Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak is not a watch anymore, it’s an icon. A good thing ? Yes, for the brand, which lives upon it. But no, for its watchmakers and designers, who have the extremely difficult task to make it evolve to remain contemporary and seduce new clients.
The trick found by Audemars Piguet is pretty smart : new evolutions of the legendary Royal Oak are called ‘Concept’. It’s a clever way to test the efficiency of a design, a complication, in a nutshell : a new path for the Royal Oak to take. A concept that works will become a regular collection piece. If it doesn’t work, it will remain…a concept.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept was first unveiled in 2002 as an avant-garde, 30th-anniversary tribute to Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak – designed by Gérald Genta as the first luxury watch in stainless steel.
The Concept’s ultra-hard Alacrite 602 case was more rounded to highlight Genta’s signature octagonal bezel and its eight hexagonal screws. The dial was left off, exposing the advanced micro-mechanics ticking within. All these design codes have persisted throughout the Concept series, from 2008’s Royal Oak Carbon Concept Tourbillon and Chronograph – an ultra-light timepiece that was the first to combine a forged-carbon case and movement mainplate – to the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept GMT Tourbillon of 2011, with ultra-light, ultra-resistant titanium case and black-ceramic octagonal bezel, pushpieces and crown.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept – Millesime 2014
This year, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept is a very powerful piece. Bright, white, sleek and powerful, the Royal Oak Concept GMT Tourbillon to be presented for the first time at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie 2014 (SIHH) in Geneva, is a watch for avant-garde collectors.
This GMT Tourbillon features a white ceramic bezel, crown and pushpieces instead of black, all heightening the contrast with the titanium case middle. However, the manufacture has now gone one step further and incorporated ceramic into the movement itself, replacing the blackened upper bridge of Calibre 2913 with white ceramic. As a result, the new Calibre 2930 is visually transformed.
The GMT Tourbillon’s hand-wound Calibre 2930 features a twin barrel ensuring 10-day power reserve, tourbillon and second time-zone ‘GMT’ display. The GMT display provides an instant reading of the time in a second time-zone. It is adjusted using the pushpiece at 4 o’clock (one press adjusts the time by one hour). The indication of the second time-zone, based on 12 hours, comprises two superimposed discs. The first, on which the figures are inscribed, completes one turn in 12 hours. The second, just below, completes a turn in 24 hours and has 2 coloured areas: a white half for daytime and a black half for night-time.
The double barrel system ensures the watch runs for as many as 10 days before it needs to be manually wound again, generating a constant force during some 237 hours of autonomy.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept GMT Tourbillon also features a selection indicator mechanism. According to the position of the winding stem, the hand positioned on the dial at 6 o’clock indicates the function selected. The H, N and R indications correspond to the three positions of the winding stem, meaning time-setting, neutral and winding respectively.
Why Ceramic is so hard to shape ?
Ceramic is an almost totally scratchproof composite material that can be scratched only by diamonds, calling for the use of special milling-cutter machines equipped with diamond-tipped tools. Treating the roughed-out surfaces and edges to a polished or satin-brushed finish represents a technical challenge, due to ceramic’s inherent resistance to abrasion. It takes around 8 hours to make the Royal Oak Concept GMT Tourbillon’s bezel, compared with 45 minutes if it were steel.
Similarly, the titanium used for the case middle and sapphire surround is strong, comfortable to wear twice and as light as steel – advantageous for a watch of 44mm. Last but not least, the inner flange circling the dial is made of lightweight aluminium, hardened by anodisation.