

Pictured above we find the watch that Giulio Papi presented to Audemars Piguet in 1984 before he got his first job. In it, he used a well-known Unitas 6497 movement, which he skeletonized to, literally, display bare, well-decorated bones – all that while retaining its structural integrity.

After Dominique Renaud had left the company, Giulio Papi found himself at the helm of Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi as technical director. This was no surprise because in school, being the only student, he had exclusive access to his teachers’ attention and soaked their knowledge in en masse – and he did that well. One of his teachers was the highly regarded clockmaking teacher Jean-Claude Nicolet – the first winner of the Gaia Prize in 1993.

Giulio now got busy working with chemical engineering and metallurgy to develop new alloys that would retain their structure, be immune to temperature changes and have antimagnetic properties. His most famous result? The Alacrite 602 alloy, which is composed of tungsten (5%), chromium (31%) and cobalt (57%), plus iron, silicon, and carbon.

Giulio Papi at work.

Giulio Papi focused on creating. He created the first Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept GMT Tourbillon. He created an Audemars Piguet Grande Sonnerie, he even created a lubricate-free escapement based on the eighteenth century Robin escapement – he became a technical mastermind that other watchmakers would turn to with their new ideas.

And so did Richard Mille, when he had a vision for what the properties of a future watch could be like…

A loupe.

So where has the field of fine watchmaking come ever since Dominique Renaud and Giulio Papi parted ways?

After a financial crisis hit Asia in 1997, the watch distributors and dealers in Singapore got fearful and flooded the global market with watches that were up to 50% cheaper than their suggested retail price. As a response to that, Swiss watch brands started buying their own distribution and changed the business side of the industry which had remained unchanged for hundreds of years.

The great-grandson of Adolph Lange – Walter Lange, had successfully re-established A. Lange & Söhne together with Günter Blümlein and the company became a part of the Richemont Group in the year 2000. Their quality of work was remarkable and they started competing with none other than Patek Philippe. Walter Lange died in 2017 at the age of 92.

Cartier dipped its toes into fine watchmaking with two collections. The “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” from 1998 to 2008, which failed due to production issues arising from outsourced manufacture and bad timing – the market wanted in-house movements. Thus the “Fine Watch Making Collection” 2008-2018 opened with a big bang at SIHH 2008 – now containing in-house movements. The problem? The “Fine Watch Making Collection” took the trend of large watches a little too seriously and boasted with case diameters of up to 47mm – disregarding the discreet and elegant details Cartier watches had always been known for. Regardless to say, these watches decreased in value faster than the birds could fly south the very same year and you can find the $95,000 retail price watches for around $15,000 today on Chrono24. Was Cartier just early, or did they miss the mark completely? Only time will tell.

The few recent decades have brought with them an array of notable new approaches to watchmaking. With additional brands such as ash URWERK, Richard Mille, HYT, MB & F, and Krayon, the unbeaten paths yearn to be uncovered.

The return of Dominique Renaud

But in 2013, out of the blue, Dominique Renaud returned to Switzerland with a phenomenal concept – the implications of which, remain enigmatic even five years later… 

Dominique Renaud 12 – DR#01

What Dominique Renaud presented to the industry upon his return is something that not even the greatest watchmakers of our time are known to have considered – an escapement system that replaces the spring in the balance wheel with a completely new approach – a blade.

This balance system resonates in high frequencies while resting on a double-sided blade. What you see above is his Dominiques’ teams’ first watch – the Dominique Renaud 12. 12 because 12 watches of this model will be produced and sold with the aim of investing all the proceeds into research and development in order to further improve the capabilities of this new type of escapement.

This all stands to confirm that we’ll most likely see some astonishing developments in the field of watchmaking in the near future. Who knows what this could mean for watchmaking in the long term?

An empty page.

How will the rest of this story unfold? Only the passing of time will tell.

The fact of the matter is that Giulio Papi has used his technical prowess to continue building Audemars Piguet Renaud Papi to what we know and value today.

At the same time, Dominique Renaud has secretly been busy developing a wholly new escapement system which is like nothing we’ve ever seen before.

What will the next chapter in this story have in store for us? What developments will be brought to light and where will these two men take horology – we’re yet to see.

Therefore, an empty page sits as an invitation to the next chapters that Giulio Papi and Dominique Renaud will write with their lives.

Holiday greetings from Smell of Metal.

Will Renaud & Papi ever cross paths again?

The unfolding of this story can only count for the fact that life is full of unexpected plot twists, but one thing is for certain: the love for horology is what keeps this field constantly evolving – bringing with it technical, as well as aesthetic developments which delight the hearts and minds of people around the world today, and for many years to come.

Merry Christmas and a happy new year to all our readers and friends!
Kris


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kris@smellofmetal.com