As we mentioned the last time I wrote about the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, we are dealing with a watch design that needs practically no introduction. The Gerald Genta-designed profile is iconic, with its octagonal bezel and set screws. There have been no shortage of versions that have flashy dials and even gem-set bezels. What if you want something that’s a bit flashier — in a rather unique way — but avoids being iced out? For that, look no further than the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph Frosted reference 26239BC.
To dive into the history of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph, you do not have to go that far back in time. It was 1997 where it was first introduced, marking the 25th anniversary of the Royal Oak line. At that time, it was 39mm in diameter, though it had grown in size to 41mm by 2012. At that point, the movement inside was still built off of an externally-sourced base. Fast-forward to 2021, and a new development is unveiled.
While the Code 11:59 project was divisive — to put it mildly — there have been some mechanical leaps that occurred. The one germane to this watch would be the creation of the Caliber 4401, which first appeared in the Code 11:59 chronograph. Compared to the prior versions, this Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph Frosted still maintains the 41mm case, while overall thickness grew by 1.4mm in order to house the new movement.
With the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph Frosted, any discussion around the design can only start in one place – the finish on the case and bracelet. Done here in a white gold, the frosted finish is something that was first introduced by Audemars Piguet in 2016. To create it on the watches, they worked with an Italian jewelry designer by the name of Carolina Bucci. If we take a step back, we might recognize this as a hammered finish, just done in a micro scale on the watch.
In truth, that’s precisely what happens here. The gold is hammered with a diamond-tipped tool to make the tiny indentations that catch the light and sparkle in the light. Done across all of the flat surfaces of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph Frosted, it really does give the effect of something that was pulled out of the freezer on a humid day, particularly offset by the polished bezel and the brushed sides of the case. It’s a very unique look that really elevates the look of the piece.
Set into this frosty landscape is a deep black dial (with the iconic Grand Tapiserie pattern) with white chronograph dials in a Reverse Panda pattern. In other words, for as unique as the case finishing is, the dial is instantly recognizable as being a chronograph that comes from Audemars Piguet.
As big a piece of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph Frosted as the finish in, the movement inside deserves as much recognition as well. Prior to this release, Audemars Piguet relied on a base movement that came from outside their four walls, and then was tuned and refined to work in their watches. This all changed in 2021, when the caliber 4401 movement made the leap from the Code 11:59 lineup to the Royal Oak. This is a flyback chronograph movement that has been used since 2019, heralding the fact that Audemars Piguet builds this one completely on their own.
With this movement, the wearer can track chronograph times up to 12 hours, with a 30-minute register helping mark out the smaller increments, and seconds in the third register. For deeper details, you have 40 jewels helping the movement work smoothly, an anti-shock system to help protect the movement from daily life, and a 4Hz running frequency netting a 70-hour power reserve.
Versus The Competition
If you are only concerned about a chronograph, then you have no shortage of competition for the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph Frosted. However, there’s more here, as there’s the very unique case finishing that really sets things apart, so you have to decide where your interest lies. If you want to go with a rarer material on the case and bracelet, and then opt for wildness in the dial (rather than the case finish) then the F.P. Journe Centigraph Souverain “Ferrari” is a contender. Rather than white gold, this F.P. Journe features 950 platinum on the case and bracelet. Precious metals aside, the dial of this watch is where it really shines, giving you a bold and bright way to track the times with the manually-wound movement.
Alternatively, if you just really like the dial texture of the Audemars Piguet, but are more comfortable with a stainless steel case, we would point you to the Girard Perregaux Laureato Chronograph. Here, the octagonal bezel feels quite familiar, as does the waffle texture that has been applied on the dial. It’s not quite the same as what the Royal Oak offers, but there are enough similarities there to give you some difficult decisions.
If we were to equate the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph Frosted to a person, they would be someone who’s drawn to classic style, but also wants to do things just a bit different than the norm. I don’t mean that they’re putting some bright splashes of color in their socks and shirt, but really mixing things in that are just unexpected. Even though it’s non-conventional, it comes together in a way that elevates the entire ensemble, truly hitting a mark that is greater than the sum of the parts. The frosted finish also conveys a serene confidence, quietly content in what has been accomplished. Are we reading a bit into what this watch conveys? Sure, we are, but you have to let your mind take flight when you see a piece like this.
To bring it back to strict watch terms, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph Frosted is what we get when a brand is not content to just simply put a new color on the dial. Nor are they happy with bringing an existing movement into a new product line. No, to really set a watch apart, it needs to be unique. In this case, it’s bringing a jewelry-finishing process to the watch.
Frankly, given the close ties between watches and jewelry (really, if you think about it, a watch is a functional bracelet), it’s surprising that this technique had not been applied to watches prior to 2016. We’re glad it did make the leap, and it certainly adds another design cue to the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph that further identifies where it came from. At the end of the day, we’re just tickled with the look that was able to be achieved without needing to encrust the watch in gems. In short, we’re a fan of this approach, and cannot wait to see what other jewelry techniques may end up on a watch one day.