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Review: Not All That Sparkles is Diamond – The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Frosted Gold Chronograph

by Frank Chuo on September 23, 2019

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Frosted Gold Chronograph

In 1997, Audemars Piguet introduced the Royal Oak Chronograph. It was a move that made sense, seeing that the Royal Oak was a major success and that chronographs and sports watches go together like wine and cheese. Today, the Royal Oak Chronograph is still going strong, and even celebrated its 20th anniversary two years ago. Know what else happened in 2017? Audemars Piguet debuted its first watch with the ‘frosted gold’ surface treatment. Jaws dropped either in sheer awe or repulsion. The Royal Oak Chronograph has since also received this polarising finish, and this year, we’re getting one with a regal purple dial. Here, we bring you the details and our thoughts on the Royal Oak Frosted Gold Chronograph in white gold with purple dial.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

A quick glance is all it takes to know where the novelty of the Royal Oak Frosted Gold Chronograph lies. It’s certainly not its signature octagonal bezel, nor its usual 41 mm x 11 mm case size. Only since 2017 has the frosted gold surface treatment been utilised on Royal Oak timepieces. Picture Audemars Piguet’s Haute Joaillerie pieces. So covered in diamonds are they that they sparkle with the brightness of a thousand suns – a sight so remarkable. The goal of ‘frosted gold’ is to achieve such resplendence without a single diamond. It involves a process rooted in ancient gold hammering, known as the Florentine technique. Beating the gold with a diamond tipped tool creates tiny indentations on the surface, giving a sparkle effect similar to that of precious stones, like diamond dust. The hammering of the surface also results in a rough texture, which contrasts beautifully with the smooth, polished bevels of the case, bezel, and bracelet. Most men are averse to wearing diamond-encrusted watches, but perhaps a compromise has been found in Audemars Piguet’s frosted gold watches. Our impressions on the frosted gold treatment is overall positive. It is creative, looks stunning, and is way less jarring than gem-setting.

Instead of a brushed finish, the Royal Oak Frosted Gold Chronograph features a distinct hammered finish that interacts with light in the way that diamond dust does.

The other point of interest in this latest Royal Oak Chronograph is its dial. Usually available only in more conventional colours such as white, black, blue, or brown, the new Royal Oak Frosted Gold Chronograph comes with a plum purple dial to match the equally conspicuous case and bracelet finish. Naturally, the purple dial isn’t for everyone (and neither is the frosted gold look), but it is perfect for anyone looking for something more atypical, casual, and modern. The rest of the dial – including the “Grande Tapisserie” finish, the date, the rhodium-toned counters, the white gold applied hour markers, and the lume-coated baton hands – remain virtually unchanged in design and layout.

The plum purple dial sets a casual tone for the Royal Oak Frosted Gold Chronograph.

The Movement

Driving the Royal Oak Frosted Gold Chronograph is the long-serving Calibre 2385, which is a F. Piguet chronograph movement with a column wheel and a vertical clutch. It has a power reserve of 40 hours and operates at a stately 3 Hz beat rate. The movement is wound by a unidirectional oscillating weight crafted in 18k gold. While the Calibre 2385 does the job, these specifications are strongly indicative of a movement that is long in the tooth.

The Calibre 2385.

The Calibre 2385 is neatly finished with elements such as Geneva waves, perlage, and polished bevels, but is obviously not up to the level of aesthetics that more modern Audemars Piguet movements enjoy. The solid case back says it all. In our mind, there are worse ideas than a new, in-house movement when it comes to keeping the Royal Oak Chronograph relevant.

The Competitive Landscape

The Royal Oak Chronograph may be over 20 years old, but with the frosted gold treatment and the purple dial, it manages to stay fresh and trendy. There is nothing in the market quite as fabulous as it. The fine craftsmanship that goes into the case, bracelet, and dial does come at a price though; the Royal Oak Frosted Gold Chronograph in white gold with purple dial – limited to 200 pieces – retails at a hefty SGD88,700.

The Royal Oak Frosted Gold Chronograph is sure to attract attention on the wrist.

The sports chronograph market is as competitive as ever, as sports watches are unsurprisingly the most sought after type of watch (though few would ever look as opulent as the Royal Oak Frosted Gold Chronograph). They are desired not just by watch collectors, but also by the general public for its versatile, pragmatic nature. It is therefore worth having a look at what’s on the menu and how the Audemars Piguet compares.

In the high-luxury end of the market, one much talked about sports watch has been the Vacheron Constantin Overseas. One of the main offerings of the Overseas collection is the Overseas Chronograph. While it may not be as well-known as the Royal Oak or Patek Philippe’s Nautilus, it easily stands shoulder to shoulder with them. Some of its perks include a 15 bar water resistance rating, anti-magnetic protection, a strap quick-release system, and a Geneva Seal movement. Pricing varies from SGD44,500 for steel variants (a blue dial example shown in photograph below) and SGD75,500 for the rose gold variant. It is worth noting, however, that the rose gold version doesn’t come with a matching gold bracelet; it only comes with a leather and rubber strap. As such, the pricing between the Overseas and the Royal Oak Chronograph is actually more identical than it appears on paper. For discerning potential buyers, it truly comes down to what one values in a high-end sports chronograph.

The Vacheron Constantin Overseas Chronograph in stainless steel with blue dial.

For those hoping for better mileage on their spending, look no further than the Omega Speedmaster. The Speedmaster is not only considered one of the most iconic chronograph watches today, but also one of the most iconic watches in general. The latest iteration of the icon to hit the market is the Speedmaster Moonwatch Apollo 11, limited to 6969 pieces. While Speedmaster limited edition releases have become somewhat of a meme in the watch community, this particular one is sure to please the brand’s loyal fans. The watch retails for a more manageable SGD13,350 and comes in a special box that includes two NASA patches celebrating the Apollo 11 mission and the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

The indices, bezel, Omega logo, and almost all of the hands are crafted in 18K Moonshine™ Gold – a new patent-pending alloy that has a paler hue than traditional yellow gold and offers high resistance to fading.

Final Thoughts

The unique aesthetics of the Royal Oak Frosted Gold Chronograph is surely not for everyone. However, let not such a notion take away from the fact that the watch is immaculately crafted. Audemars Piguet is truly the master when it comes to materials engineering and finissage. Perhaps one day, that same ingenuity can be applied to the creation of an in-house chronograph movement for the timeless Royal Oak Chronograph.

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