2 out, 1 in (and another plan comes together)

Well, this one has been a couple of months coming, and has taken a fair bit of planning. Anyway, it started when I realised I was going down my usual route with regard to my Daytona… I love them when I get them, I cool towards them after a few months of ownership and then I find I don’t reach for them any more. It’s happened with three of the four that I’ve owned, the only exception being the white gold Zenith that I stupidly sold a couple of years ago (and that’s another story, albeit not a particularly interesting one for anybody but me).

So, I decided that I’d have to move the latest one on, and then started to think about what white-dialled chrono I could replace it with. I didn’t want anything too dressy, as my collection has veered markedly in that direction over the last year or so. I toyed with GP, but couldn’t really make up my mind about them; then I started looking at the Royal Oaks in their various incarnations. They certainly seemed to tick the right boxes, but the biggest problem was that I already had the beautiful 15400, and two Royal Oaks in a smallish collection just seemed daft (as well as excessive). I also gave some more thought to the 15400 and to my more dressy watches generally, and realised pretty quickly that if I was going to reduce the number of three-handers I owned then the Moser was safe (it’s the most beautiful watch I’ve ever owned) as was my Grand Seiko (the watch I got married in, or at least an identical model thereto). Slowly but surely I came to realise that I could actually part with the Daytona and the 15400 and replace them both with a single watch from the ROC line. Hmmm… the decision was seemingly made.

I sold the Daytona on Watch Turf last month, and found it a relatively easy process. Letting go of the 15400 was far, far more difficult but I steeled myself as I agreed a deal and then posted it off with a churning in my stomach. Amazing that a trinket can have that effect, really, and in a sense I find it cathartic to break that bond (it’s a kind of strange cycle that I’ve been through before, and I’m sure one that will occur again at some point in the future). So, with two watches out it was time to get one back in, and after mulling things over and very nearly buying a different model I made what I now know to be the correct decision (and more on that in a moment).

The new ROC (reference 26320ST) is a large watch at 41mm, particularly with the design of the case and integrated bracelet adding to the perception of size. I tried it on a few times in the course of my deliberations, but realised almost immediately that it was too big for me. Certainly, the substantially thicker case wore much bigger than the 15400 that I had at the time, and I therefore knew that I’d have to look at one of the preceding 39mm models to make this work. Now, as an aside AP has been criticised in some quarters for not making it’s own integrated chronograph movement, although there is apparently one in the pipeline (with an as yet unknown release date). In the Offshore models the movement is essentially an AP 3120 self-winding calibre (as found in the 15300/15400) with a Dubois-Depraz chronograph module sandwiched on top. This makes the Offshore, inherently, a thicker watch by some 4mm so a different solution has had to be used inside the RO chrono.

What AP refer to as the calibre 2385 is in fact based on the F. Piguet calibre 1185. To quote Hodinkee, “The 1185 is one of the great movements of our lifetime, featuring remarkably smooth actuation, an 55-hour power reserve, an incredibly thin profile, and high-end technical traits like a vertical clutch and a column-wheel.” Technically, this is now a Blancpain movement, though despite the Swatch Group’s efforts to re-brand F. Piguet as “Manufacture Blancpain” the original name still has the cachet it always did. According to Swatch, this is one movement they have no plans on holding back from selling to at least two very important customers – AP and Vacheron Constantin (the latter of which uses it in its Overseas line). In fact, the very first RO chronograph (the reference 25860ST, launched in 1998) housed the same movement. Given the choice, I generally like to have an in-house movement when possible, but I see this as a splendid alternative; anyway, I visited the workshop were these FP movements are manufactured during a quite fantastic Blancpain factory visit, so I feel a kind of affinity towards them.

So, with two variations of the ROC designed around a 39mm case, and plenty of dial variations as well, decision-making was slightly difficult. Although I had a very near miss with a silver dialled 25860 I decided in the end to go with the newer 26300 and the relatively rare “panda dial”. I actually think it’s very reminiscent of the Paul Newman Daytona, with it’s dark subdials and chapter ring set against the near white of the machined brass dial; I love the dramatic appearance that gives, and the relative cleanness of the dial despite so much going on. Of course, AP’s famous Grand Tapisserie finish is a joy to behold, from the absolute symmetry across the face to the tiny little concentric circles that are visible through a loupe or a macro lens. AP offers the following about the process itself:

At the end of a long, brightly lit corridor in Manufacture Audemars Piguet at Brassus, the sound of ticking resonates continuously. The noise is far too rapid and loud to come from watch movements – it is generated by machines which perform the guillochage of Royal Oak’s dial. In other words, they make the weaving pattern that forms the square and lozenge motif of “Grand Tapisserie”. This highly intricate guillochage captures the light and accentuates the timepiece’s geometric relief.

“The brass dial is engraved by a burin (a precision metalwork chisel) that reproduces the motif on a disc attached to the machine, like a pantograph. A pointer rotates across the disc from the periphery to the centre. The system is combined with a tool that forms the little lozenges between the squares,” explains engineer Nicholas Prost, who heads the decorative engraving project. The process takes between 20 and 50 minutes, depending on the dial’s diameter. It’s a delicate operation. A mere skip is all it takes to damage the piece, as the slightest impact is as visible as dust on a mirror. As the ‘piquetage’ gets closer to the circle’s centre, the rhythm gets faster and hails the birth of a brand new dial, ready to be sent out for the finishing processes.

Since the birth of Royal Oak in 1972, the guillochage work had been exclusively subcontracted to a dial-work artisan. In order to produce this element in the workshop, the horology brand recovered 40 year old machines in Canada and the United States. The machines were then completely overhauled and improved over the period of a year before they took their place in the manufacturing process in 2008.

So, to pick up from earlier in this post the actual watch I was lucky enough to find (well, not down to luck so much as a solid eight hours of searching the planet) turned out to be remarkably close to me. Not only that, but it’s relatively new (being manufactured and sold in 2011) and comes to me via a single previous owner. It’s in remarkable unpolished condition and frankly I was lucky to find it – or, at least, to find one in the right condition that wasn’t with an overseas seller. Having worn it for the best part of the day now, I’m certain that the decisions I made were the correct ones. The ROC may not be a watch that ticks everyone’s boxes, but it certainly ticks mine.

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