Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication

There is a room...

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication is a new model which will be launched at SIHH in 2013, 20 years after the first Offshore models were revealed to the world.

 

Audemars Piguet Manufacture des Forges in Le Brassus

 

Le Brassus is a quiet village, nestling amidst the verdant beauty of the Vallée de Joux. It is home to one of the oldest watch companies in existence, Audemars Piguet.

 

Coniferous trees decorate the green hills. Cattle play a haphazard tune with bells suspended from their necks, swinging to a headache inducing beat. The beauty of the region is obvious. However, the climate proves challenging for even the most hardy of souls. Winter temperatures dip to -25°C and below.

 

With agrarian policies in place, many chose to resrict their farming to breeding cattle for meat and dairy products.

 

Huguenots fleeing persecution initially settled in Geneva. It was there that some would remain creating beautiful enamelled objects and gorgeous guilloché work. Yet, jewellery disappeared under Calvinism and skills were transferred to clock making and crafting timepieces.

 

Some French Protestants moved from Geneva and settled in the Vallée de Joux and so, watchmaking became established in the Jura. It provided work for inhabitants in winter months when other forms of industry were impractical due to the forbidding climate.

 

The psyche of the population of the region must have differentiated them from the masses who frequented major cities in friendlier climes. Patience and persistance would have been the mantra for those wishing to survive and prosper in the cruel winter months.

 

The Jura became a region synonymous with movement manufacture and ultimately these would be used for watches completed in Geneva.

 

The speciality of the region was complications. Families would develop skills and pass knowledge to their offspring. A family could ultimately have several skills under one roof. Each family member would learn to specialise in one discipline.

 

Some surnames which were linked to the watch industry and the region included; Rochat, LeCoultre, Berney, Golay, Meylan, Audemars and Piguet. The names survive to this day.

 

Audemars Piguet was established in 1875 and has earned a reputation for creating some of the finest timepieces available. It still remains in the hands of the founding families.

 

The brand was always known for slim movements and complications.

 

A “grand complication” is the ultimate expression of horological expertise. At Audemars Piguet, it has historically meant combining a split-seconds chronograph (rattrapante), perpetual calendar and minute repeater.

 

A tourbillon, the ingenious complication invented by Abraham-Louis Breguet, was created to counter the negative effects of gravity on the balance within a wristwatch. I share an affection for this complication like many admirers of haute horology. However, in reality, the tourbillon only has relevance for a pocket watch held in a vertical position. Little benefit is conferred in terms of accuracy with this complication. The raison d'être for choosing a tourbillon is the exceptional craftsmanship exampled in its creation. The rarified mastery employed in the gestation of a tourbillon is the preserve of only the finest watchmakers.

 

A minute repeater is another supremely difficult complication for the accomplished artisan. Yet, this proffers greater virtue than a tourbillon as it bestows a function which has merit and real-world use.

 

To combine a minute repeater with other complications presents a greater challenge to the watchmaker. There are only a few Master Watchmakers capable of working on a timepiece of this complexity.

 

There is a room in the Manufacture des Forges in Le Brassus where these very special timepieces come to fruition. A room where grande complications are born. Predictably only a small number are made each year.

 

Audemars Piguet Manufacture des Forges in Le Brassus - Grand Complications Department

 

A recent trip to the manufacture allowed me to see the matchless precision practised by three members of staff in an exclusive area of the factory. I watched in disbelief as screws, measuring only 0.35 mm in diameter, were adjusted.

 

A grande complication takes between six and severn hundred hours of work. This is the antithesis of mass production. It is the persevering pursuit of peerless horology which results in watches being worn by the fortunate few.

 

The brand from Le Brassus has an illustrious history. It is known for its mastery of traditional watchmaking and is no stranger to pushing the technical boundaries of horology with relentless innovation and blue-sky thinking.

 

I have read about the Royal Oak Grand Complication Watch made by the company in 2005. It featured the caliber AP 2885 movement in a 44 mm case. Now, the movement is used again, but this time it appears in the modern sports case of a Royal Oak Offshore.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication - dial

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication is a new model which will be launched at SIHH in 2013, 20 years after the first Offshore models were revealed to the world.

 

The dial

I own an Audemars Piguet Edward Piguet Chronograph. It is a cherished possession and I never tire of the curved form of its gold case. However, I have one frustration that I cannot indulge, my fetish for seeing the inner workings of a timepiece.

