Sunday, 29 September 2013

#2 Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 15400

As aforementioned in the previous post, Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is undoubtably one of the most iconic pieces of fine watchmaking. It's one of the ultimate 'sports' watches that combine traditional technical excellence with aesthetic beauty.

Last year was the 40th anniversary of the launch of the Royal Oak, which called Mr. Octavio Garcia and his team to introduce a tribute to the Royal Oak range - whilst retaining the original character of the Royal Oak, they have put a young-age touch to create modern masterpieces. The new pieces included open-worked tourbillons, "reimagined" version of the original jumbo and of course, the introduction of the 15400 range.

15400's predecessor was the 15300, which is the 39mm model with the "AP" logo at 12 o'clock and white date dial. The new 15400 Royal Oak is a 41mm model, that is available in either stainless steel or rose gold and the dial comes in 3 variations - black, white or blue.
I think the reason why AP has replaced the 15300 with the 15400 is to firstly adapt to the modern style, in terms of the dial size and design and secondly to stay 'inline' with the dial design of the "reimagined" version of the jumbo (Ref. 15202).


My first impression upon seeing the 15400 was "perfect". I always felt the 39mm models to be a tad bit small but the 41mm Royal Oak just feels right. In terms of exterior aesthetics, I mean... what can I say!
The brushed/polished contrasting finish is absolutely exquisite. The level of craftsmanship that has gone into the refinement of the bracelet, the case and the bezel is just immaculate. It gives off a unique shine when the light hits the surface, this is indescribable and one has to physically see it to get the proper gist of it.

Another thing that I like about the 15400 (in fact any Royal Oak) is the contrasting finish. Some of the edges, the side of the bezel and the screws (oh, did I forget to mention that the screws on the bezel are 18ct white gold?) are polished whist the remaining parts are brushed. This contrasting look gives the rugged yet sophisticated character, which I think is truly unique and I think AP is the best at this - If you see some of their footages making their pieces, you will see that every single part is hand finished by master craftsmen.

Moreover, the "Grande Tapisserie" dial adds a very unique look that you certainly cannot see in other watches - there's no wonder why this is such an iconic feature of Royal Oak. The white gold hour markers and the hands are applied with luminescent coating to ensure practicality.

As for the backside, the 15400 has a sapphire back, so that one can appreciate the balance wheel spinning away and of course take a glimpse at the solid gold rotor.

Movement & Technicality

AP has used in-house Cal. 3120 for 15400 as they did for 15300. As many of the readers know, since its introduction in 2003, it has been the 'workhorse' for a lot of AP timepieces. Just to diverge a bit, the movement used in most of the Offshore models also have the Cal. 3120 as the base module (obviously slightly different in order to accommodate the chronograph module). Getting back on track, you would never question why AP has decided to show off their movement with open-back - It is just a great pleasure to look the balance wheel beating and the beautifully decorated 22ct weight with AP logo and family crests oscillating. 

Cal. 3120 provides hours, minutes, centre seconds and date functions with power reserve of 60 hours and beats at 3 Hz. Compared to some of the calibres in the same bracket, namely some of the Jaeger-LeCoultre and Patek Philippe movements, the efficiency of winding falls slightly short due to the architecture of the movement but it's unsubstantial to the users as the difference is marginal. I have had a great pleasure of observing dismantlement and I found that just like the exterior, it's a beautifully decorated and very finely finished movement, that is compact and efficient. Another structurally and practically fascinating feature is the ease of changing date without putting pressure on the movement due to the safety mechanism, which also allows the date to jump instantaneously at precisely midnight (More on Cal. 3120 will follow in a subsequent post).

All-in-all, this is a true masterpiece that is a perfect representation of AP and what they stand for. Aesthetically, it is very unique, refined and also very versatile that goes with your business life as well as your off-duty life. Needless to say, it is an excellent, no-frills, practical watch with essential functions with visibility. With water resistance of 50m, contact with water from washing hands to diving into a pool is no problem.

