Born within the rolling mountains of the Vallée de Joux, Audemars Piguet has been the master of time for 146 years. Expanding beyond the crisp Swiss air, the luxury watch brand has shared its unique handmade complications with the world, and more than a century later, Stefanie Ng has been tasked with writing the newest horology chapters.
Stepping into her role as Audemars Piguet South-East Asia CEO in October 2019, Stefanie was yet to understand the unprecedented scope of challenges destined to hit the world.
"COVID-19 is like a hurricane sweeping across the entire world disrupting the norm," she tells The CEO Magazine. "2020 was a year where every business needed to pivot in one way or another."
From live broadcasting from Le Brassus – the village where Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet founded the company – to continuing its relationships with local clients, the business was able to overcome many pandemic challenges.
"Our sales staff had to find creative solutions to stay well-connected with our clients," Stefanie shares. "They had to learn and implement new technologies and solutions to make this an unforgettable experience.
"We have constantly pushed the boundaries and thought of new ideas to captivate our clients."
Challenges are something in which Stefanie relishes, so the opportunity to become the first female chief executive of Audemars Piguet South-East Asia was instantly appealing.
Despite such little representation of women in the corporate world of luxury watches, the businesswoman doesn’t let gender stereotypes dictate her success.
"I have never thought of myself as a trailblazer," she says. "As individuals, we have to constantly progress and evolve.
"In order to move up the ladder, it is important to remain relevant in any role that you are in and when the opportunity for progression presents itself, you will then be ready to take it."
Starting at the company as Regional Marketing Manager for South-East Asia in 2012, the CEO has definitely led by example.
With nine years of horology expertise up her sleeve, it’s no wonder her dedicated attitude mirrors the very essence of the Swiss watchmaking brand.
"I am always impressed that despite being a 146-year-old watchmaking brand, we are also owners of avant-garde designs such as the Diamond trilogies, Royal Oak Concept and advanced innovations from the Supersonnerie to the extra-thin Perpetual Calendar movement," she explains. "I hold similar beliefs with Audemars Piguet, and that is to keep evolving – never stand still."
Audemars Piguet has long been synonymous with excellence, dating back to its early days where the founding watchmakers crafted unique and complicated mechanisms by hand at a time when industrialisation was emerging.
But as it edges towards becoming one-and-a-half centuries old, in order to stay relevant, the company must embrace the ability to constantly adapt.
"One important thing we have remained consistent with over the years is being focused on enhancing our clients’ experience and better responding to their evolving needs and expectations," Stefani explains. "We don’t necessarily need four walls to sell watches. We can sell a watch anywhere – on a golf course or at restaurants.
"The critical questions we constantly ask ourselves is how we can offer an unforgettable experience to a client outside the boutique."
From using its first online WeChat pop-up boutique in partnership with JD.com in 2018 to using the luxury platform NET-A-PORTER in 2021, ecommerce is one of the crucial cogs behind the manufacturer’s future success.
"We have started to innovate ourselves to cater to the younger and tech-savvy audiences," Stefanie says. "Our ecommerce strategy is a work in progress.
"With that being said, younger generations are also keen on meeting in person.
"Human connection is part of the brand’s DNA, which reinforces our reputation for excellence and continuing to be one of the industry leaders.
"Luxury in its purest form remains a human experience with interactions and passing on know-how from one person to another."
Despite the pandemic hitting the global luxury industry, it’s thought the market will return to 2019 levels by 2022–23 – mainly driven by digital sales and growth in China. This leaves a big task ahead for leaders including Audemars Piguet.
"Nobody knows when the pandemic will come to an end," Stefanie says. "What we have come to realise is consumer preferences have changed – they are more discerning and will look at brands that resonate with their beliefs.
"A brand needs to be connected with its clients in order to remain relevant to their evolving needs and expectations."
While men dominate the watch market, women’s watches have been a major focus for the brand since its early days.
"Audemars Piguet has crafted mechanical watches for women, ranging from timeless classics to avant-garde artistic creations, all suited to the evolving nature of women’s lifestyles," Stefanie reveals.
About 60 new models will be launched this year focused around three main themes: Serious Fun, Be Yourself and Harder, Stronger.
"There are many new models included in the 2021 and 2022 launch plans within our existing collections, while we are preparing something very special for women in 2023 – keep your eyes open!" Stefanie hints.