Launched over two decades ago, to celebrate the Royal Oak’s 30th anniversary in 2002, the Royal Oak Concept was and continues to act as a contemporary halo timepiece for Le Brassus-based Audemars Piguet.
For the first Royal Oak Concept, Audemars Piguet released a 150-piece limited edition in a 44 mm octagonal case. Inspired by Concept cars, which combined titanium with Alacrite 602, a light yet highly resistant alloy mainly used in the aeronautical industry, the Royal Oak Concept was a true concept watch that wasn’t intended for commercialization.
“To complement the case’s futuristic aesthetic, the dial exposed the state-of-the-art hand-wound mechanism, while providing innovative functions: a push-piece serves as a function selector (for winding and setting the time) and a dynamograph displays the mainspring torque. A linear power-reserve display is indicated thanks to the calculation of the number of turns of the barrel, along a scale of 0 to 12, with each turn representing six hours of autonomy. The tourbillon cage and its shock-absorbing bridge was also visible at 9 o’clock and the timepiece was fitted with a Kevlar strap,” according to the manufacture.
Four years later, a new interpretation was unveiled in carbon, marking the birth of the Royal Oak Concept collection. Since then, the Royal Oak Concept has pushed the limits of Haute Horlogerie craftsmanship by blending high technology mechanisms with avant-garde designs.
Ahead of its time, the Royal Oak Concept lives on, as does Patek Philippe’s Advanced Research line, though, the Harry Winston Opus series has unfortunately disappeared. Opus timepieces have always been complicated and conceptual in nature, like the watches from the above-mentioned ivy-league watchmakers, though they differ in that Harry Winston always collaborated with master watchmakers outside their company, to create never-before-seen complications, rather than unique combinations of complications.
While these advanced timekeepers, with their incredible complications, are reserved for those with deep pockets, all three represent the essence of mechanical watchmaking at its highest form — which all of us can appreciate. Introducing Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak Concept Split-Seconds Chronograph GMT Large Date.
Presented in a contemporary, sporty, octagonal-shaped 43 mm x 17.4 mm multi-faceted lightweight titanium case, with an octagonal titanium bezel, and matte black ceramic pushers and crown — this is a concept timepiece as only AP can do.
Details abound, the case and bezel are slightly curved to match the natural shape of the wrist, making the wearing experience comfortable despite the rather sizeable case dimensions. As you would expect, the case finishing is exceptional, with a sublime mixture of sandblasted titanium inserts, a satin-brushed bezel and case flanks, and polished accents. Three-dimensional push-piece guards “brazenly secure” the pushers at 2, 4, and 9 o’clock, as AP puts it, and each is, each finished with the same juxtaposition of sandblasted surfaces, vertical satin-brushed details, and polished chamfers as seen on the case.
As the name suggests, functionally, the Royal Oak Concept Split-Seconds Chronograph GMT Large Date displays hours, minutes, small seconds, an outsized date, a GMT indication, and a split-seconds chronograph (which also offers flyback start/stop without having to reset). Though mechanically complicated and aesthetically complex, the dial is relatively simplistic and pragmatic (with no AP logo), meaning everything can easily be read at a glance.
Crafted from prestigious German silver, the openworked dial has a sandblasted black PVD treatment and polished rhodium-toned beveled openings, which both enhances contrast and accentuates the other details. White gold applied hour markers and Royal Oak hands, allow you to read the time, even in the dark. And the two baton-shaped central chronograph second hands, one with a red-lacquered tip and the other with a white tip, allow you to track two event times at once.
This unusual, high-end racing-bred mechanical split-second flyback chronograph technology is made possible thanks to the development of caliber 4407, an automatic movement, the first of its kind to be produced in a series at Audemars Piguet. Based on the company’s latest generation integrated flyback chronograph movement, caliber 4401, which debuted in 2019, inside the Code 11.59 collection, the caliber was reengineered to improve energy management to allow the addition of the split seconds mechanism. Audemars Piguet engineers developed a new oscillator that features a Breguet overcoil, with a sharp outer curve, to increase accuracy.
The split-second mechanism enables measurements of intermediate time intervals thanks to the additional split-second hand that can be stopped independently of the chronograph seconds hand. When the latter is pressed again, it catches up to the running hand to continue their journey together around the dial. Located at 9 o’clock, the push-piece subtly nods to the Royal Oak Concept Laptimer (2015) — the first mechanical watch capable of measuring consecutive lap times on the racetrack developed in collaboration with Michael Schumacher.
“To reduce the movement’s height, the split-seconds mechanism has been integrated within the thickness of the semi-peripheral rotor’s ball bearing and is now visible through the sapphire caseback like in pocket watches and hand-wound wristwatches. Usually hidden from view in self-winding watches, the split-seconds wheel and two actuating clamps can be admired at the center of the platinum oscillating weight, under the X-shaped bridge holding the mechanism in place,” according to Audemars Piguet.
Beyond the chronograph, the GMT function has become a signature of the Royal Oak Concept collection. With a GMT day-night display located at 3 o’clock, you can instantly read a second-time zone. And adjusting it is equally as easy using the crown’s integrated coaxial pusher, one press moves the subdial hand located at 3 o’clock by one hour.
Finally, the large date at 12 o’clock enhances legibility with its digital appearance, though functioning via a traditional disc-based system, though much larger than a typical date.
Naturally, the caliber 4407 has been finished to a very high standard and its components have been finished using sandblasting, circular satin finished, circular graining, beveling, and polished chamfers.
For the first time, an interchangeable strap system has been integrated with the case. The bevels on the case sides extend onto the strap, providing a seamless continuity between the two components. Furthermore, the strap is decorated with symmetrical inserts in grey hues that echo the multidimensional, two-tone aesthetics of both the case and the dial.
The Royal Oak Concept Split-Seconds Chronograph GMT Large Date (Ref. 26650TI.OO.D013CA.01) is 50 meters water-resistant and comes with a black and grey interchangeable rubber strap with titanium three-blade AP folding clasp, and an additional black interchangeable rubber strap. Two additional black rubber straps contrasted with yellow or red accents will be available in boutiques as part of the interchangeable strap assortment for the new Royal Oak Concept 43 mm diameter.
Retail is approximately $185,000 at today’s conversion rates (based on a listed price of CHF 170,000).
Photos by Audemars Piguet.