The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak needs no introduction. With its brushed finish and sharp edges, it is arguably the most rugged-looking luxury sports watch available from one of the “Holy Trinity” (which also includes Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe), and the brand has not been conservative in releasing variations of the original design: chronographs, tourbillons, and the like. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Foundation Time for the Trees 15100ST.OO.0789ST.01 is something a bit different: a watch for a cause.
Introduced in 1972, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak was a big, bold statement. Seeking something entirely new, Audemars Piguet got in touch with watch designer Gerald Genta, already famous for his work with Universal Genève, Patek Philippe, and Omega. Genta took the call and returned the next day with the design that would become the Royal Oak. In the midst of the quartz crisis, it was a huge risk to release a steel sports watch with an integrated bracelet and a price tag of 3,300 CHF—ten times the price of a contemporary Rolex Submariner. And the gamble didn’t immediately pay off: it took a full year for AP to sell the first 1,000 pieces. In the end, the Royal Oak won out, demonstrating that haute horlogerie was not just about precious metal dress watches. (Genta would, of course, follow the Royal Oak with two more fixed-bezel, integrated-bracelet sports watches: the Patek Philippe Nautilus and the IWC Ingenieur).
By the 1990s, the Royal Oak was a mainstay in Audemars Piguets’ catalog, so why interrupt the beautiful tapisserie dial? The Audemars Piguet Foundation was established in 1992 with a mission to support reforestation and forest conservation. The foundation works around the globe with non-profits and NGOs to protect Earth’s natural environment, to date having planted over 12,000 trees and supported projects in places like Brazil, Madagascar, and Indonesia. The Royal Oak was the natural choice to receive a special dial representing the foundation’s work: While the watch took its name from a fleet of vessels in the British Royal Navy, those vessels took their name from the ancient oak tree in which King Charles II of England took refuge to escape his pursuers during the Battle of Worcester in 1651.
Debuting in 1999, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Foundation Time for the Trees is very similar to its contemporary, the Royal Oak “Mid-Size” 14790 Mk. 3. Under a flat sapphire crystal, the ‘cosmos blue’ dial is presented with the Royal Oak’s trademark grande tapisserie dial, which is produced using a pantograph which follows an original mold to chisel the design onto a brass blank before finishing. In this case, the namesake oak motif has been added. The hands appear as limbs, emerging from the tree and mirroring the lozenge shape of the applied indices (which differ from somewhat more common long batons). The hands and indices are filled with LumiNova, Audemars Piguet having earlier transitioned away from tritium. The date window at 3 o’clock is framed in white, which is uncommon for Royal Oak dials, but was found on the 14790 Mk. 3. In lieu of the ‘Automatic’ dial text found on that model, the Time for the Trees has ‘Audemars Piguet Foundation’ printed. Rounding out the dial, minute hashes and 5-minute numerals are unassumingly printed on the periphery.
The 36mm case is as expected—sharp transitions between flawlessly finished surfaces with linear brushing for flat surfaces and high polishing for the bevels. The most pronounced beveled edge adorns the octagonal bezel, which features contrasting bolts, aligned perfectly. The alignment is no mistake: it’s a common misconception that the bolts are screws, but they extend through the case and are fastened from the rear. When serviced, the movement and dial are accessed through the front of the watch. The rear of the watch features a display caseback showing off its heavily decorated movement. Especially from the era, this is one of very few Royal Oak models offered with a display caseback. It also sets itself apart with a screwdown hexagonal crown for 50m of water resistance (compared to the pull crown on the Royal Oak “Jumbo”).
The case transitions seamlessly to the thin integrated bracelet which features brushed links with polished chamfers and a branded deployant clasp released by a single trigger. The thin bracelet complements the 7.8mm thin case, and the watch wears exceptionally well. It should be noted that despite its 36mm diameter, the Royal Oak always tends to wear larger due to its bold octagonal case.
Powering the Royal Oak Time for the Trees is the Audemars Piguet caliber 2225, which is based on the Jaeger-LeCoultre 889/2. (AP owned 40% of JLC until 2000, so it was very common for AP to debut JLC movements or use them first concurrently with JLC). This 36-jewel movement has a power reserve of 40 hours and features a ball bearing rotor and glucydur balance. In addition to the usual Côtes de Genève decoration on the mainplate, the Time for the Trees model features a 21k gold rotor with the ‘AP’ logo and oak leaves, as is typical with other Royal Oaks with display backs.
Versus the Competition
While one might be hard pressed to find other luxury sports watches with trees on the dial, Audemars Piguet doesn’t have a monopoly on the fixed-bezel, integrated-bracelet luxury sports watch. Patek Philippe produces the Nautilus in several iterations, and while the model demands a premium over the Royal Oak, many believe it is justified. Completing the Holy Trinity, Vacheron Constantin has its Overseas collection. Of course, if it’s a Royal Oak that one desires, numerous options are available from 18k gold perpetual calendars to the Offshore chronograph.
This watch is ideal for the watch enthusiast with a green thumb. There are many modern affordable watches seeking to use recycled materials, but luxury watchmakers have yet to meaningfully explore the space. As such, this special edition will be a treasure for those who want their watch to say more about them than that they have exquisite taste.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Foundation Time for the Trees takes a historic watch and adds a special twist without disrupting the DNA of the watch—no small task. The beauty of this special edition is its subtlety: at a glance, it’s just a typical blue dial Royal Oak, but the keen eye will appreciate the oak motif that reinforces both the model’s name and the mission of the Audemars Piguet Foundation.