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How Audemars Piguet changed a Brooklyn artist’s world

Words by Rob Chilton

Brooklyn artist – and watch novice – Fernando Mastrangelo was plunged into the world of horology when he collaborated on a project with Audemars Piguet. What he discovered altered his outlook, not only of his own art, but also the world of watchmaking.

A little while ago the Brooklyn artist Fernando Mastrangelo was approached by the watchmaking legends Audemars Piguet to design and build a sculpture that would represent the brand and show its artistic values at Art Basel, one of the world’s leading art fairs. An outsider might assume AP picked Mastrangelo because of a background, or at least an interest, in watches. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

“Zilch. Zero. Nothing!” laughs Mastrangelo when asked by EDGAR to describe his knowledge of watches before he accepted the project.

“I’ve never even worn a watch. I have my hands completely free because I make sculpture in my studio. My father liked watches but it wasn’t something we talked about or a topic that I learned about,” he continues. “But before working with Audemars Piguet I got a crash course in watches and, naturally, because I’m a maker I admire the craftsmanship and the beauty.

Now I’m a fan.” He points to the 22 timepieces AP have displayed at their Art Basel VIP lounge and says, “These things are art.”

Mastrangelo, whose studio is in Brooklyn, spent some time at AP’s HQ in Switzerland in the Vallée de Joux and was immediately impressed by the work of the watchmakers.

In Pictures. Mastrangelo x Audemars Piguet

Photos. Supplied


The bespoke watchmaker's table that Fernando Mastrangelo made for Audemars Puiget.


The bespoke watchmaker's table that Fernando Mastrangelo made for Audemars Puiget.


Glass tubes display the latest watches from the luxury brand.


A rocky landscape was the aesthetic used in the unique display.

All in the details

“These people are the LeBron Jameses of watchmaking,” he smiles. “It’s not something that can be taught, it’s something they innately have. It was mind-boggling to me. I mean, I make things but this was making at a different level that I’ll never come close to. Going to the factory and meeting these watchmakers was awe-inspiring.”

After seeing the beautiful surroundings of the HQ in Le Brassus, Mastrangelo began to see similarities between his art and the work done by AP.

“My work in the last six years has revolved around nature and issues of climate change and I learned that the whole Audemars Piguet brand is about nature,” he explains. “Also, they’re innovators with their use of materials, and I use unique materials all the time, like sand, salt and coffee. Once I got a deep dive into the brand I saw so many parallels. They’re a big, big version of what I’m doing in my studio.”

New tricks

Mastrangelo, 40, returned to Brooklyn and spent four months designing a presentation desk, a wall feature, and a series of presentation cases that mimic a spruce forest, all of which would help visitors to Art Basel understand and appreciate AP’s watches. Crates of limestone and other stones were shipped to America and then crushed into powders at a quarry in New Jersey. “Early on in AP’s history, they extracted metals from limestone to make watches, so it’s quintessential to their brand identity,” says Mastrangelo.

The result, that will go on tour at Art Basel’s sister festivals in Miami and Hong Kong, is a textured and layered desk that drew the eye of passers-by and more than a few curious hands, eager for a touch of the Vallée de Joux. “Experiential retail is the future,” says the American.

“Every brand right now is trying to figure out how to get those eyeballs into stores. Creating an installation like this where people are drawn to it and take a photo of themselves with it in the background helps perpetuate the brand – it creates an experience for the audience to take away. I’m really interested in that, you know? I think it’s an area that’s going to explode.” he concludes.

Fernando Mastrangelo standing in his Brooklyn studio space.


Supplied Fernando Mastrangelo in his Brooklyn studio.


An area Mastrangelo is less confident about is art festivals like the one where we meet. “It’s a dying industry,” he says. “The world is changing. Look around and you see a generation that’s used to this way of buying and seeing art, but I’m watching the 18-35 year olds who came up on Instagram and Snapchat and they’re not coming here to this.

He continues “They want to follow artists through Instagram and convert that to a real life experience. These kind of things [art fairs] don’t really allow them to engage with the artist and their vision on that journey in a way that’s meaningful to them. They’re looking for a meaning in the content that they’re surrounded by. This is not that format. This is shopping.”

He shrugs and says matter of factly, “Art fairs are powerful and strong and they have a place in the economy of art and design. Do I think they’re the future? No. Do I enjoy them? Yes. But I’m 40 so this is the world I came up in.”

Old school

We browse the AP watches in the display, including the brand’s new Code range released earlier this year that, AP hopes, will build on the foundation of the iconic Royal Oak that came out in 1972.

Using his designer’s eye, what was Mastrangelo’s first impression of the Royal Oak? “Honestly, I didn’t love it on the first viewing,” he laughs. “I’m an artist so if you show me a painting I can understand it quickly, but I didn’t know how to look at watches.”

However, like human attraction perhaps, Mastrangelo’s love for the Royal Oak grew over time. “Once you get into the watch world you understand why the Royal Oak is so unique in terms of its shape, the way it’s made and its history,” he says. “You become romanced by it. The Royal Oak was a slow burn for me, but now I love it.”

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