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Understated Oddity: The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak QE II Cup

Under the loupe today we have a particularly special, limited edition example of a classic watch. It’s an especially elegant timepiece steeped in tradition. Let’s check out the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 2017 QEII Cup Titanium / Platinum Ref. 15403IP.OO.1220IP.01. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak QEII Cup commemorates the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup horse race. AP has been a sponsor of this particular race since 1999. This watch was part of a limited edition run of just 200 pieces from back in 2017.  If this is a little too understated for your taste, you can also look into the blinged out AP Royal Oak QEII Cup 2017 Ref. 15453IP; that watch featured 40 diamonds adorning the bezel and indices. While the example before us now seems somewhat plain by comparison, closer inspection reveals otherwise. 

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The QEII Cup 2017 is a self winding Royal Oak made from titanium and platinum. At 41mm in diameter and 9.8mm thick, it sits comfortably on the wrist. The bezel and center links are 950 platinum while the case itself is titanium, providing a delicate visual contrast that is as rich as it is subtle. It features a glare-proof sapphire crystal and case back.  The other expected body elements of a Royal Oak are also present in this watch. The integrated bracelet, hooded lugs, and 8 white gold hexagonal screws are all present. (Side note: am I the only one who never fails to be amazed at how perfectly lined up the screws on the bezel of a Royal Oak always are? I digress.) The screwed-down hexagonal winding crown is there too, of course, rounding out the conventional Royal Oak style cues. 

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The dial is arguably the star of the show. The beautiful rhodium-toned color and classic Grande Tapisserie pattern offer a lovely backdrop to the thin, minimalistic white gold applied hour markers with luminescent coating. The bracelet and AP folding clasp are both titanium, as well. The dial bears the Audemars Piguet signature beneath 12 o’clock and “AUTOMATIC” above 6 o’clock, referring to the watch’s self-winding calibre. There is a date window at 3 o’clock. 

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On the reverse side of the watch, through the sapphire exhibition case back, we can see the caliber 3120 movement. It’s rhodium plated with fausses côtes embellishments. This legendary in-house calibre features 40 jewels and beats at a frequency of 21,600 VPH. The movement allows for stop seconds and an instantaneous jumping date display; setting the watch is a breeze. It consists of 278 individual parts and boasts a power reserve of 60 hours. While that last detail certainly isn’t unheard of for a watch of this quality, it achieves that 60 hour power reserve in a clever way. Rather than relying on two barrels, its movement features an optimized power-decline curve made possible by a modified mainspring, changes in the barrel, and the transmission ratio of the gear train. 

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Setting the engineering aside, the exposed movement is just gorgeous. Particularly striking is the large 22k yellow gold rotor featuring the coat of arms illustration and AP logo. The back of the case is marked ROYAL OAK QE II 2017 LIMITED EDITION along with the serial number and TITANE PT 950, a reference to the metals used to make the watch. 

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As I mentioned briefly, this watch is named the Royal Oak QEII Cup 2017 after the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. This competition is a horse race held in Great Britain at the famous Ascot Racecourse every October. It dates back to 1955. As a longtime sponsor of the event, it’s hardly a surprise that AP would want to release a limited edition run of watches celebrating the race. In fact, a year later saw the release of the Royal Oak Offshore QEII Cup 2018.

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 I do think it makes an interesting and subtle statement, though. Think for a moment of how many watches have been produced to honor brand relationships with automotive races like Le Mans or yacht races. This watch’s association with a horse race almost makes the others feel a little uncouth by comparison. 

Ultimately, this watch speaks well to the ethos of Audemars Piguet, and especially the Royal Oak. The brand, and the watch, are somehow both iconoclastic and deeply traditional. As we’ve discussed here on the Collective before, there is something about the Royal Oak’s “port hole” design that will always seem edgy and modern, even all these decades after its initial release. And yet, the legacy of Audemars Piguet as a manufacture is centuries old, and their commitment to the tradition of fine mechanical watch making remains unchanged. With these things in mind, I find it fitting that AP chose the Royal Oak, specifically, to celebrate their connection to the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. The juxtaposition of modernity and old world sophistication sums up everything that is great about Audemars Piguet. Strap the Royal Oak QEII Cup 2017 on your wrist and you’re saying the same thing about yourself via association. Pretty damn cool, if you ask me. 

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