The collaboration between Audemars Piguet and American designer Matthew Williams’ label 1017 ALYX 9SM seems poised to gain collectible — shall we say grail — status with its target audience. Who that is and, more importantly, what its implications may be to Audemars Piguet are the complicated questions that lie behind a more or less minimalistic take on the Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore.

As a child of the late ’80s, I’ve been finding shocking new telltale signs of growing older.  Not innately understanding what the youth are doing is one example, and this comes courtesy of the new Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 1017 ALYX 9SM watches.

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To continue on this personal note, I don’t even know how to read or say 1017 ALYX 9SM and, consequently, I have to plead ignorance to knowing what it means — but I’m sure the target audience knows all there is to know. And who is that audience? A picture says a thousand words and, thankfully, Audemars Piguet and 1017 ALYX 9SM helped explain it with this telling picture just above. It is the sort of person who wears a body-tight, white-mesh long sleeve, sits in cheap plastic garden furniture with a solid-gold watch on the wrist, has an analog picture taken of the act, has that photo developed on paper, and then takes a digital photo of that analog photo. That is what you are looking at just above, and if it resonates with you, the new Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 1017 ALYX 9SM Matthew Williams designer watches might, too.

The Royal Oak is one of the most powerful designs in the entire history of horology, one that has carried Audemars Piguet as a brand on its shoulders while all other collections — Millenary, Edward Piguet, Jules Audemars — have died off its side, the Code 11.59 having yet to prove it can snatch some of the limelight from this 1972 classic. In its own right, the Royal Oak Offshore has become an absolute rockstar among watches: It successfully preceded the big-watch trend by becoming the big, bulky, and brash sibling of the slim Royal Oak. Although immensely heavy and somewhat ungainly when rendered in anything denser than titanium, it is one bewitchingly cool object irrespective of the metal it is made from.

Five new watches make up the Audemars Piguet 1017 ALYX 9SM collaboration: The Audemars Piguet 1017 ALYX 9SM Royal Oak Selfwinding 37mm (15550BA.OO.1356BA.02) comes in 18k yellow gold, the 1017 ALYX 9SM Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph 41mm (26240BA.OO.1320BA.01) adds a chronograph and four millimeters to the mix, as well as the 1017 ALYX 9SM Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Chronograph 42mm in either 18k white gold (26238BC.OO.2000BC.01) or 18k yellow gold (26238BA.OO.2000BA.01).

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The fifth watch is the unique 1017 ALYX 9SM Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph 41mm (26240SA.OO.1320SA.01), rendered in a two-tone combination of stainless steel and 18k yellow gold with a caseback engraved “Unique Piece.” This watch will be auctioned off during the launch party of the collaboration between Audemars Piguet and 1017 ALYX 9SM on August 24 in Tokyo. The funds raised will be donated to projects aimed at supporting play-based learning initiatives to benefit children, notably through the actions of the NGOs Kids in Motion and Right to Play.

All watches feature the latest-generation Audemars Piguet movements, the Royal Oak Selfwinding 37mm sports Calibre 5909, a barely 4mm thick movement with 4Hz frequency and 60 hours of power reserve, the Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph 41mm is powered by Calibre 4409, a chronograph that ditched the date display but adds a flyback function combined with a vertical clutch and column wheel, as befits a modern chronograph movement. It runs for 70 hours at a frequency of 4Hz. The Royal Oak Offshore models are equipped with Calibre 4404 offering the same functions as 4409 with the addition of a date and 1.1mm of extra thickness.

Anyone who’s ever worn a watch fitted with a solid-gold bracelet and case will never forget the weight that is inseparable from such a lavish and luxurious exterior, and it’s worth knowing that the Royal Oak, and especially the Royal Oak Offshore, are on the hefty end of what is already the heavyweight league of luxury watches. The good news is that the Royal Oak Selfwinding 37mm is just 9.1mm thick all cased up, making for an impressively thin and wearable watch even in all-gold. The 41mm wide chronograph version is 12.4mm thick — a hair thicker than a Rolex Daytona in gold — while the real heavy-hitters are the gargantuan Royal Oak Offshore 42mm pieces at 15.2 mm thick. The upside of these is that even if you are a featherweight sitting on plastic garden furniture, strong gusts of air will be considerably less likely to blow you away.

It is true that no brand in recent memory has claimed the image of “buy our watch if you feel inclined to have it dangling next to a bunch of cheap keys on a keyring” but what is also true is that Patek Philippe’s wilfully old black-and-white “you never actually own a Patek Philippe” campaign will continue to struggle to gain traction with a younger audience. Bonkers collaborations have worked extremely well for Hublot as has bonkers advertising for that LVMH-owned competitor and a number of others in this segment, so it’s no wonder that Audemars Piguet has followed suit. Furthermore, to be fair to Audemars Piguet, reaching a younger demographic is an immense challenge for an industry that reeks of antiquity and conservatism like few others do — and reaching it successfully without alienating those customers who have felt right at home in this old-fashioned environment is nothing short of art. Whether or not Audemars Piguet is on the right track, we’ll let everyone judge for themselves.

The same could be said about something as subjective as a design, but it could be argued that Matthew Williams and 1017 ALYX 9SM have shown a gentle but confident approach to the Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore with this minimalist dial combined with an otherwise largely unchanged aesthetic, making it recognizably their own without turning it all upside-down and inside-out.

The Audemars Piguet 1017 ALYX 9SM Royal Oak Selfwinding 37mm (15550BA.OO.1356BA.02) costs 61,000 Swiss francs. All prices exclude taxes. The Audemars Piguet 1017 ALYX 9SM Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph 41mm (26240BA.OO.1320BA.01) costs 75,000 Swiss francs. The Audemars Piguet 1017 ALYX 9SM Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Chronograph 42mm (26238BC.OO.2000BC.01 in white gold, 26238BA.OO.2000BA.01 in yellow gold) costs 92,500 Swiss francs. The unique two-tone Audemars Piguet 1017 ALYX 9SM Royal Oak Selfwinding 41mm (26240SA.OO.1320SA.01) will be auctioned off for charity. You can learn more at the brand’s website.

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