Among the luxury Swiss watchmaking triumvirate that also includes Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet undoubtedly pushes the boundaries of design and innovation furthest. Take the Code 11.59, one of the more controversial releases of the five years; the watch presented an entirely new and contemporary case, dial design, and two new movements. What other brand of this caliber and renown has looked forward instead of back with such unwavering determination? That commitment rings truest with its Royal Oak Concept line, which sees the brand straddle embrace innovation and ultramodern design while embracing its roots. Though perhaps not the boldest of the Concept line, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Carbon continues the brand’s demonstrated practice of pushing the limits.
The Royal Oak Concept line is Audemars Piguet’s playground. Think of it as the equivalent of Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works or Google’s X Development group. Borrowing the idea of a concept car, the line was conceived to give the watchmakers at AP the chance to test the limits of their technical prowess and employ futuristic avant-garde design. The first Concept watch, the CW1 was introduced in 2002 in a limited edition of 150 pieces. The Concept watches all share the same general case design, an ultramodern interpretation of the Royal Oak case, and most don’t just innovate mechanically, but also employ cutting-edge materials like titanium, carbon, and ceramics. The Concept line has been the staging area for a number of tourbillon watches, the first ever purpose-built Laptimer (built for legendary F1 driver Michael Schumacher), the groundbreaking Supersonnerie Minute Repeater, and of course, the divisive Marvel-inspired Black Panther model. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Carbon, released in 2008, furthered the line with its combination of a chronograph and tourbillon in a high-tech case.
This watch is not for the faint of heart or the slight of wrist. At 44mm wide, 57.7mm long, and 16mm tall, there’s no avoiding the bulk of the AP Royal Oak Concept Carbon. The angular case, which injects the brand’s classic Royal Oak design with an aggressive dose of modernity, maintaining the hallmark bezel while adding facets and bevels to the midcase construction. Despite its pronounced wrist presence, the watch won’t weigh you down. The main case is made of forged carbon while the bezel is crafted from black ceramic, as are the crown and pushers. If that wasn’t enough materials science for you, the caseback ring is made from blackened titanium, and both the front and back feature sapphire crystals. Of course, all these high-tech components don’t stop AP from executing its stunning finishing, and every angle and chamfer is exactly as impressive as you’d expect. (If you aren’t already in the know: the screws on the bezel aren’t actually screws, which is why they can be reliably oriented as they are; they’re threaded nuts that nestle into their hexagonal holes and are secured via the caseback screws, which you’ll notice are not perfectly aligned.)
The dial of the Royal Oak Concept Carbon is a lot to take in, so let’s work our way around from 12 o’clock. At the top of the dial, the AP name arcs across a dual-finished plate shared with the bold red power reserve, indicated by a stubby beveled and brushed hand. Coming around to 3 o’clock, you can see the linear chronograph display. The display is a great twist on the traditional chronograph, though coupled with the lumed central chronograph hand, only tracks up to 30 minutes. The minute is indicated by a black dot next to each number on the right side (and a black dot next to the 1 or 2 on the left, when timing gets up to 10 and 20 minutes). The issue is legibility is poor: the dots are small and exist in a sea of grey and black.
At 6 o’clock is the crown function indicator, resting on a plate like the one up top. The indicator shows whether the screw-down crown is in neutral (‘N’), rewinding (‘R’), or time setting (‘H’). Barring some high-complication timepiece where the crown may operate functions beyond the time and winding, it’s hard to see the necessity of such a display—but the 6 o’clock space would look empty without it. Moving on to 9 o’clock, the tourbillon is suspended in the openworked dial. Its dial-side bridge mirrors the linear chronograph display and creates balance through the entire dial. The brushed handset is as bold as the watch itself, featuring hollowed portions and lume application, which is matched by the lumed, sloped chapter ring that encircles it all.
The strap is hand stitched alligator with what the brand calls a “large square scale” patterning and a beautiful deployant clasp crafted in the shape of the AP logo. The locking clasp itself features a polished logo.
Driving the display is the 388-component Audemars Piguet Calibre 2895. This in-house, handwound caliber not only features the tourbillon escapement visible from the dial, but the column-wheel chronograph is fully integrated. The balance is PVD coated and features a mobile stud balance-spring and variable inertia screws. The mainplate (which doubles as the dial) is made of carbon and the bridges are anodized aluminum, while the central bridge is greened aluminum.
The materials aren’t all that wows here, though. The 34-jewel movement features a double cone power reserve mechanism and twin mainspring barrels for a staggering 10 days of power. That kind of power reserve is welcome in such a watch, as it means the Royal Oak Concept Carbon can fit into a collector’s regular rotation without winding all the way down between wears. The movement beats at 3hz.
Versus the Competition
For those who want a bit less edgy and modern Audemars Piguet experience, but still seek something bolder than the run-of-the-mill Royal Oak, the Royal Oak Offshore is your best bet, as it provides a slightly modern, bulked up take on the original. With a solid black ceramic case, gold accents, this Arnold Schwarzenegger Limited Edition is no less bold than its Concept Carbon cousin, despite its traditional chronograph display. Of course, while AP may stand alone among the triumvirate in pushing these limits, it isn’t the only watch brand doing so: Richard Mille and Hublot both experiment extensively with new materials, skeletonization, and novel complications and displays.
With dramatic wrist presence and the chronograph’s legibility issues, owning the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Carbon is more about the statement the watch makes than the watch itself. An affinity for cutting edge technology with novel implementation of classic complications will be thoroughly slaked by the Concept Carbon. With its unapologetic lines and mottled carbon case, this watch begs for a sporty, modern lifestyle to accompany it.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Carbon, with its tourbillon, linear chronograph, and amalgam of case materials logged another notch into the Concept lines belt of impressive timepieces. 13 years on from it’s release, it remains a bold offering from a brand that keeps pushing the boundaries of luxury watchmaking.