I’ve off to a networking event in the City this evening, so I’ve had to choose a suit, shirt and tie (although the tie will undoubtedly be left at home) and, of course, a watch for the occasion.
It occurred to me that – in all the excitement of finally bagging a B-1 – my Royal Oak Chronograph has been somewhat neglected, so that’s the one I’ll be wearing. With that in mind, it seemed rude not to take a quick shot before I start to get myself ready…
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.
Well, I don’t really want to break with tradition, so here it is… the collection as it stands at the end of 2014. I won’t bore everyone with a long commentary, as my infamous incoming posts will suffice for that. Just a few words, though, to go with the pictures…
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 15400: I spent months thinking about this one, and in the end it took precedence over the Aquanaut I’d been planning to buy. I still don’t know whether that was the right decision, but I do know it’s a lovely watch; RO’s need to be handled to appreciate just how well they’re put together, and there’s a good reason why they’re considered by many to be the archetypal sports watch.
Moser Mayu: Quite simply, the nicest watch I’ve ever owned; I’ll go further and say that there isn’t a manufacture that produces watches with a more perfect finish. This one is white gold, and every time I put it on I’m completely gobsmacked.
Christian Van Der Klaauw Ceres 1974: CVDK has won the European Watch of The Year award 3 times in the last 5 years. There’s a good reason for this, and some of the astronomical (by which I mean cosmos-related, as opposed to expensive, although some are very expensive) complications the company produces are awe-inspiring. This is a bit left field for me, which is why I like it.
Dornblueth Kal 04.0: A more wearable size (for me, at least) than the better known models, the 04.0 was limited to just 75 pieces (50 in stainless steel, and 25 in rose gold) and all were produced in 2006. Dirk Dornblueth kindly wrote to me a while ago, clarifying that “the Kal. 04.0 movement includes 50% parts of an old GUB movement and 50% of the ebauche movement AS 1560 from the 1950’s”. Nice!
Glashutte Original Senator Perpetual Calendar: just a wonderfully simple, and wonderfully finished PC that for me ticks all the boxes when it comes to an affordable higher complication. The cleanness of the dial typifies Germanic watch design, and the movement is a wonder to behold.
Jaeger LeCoultre Master Calendar: I’ve had a few JLC’s, but seem to have settled on what – for me – is the archetypal reference. This is the current model, which (like the earlier Master Moon) has dispensed with the power reserve and has the logo back where it belongs. Once again, a very wearable size at 39mm.
Rolex Daytona: I was bloody nuts to sell the white gold Daytona I’d owned previously, but couldn’t find another at the right price and in the right condition. I do enjoy wearing this newer model, though, and find that it’s an ideal watch for pretty much all occasions. In fact, I usually reach for this when I’m not sure what I want to wear.
Panerai PAM337: It would be impossible to overstate how much I like this watch. It’s one of the 42mm models, and being a Radiomir is so wearable on a smaller wrist that it’s easy to forget that it’s actually the size that it is. I can dress it up with an alligator strap, or dress is down as it is in the photo below (on an Assolutemante)… it always looks fantastic and it always flies under the radar.
CWC Royal Navy Diver: This is a great weekend watch, and whilst I didn’t lust after them in a general sense I certainly did lust ofter this specific watch with it’s heat-treated insert. I nagged a chap from TZUK for about 18 months before I got it… but I got it!
Rolex 5513: This is a Mark IV Maxi from 1981, and quite simply it’s the nicest that I’ve seen with an immaculate dial and lovely thick case too. It went to a watchmaker friend for a new crystal to be fitted followed by the usual seal and pressure test, and he reckoned it was the nicest he’d seen too. On the wrist it’s just sublime.
Seiko 7549-7010: I’d had a lovely example of these vintage Tunas previously, and stupidly let it go. When the chance arose to acquire another beauty – this one again from 1978 – I didn’t waste the opportunity. This is another watch that received the highest praise from my watchmaker when he popped a NOS Hardlex crystal on it, and on the shark mesh it’s nothing short of perfect.
Seiko 6309-7040: I’ve had loads of 6309s and never manage to hang onto them for long; then, when I sell them, I always seem to buy another! This one dates from 1984; it has it’s original non-Suwa dial and hands, but is fitted with a Yobokies double domed crystal with internal AR (hence the reflections!). It also has an aftermarket large dot insert on at the moment, but I do have an original insert on a spare bezel too.
Right then – that’s it… far too many watches, really, but I rather like them all and am not planning on flipping anything. I’ve got a nice mix of dressy, sporty, old and new and reckon I’m pretty lucky!
