Audemars Piguet’s still-under-wraps deal with Marvel already appears to have inspired a little Hollywood razzmatazz around Le Brassus.
Granted, the company’s unveiling of its 2021 collection — an unanticipated e-mail with a pdf look book of novelties that dropped into my inbox last night — was understated by Tinseltown standards, but a bright green flash on the front cover hinted at drama to come.
It was certainly a choice of presentation that showed confidence in this year’s novelties, and those with a penchant for green will not be disappointed with five Royal Oaks, all green but all distinct from each other.There is a Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin in 950 platinum with a smoked green sunburst dial; a Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph in 18ct yellow gold with green Grande Tapisserie dial; and three Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillons with green sunburst Tapisserie dials, one in titanium the other in rose gold; and a third in titanium with a white gold bezel set with baguette-cut emeralds.The eagle-eyed among you will notice nothing in steel, which makes the entry price for this year’s novelties an eye-watering CHF 91,000 for the platinum automatic Jumbo Extra-Thin, and that is without a Tapisserie dial.The 41mm Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph dial does have the “Grande Tapisserie” pattern punctuated with three golden ringed sub dials, all driven by an automatic manufacture Calibre 2385.Three limited edition 41mm Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillons demonstrate AP’s continuing commitment to high end complications and artistry required to create each green Tapisserie dial in a sunburst pattern.
With this week’s unveiling of several new models for 2021, Audemars Piguet doubled down on its flagship Royal Oak watch with a number of new developments in the sought-after collection, including a long-awaited in-house integrated chronograph movement.
The 41mm Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph is now equipped with the latest generation of the in-house integrated flyback chronograph, self-winding Caliber 4401. Two years ago, Audemars Piguet introduced that milestone movement with the debut of the CODE 11.59 collection, and now it has made its way into Royal Oak.
For the first year, it will be limited to a pair of 18-karat rose-gold models—one with a blue dial and one with a brown dial, either on strap or gold bracelet (US$45,800 on strap, US$66,300 on bracelet). The new in-house chronographs will hit the market in May.“For the first time, the Royal Oak chronograph now has the in-house Caliber 4401,” said Michael Friedman, the brand’s head of complications, during the virtual presentation live from the company’s headquarters in Le Brassus, Switzerland. “The real big change from the previous versions of the Royal Oak chronograph is that because it’s the in-house movement, we now have a sapphire case back, so we can see that beautiful movement with all the wonderful traditional finishing techniques.”Audemars Piguet’s CEO François-Henry Bennahmias recalled how that movement came to be. “In 2012, a few months after I became global CEO, I put 40 people in a room, closed the door and said, ‘Guys, it’s very simple, we’re going to stay in this room for as long as it takes. I need a new automatic caliber and a new integrated chronograph mechanism.’”
Sooner on the horizon, with availability starting this month, is a special edition of the legendary Ref. 15202 “Jumbo” Extra-Thin Royal Oak with a twist—a full 950 platinum 39mm case and bracelet with a smoky green sunburst dial. The limited edition of 100 pieces (US$105,400), will be exclusively sold through AP Clubs, the brand’s immersive boutiques. Purists may balk at the departure from Royal Oak’s signature grid-like Tapisserie guilloché engraved dial, but the tradeoff is something novel. “It is one of the first times we’ve done a full platinum Jumbo on bracelet,” Friedman said. “It brings so much to heart when you look at that piece, it’s unlike anything we’ve done.”
For those who are tempted to go green, but prefer the traditional Royal Oak dial, you can opt for a 125-piece limited edition Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph with an 18-karat yellow gold case and a green Grande Tapisserie dial (US$74,800), or a trio of limited-edition Selfwinding Flying Tourbillons featuring green Tapisserie dials with a sunburst pattern radiating out from the tourbillon at 6 o’clock, starting from CHF139,000.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is one of the most recognizable luxury watches on the planet – and it also happens to be quite good looking. These two things taken together have helped this more than 45 year old design turn into both an icon and one of the most in-demand pieces of men’s jewelry you can find; and as such we included it among our “top 10 living legend watches to own” article. And “men’s jewelry” is a term that I feel adequately describes the appeal of this timepiece. For this review I take a look at the 41mm wide version of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph. Other sizes and styles certainly exist, but this is the most modern (and largest) iteration of the famed Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph ever.You can’t be a watch expert (let alone watch lover) without studying the work of the late watch designer Gerald Genta. He is most well-known for a series of luxury sport watches he designed for brands such as Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, IWC, and Bulgari. While Genta’s relationship with the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak design ended decades ago, you can’t really understand the watch’s concept without knowing what he was intending to do with it. Audemars Piguet has been a loyal and impressive caretaker of the design, which represents the vast majority of sales at the brand.When the Royal Oak was first introduced, Audemars Piguet boldly and proudly announced in its own marketing materials that the Royal Oak was a steel sports watch priced just like a gold one. Was that just rich-boy puffery designed to further alienate the masses who could not afford such items? Not exactly.Most Audemars Piguet Royal Oak watches out in the market aren’t sold as a function of their movement or complexity. Yes, there are some exotic models with a perpetual calendar complication or a minute repeater – but this isn’t what the Royal Oak is all about. In fact, I have a very strong feeling Gerald Genta himself never even intended for there to be anything but a three-hand version of the Royal Oak, which means that something like a Royal Oak Chronograph is more a modification of his original design intent as opposed to building on it. Gerald Genta famously quipped that he himself was not a watch lover. In my opinion this statement has been taken out of context and really means that Genta was more focused on the exterior wearable part of the watch as opposed to the horological elements on the inside.At the time when Genta was in the heyday of his design career he can clearly be seen rejecting the traditional “generic” exterior look of most watches (especially luxury ones) but introducing a series of novel ways to imagine a watch case and bracelet. It is in those latter areas where he excelled the most and his prescience on this subject was not only ahead of his time but clearly captures the emotions many luxury watch wearers have today. Both Gerald Genta and Audemars Piguet likely agree that your wristwatch being both distinctive in appearance and recognizable to others are necessary components of a wristwatch becoming more than just a nice product, but a genuine personality unto itself.A discussion of Gerald Genta’s later design work and the contents of his eponymous brand are a subject for an entirely different discussion. With that said, it is important to understand the body of his work as well as the themes he was interested in to understand where the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak came from. Genta was a fan of the sea and all things nautical. He was also a fan of simple dials which were legible and told the time easily. If you take a look at the three-hand versions of both the Royal Oak and Nautilus, you will agree that the watch dials focus on being simple, legible, and just a little bit decorative.
