The Royal Oak Concept is a playfield for Audemars Piguet. The brand from Le Brassus uses this watch for their most complicated and most innovative movements. They recently introduced their own interpretation of what could be the best minute repeater; Royal Oak Concept RD1 Acoustic Research Minute Repeater. Now it’s time to move to another complication, the chronograph – and the watch they now introduce could possibly be the ultimate racing chronograph. Here is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Laptimer Michael Schumacher.
Before we start to explain this watch, and in order to prevent any bad comments, we want to make clear that, even considering the actual condition of Michael Schumacher, this watch had been developed together with him before his accident and is now launched with the agreement of the family. We’re not going to discuss about this here but we’ll only focus on this impressive piece of horology.
In 2010, Audemars Piguet teamed up with F1 legend Michael Schumacher. This partnership resulted first in the Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph Michael Schumacher, a 2012 limited edition he helped to design. However, this partnership was not only based on bringing new colours or new materials to an existing watch. It also lead to something deeper. In late 2010, Michael Schumacher posed an apparently simple question to the engineers at Audemars Piguet: would it be possible to create a mechanical watch designed specifically for use in motorsport which would make it possible to measure and record an extended series of consecutive lap times?
Technical lesson about the chronograph
The goal was to develop a watch that could be used from the track side (and not inside a car) in order to time consecutive laps. This could seem apparently simple, however this question is in fact much more complicated than expected. Usually, people on track side are timing laps with a bank of two or more stop watches arranged in series. While a first one is stopped to record the elapsed time of a car around a track, a second stop watch is launched to time the next lap. However, how to do it with a single watch?
By using a split second chronograph maybe? In fact, this solution wouldn’t work either. A split second chronograph (or rattrapante in French) has a series of two second hands (and even two minutes hands on some watches, like the Lange & Sohne Double Split). It allows its user to calculate intermediate times. When starting the chronograph, the two second hands are moving simultaneously (one on top of the other). Then, the wearer can stop one of the two second hands while the other one continues its way. While pressing another pusher, the second hand that was stopped catches up with the other second hand and they continue to run together. Thus, a split second chronograph allows to read some intermediate times but not to time consecutive laps. For that, you’ll need to stop, reset and start again the chronograph (something that costs to much time when having to push several buttons).
Timing a sequence of laps can however be done in a wink with a flyback chronograph, on which you just need to press a single pusher to stop, reset and start again the chronograph. However, except if you’re a superhero, you won’t be able to read the exact elapsed time of a lap. You’d be able to time approximately several laps in a row but you won’t have a precise view on the lap times.
So what could be the solution? What you want is a watch that is chronograph with a memory, and a flyback function. You need a watch where you can start the chronograph, then stop it, reset it instantaneously while a mechanism allows you to keep your previous measured laptime while a new timing session is running. This is exactly what the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Laptimer Michael Schumacher does. However, we can tell that it requires quite a complicated mechanism.
How does the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Laptimer Michael Schumacher work?
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Laptimer Michael Schumacher is in fact a single chronograph driving two second hands which can be controlled independently via three pushers. Two of these pushers are traditional for a chronograph: the first one, at the 2 o’clock position, is used to start and pause the chronograph while the second one at 4 is used to reset the chronograph to zero. However, there is a third one located on the other side of the case, at 9. This is the one that makes this watch so particular.
Let us explain the technically complex but in fact handy lap timer sequence, composed of 3 steps:
- Step 1: starting the chronograph with the pusher at 2 – the two second hands starts to run (both on the central axis and running one on top of the other one)
- Step 2: pressing the pusher at 9 – it will stop one of the two simultaneously running hands, instantaneously reset the other one and start a new timing session
- Step 3: take your time and quietly read the duration of the lap you just timed while another timing session is running. As one of the two second hand is stopped and remains inactive on the dial, it keeps in memory the elapsed time you just measured. Voila!
What we have here is a mix between a split second chronograph and a flyback chronograph with an extra memory mechanism (also note that this watch can be used as a standard flyback chronograph with both hands running together in parallel). The most impressive with this Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Laptimer Michael Schumacher remains the simplicity of use, as only one pusher is required to do everything. However, achieving such a level of simplicity requires an extremely complicated movement, a chronograph calibre that features no less than 3 column wheels.
The first column wheel at 6 is classical and controls the chronograph sequence (start, pause, reset). Two other (one on top of the other), located at 12, control the lap time sequence, a bit like a split second chronograph. This Calibre 2923 developed by APRP (Audemars Piguet Renaud Papi, the manufacture of Haute Horlogerie of AP) is truly a masterpiece. It is composed of 413 parts and measures 34.6mm x 12.7mm (making it quite a huge engine). It features two mainspring barrels in parallel that provide 80 hours of autonomy. A new oscillating wheel coupling mechanism has been developed for jerk-free action when the chronograph is stopped or started.
The look and finish of this engine is truly modern (like most of the movements created by APRP). It comes with a main plate and a central bridge blackened and circular grained, a blackened titanium upper-bridge, a blackened balance-wheel bridge, black polished steel column-wheels, linear-grained and sandblasted steel levers, linear-grained steel springs and bevelled and linear-grained bridges – a modern design and modern materials together with traditional high-end finishing.
Design of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Laptimer Michael Schumacher
The Laptimer Michael Schumacher comes in the usual Royal Oak Concept style. Audemars Piguet used this shape several times in the collection for extremely complicated timepieces, more meant to be concepts or technical showcases (like the Royal Oak Concept RD1 Acoustic Research Minute Repeater) than watches made to be used on a daily basis. However, AP doesn’t renounce to the concept of a sports watch as most of them are usually very robust and solid timepieces. The 44mm case is composed of several parts. The central part of the case is made from forged carbon while the iconic octagonal bezel, the case-bands and the caseback are made from titanium. The pushers are made of black ceramic and pink gold.
The open-worked dial is based on several modernly-shaped bridges that partially reveal technical elements, like for example the column wheel at 12. This dial features the hours, minutes and twin second hands on the central axis, a 30-minute counter at 3 and a running second at 9 (more a decorative feature than a proper indicator as no track or sub-dial comes with this small second).
Several references to the F1 legend Michael Schumacher can be found, like seven stars marked on the left side of the case in honour of Michael Schumacher’s seven F1 World Championship titles or the ‘MS’ monogram on the Laptimer pusher at 9 and on the caseback. This impressive timepiece comes on a rubber strap with folding buckle in titanium.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Laptimer Michael Schumacher will be available in a limited edition of 221 pieces – in recognition of the number of F1 world championship point-winning races in which Michael Schumacher competed during his career. It will retail for USD 229.500. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of each watch will be given to the ICM: Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle Epinière.
More details on the dedicated website.