Friday, September 25

Review: The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Tourbillon Chronograph Openworked Black Ceramic

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Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Tourbillon Chronograph Openworked Black Ceramic

Audemars Piguet gets a fair bit of ribbing from the community for being somewhat of a one trick pony. This criticism is not unfounded, as the Le Brassus manufacturer does rely heavily on the Royal Oak series and its offshoots. While some argue that it has lost its identity, others will reason that this is what works for the brand. And who is to argue against the results? The Royal Oak collection is immensely successful. It’s not like Audemars Piguet has completely forgotten its roots either – the brand’s watchmaking and craftsmanship is still solidly grounded in the tenets of classical horology. One great example of this ‘past meets present’ approach is the creation of the Royal Oak Tourbillon Chronograph Openworked in black ceramic. While the model itself isn’t novel per se, its execution in black ceramic – first launched in 2018 – was most interesting, and perhaps a little polarising. And so, without further ado, we bring you the low-down and our thoughts on the fascinating Royal Oak Tourbillon Chronograph Openworked Black Ceramic.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

The case of the Royal Oak Tourbillon Chronograph Openworked Black Ceramic is rendered in, well, black ceramic. Audemars Piguet has never been shy when it comes to experimenting with exotic materials in its watches. While ceramic isn’t exactly the most novel of materials, it is how the manufacturer finishes it that has impressed the watch community. The Royal Oak case remains one of the most beautiful and iconic cases in contemporary watchmaking. To finish a gold Royal Oak case is challenging; to finish a steel Royal Oak case is more challenging, because steel is harder; but to finish a ceramic Royal Oak case to look as if it were metal is a feat worthy of applause, because unlike gold or steel (which are malleable), ceramic is brittle and thus not nearly as cooperative.

Side profile of the case showing the crown and the two screw-down chronograph pushers.

Indeed, all of the trademark Royal Oak decoration can be seen on the case, including brushed finishing on all flat surfaces, and polished bevels on the edges of the body and octagonal bezel. One other noteworthy characteristic of the ceramic is its lightweightedness. At 44 x 13.2 mm, the Royal Oak Tourbillon Chronograph Openworked looks like a watch that should feel heavy, and yet with its ceramic body, much of that weight has been mitigated. As such, the watch may take some getting used to if you’re used to the heft of large, precious metal cases.

The contrast between the brushed and polished surfaces is stark and rather handsome.

Moving on into the dial, you will find that it is unapologetically modern in design. Instantly noticeable are the teal accents on the chronograph hands as well as the minute and seconds tracks. The dial has also been expertly openworked to reveal the movement behind it. Technically a part of the movement – and not the dial – is the mesmerising tourbillon mechanism at the 6 o’clock position. The bridge and carriage of the tourbillon may look basic in design, but they have been skillfully beveled on every edge and spectacularly polished on every surface. Meanwhile, at the 9 o’clock position, there is the small seconds sub-dial. And opposite it is the chronograph seconds counter. The other indications – the time in minute and seconds, and the chronograph seconds – are indicated centrally. The hours are marked by chunky oblong-shaped markers (with a triangle for 12 o’clock) coated with luminescent material for low-light visibility. The classic Royal Oak hour and minute hands are also lumed.

There’s a lot going on on the dial but there is method to the madness, order in the chaos.

Long story short, the dial of the Royal Oak Tourbillon Chronograph Openworked Black Ceramic remains as sexy as it has ever been. The openworking of the dial is done as tastefully as possible and the hit of teal really brings the otherwise monochromatic watch to life. Legibility is a common problem amongst openworked watches but Audemars Piguet has addressed it well here with the sizable, lume-coated hands and hour markers. We also like how the time-telling and chronograph displays have been separated by colour (white vs. teal) so as to further aid legibility and mitigate operator confusion.

