The Royal Oak 50th-anniversary party is not over yet. In January this year, Audemars Piguet feted the half-century of its iconic Royal Oak with a host of celebratory models, including a 41mm Royal Oak Flying Tourbillon powered by a recent calibre developed for the brand’s Code 11.59 collection. What we are seeing today is also a Royal Oak Flying Tourbillon but one that will excite watch purists because it is the first Jumbo in fifty years to be fitted with an ultra-thin flying tourbillon movement. The challenge for AP’s watchmakers and engineers was to accommodate a complication reserved for 41mm ROs inside the smaller 39mm Jumbo case. Given the technical solutions developed by the team to create the new ultra-thin calibre 2968, the Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin 26670ST is catalogued as Audemars Piguet’s third Research & Development project.
The Jumbo is the closest you can get to Gérald Genta’s original stainless steel Royal Oak. Distinguished by its octagonal bezel with eight white gold screws and integrated bracelet, the original 39mm steel case of the Royal Oak was considered massive and was nicknamed “Jumbo”, like the African elephant sold by the London Zoo to Barnum and Bailey circus in 1882. One of the most popular and elusive models on the market today, Audemars Piguet paved the way for the 50th-anniversary Jumbo by killing the reference 15202 in 2021 and introducing the new Royal Oak Jumbo 16202 in January 2022. You can read and watch our video of our enthusiastic reception of the new Jumbo Extra-Thin ref. 16202 and the Extra-Thin Openworked, fitted with a new in-house movement after fifty years of relying on the JLC 920 ébauche, known at AP as calibre 2121.
Jumbo Case and Dial
What is remarkable is that the classic case specifications of the new Jumbo 16202 – 39mm diameter, 8.1mm height and 50m water-resistance – have been retained in the new Royal Oak RD#3. Admittedly, the case is slightly thicker than the 7mm original, but it is fitted with a sapphire caseback. The stainless steel case and bracelet feature signature satin-brushed and gleaming hand-polished finishings.
Like the 1972 forefather, the new Jumbo Tourbillon 26670ST has a Bleu Nuit, Nuage 50 Petite Tapisserie dial. However, the colour is now obtained using a PVD process, ensuring a uniform and lasting tone across all dials. The white gold applied bathtub-shaped hour markers and hands, treated with luminescent coating, are a nod to the original. The Audemars Piguet signature at noon and the minutes track are printed in white, and the flying tourbillon is placed at 6 o’clock.
Five years in the making, AP’s extra-thin automatic flying tourbillon represents a major breakthrough and is catalogued as a research and development timepiece. Known as RD watches, the first RD#1 was the Royal Oak Concept Minute Repeater Supersonnerie prototype of 2015, which materialised in commercial form in 2016. In 2018, AP unveiled its RD#2 concept, a Royal Oak Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin prototype with a 2.89mm movement that made it the world’s thinnest automatic calendar wristwatch of its time, taking home the top prize at the GPHG in 2019. For 2022, AP shows off its latest RD#3 watch powered by the new ultra-thin calibre 2968. Unlike the former RD concept watches, the RD#3 is not a concept watch and has been released in time to celebrate the Royal Oak’s 50th anniversary. As the brand points out, this 39mm Jumbo fitted with the new calibre will be followed in September 2022 by a 37mm version with a different colour on the dial.
New Calibre 2968
The challenges of taking a tourbillon design previously reserved for 41mm watches and fitting it inside the 39mm Jumbo case were addressed with different solutions. A first for the manufacture, the automatic flying tourbillon had to be revisited to reduce its thickness by repositioning specific components. One of the solutions was to equip the titanium tourbillon cage with a peripheral drive. The combination of titanium and a peripheral drive means that the regulating organ is lighter, and the distribution of energy is improved. Visibility was also a key issue; the flying tourbillon is placed at dial level, and the balance wheel arms have been redesigned and positioned to allow a view of the watch’s beating heart.
The caseback reveals the openworked bridges and rotor of the automatic 2968 calibre. The movement is based on the new 7121 calibre fitted inside the automatic Jumbo 16202 with an extended power reserve and a ball-bearing mounted rotor. Composed of 226 components, the movement measures 29.6mm across and has a height of just 3.4mm (just 0.2mm more than the straightforward automatic). Remember, only Royal Oak 50th-anniversary watches will feature the special “50-Years” oscillating weight. In this case, the rotor is rhodium-toned 22k pink gold to match the tones of the stainless steel case and features polished and satin-brushed finishings. From 2023 on, the dedicated anniversary rotor will disappear.
Hand-decorated movement components add value to the watch with contemporary traits tirés (line-cut) on the mainplate and rhodium-toned openworked bridges, replacing the more traditional Côtes de Genève decoration. The movement beats at a frequency of 21,600vph and delivers a 50-hour power reserve.
The Audemars Piguet Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin (RD#3) 39mm in stainless steel, reference 26670ST.OO.1240ST.01, is not a limited edition. However, be forewarned; if you thought obtaining a regular Jumbo was tough, getting your hands on one of these 26670ST will be mission (almost) impossible! The price is on demand.
For more information, please visit Audemars Piguet.com.