Cal. 3120 is very reliable timekeeper with minor gains/losses with a decent amount of maximum power reserve and high durability.

#1 Audemars Piguet & The Royal Oak

Any watch enthusiast comes about one of these, whether it is through the pleasure of owning one or merely talking about it with their fellow 'watch-geeks'. You see it in media, on the wrists of today's sporting heroes and of course, in the discussions amongst watch collectors. 
Hence, it is perhaps a good idea to talk a little bit about Audemars Piguet (AP henceforth) as a brand and as a watchmaker and explore why the Le Brassus based watchmaker has become the focal point of the horological society today.

Its founding members, Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet were true pioneers and masters of creating complicated (and I mean complicated!) pieces with landmarks such as creating the first minute repeater wrist watch, which is one of the most difficult complications to master and the thinnest tourbillon wrist watch - Clearly, the two partners were technically outstanding, which led them to earn the position amongst watch enthusiasts as one of the "Trinity members" of watchmaking, alongside other Titans, namely Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin. In this view, the future looked rosy for AP... but then, through 60's and 70's, with technological progress and boom in electronics, came the quartz watches. As traditional watchmakers could not exploit economies of scale, they were simply outcompeted in terms of price. Hence, makers, especially those Japanese ones like Seiko flourished at the expense of fine watchmakers. Ex-post, what's worse is that foolishly, the generation saw quartz pieces as fashionable and accepted them as substitutes for mechanical watches, which led to this decline. Hence, even for houses like AP, the "Quartz Invasion" was quite a blow to take. With the house on alert of potential bankruptcy, came the genius who steered the ship away from the iceberg and quite arguably transformed the shape of the entire industry - There came Mr. Gérald Genta. 

Even before his arrival at Audemars Piguet, he was an established individual in the industry with his work at Omega and Patek Philippe. Even so, arguably his peak was upon his arrival at AP, creating the masterpiece in 1972 - The Royal Oak.

Genta's inspiration apparently came from the British Naval ships, who themselves "christened for the tree where King Charles II hid from his enemies". Yes, that's a fascinating story but really, why was the Royal Oak such a revolutionary piece and why is it so cherished and regarded as the 'ultimate sports watch'? What makes it so special?

Original Royal Oak "Jumbo" 1972 (Ref. 5402)

Purely, just take a look at the design - back in the 70s, only watches made of precious metals with conservative designs were regarded as fine timepieces but Mr. Genta had a totally different and from a perspective of a 60s person - a totally 'bonkers' approach of creating timepieces. The octogonal design with screws, steel casing and bracelet and no lugs combined with the size of 39mm and the "petite tapisserie" patterned dial gave a truly rugged, rebellious, avant-garde character, which shocked the horological society at the Basel fair 1972. Not only that but this changed the faith of Audemars Piguet as a watchmaker - It allowed them to combine the traditional technical excellence with a modern attitude, allowing them to make the ultimate 'sports watches', watches that are not just technically brilliant but also aesthetically refined (And of course, there are other pieces like Millenary and Jules Audemars, which are also astonishing).

Following from this success, Audemars Piguet still remains as one of the very few houses that are independent (that are not owned by a parenting group, such as Richemont) and are run by the founding family members - Jasmine Piguet and Olivier Audemars serves as the chairwoman and board member of the brand respectively. The house continues its success through the creative guidance of another design prodigy, Mr. Octavio Garcia, who in my opinion has done a fabulous job in designing new pieces and in preparing for the Royal Oak's 40th anniversary last year. In my opinion, being an independent organisation plays a big role in giving them the creative freedom and experiment whilst keeping the tradition, which allows them to flourish and create some of the most exquisite timepieces around. AP regards all of its owners as a 'member' of their family since every timepiece they create is unique, personal and exclusive as they produce approximately 31,000 units per annum.

That being said, the thing that I fancy the most about Audemars Piguet, besides their finely crafted timepieces is its philosophy of not resting on past achievements and seeking for constant improvements as a brand and as a watchmaker, which is nicely summed by their slogan "To break the rules, first you must master them".