The Movement

Driving the Royal Oak Tourbillon Chronograph Openworked Black Ceramic is the 299-part, 28-jewel Calibre 2936. The movement has a respectable power reserve of 72 hours and operates at a traditional 3 Hz frequency. For the gear heads out there, the real show lies at the back of the watch. Through the case back, one can appreciate the inner workings of an old school column wheel, horizontal clutch chronograph à la Audemars Piguet. And we must say, it is breathtaking. It’s not just about the stunning architecture and layout, but also the finissage and decoration. We love how there is a mix of blackened and raw silvery parts. We love how maximally openworked the bridges and mainspring barrel are without bringing detriment to integrity. But above all, we love the brilliantly polished column wheel and bevels, as well as the sheer number of sharp inward and outward angles. If this doesn’t convince you of the prowess of Audemars Piguet’s finisseurs, we don’t know what will.

The Competitive Landscape

As far as tourbillon chronograph watches are concerned, there are few in the market that are as avant-garde in design and anointed in craftsmanship as the Royal Oak Tourbillon Chronograph Openworked. The model began life as a fairly edgy, metallic watch, but now with its black ceramic body, it is edgier than ever. This is about as exotic a Royal Oak timepiece can get without outright becoming a Royal Oak Concept watch. It is worth noting that this particular variant of the Royal Oak Tourbillon Chronograph Openworked Black Ceramic, released in 2018, comes with rubber straps. A year on, the brand has introduced a full black ceramic variation – yes, with ceramic bracelet. The rubber strapped version comes in four different references depending on the colour of the dial accent and strap. Available in either grey, blue, green, or gold, the Royal Oak Tourbillon Chronograph Openworked Black Ceramic is limited to 100 pieces only, split evenly between the colours. The watch is priced at CHF290,000 and is only available at Audemars Piguet boutiques, though chances are, they’ve all been accounted for by now.

To the surprise of no one, the Royal Oak Tourbillon Chronograph Openworked Black Ceramic is a large watch. It even wears larger than its size would suggest, partly due to the way the strap flares outwards. This is not a piece you’d want to hide under your sleeves (not that you can even if you wanted), but instead showcase on your wrist.

Interestingly, in the same year of 2018, Audemars Piguet had unveiled another tourbillon chronograph watch: the Royal Oak Offshore Tourbillon Chronograph 25th Anniversary. On the occasion of its birthday, the Royal Oak’s larger, bolder brother, the Royal Oak Offshore was on the receiving end of a rather ‘futuristic’ looking tourbillon chronograph watch. The watch is clearly of Royal Oak bloodline with its octagonal bezel and bezel nuts but also contains never-before-seen design cues that looks more at home in the Royal Oak Concept line – truly a sight to behold. Also limited to 100 pieces (divided evenly between steel and rose gold variations), the Royal Oak Offshore Tourbillon Chronograph 25th Anniversary retails for CHF325,000 in gold and CHF285,000 in steel.

The Royal Oak Offshore Tourbillon Chronograph 25th Anniversary is a truly special piece, one that is beyond the mindless dial and strap colour changes that the brand sometimes passes off as “novelty”. It is, dare we say, a Royal Oak timepiece like no other, and worthy of the Offshore’s 25th birthday.

If the Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore are too much of a sensory overload on you, look no further than Vacheron Constantin’s Traditionelle Tourbillon Chronograph. The watch, presented this year, is far more classical in design than its counterparts from Audemars Piguet. The Maltese cross-inspired tourbillon is the star of the show (as always). Not only does it take up significant real estate on the dial, it also happens to have one of, if not the most magnificent tourbillon carriage in the industry. It certainly is more stunning than Audemars Piguet’s minimalist three-prong carriage design. The Traditionelle Tourbillon Chronograph is also a monopusher chronograph; there is a pusher on top of the crown that is used to start, stop, and reset the chronograph function of the watch. The Calibre 3200 that drives the watch (which is also used in the Harmony Tourbillon Chronograph) bears the Geneva Seal and is beautifully finished, as expected. The watch is priced at EUR227,000, which converts to about CHF242,000 at the time of writing.

The Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Tourbillon Chronograph is one of the brand’s highlights of the year.

Final Thoughts

The aesthetics of the Royal Oak Tourbillon Chronograph Openworked Black Ceramic may not be to everyone’s taste, but anyone can appreciate the craftsmanship behind the watch. From the ceramic case to the skeletonised bridges of the movement, every millimetre of the piece screams quality. The watch is truly the culmination of Audemars Piguet’s classical watchmaking know-how and its visionary approach to design.

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