The tourbillon regulator first found its way into the Royal Oak in 1997, with what was then a novel automatic movement with a hammer winding mechanism. Audemars Piguet has just announced the Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon 41 mm, a nod to the 1997 original, but with a twist – it’s the first Royal Oak equipped with a flying tourbillon.
Launching in three variants, the new model is superficially similar to the existing Audemars Piguet Royal Oak tourbillon – it is very much the octagonal watch – but it is notably different, both in aesthetics and mechanics.
Immediately, the titanium version stands out, not only because the metal is used sparingly by the brand, but also because the dial has a grained finish instead of the conventional tapisserie guilloche.
And it is powered by the newish cal. 2950, a self-winding movement, no doubt a subtle reference to AP’s status as a pioneering maker of wristwatch tourbillons – the brand introduced the first ever automatic tourbillon wristwatch in 1986.
The Royal Oak is an appealing watch in most guises – usually the simpler the better – not just for its design but also the complex and sophisticated case finish. And the tourbillon in titanium is particularly distinctive for its clean, modern dial that goes well with the industrial-chic style of the case design.
Importantly, this is not a mere facelift. It’s the first instance of the cal. 2950 in the Royal Oak. Though the movement isn’t a brand-new calibre, it is relatively new, having been introduced last year in the Code 11.59.
Being an automatic movement, it is an upgrade over the current Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Self-Winding Flying Tourbillon that has a hand-wind movement. More importantly, the cal. 2950 movement has several appealing technical qualities, including a grande sonnerie-style winding click that will appeal to true watch nerds.
The value of the brand as well as the iconic octagonal design is inevitably accompanied by a large price tag, which starts at around US$142,000 for the steel or titanium version. In comparison, the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Tourbillon in steel is priced at US$103,000.
That said, the new Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Self-Winding Tourbillon is arguably fair value for an iconic wristwatch design with a well-designed in-house movement. And in terms of AP’s wider line up, it is priced relatively well. Among the three versions, the titanium is the most compelling – and the most affordable – with the unique case material and dial.
Uncommon for AP, though found on a fair number of Royal Oak Offshores, titanium elevates the sportiness of the watch without taking away from the luxury factor, since the metal is finished to the same quality as steel.
But the titanium version is special for the dial. Finished with a granular, frosted surface, the dial is unadorned yet finely detailed, a counterpoint to the complicated mechanics of the tourbillon. And combined with the case, the dial creates a tone-on-tone look understated in a way that evokes the original Royal Oak of 1972.
All of the three variants also share an applied logo at 12 o’clock that’s a first for the Royal Oak. Having been introduced on the Code 11.59, the emblem is a solid, 24k-gold appliqué that is secured to the dial in the traditional manner, with tiny pins that go into holes on the dial. But it fabricated with a thoroughly high-tech method: “grown” galvanically by building up by repeatedly plating thin layers of gold in a mould.
Like the logo, the hands and hour markers are also solid gold, albeit in 18k purity. On the steel and gold models they are paired with a dial decorated with Evolutive Tapisserie guilloche, a radial pattern derived from the traditional chequerboard motif of the Royal Oak, and finished with a smoked effect that darkens towards the edges.
Among the many new movements rolled out by AP for the Code 11.59 last year, the cal. 2950 is an automatic movement, making it eminently suited for a sports watch, especially when compared to the hand-wind movement found in the earlier Royal Oak tourbillon.
While the tourbillon cage is in AP’s trademark three-armed style, it is a flying tourbillon, unlike most of the brand’s other tourbillon movements. It is “flying” because the carriage is supported only underneath, going without a bridge on the dial. Driven by the last wheel in the gear train, the tourbillon cage rotates while transferring energy to the escapement and balance wheel, which keep time.