The new Audemars Piguet Millenary Frosted Gold Philosophique challenges the conventional way of reading time with just one hand for the hours and minutes. Clearly not a watch for people obsessed with chronometer-grade precision, time is meant to be read approximately, give or take a few minutes here and there. Original and bristling with unusual textures and finishes, the Millenary Philosophique sports a new automatic movement and comes in two versions: 18k pink gold with a brown dial and 18k white gold with a blue dial. Let’s have a look at this unusual and poetical timepiece.
The distinguishing feature of Audemars Piguet’s Millenary collection is its oval-shaped case. Introduced in 1995, it originally catered for men and women alike but since 2015 only features women’s models in the line-up. With its generous case size of 39.5mm, the Millenary has become something of a showcase for creativity, artisanal skills and unconventional, off-centred dials often exposing parts of the mechanical movement, just like this version.
The most fascinating aspect of the Philosophique is watching how the single hand glides around the dial.
The Philosophique single-hand watch is not new to Audemars Piguet. In fact, the first single-hand Philosophique model appeared in 1982, a hand-wound statement watch that flew in the face of the ultra-precision quartz watches decimating the market for mechanical watches at that time. The original Philosophique watch in turn referenced single-hand pocket watches from the past and wanted wearers to ‘philosophise’ about the notion of passing time. Who cares, after all, if you are one minute off?
Like MeisterSinger’s single-hand watches, time is read ‘approximately’ (notice how there is not even a minute track between the applied hour markers). If the hand is smack between 6 and 7 o’clock, for example, it is 6:30, if it is closer to the 6 o’clock marker it could be 5 or 10 minutes past the hour.
However, the most fascinating aspect of the Millenary Frosted Gold Philosophique is watching how the single hand glides around the dial. Something unusual is happening. Instead of being fixed smack in the centre of the dial as convention would dictate, the hand is attached to the periphery of a central rotating disc. As the hand completes its clockwise motion around the dial, the disc supporting it rotates in an anticlockwise direction creating a curious visual effect. But there is more: thanks to a patented mechanism, the hand traces an elliptical trajectory around the dial to match the elliptical shape of the case. Take a look at the video at the beginning of this article to see how the hand moves over the dial.
The oval-shaped case of the Millenary Frosted Gold Philosophique has an organic and intrinsically feminine appeal. Elliptical or egg-shaped cases are not very common but make the occasional appearance in the realm of high-end watchmaking, with examples like Breguet’s Reine de Naples watch – worn vertically though.
Measuring 39.5mm in diameter with a height of 10.9mm, the frosted finish of the gold cases is absolutely stunning. Decorated with glistening frosted areas and contrasting hand-polished bevels, the case borrows a technique introduced to the brand by the Florentine jeweller Carolina Bucci (the Millenary Opal model also features this finish). To celebrate the Royal Oak’s 40th birthday in 2016, Audemars Piguet enlisted Carolina Bucci to design a new gold habillage for the watch. Inspired by an artisanal Florentine gold hammering technique, which Bucci uses on her larger jewellery pieces, the case and bracelet of the Royal Oak were hammered to create a glistening frosty surface, as though the watch had just been taken out of the freezer.
Using a diamond-tipped tool, tiny indentations are hammered (drilled, if you want to be technically correct) into the surface creating a special sparkle and an interesting slightly sandy texture. Far from being limited to women’s watches, various men’s 41mm Royal Oak models are decked out with this frosted finish. Apart from its eye-catching texture, the beauty of this hammered finish is that it is scratch-resistant. Both models have a cabochon set in the crown, blue sapphire for the blue model and a translucent one for the brown watch.
The dials, in blue or brown, also have an intriguing aspect with irregular dimples or grooves that are hammered on the surface by hand. A bit like the uneven indentations you can see in Stone Age tools, the unusual handmade dial and frosted case add an organic, human touch that is so often missing in watches. The single hand is also crafted in gold to match the case and one of its facets is polished while the other is frosted, just like the finishes on the case. In certain light conditions, the polished facet of the hand actually disappears.
Joining the line-up of hand-wound models, the new Millenary Frosted Gold Philosophique comes with an in-house automatic movement, calibre 3140, a variant of the calibre 3120 used extensively at Audemars Piguet but with additional (and patented) gearing for the elliptical trajectory of the single hand. Unlike the oval-shaped hand-wound movements of other Millenary models, this automatic calibre is round. A 43 jewel movement composed of 234 parts the frequency of the balance wheel is 21,600vph/3Hz and the power reserve is of 50 hours. The display caseback reveals parts of the movement and the golden rotor with a frosted background like the case and engraved Audemars and Piguet family crests filled with either brown or blue lacquer to match the dial.
This is clearly a watch that will generate love or hate reactions. Personally, I love it. It’s different, it’s a little unusual and it is elegant without being ostentatious. It also manages to sparkle like ice without having a single gemstone set in the case (excluding the sapphire cabochon). Coupled with the singular hammered dial, the fact that you can see and feel the hand of the artisan is something I value immensely. Regarding wrist presence, this watch has a lot of that. It is generously proportioned but sits beautifully on the wrist.
What’s the point, some will ask, of having a precise automatic movement below deck when time is not even indicated to the nearest minute, never mind second? I guess the answer is that this is more about aesthetic pleasure and a slightly nonchalant attitude to exactitude, a luxury some lucky women can afford. Perhaps the only thing I don’t like about this watch is the decoration on the rotor – a bit too much ‘heraldic’ trumpeting for my taste.
Both versions of the Audemars Piguet Millenary Frosted Gold Philosophique come with alligator straps; a chocolaty brown for the pink gold and navy blue for the white gold – and both carry a price tag of EUR 30,000. For more information, please consult audemarspiguet.com.