A sculpture of a horse so pregnant it looks as if it had swallowed a globe. A painting of a voluptuous woman, her privates flared out to mimic the harsh reflection from camera flash. (A critique of the photography habits of Chinese tourists, since you asked.)

A wall, covered in moss and peppered with peculiar metal discs connected with pieces of wire, surrealistically emitting disjointed sounds of nature, watches and watchmaking: the chirp of crickets; the chime of a grande sonnerie; the buzz of a CNC milling machine.

The Peak is at Art Basel Hong Kong, where Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet, having commissioned the last piece, is showing that the worlds of art and watchmaking may not be that dissimilar. After all, the passion, creativity and dedication of watchmakers parallel those of painters and sculptors; artists in their own right, the watch is their canvas.

Canvasses like the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak of 1972, and the Royal Oak Offshore variant of 1989 – these pieces overturned the traditional codes of watchmaking. The first, boldly pivotal in the induction of steel as a material into the realm of luxury watches; the second, heralding the era of oversized cases with a then massive 42mm diameter.

To allow it to express its artistic side even further, the Le Brassus-based, family-owned company has been a global associate sponsor for Art Basel since 2013. Take its VIP lounge, which moves with the three editions of the fair every year. Here, making its debut in Hong Kong in March, is the sound installation by 37-year-old French-born, Geneva-based artist Alexandre Joly. Dubbed Wild Constellations, it augments Mineral Lab, first shown last year by fellow Frenchman Mathieu Lehanneur, 41.

Alexandre Joly was already working with piezo speakers when Audemars Piguet approached him, leading to a natural lift.
Alexandre Joly was already working with piezo speakers when Audemars Piguet approached him, leading to a natural lift.

Mineral Lab showcases the rugged mountainous landscape of Le Brassus with resin and fibre moulds of ancient Swiss rocks found in the area. Lehanneur updated the design for 2015 with a “spring edition”, hence the vegetal wall, onto which Joly placed his melodious, stellar installation.

“It’s like a constellation of stars or a constellation of mushrooms – we don’t know,” Joly tells me. “It could be whatever we want.”

Working off a similar, but smaller, 4m by 3m wall in his studio, Joly first constructed his piece, made of tiny piezo speakers – they create sound when electrically excited, as their quartz crystals vibrate – connected via piano strings and copper wire, and fixed with magnets. He then travelled to the Audemars Piguet manufacture in Le Brassus to record sounds that the watch makes, from the fabrication of the watch, and from the natural surroundings. He built up a large library of such samples and carefully stitched them together, using software music sequencer Ableton Live, into a seamless 45-minute-long soundtrack.

“I try to evoke an imaginary landscape with the sound,” he explains. “It is like a walk in nature. But there is clearly the presence of the watch, of time.” For Joly, it is this “order” and “disorder” that fascinates him in this piece, his first commercial brand commission.

“It creates a strange presence,” he says. “Sometimes, nature is like the rhythm of the watch. Sometimes, the rhythm of the watch is like insects,” he explains, comparing the ticking of the mechanical movement of an Audemars Piguet timepiece with the chirp of crickets. On a more spiritual level, he also likens the chiming of a minute repeater to the serenity of meditation. “You are awake for a little bit, but it is like a dream. I like the state between these two: the sensation of being awake but reality hasn’t set in yet.”

The installation was done in a startling short period of time, having been commissioned only early in November last year. But the amount of time in between the Art Basel fairs – Hong Kong in March, Basel in June and Miami in December – allows Joly to tinker with his creation.

“I want to continue to develop,” he shares. “I like things that are not fixed.”

The Audemars Piguet Mineral Lab lounge with the Wild Constellations sound installation will travel to Switzerland from June 18 to 21, and thereafter to Miami Beach, Dec 3 to 6. By invitation only.