At an animated panel discussion at Dubai Watch Week last November that centered on the watch industry’s indifference towards women when it came to grand complications, Audemars Piguet CEO Francois-Henry Bennahmias, explained how his brand had time and again produced successful timepieces for men that were actually inspired by those first made for women.

And then in a final flourish – as if to reinforce the maison’s commitment towards producing interesting watches for women – he introduced the audience to Chadi Nouri-Gruber, AP’s product director. In an industry dominated by Swiss men, the likes of Chadi and Cartier’s Carole Forestier-Kasapi are a rarity. The 35-year-old Chadi heads product development for the Le Brassus brand since 2016 and brings, in her own words, “a new and more feminine vision to the world of watchmaking.”

The Frosted Gold Millenary is a strong offering for women from AP

That’s been more than apparent in this year’s releases from the brand. A brand new Millenary collection that features the AP’s successful frosted gold technique and a new Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon – a ladies watch that combines high jewelry with haute horology. It has an open-worked dial revealing the watch’s flying tourbillon, while the 18-carat white gold case, dial and inner bezel are set with brilliant-cut diamonds.

Incidentally, Chadi is not the first woman to play an important part in the history of the Le Brassus brand. Jacqueline Dimier was the head of product design at Audemars Piguet from 1975 to 1999. Her first project was to design the Royal Oak for women. More recently, Italian jewelry designer Carolina Bucci, collaborated with the brand on the Royal Oak frosted gold models, a collection which has become a runaway success and also spawned a men’s line.

And while women in high places may be a rarity in the watch industry, it’s not for the Nouris. Her sister Chabi Nouri is the CEO of Piaget, the first woman CEO of a Richemont brand.

And while women in high places may be a rarity in the watch industry, it’s not for the Nouris. Her sister Chabi Nouri is the CEO of Piaget, the first woman CEO of a Richemont brand.

Of Swiss-Italian and Iranian heritage, Chadi spent a few years with Cartier before joining Audemars Piguet. Here are some excerpts from our brief chat during SIHH this year.


With the Diamond Trilogy, the new Millenary collection and the Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon this year, it seems clear that Audemars Piguet is really ramping up its women’s line. Is this part of a new push aimed at targeting a new demographic?

CN: We think we have the right balance in the offering for men’s and women’s watches. Right now, that is at about 70:30. However, we want to make the 30 per cent aimed at women really exciting, so that explains why we have collections like the Millenary and the Diamond Trilogy. We work on these watches a lot. We don’t believe that quartz movements and complications have to be mutually exclusive. You can have a beautiful quartz watch like the Royal Oak 33 or a watch in the Diamond Trilogy or a beautiful mechanical watch like the Millenary where you can see the beating heart of the watch.

The Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon

The Millenary really is an encounter between watchmaking and jewelry. We believe we can do both. With the Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon for women, we wanted to combine high-watchmaking with high-jewelry. And apparently, we had really good feedback about the timepiece so far. It is exciting for us. We have worked hard on this concept – on the casing, the caseback – there’s a ton of detail. We wanted to keep our pieces not only technical, but also full of romance. It should touch women’s hearts. And also appeal to men.

Why do complications for women generally tend to start and end with the moonphase?

That’s because of the low price. The moonphase is a small complication to produce. Why aren’t there interesting watches for women? Maybe we haven’t been talking the right language to women, to appeal to this side of their personality. Women love jewelry, they understand it. With jewelry, you just need to talk about the material and the stone.

The Millenary was introduced with an opaline dial this year

There are stories you can tell about stones. For example, we have introduced opal in our Millenary line this year. Now with opal, each stone is unique and has its own fire. It’s supposed to be a lucky charm, it is known to blush in front of a friend and go pale in front of an enemy. It’s supposed to be a perfect talisman for vision, people recommend wearing opal during childbirth. So there are lots of stories in stones. We need to tell similar stories with watches as well, to appeal to their interests.

Tell us about the challenges you faced with the development of the new Concept RD#2 Ultra-Thin Perpetual Calendar.

The complexity revolved around reducing the movement’s height. To do this, we had to internalize a lot of the movement’s function. We had to combine them and then reduce the number of parts. So a movement that would have had 374 parts was reduced to one that has only 256 now. Imagine a three-storied house. Now compress this to one floor, but keep all the furniture. This is exactly what we did. 

The RD#2 Concept is the thinnest perpetual calendar at 6.3 mm

This is the Royal Oak, so we had to make sure the design of the movement was robust. Everything that we fused together by reducing the number of parts had to be durable and work well. We were granted two patents. It was important for us to have these two patents granted. One of them is where the end of the month cam is integrated into the date wheel. We have integrated the month cam into the month wheel. This helps us have everything on one layer.

So what happens next?

It’s the RD#2 concept, that’s why it has not gone into production yet. It took one year for the RD#1 to go from concept to a production model, so who knows you may see this next year.

AP is so strongly associated with the Royal Oak – all your new concepts tend to be around them. Is it not detrimental to focus on the Royal Oak and ignore the others when it comes to men’s watches?

We look at them as three distinct lines – Royal Oak, Royal Oak Offshore and the Royal Oak Concept. The RD#1 was in the Concept line unlike the RD#2. For us the Royal Oak is a blessing. We are thrilled to have this collection in our line and we are happy to work with it, animate it and we’ll keep on doing it for the years to come. It’s not that we don’t concentrate on the other lines – we have the Jules Audemars too. I think we have enough diversity to offer to men.

The 25th anniversary reissue of the Royal Oak Offshore

The Offshore turns 25 this year. What do you think has been key to its success?

It’s a robust and timeless design. It was a mega-sized model at the beginning – the designer who was commissioned to work on it had to make it bigger than the 39 mm Royal Oak Jumbo, which was already a big timepiece in the early 1990’s. The Offshore started the trend of mega-sized watches. Just like the Royal Oak Jumbo broke many rules in the 70’s, the Offshore did so in the 90s.

This is an abridged version of the full interview that was published in our Spring 2018 issue out now on newsstands.

SUGGESTED READING: Oliver Audemars and the Way of the Valley