I’ve had a few messages suggesting that I haven’t done one of these for a while, and having just moved on my JLC it seemed like a good time to take stock. Eight is a couple more than I’m comfortable with in all honesty, but I can’t see any of these going any time soon so I suppose I’ll have to get used to the it.
The strange thing is that I seem to enjoy wearing the Seiko and CWC more than any of the others, probably because I don’t have to think about it once they’re on my wrist… that should probably tell me something. The Daytona has been the biggest surprise, because it’s just so versatile that it always seems “right” when I put it on; and the AP is as wonderful as I hoped it would be, but unfortunately I have to wait a few weeks for them to reopen in Switzerland in order to get a 1.5 link for the bracelet (it’s very marginally tight at the moment, or alternatively a bit too loose). It’s also quite nice that I’ve got the various bases pretty much covered; old, new, chrono, moonphase, GMT, three-handers, manual, auto, etc.
Anyway, here’s a single montage of all of them.
About a year or more ago, I was mooching around the various new and second hand dealers in the Bond Street area and – for the first time – I tried on a Patek Nautilus 5711… a watch that I’d admired from afar but never actually handled or worn myself. There was no doubt that the finish was exquisite, but for some reason I couldn’t quite to get to grips with the case shape (or, rather, the hinged non-crown side). It did teach me one thing, if nothing else, though; sometimes, the only way you can appreciate the wonderful craftsmanship that goes into many of the higher-end watches is to actually pick them up, wear them and scrutinise them properly. I’m not saying that you’ll then be able to see where the “value” is because we all know that luxury products don’t work that way, but what I am saying is that photos alone will never do them justice.
I mulled and mulled over the Nautilus, but deep down I knew it wasn’t calling to me like it needed to. Around the time that I realised I wouldn’t buy one, my head was turned by it’s cousin from the other side of the tracks – the Aquanaut. Much more of a sports watch, in my opinion, and none of that strange hingey nonsense found on the Nautilus. It’s also a whole lot cheaper, especially on the fantastic rubber strap, even if residuals are horribly firm if you’re on the buying as opposed to the selling end.
The following months saw me try on both the 5167 and the 5164 (for those not into the numbers, the former is the basic three-hander and the latter is the dual time zone “Travel Time”). Both are absolutely gorgeous watches, but whilst I loved the 5164 what I didn’t love so much was the additional bulk it came with. Actually, I didn’t like the price differential either and – after considerable thought – I decided that the “simple” 5167 (on rubber) was the watch for me. In fact, I proceeded to work very hard indeed to track one down, politely declining the BNIB example that Boodles at the Royal Exchange had redirected for me and pretty much agreeing a deal with the manager of a branch of Watches of Switzerland for the next one they got in. (He had accompanied me and a friend on a trip to Blancpain last year, and he’s a lovely bloke; not only that, he offered me a deal that was better than anyone else’s and that made the thought of buying new somewhat more palatable!)
The next step was to wait – and this is where it all went somewhat pear-shaped, if I’m honest. Whilst I waited, I also thought, and looked, and considered. In fact I tried on as well, and one of the watches that made intimate contact with my wrist was an AP RO – not the 15300 or the classic Jumbo but the current 15400; just a tad wider than the other two at 41mm but very nicely proportioned. In fact, the more I thought about the AP, the more I was steering myself in it’s direction at the expense of the Aquanaut. I liked the fact that it was genuinely a horological icon (I know, it’s silly really, but for me it’s an element of that intangible added value that forms part of my decision-making); I liked that on the wonderful bracelet it was comparable price-wise to the Aquanaut on rubber; and – if I’m honest – I liked the fact that it just seemed a little more… I don’t know. Maybe a little more refined.
Just a quick word about the history of the Royal Oak before I go on, because since its release at the Basel fair in 1972 this watch has achieved a status that nobody would have assumed possible. Famously designed by the one and only Gérald Genta, it received a slightly mixed reception at first, with many finding what was then considered a slightly quirky, iconoclastic design a little too different for comfort. It has to be said that cost was also an issue, with the RO in stainless steel being listed for more than some of AP’s already-established models in precious metal. Quite a bold step when you think about it; it needed to be, though, because the Royal Oak was AP’s answer to the quartz crisis and they certainly needed to pull a rabbit out of the hat… things weren’t looking very clever for them at the time, anyway.
