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Feature: Audemars Piguet’s Incredible Concept Watches

When the first Richard Mille was just a twinkle in the eye of its creator and Hublot was a callow teenager figuring out its place in the world, Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak had already established itself as the ultimate luxury ‘alpha’ watch.

And then its sibling, the Offshore, hit the scene. Even beefier than the original Royal Oak, coming in an array of colour schemes and exuding sporty sophistication, it became a staple of A-list rappers and elite athletes with wrists of gargantuan girth.

Newcomer Richard Mille—launched in 2000 with assistance from Audemars Piguet—and Hublot, under the guidance of Jean Claude Biver, then stole some of its thunder with designs that were bigger and brasher still.

So when it came to taking the Royal Oak aesthetic in a fresh direction to commemorate the watch’s 30th anniversary back in 2002, what was AP to do but flex its muscles even more and reclaim its alpha throne. It did this with its experimental Concept watches…

A Platform For Creativity

Audemars Piguet’s Concept series, which they describe as a ‘platform for creativity’, saw the brand embrace 21st-century haute horlogerie by using a range of technical materials, high-tech designs—that retain the essence of the Royal Oak, of course—and ultra-modern movements.

But apart from the above, what other characteristics define the Concept range?

A Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon GMT released in 2020

A Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon GMT released in 2020

Instead of the steel of the Royal Oak, which, lest we forget, was revolutionary at the time of its launch in that it was a highly unorthodox material for a luxury watch, Concept watches use mostly lightweight titanium cases with ceramic bezels and pushers. The shape of the original case is both exaggerated and contoured, with the lugs flowing seamlessly onto the integrated strap.

All in all, the appearance is more streamlined and futuristic, with skeletonised or part -skeletonised dials. The open casebacks, meanwhile, reveal movements with components that also make use of titanium and ceramic.

High And Mighty

They’re also much bigger. Most Royal Oak and Offshore cases measure between 37mm and 42mm. The Concept watches usually come in at 44mm with a case height of up to 16.1mm, towering over the vertically challenged Royal Oaks.

Frankly, these are watches for those of heavyweight boxer dimensions—which is just as well as it’s only people with Tyson Fury’s kind of earnings who can afford them.

 A Concept Tourbillon Chronograph released in 2017

A Concept Tourbillon Chronograph released in 2017

Prices for the Concept watches are often ‘on request’—presumably to stop you getting a heart-attack. But in 2014 the Tourbillon Concept GMT—nicknamed the ‘Stormtrooper’ due to its monochrome colour scheme—was on sale for $214,200 while a Black Panther Flying Tourbillon released earlier this year in collaboration with Marvel, was priced at around $170,000.

Concepts And Complications

Undoubtedly the Concept watches bring out the very best in Audemars Piguet. The brand is, after all, one of the so-called Holy Trinity of the watch industry, together with Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin. They have a formidable reputation to upkeep, and that means producing watches with the most technically accomplished complications.

These include everything from GMT features to flying tourbillons, but one of its most celebrated one-off models is the Concept RD#1 Minute Repeater Tourbillon Chronograph, the loudest chiming watch ever created, which can be heard clearly at up to 15 metres away.

The brand spent eight years perfecting the watch in their Acoustic Lab, dedicated to producing sublime horological sounds. And it’s a continuation of a long-standing tradition.

Amusingly for a brand known for its hefty cases, it holds the record for the world’s smallest minute-repeater wristwatch from way back in 1912. Also, at one point in the 19th century, 75 per cent of Audemars Piguet’s watches were minute repeaters.

It doesn’t scrimp on the tricky, ornamental stuff either. In the Concept Black Panther Flying Tourbillon watch, the dial is dominated by a sculptural Black Panther character, beautifully carved from white gold.

This Black Panther-themed Concept watch was a collaboration with Marvel

This Black Panther-themed Concept watch was a collaboration with Marvel

This stunning bit of detail is carried out by a single craftsperson who takes the figure's laser-cut form and hand-engraves it before an artist paints the metal, bringing out its three-dimensionality with lighting effects. The whole process takes around 30 hours and requires a team of eight to create these figures for a limited run of 250 watches.

Retaining The Cutting Edge

Of course, you may be thinking that all these futuristic designs and unorthodox materials may not seem very cutting-edge nowadays, especially with the likes of the rather outré MB&F and Greubel Forsey on the scene.

But remember that Audemars Piguet launched its Concept watch back when these brands didn’t even exist. Watches in 2002 were stuck in the aesthetic doldrums with very few risks taking place within the longest established watch maisons, who usually adhered to convention.

In creating its Concept range, Audemars Piguet was, in a way, picking up the baton once carried by legendary Royal Oak designer Gerald Genta when he stunned the industry with a ground-breaking and hugely expensive steel sports watch.

Audemars Piguet’s reputation for setting trends not following them remains, for now at least, intact.

Looking for a pre-owned Audemars Piguet watch? Click here to shop now

Looking for pre-owned Audemars Piguet finance? Click here to shop now