After the whirlwind that was SIHH 2018, it’s sometimes hard to get your specific thoughts on a collection in order. It’s especially hard when one of the world’s biggest brands drops a mammoth collection of new novelties during the show. So many that it was easy to overlook some of the less flashy models. The big news going into the Geneva fair for Audemars Piguet was the Royal Oak Offshore’s 25th birthday; less than a week later, the talking point for the brand — and maybe of the entire show — revolved around an ultra-thin perpetual calendar piece unique that synthesized the high masculinity of a Royal Oak into a high-tech concept watch that measured in at 6.33 mm (for reference, your typical Jumbo comes in at 8.3 mm), making it the thinnest perpetual calendar in existence.
1.) There’s a lot to discuss here — mainly the technical details behind how AP was able to accomplish this which I discussed in part here. But the main question I had in the aftermath of SIHH was: Why now? In the watchmaking industry, that is often a fruitless question, but it is curious that AP decided to drop only its second ever “Research and Development” model during this year’s SIHH especially when it had the potential to overshadow the brand’s main focus: the Royal Oak Offshore’s anniversary. The all-platinum model looks like it has the potential to be a future production model as it was given an official reference number (26586PT.OO.1240PT.01); so why not wait a year until it could be released in full? After news broke that Piaget was releasing what looks like the definitive ultra-thin watch during the show (side note: it can’t get much thinner than 2 mm, can it?!), was AP concerned that the pursuit for ultimate svelteness would become blasé by the time the watch could be officially released? The only other option would be that AP wanted to get ahead of the curve and keep one of the talking points of the show (ultra-thin watchmaking) focused on itself rather than down the hall at the Piaget booth. Whatever the reason, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the RD#2 becoming a full-fledged member of the brand’s lineup within the next year or so.
2.) Among the multiple concept watches and grande complications, we saw the introduction of multiple new colors to the Royal Oak Offshore line. Some of these were more subdued while others offered highlighter looks that would probably only look proper on the beaches of Ibiza or Miami. Just look at the names AP gave some of the “louder” Offshore Diver models: Topical Turquoise, Beige Means Business, Khaki Has Character, and Day Into Night Purple. Aren’t they great? That right there is a sense of humor — albeit a corny one — that we don’t always see from the oft-conservative Swiss watch industry.
AP updated the Offshore Selfwinding Chronograph in a number of new pigments as well. The indigo blue dial model is certainly a looker and is matched by the blue ceramic pushers. I’m certain that the ultra-sporty black/gray/red model will be a social media favorite (the blend of the stainless steel case, ceramic bezel, and rubber strap makes it a winner) and the Havana model with a “Cigar-Brown” dial will appeal to a certain clientele that enjoys a Cuban cigar while scrolling through their favorite watch forums. The real controversial piece out of these models was without-a-doubt the “Camouflage” model with a khaki-green ceramic bezel and beige dial. If you can look past the strap, which quickly attracted the ire of the horological cognoscenti, the bezel and dial combination is really quite impressive. The beige oozes this sort of creamy charisma that matches seamlessly with the brown subdials and almost forest-green bezel. I’m not afraid to admit that when I first saw the press photos I wasn’t a fan of the combination — but this is definitely a watch that needs to be seen in person to be appreciated.
3.) Along with a bevy of colors, a consistent theme throughout all the new models was a blend of materials. This was most notable in one of my personal highlights from the show: the Jumbo Extra-Thin in titanium and platinum. The selling point of this watch was the titanium case with a jaw-dropping mirror-polished 950 platinum bezel and links. The bracelet is made of titanium and features a titanium folding clasp. The smoked blue tapisserie dial is worth the price of admission alone thanks to the way it dances in the light and seems to creep in from the shadowy edges of the dial. It’s also the model that is perhaps closest out of all the new Royal Oaks to Gérald Genta’s 1972 progenitor.
Worth a shoutout is the two-tone Royal Oak Offshore Diver. Two-tone timepieces are as controversial as ever, but this new model is as good a take on the mixed-metal look as we’ve seen. While this watch is technically identical to previous iterations of the Royal Oak Offshore Diver, the pink gold case, gray titanium bezel, gray ceramic crowns, gray rubber strap, and gray dial, all give it a maximalist appeal that is hard to take your eyes off of. At 42 mm, it looks and wears bigger than its actual size, giving it the larger-than-life aesthetic needed to pull off the look.
