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The word “iconic” gets tossed around a lot these days (especially in the watch world) so it’s always great to find a watch that really merits the epithet.  The Royal Oak was, when it was introduced in 1972, a glove thrown down to the entire watch industry: a stainless steel watch, finished as lavishly as if it were platinum or white gold, with a groundbreaking design that totally integrated the watch case and bracelet, and a signature octagonal bezel modeled after a ship’s porthole that echoed the watch’s proud nautical name.  It was a bold but risky move for Audemars Piguet –AP museum curator Martin Wehrli remembers the launch, recalling that people were congratulating AP at its booth and then, “. . . going around the corner and saying, ‘they’ll be bankrupt in six months.'”

How wrong they were, those nay-sayers.  Four decades later, the Royal Oak (and its more muscular offspring, the Royal Oak Offshore) are not only among the world’s most desired watches but also the most recognizable as well.  That they are so well known despite the small annual production of each model is a testimony to the enduring appeal of the watch, and the legacy of its designer, industry legend Gerald Genta, who sadly passed away earlier this year.  Though he didn’t live to see the 40th anniversary celebration of his design, he did live long enough to see it become one of the most revered, imitated, and coveted watches in the world.

In celebration of the Royal Oak’s anniversary, Audemars Piguet has announced the creation of the Openworked Extra Thin Royal Oak Limited Edition.  The case and bracelet are in platinum –a clever reference to the original, which upended the then-current accepted notions of what a luxury white metal was.  Inside is a piece of true horological exotica: an openworked version of the movement that powered the original Royal Oak, the famous calibre 2120 automatic movement, which at the time of its launch was –and is still –the thinnest full rotor automatic movement in the world.  Dubbed the calibre 5122, the movement is a whisper thin 3.05mm, and all movement decorations –openworking, beveling, polishing, circular graining and other techniques so dear to the hearts of horological enthusiasts –have been done by hand.  Even the date disk has been fashioned from transparent sapphire, the better to provide an unobstructed view of the movement.

As a final touch, the 22 carat gold oscillating weight for the automatic winding mechanism bears the inscription, “AP Royal Oak 1972-2012.”  We suspect, however, that the lucky owners of this limited series of 40 watches will not need to look at the back of the movement –visible through a transparent sapphire back –to be reminded of the bold history and heritage the Openworked Extra Thin Royal Oak Limited Edition Represents.  A glance at their wrist, and the subsequent racing of their pulse, will be enough.

The Audemars Piguet Openworked Extra Thin Royal Oak Limited Edition is offered in platinum only, and only 40 watches will be made.  Price to be announced in January 2012 at the Salon Internatiional de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva.

Jack Forster is the Editor in Chief of Revolution Magazine, a quarterly publication celebrating the world of fine watchmaking, and he also manages Revolution Online the foremost information and discussion site on the internet for watch enthusiasts.

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