Audemars Piguet’s main highlight in the first half of 2019 has undoubtedly been its new Code 11.59 collection.
The line’s design codes, technical minutiae and new movements all pushed the envelope and redefined what connoisseurs can – and should – expect of something as innocuous and ubiquitous as a round watch.
The Royal Oak hasn’t been forgotten though. Long the stalwart within Audemars Piguet’s line-up, the collection was bolstered by new models and line extensions that were also released at SIHH. Among these novelties were two standouts: the 37mm-wide Royal Oak Frosted Gold Double Balance Wheel Openworked featuring sapphires of various hues, and the diamond-set, 41mm-wide Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel Openworked. The two timepieces aren’t the latest revelation in watchmaking by any stretch of the imagination. Put into context, however, they offer an interesting look into the enduring popularity of the Royal Oak, and Audemars Piguet’s mastery in both the design and technical aspects of watchmaking.
Strength of Design
The Royal Oak is the world’s first steel luxury sports watch, with a 1972 launch price that was over four times that of the next most expensive steel sports watch on the market. Its designer, Gerald Genta, is often lauded for elevating steel’s status as a material. Genta had given the Royal Oak’s surfaces different finishes to create a visually arresting timepiece, thus showing that a steel watch can be as well- appointed as one in precious metals.
What’s often overlooked, however, is Genta’s genius in conceptualising the Royal Oak itself. The greatest strength of the Royal Oak and its Offshore derivative has always been their versatile designs – look at how things just work whether it’s a diminutive time-only Royal Oak measuring 33mm across, or a chunky Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication that’s 44mm wide. This applies, whatever the material; a Royal Oak is equally handsome whether in steel, gold, or any other material.
More than line extensions
The two new watches here accentuate this strength of the Royal Oak’s design in various ways. For a start, there are the precious stones set into each’s bezel. The rounded octagonal bezel has long been the Royal Oak’s calling card and drawing the observer’s attention to the gems here seems almost like a declaration. Note the subtle twist here: the bezel’s upper surface is no longer linearly brushed, but polished like the flank to create a seamless transition to the baguette-cut stones. The eight exposed screws on the bezel – yet another Royal Oak signature – have been preserved though.
Each gem-set bezel, in turn, frames the open-worked Calibre 3132 powering the watches. First introduced in 2016, this movement stacks two sets of balance wheels and hairsprings coaxially for greater timekeeping precision; the two balance wheels can be observed at seven o’clock, secured under a prominent gold upper bridge. Once again, the Royal Oak’s versatility can be seen – although the two watches have a 4mm difference in their diameters, the same movement looks appropriate in both thanks to a tweak in the inner flange’s width. The contrasting tones and finishes in the movements also give the watches different looks.
Finally, there’s the matter of the bracelet finishing. The Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel Openworked features the same linearly brushed finish that’s common to most “stock” Royal Oak Timepieces. Its rainbow-hued cousin, however, has the (relatively) new Frosted Gold finish, which is achieved by peppering each metallic surface with numerous small indents using a proprietary tool that’s akin to a miniature jackhammer. The Frosted Gold finish is reminiscent of a sparkling layer of snow and looks more luxurious, naturally, but also gives a different tactility to the watch.
In the grand scheme of things, the two watches featured here may not create more than a blip on the radar of most aficionados. Examine them more closely, however, and each is a fascinating look at the Royal Oak’s design – and adaptability – in its own right.