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29 June 2022
Haute Horlogerie demands patience and time, being rooted in ancestral techniques and meticulous gestures, most of which are still carried out by hand. Decoding the hundreds of hours it takes to create an Audemars Piguet watch.
Faithful to its founders’ avant-garde spirit, Audemars Piguet favours limited production and a highly selective distribution network. The aim is to give clients timepieces that meet the highest requirements in terms of respect for tradition, unique materials and watchmaking mastery. As early as 1875, at a time when the industrial boom marked the beginning of serial production, Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet preferred to devote themselves to the hand manufacture of complicated mechanisms and specialised in chiming mechanisms, chronographs and astronomical complications.
Made to order, each piece was unique and the total production was extremely small. Part of the network of family artisanship that developed in the region, known as établissage, Audemars Piguet’s founders collaborated with the local industry’s best manufacturers of dials, cases and bracelets. Decorated and assembled by hand, each watch was the result of a combination of talents and expertise that brought together tradition and innovation.
It was not until 1950 that Audemars Piguet began producing models in small series, before the Royal Oak marked the appearance of the first collections in the 1970s. Faithful to these practices, the Manufacture today still cultivates the elements that account for the soul and rarity of its watches: design excellence, calibre innovation and finishing quality. It takes time to create the extraordinary. The new 50th-anniversary Royal Oak collection perpetuates this art of savoir-faire that combines excellence and patience.
It is often said that numbers are stronger than words. It took the Manufacture’s designers and engineers two years to develop the new Royal Oak case. Two years of successive stages from first idea to paper sketch, from computer-aided designs to wax prototypes, through to the finished product. The goal was always to optimise the watch’s ergonomics, making it even more comfortable on the wrist. So, the case was redesigned with wider bevels on the top and bottom of the case.
On the new 50th-anniversary models – apart from “Jumbo” models – this subtle evolution highlights the contrasts and play of light created by the alternate polished and satin-brushed hand finishing, emblematic of the Royal Oak collection.
Optimised details also stand out on the dial display. The hour-markers and hands have been harmonised in relation to the different diameters. The new applied embossed polished gold Audemars Piguet signature is positioned at 12 o’clock. The manufacture of this tiny logo is as time-consuming as it is complex. Made of thin layers of 24-carat gold, this logo is achieved through galvanic growth, a process akin to 3D printing. The letters forming the Audemars Piguet signature are connected by hair-fine gold threads and placed on the dial by hand with tiny legs that are almost invisible to the naked eye.
A finished sketch from the Audemars Piguet design department initiates a complex process involving a hundred people across disciplines including project managers, constructors, draughtsmen, prototype developers, development coordinators... For each new reference, several teams work hand in hand to advance the project. Even the bracelet of the new stainless steel Royal Oak Selfwinding 37 mm involved many different manual specialisations from the design of its unique trapezoidal first four links, through to assembly, including angling and polishing its links and studs.
Unique gold logo in galvanic growth
Calibre 7121 has had the advantage of the combined expertise of our engineers and watchmakers. This cross-department collaboration resulted in the creation of a robust and powerful ultra-thin selfwinding movement that seamlessly fits in the slender architecture of the Royal Oak “Jumbo” case, paving the way for a new generation of in-house AP movements.
Director of Research and Development
At Audemars Piguet, aesthetics and technique are inseparable. Avant-garde design marries mechanical mastery, and together they breathe life into the heart of the watch. To understand how much time it takes to craft the Calibre 4401 it is enough to look through the Royal Oak Chronograph 41 mm’s sapphire caseback and see hundreds of tiny components each hand finished with remarkable decorations. The calibre has an integrated chronograph incorporating flyback function, an instantaneous date-change mechanism, a vertical clutch system and integrated column wheel. This movement required hundreds of hours of work before seeing the light of day...
The five years devoted to the development of Calibre 7121 saw different phases of conception, validation, qualification, and homologation. The outcome has been the construction of a more robust and efficient movement which adopts the architecture of the Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin models without compromising the case’s aesthetics or thinness. Among this calibre’s innovations are a larger barrel (for more precision), a 50th-anniversary oscillating weight mounted on ball bearings (for easy bidirectional winding), a balance wheel with inertia blocks embedded in its thickness (for less friction), and a patented extra-thin low-energy date-setting mechanism.
Discover more about our calibers through our new video series It Takes Time to Create the Extraordinary.
It took six months of development before starting the ten-stage production process for the Royal Oak 50th-anniversary collection’s new oscillating weight.
The dedicated “50-years” oscillating weight developed for the Royal Oak’s jubilee required four months of design (from the first stroke of a pencil to the technical drawing), and six months of development before final production. Now integrated into all new anniversary models, this special oscillating weight matches the colour of the case and has alternating polished and satin-brushed finishes. Its imposing size and elegant lines are enhanced by the 50-years logo and the engraved Audemars Piguet signature.
Royal Oak 50th anniversary oscillating weight
Colour first. A deep and fascinating khaki green that seems to move with reflected light. Unique to Audemars Piguet, this colour dresses the Grande Tapisserie dial of the new pink gold 41 mm Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph, as well as the 37 mm and 41 mm selfwinding pieces. It took eighteen months of testing and research for the Manufacture’s craftspeople to arrive at the exact desired green recalling the shimmering shades of Le Brassus’ spruce forests. The matching khaki counters are further highlighted by pink gold hour-markers and hands.
Echoing the Royal Oak of 1972, some anniversary edition references hark back to the emblematic Bleu Nuit, Nuage 50 colour of that first famous dial. Originally, this blue was obtained through galvanic bath immersion, a process that sometimes proved risky in terms of final chromatic rendering. It took a whole year to reproduce the original shade, a bright blue now obtained thanks to a process called PVD (Physical Vapour Deposition) which guarantees a homogeneous colour on all the dials and excellent durability over time.
Made on an antique guilloché machine, more than 50 years old, the Petite Tapisserie motif on the dial of the yellow gold Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin is very complex to produce. Thousands of small, truncated, square-based pyramids and tiny diamond shapes are carved directly into the metal to form a homogeneous woven effect with astonishing relief and depth. Following the acquisition of old guilloché copying machines, the design of these dials is now carried out entirely in the Manufacture’s workshops. It takes time and a unique concentration of extraordinary savoir-faire to create an Audemars Piguet watch.
- By Catherine Delaby
Bleu Nuit, Nuage 50
The Smoked Dial