Even among all the Royal Oaks and haute horology presented by Audemars Piguet for SIHH 2018, one could hardly overlook something as strange, bold, and exotic as the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon GMT. This is not one that grabs headlines for groundbreaking technology or radically new design for the brand in 2018, but it does introduce Audemars Piguet’s first flying tourbillon as well as some design updates, and it is the latest in a collection that is inherently polarizing and interesting.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept has been around since 2002 and has been the canvas for some of the brand’s most avant-garde, futuristic-looking haute horology creations. It seemed to take the idea of the Royal Oak Offshore to an even more “xtreme” and “xperimental” place. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Tourbillon GMT came out in 2011 and introduced the basic form that we see continued here. More background: the flying tourbillon was invented in Germany in 1920. A flying tourbillon, just to remind you, is a tourbillon that is suspended from underneath resulting in both a view of it unobstructed by bridges, as well as creating a kind of floating effect. It is also one way to make a tourbillon even more delicate, complicated, and expensive.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon GMT actually shares the designation as AP’s first flying tourbillon watch with another movement found in the diamond-decked Royal Oak Concept Ladies’ Flying Tourbillon that was introduced concurrently for 2018. In addition to the tourbillon there are some other notable changes in the design and materials for this latest version. Previous Royal Oak Concept watches have used a lot of ceramic and other exotic materials in the movement such as carbon fiber – see our hands-on with the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept GMT Tourbillon with white ceramic here.
Visible on the watch’s dial side, black sandblasted titanium was chosen this time for the central bridges, with polished and gold-toned facets – which is a cool touch, in my opinion. One can also see glimpses of Audemars Piguet’s (in-house, of course) 2954 movement through openings between the various indications. Besides the time and the tourbillon at 9 o’clock, there is the second time zone indicated via a disc at 3 o’clock with an aperture that kind of looks like one of those wide date displays that have, thankfully, mostly gone out of fashion. Partially revealed under smoked glass is the part of the disc not currently displaying the time.
It may not be readily apparent what the “H, N, R” at 6 o’clock is for, but it simply indicates the crown setting. H is for the French heures (hours) where you can set the time, N is for neutre (neutral) when the crown is pushed all the way in, and R is for remontoir (winder) where you can wind the movement. In previous Royal Oak Concept Tourbillon GMT watches, this was indicated by a hand. New for this watch is a disc indication that is a bit more elegantly integrated into the rest of the design. This will be simple for the user but obscure for the onlooker who will be presented with an impression of something that just looks generally technical and complicated.
The octagonally faceted bezel (still in ceramic) with its eight miraculously aligned screws most obviously ties the otherwise pretty distinctive Concept family to the broader Royal Oak collection. The case, on the other hand, is radically different from anything else at AP. Here, it is in sandblasted titanium. Its geometric facets – echoed in the bridges and other elements – remind me of a video mapping loop, an 8-bit mountain range, Kryton from the sci-fi britcom Red Dwarf, or perhaps a Linde Werdelin Octopus watch – all fine watch design inspirations. It is 44mm wide, 16.1mm thick, and 100m water-resistant with a screw-down crown. The case is quite long, however, with a rubber strap that juts out from the lugs, so wrists that can otherwise accommodate a 44mm watch should beware of potential overhang.
Also new for the GMT/tourbillon Royal Oak Concept watches is the crown guard that incorporates the pusher at 4 o’clock – now changed up to be angular instead of round. That pusher advances the second time zone’s disc by an hour. As a pedantic aside, I believe that in the most strict sense, watches denoted as “GMT” are “supposed to” display the second time zone in 24 hours, whereas this second time zone disc shows 12 hours.
While the flying tourbillon provides plenty of dazzle and mechanical fascination on the dial side, it is not visible from the back of the watch. Here, you can see skeletonized bridges with mostly brushed and sandblasted finishing and more of the movement. One can also more clearly see the two barrels and their mainsprings that provide a grand 237 hours (about 10 days) of power reserve. Made of 348 parts and operating at 3Hz, the manually-wound Audemars Piguet calibre 2954 is “new” with its flying tourbillon but shares a lot in common with previous Royal Oak Concept Tourbillon GMT watches, including the same frequency and power reserve – so it is more of an evolution than something totally new. Its bridge design is different, however, and I believe that other changes include the way the crown position indicator functions more simply as a disc.
The tourbillon craze has died down to some degree along with the horological extravagance that was prominent a few years ago, and more brands are recently focusing on mainstream and entry-level pieces, value, and lowering prices. So why make a flying tourbillon now? To stay competitive in the realm of ultra-luxury sport-style watches like those from Hublot, Richard Mille, and Roger Dubuis, maybe collectors need to be reminded that the Royal Oak Concept can still be fresh and continue to further evolve. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon GMT watch (ref. 26589IO.OO.D002CA.01) has a price of $170,000. audemarspiguet.com