Audemars piguet is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Royal Oak Offshore this year, and while it’s an incredibly important milestone, the brand had a lot more in store for us when we checked out their booth at SIHH earlier this year. A whopping 80 new references on display – some dedicated to the Royal Oak Offshore, of course – showcased bold and brave reinterpretations of the brand’s most iconic timepieces.Where do you start when there’s so much exciting material to talk about? Let’s begin with a bit of history. The Royal Oak Offshore was first launched in 1993, when then-joint managing director Stephen Urquhart tasked watchmaker Emmanuel Gueit with conceiving a piece that was sportier, more resistant and more robust-looking than the Royal Oak. This was done in the hope that it would help attract male customers who were put off by the design because more women had begun wearing the brand’s men’s watches. There are many more stories surrounding the controversial launch of the Royal Oak Offshore, but fast-forward to today and the watch is one of Audemars Piguet’s
bestsellers. For this reason, the brand launched a re-edition of the original Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Chronograph, plus the design-driven Royal Oak Offshore Tourbillon Chronograph. Product director Chadi Nouri Gruber calls the new look “totally design-driven” and says the two limited edition versions are one-offs that won’t be done again. “On this piece, we’ve reworked every little detail,” she says. “We really wanted to show what the future of the original piece could be.” The push-pieces are lever push-pieces, the bezel is open-worked to let light pass through before it hits the sapphire case back, the movement looks completely architectural, and with the bridges seemingly linking up the movement with the bezel through screws, the movement appears as though it’s suspended in mid-air.
One piece that really caught our eyes – and a favourite of Gruber’s – is the Ladies’ Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon. The concept watch marks a pair of firsts for Audemars Piguet: its first concept watch designed for women and its first flying tourbillon. According to Gruber, it was the perfect opportunity for Audemars Piguet to create an engaging way to combine its know-how in haute horlogerie with that of high-jewellery watchmaking. The brand has already proven its capability in creating awesome high-jewellery pieces when it unveiled the Diamond Punk in 2015, which was subsequently followed by the even more outrageous Diamond Outrage in 2016 and last year’s Diamond Fury, which completed the trilogy. When it came to creating a concept timepiece, the challenge was to figure out what complication would allow the brand room to play with the dial and give it that signature edgy Audemars Piguet touch. The Diamond trilogy took its inspiration from the Vallée de Joux – and the concept watch followed suit.
“We wanted to take our influence and our creativity from Vallée de Joux in the winter and this is how we decided to go for a tourbillon,” says Gruber. “And then we wanted a flying tourbillon because without the bridge, it allows us to play even more with the dial. We open-worked the dial and it took the shape of a snowflake – an edgy snowflake, not a gimmicky snowflake.” At 38.5mm and with a thickness of only 11.4mm, the watch is designed to fit any woman’s wrist. Cased in white gold, the watch is available with brilliant-cut diamonds or baguette-cut diamonds totalling nearly 10 carats.
The timepiece most discussed during SIHH in January was probably the much-lauded Royal Oak RD #2 Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin – at 6.3mm, it’s not only the thinnest automatic perpetual calendar in the world, but it’s also the thinnest Royal Oak every produced. It’s thinner than the Jumbo and the ladies’ quartz versions. To achieve this remarkable feat, the brand challenged itself to think outside of the box, reducing the three-level movement to a single plate where multiple functions were simplified and reduced to single mechanisms. Outside of the movement, everything remains classic Royal Oak, from the tapisserie dial to the moonphase indicator at 12 o’clock.
Speaking of the classic tapisserie dial, Audemars Piguet decided to change things up by revealing brand-new Tapisserie Evolutive dials on the Royal Oak Tourbillon Extra-Thin. The three versions come in stainless steel, 18K pink gold and platinum, with three bold dial colours including blue, purple and smoked blue. The classic Tapisserie guilloche pattern is now reimagined in a sunburst pattern that radiates out from the tourbillon at six o’clock, as well as a new dial formation that’s super cool and extremely contemporary.
Other aesthetic updates include new colours in its range of ceramic timepieces, as well as expanding the technique of frosted gold to the Millenary line.“We frosted the bezel, the inner bezel, the top of the lugs and on the case sides on the Millenary,” explains Gruber. “It’s a finishing technique that’s really cool. It creates a sparkling effect like diamond dust. We’ll continue to use it, definitely.”
In fact, Gruber’s favourite new release for everyday wear isn’t a Royal Oak – it’s the new Millenary in pink gold with an opal dial, diamond-set bezel and lugs, and a Polish-woven gold bracelet. It’s the first time the brand has used opal.
“This is a stone that is very challenging to work with,” she professes. “Each opal is unique. It has its own fire because it dissects the light in different ways. In many cultures, it’s also considered a lucky charm, so it’s known to be an excellent talisman. On this piece, we also frosted the case. This watch, I’d definitely wear every day.”