January 20, 2015
by James Lamdin
The release of Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak in a two-tone configuration is as forward looking as it is retro. While the big story at SIHH 2015 out of the AP camp is the acoustically exceptional RD1, it was a subtle makeover of the already impressive Royal Oak Reference 15400 that really snagged my attention. The 15400, a 41mm model in the Royal Oak line, has become the go-to for all lovers of classic Royal Oak design language who desire a model with a third (seconds) hand, replacing its predecessor, the 15300, in 2012. Unlike the 15300 – and really, unlike any Royal Oak since the 1990s, the latest variant of the 15400 is being offered in a two-tone design, formally unveiled today in Geneva.
Two-tone watches have historically come with a certain stigma attached: just think about those hoards of old Datejusts on loosey-goosey bracelets dangling from the wrists of retirees in Florida rest homes! Audemars Piguet is taking a gamble by releasing a two-tone model in their core sports luxury collection, which is generally targeting a younger (read: not geriatric) demographic. This is a bold move for AP, and one that, in my opinion, reflects a larger movement at play within the industry. More on that later. For now, on to the basics:
The new Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Two-Tone (Reference 15400SR.00.1229SR.01) is based in the same angular 41mm Royal Oak case as its steel brethren. It has an overall thickness of 9.8mm. As noted above, the case material is steel and gold, but unlike some earlier two-tone Royal Oak models, this one utilizes pink gold in lieu of yellow on the crown, bracelet center links, and characteristic “porthole” bezel. The white dial features the traditional Grand Tapisserie patterning associated with the Royal Oak model since its inception, as well as pink gold hour hour markers and hands. The watch is currently only offered with a traditional integrated bracelet, not a leather strap.
The movement is AP’s Calibre 3120 self-winding automatic, with a frequency of 3hz and a power reserve of 60 hours. This calibre is built entirely in-house and is very much a workhorse for their Royal Oak collection, powering three-hand models with center seconds and an instantaneously jumping date function, displayed here, as on other 15400 models, at the three o’clock position.
Since the Reference 15400 Audemars Piguet Royal Oak isn’t new, and has been covered in-depth previously, the question of this model’s wearability comes down entirely to the aesthetics of the two-tone layout. As I mentioned earlier, two-tone watches have a stigma attached to them, and Audemars Piguet’s gamble in bringing one back to their most recognizable collection is worthy of note.
There is no question that for some, two-tone is not an option they feel is worthy of consideration. But there are those (myself included), who would consider a two-tone model if it comes together nicely. This is one of those times.
Like yellow, pink gold doesn’t work in combination with every dial, with every case design, or with every type of matched apparel. So much is dependent on the overall package, and in this case, its paired material. While I am a fan of the concept of two-tone watches in general, I am certainly not a universal fan, and I can think of more poorly executed two-tone timepieces than ones I would go out and buy to wear. But those I do appreciate I truly love, so much so that I bought myself one recently (a 1969 Reference 1625 Rolex Turn-O-Graph on Jubilee).
While the Rolex wears a little bit more like fashion jewelry and its appeal draws equally from the unique quirky nature of the Turn-O-Graph (“Thunderbird”) bezel as its two-tone construction, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Two-Tone makes a much more definitive statement on the wrist. That statement has something of an attitude, and goes something like, “Yeah, I’m a two-tone fucking Royal Oak, deal with it.” In other words, this is not your grandfather’s retirement-gift Datejust.
WHY THIS MATTERS
As stated above, this is not the first time Audemars Piguet has added a dash of gold to the flanks of its traditionally steel Royal Oak flagship. Going all the way back to the original Reference 5402, AP has experimented with two-tone models, first in the 1970s and then again on their Tantalum models in the 1990s. So what’s the big to-do?
Ultimately it all comes down to timing. The watchmaking industry is coming off a 15-Year high of jumbo-sized sports watches dominating the consumer market, clad for the most part entirely in steel. While many brands and consumers wish this trend wasn’t ending, the reality is that collectors are becoming more savvy and sophisticate as a whole, and fashion trends are pushing back to smaller, thinner designs and precious metal casing. We have seen this unfolding in the past few years as precious metals become more widely used on sporting timepieces, and overall dimensions of core-line models seem to be shrinking.
What strikes me about this new Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Two-Tone release is that the Royal Oak is now once again leading the market’s change. It was the original Royal Oak that created an entire market segment (Sports Luxury) in 1972. It was the Royal Oak that arguably kicked off the giant sports watch craze in the early 90s with the release of the Offshore collection. And it was that very collection that began to literally downsize the trend with last year’s re-release of their 42mm Offshore line, starting what I believe is a reality check and shift towards sensibly sized (and more delicately ornamented) timepieces in the luxury market.
By re-introducing a two-tone model into their lineup, Audemars Piguet is proving their willingness again to be a leader of change. Despite the inherent associations of the configuration, they have gambled that the market will shift and that trends will cycle to re-embrace the type of cool that has been long out of vogue. Time will be the great decider of course, but I’m willing to bet that they are right.
It might not be fashionable quite yet – hell, I’ll bet there’s a fair amount of you reading this right now that doubt it ever will be. Well, I was once one of those guys, and whether its maturation of taste or simply getting old, my stance has about-faced. I think two-tone is coming back to the timepiece market as part of this shift of values, and I think Audemars Piguet is taking point. When done well, two-tone can be a thing of beauty. And of balls. And AP has more balls than most. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Two-Tone 15400 is priced at $25,600. audemarspiguet.com