Editor's Pick: The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept GMT Tourbillon ref. 26560IO

Launched almost a decade after the Concept’s debut, this GMT Tourbillon marks an important milestone in the evolution of Audemars Piguet’s most experimental collection.
By Randy Lai

When AP launched the ‘Concept’ in 2002, it was received as a somewhat controversial quantity — hardly a new sensation for a brand that’s been in the business of upsetting status quos since 1972. Dubbed the CW1 (‘Concept Watch 1’), this first prototypical design posited the question of what the Royal Oak’s creators could make if they “unapologetically [embraced] futurism, postmodernism, escapism” and were emancipated from the aesthetic conventions of the industry. The answer appeared more than a little cyberpunk: combining a hulking 44mm case profile (machined out of cobalt alloy) with a variety of performance-enhancing gadgetry. Notably: a dynamographe for measuring mainspring torque; and a tourbillon affixed with serpentine bridgework in spark-eroded titanium. More Blade Runner than Le Brassus. 

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Halfway between history and the present day

In the 19 years since, the brand’s watchmakers have worked to clarify the CW1’s design, each subsequent iteration bringing it closer and closer to the Concept super-watches that we all recognise today. Around the halfway point through the collection’s (ongoing) lifecycle, the brand released the Ref. 26560IO: representing, to my mind, the earliest incarnation of the current Royal Oak Concept.

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The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept GMT Tourbillon ref. 26560IO

Held alongside the Flying Tourbillons of this generation, this 26560 certainly feels like a progenitor in the same bloodline — down to the case’s homogenised, Lambo-esque surfaces and the almost architectural way in which openworking appears throughout the dial.

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Released in 2011, this particular Royal Oak Concept was among the first to incorporate a GMT — a complication that’s now widely thought to be an indispensable part of the collection’s appeal. Although noticeably less elaborate than what you’ll find in the Flying T models released since 2018, this layout (consisting of a covered hour disc, straight-grained titanium bridge and pointer) set the tone for how secondary timezones would be executed inside the Concept lineup — intuitively, novelly, legibly. 

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Symmetry, symmetry, symmetry

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The watch’s ‘architectural’ personality is the result of very deliberate design and engineering solutions — dissolving the traditional barrier between dial, movement, and the case’s peripheral elements. I’m of the view that this is one of the very first Concept references to successfully realise the appeal of visual symmetry; and you can see that (most impactfully) in the way that the openworking on the dial mirrors the layout on the caseback.

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A highly complementary colour scheme also adds to the watch’s feeling of seamlessness; and here, AP have opted to inject character into the various monochrome shades by employing different kinds of texture. The flanks and lugs exhibit fine bead-blasted surfaces; and these in turn offer a pleasing dichotomy to those elements that were machined out of ceramic. (In the finely grained satin polish of the bezel, you can already detect traces of the finishing that will come to typify the ceramic Royal Oaks AP would go on to make some six years later.)

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Much like the most memorable references released early on by fellow ‘superwatch’ maker Richard Mille, the 26560’s resounding achievement rests in how it manages to make the complex appear simple. Honestly, I can think of no more than a handful of other watch designs that have been able to incorporate not a single but multiple complications without any aesthetic compromise; and it’s clear, in 2021, that the central tenets of this language (i.e. dramatic case geometries, mechanical symmetry, material innovation) remain thriving and alive.

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Specifications

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept GMT Tourbillon 
Reference number: 26560IO.OO.D002CA.01 

Case size: 44mm
Thickness: 16.1mm
Material: Titanium case, ceramic bezel
Crystal: Sapphire
Water-resistance: 100m

Movement: Calibre 2913
Functions: Tourbillon, GMT with 24hr indications, function selector, hours, minutes
Winding: Hand-wound
Frequency: 21,600 vph / 3 Hz
Power reserve: 237 hours
Strap: Black rubber, titanium AP deployant clasp

This piece is available on Wristcheck.

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