Audemars Piguet’s most famous creation is, without a doubt, the iconic Royal Oak — an octagonal, angular creation that largely defined the luxury sports watch segment and was truly ahead of the curve. Of course, the original Royal Oak was released more than 50 years ago now, and the concept of what makes for a cutting-edge sports watch has changed. Naturally, the Royal Oak has changed too — and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 26589IO Concept Flying Tourbillon GMT is proof of this evolution.
The history of both the Royal Oak and its maker, Audemars Piguet, is long and storied, but it’s not a legacy we need to delve too deeply into here, except as to how it relates to the Royal Oak Concept line. The Royal Oak Concept (ROC) was a program born in 2002, developed to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Royal Oak. The Royal Oak Concept plays a role similar to that of the concept car in the automotive world and the line has served as Audemars Piguet’s playground — a space where it can experiment with new technologies, materials and complications. Visually, the ROC line is a clear evolution of the Royal Oak Offshore, which, on the 30th anniversary of the original Royal Oak, offered an evolved take of the original design. The Royal Oak Concept is the next step in this journey.
Over the years, the ROC line has played host to some incredible pieces, like the Michael Schumacher Laptimer or the infamous Marvel collaboration pieces featuring the Black Panther and Spider-Man.
One of the core pieces in the collection is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon GMT. This model was first released in 2018 and is an evolution of the Concept GMT Tourbillon (non-flying), which debuted back in 2011. Aside from being one of the most technologically advanced high-performance travel watches ever released, this distinctive watch epitomizes the ethos of the Royal Oak Concept: an unmistakable evolution of the Royal Oak design.
This watch is a suitably high-tech amalgam of sandblasted titanium and ceramic elements. The 44mm titanium case is sandblasted, and the softly octagonal bezel is fashioned from brushed black ceramic, as is the crown. The case profile is an angular tonneau shape, a hallmark of the ROC family. It sits 16.1mm tall, which is quite high on the wrist, but in keeping with the overall presence of this watch and the Concept line in general. The skeletonized dial showcases a second time-zone indicator and a flying tourbillon. The H/R/N indicator at six shows what position the crown is in, and it’s fitted on an integrated rubber strap with a spare strap in the box.
This watch features a mind-blowing 237-hour power reserve, water resistance up to 100 meters, and a manual-winding Audemars Piguet caliber 2954 movement. With intricate components like a carbon mainplate, anodized aluminum bridges, and an anti-shock system, it is a marvel of horological craftsmanship.
Powering the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon GMT is the aforementioned Calibre 2954. Fully visible from both the front and the back, this manually wound movement is made up of over 355 components, with some 70 going into the tourbillon and escapement alone. The power reserve is impressive at 237 hours, thanks in part to the slow beat rate of 3 Hz; the second time zone is shown not on a centrally mounted hand but rather on the disc display locatred at three o’clock, which serves to neatly balance the tourbillon at nine. As you can expect from a top-tier Audemars Piguet, the finishing is immaculate throughout, and the carbon mainplate and anodized aluminum bridges showcase meticulous attention to detail. This detail extends to the PVD-coated monometallic balance and the anti-shock system, making for a calibre that is suitably conceptual in its execution.
Versus the Competition
Richard Mille is the most obvious comparison to draw when it comes to the overall look and feel of this watch — both share a future-forward aesthetic, integrated lines and a love of high-end finishes. Of course, the tonneau cases of Richard Mille are iconic, but even on the more traditional circular cases, there’s definitely evidence of a shared spirit.
In general, the standard Royal Oak is not a watch for the faint of heart. It’s a bold design that rewards confidence and the Royal Oak Concept cranks this up to 11. For many, this most-masculine expression of the Royal Oak DNA makes for the ultimate statement, but on paper, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon GMT is built as a travel watch (by private jet, obviously), and we like to imagine that whatever wrist this incredible watch ends up on, wears it for its intended purpose.
The Royal Oak is — rightly — regarded by many as the most important watch design of the 20th century, an avant-garde concept at the time it was released. The Royal Oak Concept proves that Audemars Piguet hasn’t stopped pushing the boundaries and continues to redefine what the contemporary luxury sports watch looks like.