It’s going to be a massive year for Audemars Piguet as it rolls out the red carpet for its legendary Royal Oak collection, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The Gérald Genta-designed watch, first released in 1972, has become so iconic for the brand that some would argue it is the brand despite recent attempts to create new collections like Code 11.59. The Royal Oak is hotter than ever and Audemars Piguet CEO François-Henri Bennahmias has big plans to keep it that way. At a digital press conference on Tuesday to reveal the much anticipated 2022 Royal Oak models, the head honcho not only dropped new and improved watches but also a few rather interesting tidbits that chart the company’s plans for the future.
So, before we jump in with the big news about the “Jumbo” Ref. 16202, here are a few highlights from both Bennahmias and Michael Friedman, Audemars Piguet’s head of complications:
- In 2021, the company sold 45,000 watches and raked in a revenue of almost $1.6 billion. The company has 2,500 employees. In 2022, AP will up its output to 50,000 timepieces.
- But the bigger headline is that the company plans to set aside a “big chunk” of Royal Oaks for newcomers to the brand. So, how do first-timers distinguish themselves from the pack to land a piece from this allotment? “The right way to do it is actually very simple: create and develop a relationship with us,” says Bennahmias, making it sound laughably simple. “When you don’t know anyone you have to get known by our people and, eventually things happen.”
- All of the Royal Oak models for 2022, with the exception of existing perpetual calendars, will come with a special oscillating mass, visible through the caseback with a cut-out that says “50 Years.” After December 31, 2022, the models will come with a standard oscillating mass.
- Royal Oak Concept watches will be launched later in 2022, but 2023 is when the company says it will launch something “very, very new in the concept case.”
- Future research and development will be focused on ergonomics, or making the watches more comfortable on the wrist, notably with a potential focus on thinness. ” We have to simplify and we have to amplify the readability on the watches and the ergonomy on the wrist and the way it feels and the way it is balanced,” says Bennahmias. “All of our work will be done in that direction, which will lead us to new mechanisms, thinner ones, potentially, we’ll see, and especially materials.” That could mean that AP has plans to seriously compete in the ongoing ultra-thin race with Bulgari and Piaget.
- “Little touchpoints [have been updated] throughout the pieces and little elements,” says Friedman. But [with the intention of] never ever touching the integrity of the original design. It’s had small evolutions over the last 50 years, small touches are what we’ve done to put attention on the men and women that create them and how it feels and looks on the wrist.”
If it’s not broke, don’t fix it! So, what you will see here mostly looks like the Royal Oaks you have seen before except with small design tweaks, save for the Ref. 16202 below. And for those looking to begin a relationship with Audemars Piguet, here’s a pro tip: Bennahmias says he is flying out today to head to New York and then Los Angeles to make sure “allocations are done the right way,” which means if you can spot him in a boutique, you can start your campaign for a Royal Oak from the top.
Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin Ref. 16202
The Royal Oak Ref. 15202 is replaced by the new Ref. 16202. The next-gen 39 mm “Jumbo” Extra-Thin now houses a new self-winding extra-thin Caliber 7121. It is the first time since 1972, that this model has a new self-winding hour, minute and date movement, replacing the Caliber 2121. At its debut, the retired movement was the thinnest automatic movement (3.05 mm) with central rotor and date indication. The new iteration is slightly larger, measuring 3.2 mm, and is newly equipped with a rapid date-corrector. It now has a larger barrel with more power for more precise timekeeping over a longer period of time in 55 hours of power reserve. Five years in development, it now has bidirectional winding, a balance wheel fit with inertia blocks to avoid unnecessary friction and comes with a patented extra-thin low-energy date-setting mechanism. Plus, it has been finished to high-horology standards with Côtes de Genève, Traits Tirés and circular graining finishes visible through the caseback.
There are four models in stainless steel, platinum 18-karat pink gold and yellow gold. Two new smoked Petite Tapisserie dials have been added in the pink-gold and yellow-gold models. They are both achieved through a galvanic bath process and involve spraying colored varnish on the rotating dial’s periphery. The pink-gold version has contrasting smoked gray hues, while the yellow-gold dial comes in striking smoked yellow-gold tones. The platinum version will be exclusively sold through the company’s AP Houses.
Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin Openworked Ref. 16204
Also sporting a caliber, is the 39 mm “Jumbo” Extra-Thin Openworked Ref. 16204 available in stainless steel or 18-karat pink gold. It houses the new selfwinding extra-thin openworked movement, Calibre 7124, a derivative of the Caliber 7121 above. Measuring just 2.7 mm, as opposed to its Caliber 5122 predecessor at 3.05 mm, it is similar to the 7121 but has an openworked architecture with the mainplate and bridge cut via CNC machining before being perfected by electric discharge machining, which allows the company to remove material with extreme precision to achieve its cut-out look. There are 324 hand-polished V angles that can be viewed on the dial and caseback.
The case and bracelet on both models have are stain-brushed and polished in an alternating fashion right down to the folding clasp. The openworked dial of the pink-gold model comes with slate gray bridges and a contrasting light gray barrel at 11 o’clock, while the stainless-steel version has a rhodium-toned movement.