The use of ceramic was another highlight for AP this year. Not only did it consistently appear on bezels, crowns, and pushers throughout the various collections, it also made its debut as the primary material used in the two new Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complications. Released in white and black ceramic, the watches feature quite a bit of technical know-how with a minute repeater, perpetual calendar, split-seconds chronograph. If you aren’t aware of the process that goes into finishing ceramic, white and black ceramic actually differ quite a bit. Black ceramic is reinforced with yttrium oxide, making it seven times harder than steel. White ceramic, on the other hand, was reinforced with aluminum oxide giving it a high gloss finish and making it even harder than the black ceramic version and nine times harder than steel.
4.) In an arena that is typically lacking for the majority of luxury watch brands, Audemars Piguet knocked it out of the park for ladies watches this year. We got to see the new Millenary collection before the show and during the week, AP released two more stellar timepieces. The Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon bares a passing resemblance to last year’s Diamond Outrage, but technically it’s so much more. This is the first Royal Oak Concept watch for women since the category’s inception in 2002. It’s also the very first time Audemars Piguet has produced a flying tourbillon — ever. It comes in white gold at 38.5 mm and will be available with either brilliant-cut or baguette-cut diamonds. The third watch for women is the Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel Openworked. It’s the evolution of a timepiece first released in 2016 in a 41 mm case but this time around, it’s been reduced to 37 mm and dressed up in either a Frosted Gold finish or in solid 18k rose gold. This is a highly complex watch that is skeletonized and uses dual balance wheels and two hairsprings to improve precision and stability. All the finishing touches on the bridge and mainplate such as the beveling, chamfering, polishing, and brushing are done by hand, adding a personal touch to an extremely avant-garde wristwatch.
Before moving on, I’d like to briefly discuss the Royal Oak Tourbillon Extra-Thin with a Tapissierie Evolutive dial. In my opinion, this is one of the most important watches of the year for Audemars Piguet. Other than the dial, this watch is identical to previous Royal Oak Extra-Thin Tourbillons — but what a difference does the dial make. Rather than the traditional tapisserie dial, this features a sunburst take on the iconic formation. Billed as “evolutive” texture, the three watches are striking and might mark the beginning of a new design code for the Royal Oak and its extensive family.
Imagine, for a moment, the future of the Royal Oak, with all sorts of different takes on the tapissiere dial. The possibilities are endless and it opens up a whole new world for the AP team to explore. It will be interesting to see what follows up these watches at SIHH 2019.
5.) I know for a lot of people in the watch industry, Audemars Piguet’s ability to drop a mindnumbing amount of novelties on the first day of the show was impressive. Especially considering the combinations of finishing, sizes, materials, and complications on display. However, based on what I’ve heard on social media, the forums, and in our own comment section following the show is criticism towards how AP relies almost entirely on the Royal Oak, Royal Oak Offshore, and Royal Oak Concept collections. I understand this criticism, but I think overall it’s a little unfounded. The Royal Oak is one of the few blockbuster timepieces left. It has an important history and today enjoys a level of pop culture significance that is rare in watchmaking. This isn’t something that is deserving of criticism as long as it’s handled in an appropriate way that respects the brand’s heritage. Other than a few select ambassadors (such as LeBron James and Serena Williams, two of the greatest athletes ever), AP isn’t out there on the tabloid circuit announcing a never-ending stream of partnerships and limited edition watches; rather, they’ve focused on curating a diverse range within the brand’s most profitable — and iconic — collection. Just looking at the diversity of materials and complications available is something completely out of scope for 90% of the watchmaking industry and the fact that it is focused in one watch line makes it even more impressive. As a whole, watchmaking is a better place when the Royal Oak is selling well and as long as the line continues to develop stylistically (just take a look at the Tapisserie Evolutive for proof) and mechanically, I don’t personally believe the “oversaturation” of the Royal Oak is a bad thing for AP, the consumer, or the pundit.
You can check out our previous coverage of Audemars Piguet’s 2018 novelties, including a video interview AP CEO François-Henry Bennahmias, here.
What are your final thoughts on the 2018 offerings from Audemars Piguet? Let us know in the comments!