 

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication - side view

 

I know that within a watch bearing the prestigious soubriquet, Audemars Piguet, resides a flawless expression of horological mastery. Some of the Royal Oak Offshore models have been blessed with the most exquisitely engraved rotor, crafted from 22-carat gold. Yet, frustratingly the beauty of this feature and the other examples of matchless mechanical artistry are hidden from my inquiring mind. It feels as though the artisans have conspired to deny my thirst and overwhelming need to quaff every miniscule facet of the movement’s distilled character. The watchmakers have sometimes been selfish, gulping the fragrant fruit of Le Brassus’s crop and not sharing the rich aroma of the spirit harnessed within the case.

 

This watch is a generous expression of the horologer's gift. The movement can be seen via the sapphire caseback, a feature I always appreciate on an increasing number of timepieces. Yet, more remarkably, the movement is visible centre stage from the front of the timepiece courtesy of the sapphire crystal dial.

 

White, luminous, Royal Oak hands indicate hours and minutes. They dutifully respect the iconic design of the 1972 Royal Oak conceived by the design genius, Gérald Genta.

 

The split seconds hands are slim. Presented in black and white, they provide pleasing contrast and blend with the judiciously, limited pallette of colours used.

 

Hours are marked with short, slim batons presented in white-gold.

 

A subdial at noon features a moon-phase indicator and number of week.

 

At 3 o’clock, a 30-minute chrono counter is located and the day is displayed around the periphery of the subdial.

 

A subdial, at the most southerly aspect of the dial, adjacent 6 o’clock, is used to impart the month and the leap-year cycle.

 

At 9 o’clock, the dates are displayed around the perimeter of the subdial and towards the centre, subsidiary seconds are eloquently expressed.

 

A chapter ring frames the dial, marked with Arabic numerals in five minute integers.

 

The case

The octagonal shaped case provides familiarity for those fans of the iconic design language. Yet, modernity is reinforced by the black ceramic bezel, crown and push pieces.

 

The titanium case has a neoteric, contemporary persona. This perfectly demonstrates that whilst Audemars Piguet respects traditional craftsmanship and its proud history, it does not stay shackled to the past.

 

The slider for the minute repeater neatly protrudes from the caseband, along the western flank of the watch. It is subtle in design, yet proffers tactility to the wearer which will aid location in nocturnal light.

 

A black rubber strap underscores the masculinity of the watch. It is presented with a titanium pin buckle which will suit many. Yet, I must confess, I have a fondness for the deployant used on some other Audemars Piguet models. This latter form of fastener features a stylised "A" and "P" nuzzling each other and delivers sublime wearer comfort.

 

The movement

There are few movements which can usurp the Calibre 2885 in terms of complexity or finish.

 

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication - caseback

 

A total of 648 parts conspire to dazzle the wearer. They live harmoniously, delivering elevated horology.

 

All parts are hand decorated. Perlage features on the plate. Chamfering and colimaçonnage, a spiral pattern, provide further illustration of the artisans craft.

 

The bridges are charmingly decorated with Côtes de Genève motif.

 

A variable-inertia balance can be fine tuned to suit the wearer’s lifestyle. Those with athletic tendencies can sometimes impart excessive energy to the mainspring. With this movement, personalisation is provided.

 

The frequency of the movement is unusual, 19,800 vph (2.75 Hz). Yet again, this is another example of Audemars Piguet seeking its own path to perfection, not following the established norms of others.

 

The rotor is solid gold but with black coating.

 

It is the numerous functions living in harmony within the confines of a 44 mm case diameter which impresses and will charm even the most cynical connoisseur.

 

Conclusion

This watch perfectly demonstrates the technical competence of this famous exemplar of haute horology. There are few within the industry which can surpass its prodigious talents.

 

Is it perfection? To some yes. For me, it comes pretty close and the absence of an AP branded deployant is the only aspect I am disappointed not to see.

 

The atelier in Le Brassus is occupied by many accomplished horologers. There are few who can surpass their skills. But, there is one place where the ultimate expressions of horological dreaming come to fruition and that is a small room, measuring 8 cubic metres. It is here, that greatness is practised with devastatingly dramatic outcomes.

 

Technical specification

  • Model: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication
  • Reference: 26571IO.OO.A010CA.01
  • Case: Titanium case with ceramic bezel, push pieces and crown; diameter 44.00 mm; water resistant to 2 bar (20 metres); sapphire crystal to front and caseback.
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; subsidiary seconds; perpetual calendar; split-seconds chronograph; minute repeater.
  • Movement: C.2885, self-winding; frequency 19,800vph (2.75 Hz); 52 jewels; power reserve 45 hours; 648 parts.
  • Strap: Black rubber strap with titanium pin buckle.
  • Limited edition: 3 pieces

Related Links