Genta was never all that interested in revolutionizing watch dials through most of his career. Rather, he seemed to mostly care about the watch case and bracelet, and how they might integrate together. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak was one of the first watches I can think of where the bracelet and case are not only truly integrated, but designed to go with one another. In fact, I like to see his watch designs more like bracelet designs. High-end, nice looking, masculine, and showy bracelets which also just happen to tell the time.The introduction of additional complications to the Royal Oak is a more modern evolution of the product collection intended to ensure that the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak fits into as many product categories as possible for as many potential customers as possible. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph takes the most popular complication (in addition to the time) and marries it to one of the most successful watch designs of the 20th century. What it lacks in “purity” it makes up for in emotional appeal for consumers who both like the look of a chronograph with its extra sub-dials on the face and the look of extra pushers on the case. Audemars Piguet itself seems to implicitly understand this given that the movement inside the watch is nice, but hardly revolutionary.Decorated with love and an excellent attention to detail, the Audemars Piguet caliber 2385 automatic chronograph is at the same time rather “old-school” in its performance. It operates at 3Hz (21,600 bph) with a power reserve of 40 hours. The chronograph is a module on top of an older movement design, but still manages to achieve a decent level of thinness. While the three-hand version of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is the clear winner when it comes to case thinness, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph 41mm is still comparatively slim to many other chronograph watches out there being just 11mm thick (the three-hand Royal is about 8mm thick).
Audemars Piguet further doesn’t show off the movement in most Royal Oak model watches, which means you can’t admire the solid gold engraved automatic rotor or the attractive level of finishing on the movement through the solid steel caseback.At 41mm wide the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph is a hefty timepiece made from a lot of high-quality stainless steel. Recall that the “Jumbo” version (as it is often called) of the Royal Oak is just 39mm wide. The case has a relatively long 53mm lug-to-lug distance and the wearing size is visually increased due to the widely spaced lug structure. Water resistance is just 50m, which is more than enough for daily wear but I think 100m is a more competitive number if Audemars Piguet wants to push the “sporty” side of the Royal Oak more.
Then again, the entirety of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore collection is where the brand prefers to push more of its “sport” messaging. The irony of course is that the Royal Oak in the 1970s has a similar personality as the Royal Oak Offshore had when it debuted about 20 years later in the 1990s.Comparisons to the Patek Philippe Nautilus and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak are extremely common and logical. Currently Patek Philippe charges a lot more money for the three-hand Nautilus than Audemars Piguet does for a similar model. In fact the Replica Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph 41mm is currently less expensive (by close to $5,000) than the retail price of the three-hand Patek Philippe Nautilus. I wouldn’t look to this price difference as a real indicator about value differences and in my opinion, this price difference is more about marketing and brand positioning.
This is also a good instance to say that if you are trying to decide between the two, the Audemars Piguet represents the superior value (which is a rare thing to say about the typically high-end pricing strategy of Audemars Piguet).I personally prefer the sharper angles of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak’s case and bracelet to that of the Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711 watch that I reviewed on aBlogtoWatch here. This is a matter of personal taste, and it is because I feel that the Royal Oak is a bit more edgy, masculine, and bold compared to the softer and more genteel lines of the Nautilus. Both watches are clear cousins and are each inspired by the world of boats. Audemars Piguet envisioned the Royal Oak to be the perfect sport watch to wear while on your sailing boat or yacht. Genta himself designed the iconic eight-sided bezel of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak after the design of some ship hull windows. From his home in Monte Carlo, it is not difficult to imagine Mr. Genta spending an awful lot of time gazing at some of the world’s most expensive and interesting ships to draw design inspiration from.