Industry Innovators Always
Throughout their existence, Audemars Piguet have always been the brand to lead watchmakers around the globe by setting market-defining trends and displaying true technical innovation. Placed upon the industry's precipice, AP have been the watchmaker willing to jump into the unknown headfirst, venture into uncharted territory, and lead brands into multiple new eras for the industry.
It might sound grandiose, but a string of releases helps paint the picture that Audemars Piguet has always been the followed brand rather than a follower. Just looking at the Royal Oak ref. 5402's release in 1972 goes to show that they were indeed the watchmaker to create what has become the market's most important category of watches, the luxury steel sports watch. Even looking further into the Royal Oak, we find the trend for angular watches on integrated bracelets that still survives today.
Ultimately, Audemars Piguet have always been ahead of the curve. When it came to creating the experimental sports watch category in 1993 with the Royal Oak Offshore, which gave rise to brands like Richard Mille, it's just another facet of the industry that Audemars Piguet can be accredited for. I say this because while Audemars Piguet often leads the band, sometimes they have to look at what is going on around them and react. But, like the mavericks they are, they won't just play ball like everyone else. No, they make their own rules and play to their own tune.
Frosted Gold Finish
In recent years, the iced-out or "buss down" trend has really been gripping watchmakers and collectors. As a result, factory-set gemstone-encrusted watches have become some of the most sought-after timepieces on the market today, and in typical fashion, AP have put their own twist on the trend that I think is quite brilliant. As AP calls it, the "diamond dust" effect, or "Frosted Gold", as referenced in the name of the watches that feature it, is an effect resulting from an artisanal process inspired by an ancient Florentine jewellery technique, whereby an artisan will hammer the surface of the watch to create a small splattering of indentations.
Created by Carolina Bucci, who featured in our series "Talking Time with Ming Liu", the Frosted Gold finish first debuted in Audemars Piguet's catalogue in 2016 on two variants of women's Royal Oak watches. Since then, Audemars Piguet have expanded the finish throughout the Royal Oak collection, notably on a 34mm iteration earlier this year. So now, we are treated to two more 41mm Royal Oak Chronograph models finished with the innovative hand-applied artisanal technique.
Design and Construction
Building upon the Royal Oak's already iconic aesthetic, the Frosted Gold finish "satisfies" the Royal Oak's signature design, as Carolina puts it. Moreover, it accentuates the entire watch as a piece of jewellery by dazzling and capturing the attention of anyone who sees it. Funnily enough, when I first saw it, I thought it was an actual gem-setting technique. It wasn't until I read about the technique that I realised it was still bare metal. Offered in 18ct white gold and 18ct pink gold, the two most recent additions to the Frosted Gold Royal Oak family are monuments to the marriage between iconic design, artisanal craftsmanship and state-of-the-art mechanics.
Featuring a black "Grande Tapisserie" dial for the white gold variant and a blue "Grande Tapisserie" dial for the pink gold, these two models appeal to both the monochromatic amongst us and the colourful in equal measures. Between the Frosted Gold diamond dust effect and polished bevels adorning the construction of the black dial variant, the resulting experience is one of shimmering monochromatic excellence thanks to the thousands of tiny shadows created by the hammering process. I must say, the resultant effect on the unique shimmer of white gold when paired with such a finely finished black dial is quite transformative. While the watch should be dark, after all, it has a black dial; it feels bright and lively instead.
In contrast to the striking nature of black on white gold, the pink gold variant's shadows aren't as obvious. In addition, the plethora of jewel-esque abrasions left behind by the artisanal process accentuates the pink gold surface. When paired with its blue dial, the watch seems like one mesmerising and cohesive visual performance. Both the white and pink gold surfaces pair perfectly with the "Grande Tapisserie" dials for an enhanced aesthetic of pure elegance and refined merriment. They are busy without detracting from their function, regarding the dials, or their core design, regarding the physical construction.
In addition to the stunning construction, the new 41mm Royal Oak Chronograph also sees the latest of Audemars Piguet's integrated chronograph movement technology thanks to the cal. 4401 that is found within. Built from the ground up to be a chronograph movement — so it lacks a chronograph module like older Royal Oak Chronograph models — the new cal. 4401 is a massive step forward for the collection.
Viewable through the exhibition caseback, the cal. 4401 is a vertical clutch flyback chronograph with a column wheel that is finished beautifully. The flyback function allows the wearer to stop, reset and start the chronograph all at once. Compared to the three separate inputs required for a typical chronograph, it's quite an improvement. In addition, thanks to the column wheel — which is often acknowledged as the golden standard for chronograph movements, the cal. 4401's hands all respond to the wearer's input almost instantly, and as I said, this entire mechanical parlance is proudly on display for you to view if you so choose.
With the current homogenisation of the watchmaking industry's view on gender-specific design, I'm quite happy to see AP expand their Frosted Gold offerings across the size range of their Royal Oak collection, even if it was initially developed for women's watches. Likewise, I'm delighted to see AP give these watches the same level of attention regarding their mechanics as they give their more obvious men's offerings. For too long, a "shrink it and pink it" (and often "quartz it") ideology has been applied to women's watches.
With feminine design cues permeating what are traditionally understood to be men's size ranges in an iconic sports watch, the industry can move closer to a less judgemental space where men and women alike can wear what they want. Ultimately, AP are once again showing their position of authority when it comes to remaining at the forefront of trends and leading them in a way that other brands can follow and learn from.
Royal Oak Frosted Gold Selfwinding Chronograph / 41 mm
Reference numbers: 26239BC.GG.1224BC.02 (White gold); 26239OR.GG.1224OR.01 (Pink gold)
Diameter: 41 mm
Thickness: 12.4 mm
Case material: Hammered 18-carat white or pink gold cases, caseback, screw-locked crown, water-resistant to 50 m
Crystal: Glare-proofed Sapphire Crystal & Caseback
Movement: Calibre 4401
Functions: Flyback chronograph, hours, minutes, small seconds and date
Frequency: 4 Hz/ 28,800 vph
Power reserve: 70 hours
Strap: Hammered 18-carat white or pink gold bracelet with AP folding clasp
Availability: Both will be sold exclusively in Japan during September 2021, before being available globally from October 2021
For further information, visit Audemars Piguet online.