Royal Oak 34mm Selfwinding Black Ceramic
You might think you are looking at the same black ceramic Royal Oak that was released just last year, but the company has already given it a facelift. Notice the brand logo has been spelled out on the new model, replacing the “AP” on the original (see below). The signature is now crafted in 24-karat pink gold and realized through a chemical process similar to 3D printing. The letters are connected with links the size of a hair and placed on the dial by hand with tiny legs, invisible to the eye, to secure them in place. The numerals in the date window have been changed to gold instead of white, the pins that connect the links in the bracelet are no longer visible on the side but directly fit into the studs and the size and length of the hour markers have been adjusted for better visibility.
The details are incredibly subtle, but they do make a difference. And that may ruffle the feathers of clients who already jumped to get their hands on this ultra-hot model.
Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon
Three new 41 mm Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying tourbillons, in 18-karat pink gold, stainless steel and titanium, following models in this reference that were introduced last year. They feature the same Caliber 2950 movement combining a flying tourbillon with a central rotor, but the latest iterations now come with cases and bracelets with wider bevels with the first links decreased in thickness for an easier wear on the wrist. The caseback has also been slightly embedeed in the case middle to also offer a more comfortable fit.
On the dial side, the dimensions of the hour markers and hands have been improved and the Audemars Piguet signature, like the black ceramic model, has been applied in 24-carat gold. New tones have been added to the Grande Tapisserie dial, executed in a traditionally horizontal fashion versus the sunray arrangement of previous models, in smoked blue to compliment the stainless-steel and 18-karat pink-gold models, while the titaniumn reference stands apart in a straight sandblasted blue hue without the traditional
motif. The latter also has a white circle to highlight the minute track.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Caseback Audemars Piguet
Finally, the Côtes de Genève finishing on the movement, visible through the caseback, has been ever so slightly tweaked to be crafted horizontally instead of in a sunray pattern (seen here) to mimic the linear Tapisserie motif on the dial.
Royal Oak Flying Tourbillon Openworked
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Flying Tourbillon Openworked Audemars Piguet
The pièce de résistance in the 50th-anniversary collection is the 41 mm openworked version of the Flying Tourbillon. The caliber 2950 was only just introduced, and yet we are already seeing an openworked version. “The new Selfwinding Tourbillon Openworked—the architecture of this movement is unlike anything I’ve seen before, we’ve seen before and unlike anything we’ve created before,” says Friedman. “The bridges have been finished both vertically and horizontally, creating a beautiful 3D effect.” Audemars Piguet launched an openworked tourbillon for its 40th anniversary in 2012, so the company felt it needed to up the ante for the Royal Oak’s half-a-century milestone. “It’s very much openworking for the 21st century,” says Friedman. “I’m blown away by the watch.
The watch collector in me, the fan boy in me, I just salivate when I look at that watch.”
So, how many will be produced? Bennahmias says they will make just 125 pieces this year and will follow with 80 pieces in 2023 and 45 in 2024. This year’s models, of course, will come with the 50th-anniversary rotor. Either way, very few clients will get their hands on one.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph Watches
There are 28 variations on standard 37 mm Royal Oaks and 38 and 41 mm Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronographs combined. Additional models in 41 and 34 mm will be available in the second half of 2022. Here is what’s new: bevels on the top and bottom have been enlarged, the caseback has been slightly integrated into the case middle for a better wear, the integrated bracelet’s first four links are not trapezoidal-shaped instead of parallel, links are thinner and lighter (this was already introduced on gold references a few years ago but now applies to stainless-steel and titanium pieces), the minute track is now printed directly onto the Tapisserie dial and like other models the hour markers and hands are refined according to different dial diameters and the AP logo is replaced by a printed “Audemars Piguet” at 12 o’clock.
And while the dial colors come in everything from forest green to light gray, the collection now includes a night blue color or “Blue Nuit” and a baby blue dubbed Cloud 50 or “Nuage 50” in Petite Tapisserie or Grande Tapisserie patterns.
Royal Oak Offshore 43 mm Diamond Pavé
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore 43 mm Diamond Pavé Watches Audemars Piguet
The Royal Oak Offshore, having been introduced only 30 years ago, is not celebrating a Jubilee – so no special rotor design – but it is getting dressed up in its older brother’s honor. Audemars introduced four new diamond-set models, two of them slathered in round brilliant diamonds that cover the dial, case and, in one model, the bracelet (5.83 carats and 12.53 carats, respectively). The other two have baguette diamonds set into the bezel and case or just the bezel (10.78 carats and 1.45 carats, respectively). All models contain Audemars Piguet’s first integrated chronograph caliber, the 4401, which debuted last year. The diamonds are dramatically juxtaposed next to black colored chronograph subdials on the round-brilliant versions, lending brilliant new take on the sporty panda dial, and even the crown and pusher guards are set with diamonds. Consider this full-on sports-watch Glam – chronographs for the red carpet.
Whew! That’s all folks…for the first half of 2022 at least.
-Piage Reddinger , Carole Besser