Review: Jules Audemars Extra-Thin
Say ‘Audemars Piguet’ and the first thing that comes to mind is the Royal Oak—or if you own a pair of faded jeans, the Royal Oak Offshore. As is well-documented, the Royal Oak was Audemars Piguet’s final lifeline, its saviour from the onslaught of cheap Japanese watches in the early 1970s. Fairly or unfairly, it has become the brand’s flagship piece, an iconic design penned by an iconic designer for the iconic watchmaker.
This dress watch continues the tradition for ultra-thin movements where the Royal Oak left off
And that’s fine. Excellent in fact, because without the Royal Oak we’d have no Audemars Piguet. It’s hard to imagine such a prominent industry figurehead being nothing more than a paragraph in a history book (think other legendary-but-no-more watchmakers like Universal Genève and Minerva . . . remember them? Exactly), so it pays to dig a little deeper into the brand and appreciate its legacy in full. That’s where the Jules Audemars Extra-Thin comes in.
BRO (Before Royal Oak), one of Audemars Piguet’s pet projects was the ultra-thin movement, namely in response to competitor Jaeger-LeCoultre’s attempts to do the same. In 1907, Jaeger-LeCoultre gave us a pocket watch movement 1.38mm thick, to which Audemars Piguet responded with a movement a hair thinner at 1.32mm. This tit-for-tat continued for nigh on half a century, until the two watchmaking giants decided to pool their resources in the co-development of the caliber 2003. Just over a decade later, Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe joined this watchmaking supergroup and the ultra-thin automatic calibres 2120 and 2121 were born.
The former half of this pairing is honoured by the Jules Audemars Extra-Thin in rose gold
The 2121 (the 2120 with a date complication), powered the first Royal Oak, giving it that famous slender profile which has since been lost in the chunky Royal Oak Offshore. Where the Royal Oak left off, this Jules Audemars dress watch continues the tradition for ultra-thin movements, and does so with an elegance that was once the mainstay of Audemars Piguet timepieces. At just 6.7mm thick in total, the Jules Audemars can disappear under even the best-fitting cuff, despite its very modern 41mm diameter. The case, the dial, the hands and the markers are all very conservative, as would be expected of a design with its roots firmly in pre-quartz revolution times. Containing the calibre 2120, there’s no date to clutter the dial, its black and rose gold hue distracted by little more than the brand name and the obligatory ‘Swiss Made’ stamp. It is the antithesis of the Royal Oak Offshore.
A historical movement, developed with Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Patek Philippe
The watch is stunning of course, but really we’re here for that classic calibre 2120—it’s like a museum piece, but you get to wear it. Audemars Piguet is well aware of how important the calibre 2120 is, as its designers have kindly included a sapphire caseback through which to view it, and that single detail elevates the Jules Audemars to ‘must own’ status. You might be thinking, ‘So the movement is thin, but is it really that special?’ Yes, you heathen, yes it is. Here’s why:
As you can imagine, a movement built with the input of the four greatest watchmakers in the world is going to be something special, and the reality exceeds expectations. Completely hand finished using traditional methods, the 2120 has a visual appeal on par with the very best—but the beauty is more than skin deep. The 21-carat rotor, for example, rides on ruby rollers along a beryllium-bronze ring to reduce load for a smoother, quieter spin. And the winding mechanism itself, that has been designed to disengage the rotor during hand winding to prolong reliability. All that in a space just 2.45mm thick, making it one of the thinnest automatic movements ever made.
There’s no doubt that the Royal Oak is a big deal for Audemars Piguet; after all, it owes that unusual-looking watch its life. But that doesn’t mean we have to ignore what made Audemars Piguet great in the first place, and the purity of the Jules Audemars Extra-Thin lets us appreciate it all the more. It may not have the glitz and glamour of its octagonal sibling, the drama of a near-death experience, but it doesn’t need that. The calibre 2120 brings enough drama of its own.
The ultra thin made its first appearance in date form in the game-changing 1972 Royal Oak
Watch Spec | Audemars Piguet Jules Audemars Extra-Thin
Case | 18kt rose gold Dimensions | 41mm Crystal | Synthetic sapphire Water Resistance | 20m Movement | Calibre 2120, automatic Frequency | 19,800vph Power Reserve | 40 hours Strap | Leather Functions | Time RRP | £19,000