The Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Openworked – a unicorn of a Royal Oak that offers an open window to its soul.
Brushed and polished to a level befitting any of its siblings, this Royal Oak ceramic case and bracelet vacillate between mirror black and a sort of dark grey with very pronounced finishing. In a dark space, like that of a back room in Audemars Piguet's Manhattan boutique, any such ceramic Royal Oak looks very smooth and very very black, with an endless array of faceted surfaces that catch any available light like a stealth plane that someone has polished, for whatever reason, to a mirror finish.
But, should you add a pop of bright light from a flash, you'll see that the surface, while certainly smooth, is brighter than I expected (having never seen a black ceramic Royal Oak in open daylight conditions). Look closely at the photos, in highlight the ceramic Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Openworked is grey-black and beautifully finished (which is no small task for ceramic). In shadow, it's much darker, with texture across the brushing and an inky black across the polished facets and bevels of the case and bracelet. It's not like any other watch I've ever come across or photographed and the effect is charming, revealing additional detail in brighter environments. And that's before we even get to the dial.
Beautifully finished and thin enough to allow a total case thickness of just 9.9mm, the calibre 5135 ticks at 2.75 Hz, offers 40 hours of power reserve, and plenty of cams and levers to ensure that "Openworked" dial earns its name. As the scale area of each subdial is smoked, the actual legibility of the perpetual calendar was much better than I expected in person, and the rose-gold accents offer a warm contrast that works really well with the demure tones of the ceramic case and bracelet.
Given the overall complexity of the dial and the various displays, which show (clockwise from 12 o'clock) month and leap year, date, moon phase, and day, branding is thankfully kept to a minimum. I also appreciate the contrast between the modern feel of the case and the traditional execution of a semi-translucent moon phase depicting a beautiful starry night's sky of deep blues and purples. At first glance, the ceramic Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Openworked is a shiny black Royal Oak, but for the next several thousand glances it continues to surprise and delight.
On wrist, this example has much of the charm common to any Royal Oak, but it feels more special, almost to the extent of feeling weird while I wore it (which is more about me than the watch). I have had very little wrist-time with ceramic Royal Oaks, but the combination of the larger case size (41mm vs my preferred 39mm) and the light-yet-dense warmth of the ceramic really allows this Royal Oak to wear differently from any steel or precious metal examples I've had the fortune of wearing. To sum it up, like any really well made ceramic watch, it feels different and it feels expensive. As it happens, the Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Openworked is both of those things.
- James Stacey