Also bold was the choice of Genta as designer. Born in Geneva some 40 years earlier, he had already forged an enviable reputation by the time AP approached him. It was a well-earned reputation too, as Genta had been responsible for some classic watches that included models for Universal Genève (Polerouter Microtor, White Shadow, Golden Shadow), Omega (Constellation) and Patek Philippe (Golden Ellipse). Incidentally, a few more fairly decent watches would follow these, including the Seamaster, the Ingenieur, the Nautilus and the Pasha de Cartier… it really is quite incredible, isn’t it? Here’s a photo of the fella himself, in case you were wondering what he looked like…
Word has it that, on the eve of the 1971 Basel fair (precisely one year before the RO’s official launch), AP’s managing director at the time, Georges Golay, called Genta at 4pm explaining that the market was expecting news of an “unprecedented steel watch” for which he needed a design by the following morning. Genta had just one night ahead of him to design a watch that would ordinarily take several weeks and call for hundreds of sketches. By early morning, the drawing perfectly conveyed his first idea: that of a diving-suit helmet featuring all the details of the watch that was to become the Royal Oak, a design that would in fact never be fundamentally altered. He later called it his “masterpiece” and the photo below is of the sketch he presented to Golay that morning:
Gérald Genta passed away at the end of summer 2011 having founded a brand under his own name and having never stopped designing watches. In fact, for a few years in the mid-1990s he also held the honour of being the designer of the world’s most complicated watch, with his incredible Grande Sonnerie Retro which – even back then – was priced at around $2million! He’s remembered, and will no doubt always be remembered, for some of the greatest designs in 20th century watchmaking, and for the avant-garde nature of his vision.
So, with that amazing and unique background not only researched but also very much appreciated, I proceeded to ponder the RO further, because deciding on the model – not to mention the dial colour – wasn’t very easy. Essentially, there are three in the range, each with their own merits:
• The 15300 – 39mm case, and a pretty classic choice (albeit superseded now). Blue, black or silver dial.
• The (current) 15400 – 41mm case but a seemingly slimmer profile than the 15300 and so just as wearable when all’s said and done. Black or silver dial, with a rarer LE Boutique Edition in blue.
• The 15202 “Jumbo” – an homage to the original RO, with an ultra-slim 39mm case. Too expensive, sadly, so dial colours are immaterial! Shame, though…
I had pretty much decided on the dial colour (blue) but not the model. I was leaning towards the smaller 15300 but then three things happened, each leading to the position I’m in today. Firstly, I finally managed to try on a blue-dialled 15300 (they’re quite hard to pin down in that colour, actually) and whilst I loved the watch I was a little disappointed by the actual hue of the dial; it wasn’t as vivid as the newer 15400 dials and was a little disappointing as a result. (I also started to wonder about the thickness of the case, perhaps because I was in a slightly more critical frame of mind than I’d been in previously.) Secondly, I tried on the Boutique Edition 15400 and realised that the perception of a slimmer profile more than compensated for the slightly larger case; not only that, but the blue dial was just sublime. And finally – just when I thought that the decision was becoming impossible – I learnt that the very chap from WOS who was trying to source me an Aquanaut was actually selling his own Boutique Edition 15400. Not only was it almost new (well, this particular one was sold in mid-2013 and was very lightly and carefully worn) but the watch had also just received a full service at AP and was winging it’s way back to its owner at the time. It didn’t need servicing, of course, but some people are just fussier than others 🙂
Now, AP only made a limited number of this model/dial combination for AP boutiques, and I liked the fact that it was a little scarcer than the more easily spotted models. That aside, though, it housed the same (gorgeous) in-house cal. 3120 movement as the 15300 and the other 15400 variants. I suppose the only other thing worthy of note is that the 15400 saw the end of the AP logo at 12; I like the cleaner dial, and I also like the fact that, if anything, it’s truer to the original. In other words, I found that my decision was made, and within about 48 hours of me hearing about the watch’s availability in the first place I’d agreed a deal with our friend at WOS and paid for it. Not that many hours later, the doorbell signalled it’s arrival and it was pretty immediately adjusted and on my wrist.
I hinted earlier that it’s hard to do justice to some watches, because they need to be handled and worn in order to be properly appreciated. I could ramble on about the simply fantastic casework, with wonderfully brushed finishes contrasting against adjacent highly polished facets. I could talk at length about the octagonal bezel with its perfectly aligned faux screw-heads that give it an appearance that quite a few have tried to copy without success. I could even talk about the integrated bracelet, which is of supreme quality and is one of the most comfortable that I’ve ever worn. Finally, I could try to explain the sheer depth and “blueness” of the tapisserie dial; it’s not just blue but it’s a whole range of blues – not in the way that Rolex achieve that with their sunburst finish but in a totally different way. It’s even subtler, if anything.
All of this could only fail to convey the reality of the Royal Oak, though, because descriptions and photos don’t even get close, in my opinion. All in all, it’s a bloody beautiful watch – perhaps not the one that I thought I was going to buy a year ago, but the one that I probably knew I’d buy the moment I first tried it on. I suppose all that’s left is the photos… not sure that I can do a good enough job, to be honest, but I obviously couldn’t stop myself from trying!