Love it or hate it, call it a hype-collection, but the fact is that the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak (and all its offspring) remains one of the most desirable collections on the market. It is also by far the most important collection in Audemars Piguet’s catalogue but the brand isn’t simply resting on its laurels. Considering how much it has evolved from the original ref. 5402 presented in 1972, the signature DNA is still very much present. Two decades after first released, the Royal Oak received an update into the far more masculine Royal Oak Offshore, which caused a sensation yet again. Now, in 2021, we’ve had the fortune to spend some time with one of the latest and most complex models in the line-up, the (take a deep breath) Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Flyback Chronograph 26622TI.
It takes a bit of time to wrap one’s head around all the details of this very technical and complex iteration of the Royal Oak Offshore. It also marks a step into a new direction for the ROO collection, with updated looks and movement. As our editor Rebecca has gracefully described it, “this 43mm ROO notches up the performance level of the chronograph with the incorporation of a flyback chronograph and enhances the spectacle with a flying tourbillon.”
A reworked exterior
But it is not just about the watch’s mechanical marvel that makes it tick, it is equally as much about the habillage, the exterior, of the AP ROO as well. The size of this Royal Oak Offshore “Tourbi-Chrono” is classic for the collection, at 43mm in diameter. Not small by any means, of course, but it remains somewhat wearable for most people. In fact, it closely matches the dimensions of the new Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph ref. 26420 presented earlier this year, albeit the present one is a millimetre taller.
The case is made of grade 5 titanium, which has been given a fine, grainy sandblasted finish for a technical, almost tactile look and feel. This lightweight material has also been used on the bezel, the guards surrounding the push-pieces and the studs. This is combined with ceramic pushers for the chronograph and a ceramic six-sided screw-down crown. Compared to previous models of the Royal Oak Offshore, the polished chamfers on the edges are enlarged. What’s also noteworthy is the fact the bezel and sapphire crystal follow a slight curve from 12 to 6 o’clock. Somewhat comparable to the architecture also seen on the controversial Marvel Royal Oak Concept Black Panther.
If you examine the case of the 26622TI more closely, a few other things stand out as well. Given the fact that grade 5 titanium gives a very different tone of grey when polished, brushed or sandblasted, the watch will look different under varying light. As the pictures show you, in one angle the top surface of the bezel looks almost anthracite grey, heavily contrasting against the polished chamfer, and in another angle, it appears much lighter yet still matte. This play of finishing is continued into the movement as well, which we’ll get to in a bit.
Uncovering the movement
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Flyback Chronograph 26622TI has no real dial and puts most of the front side of the movement’s mainplate and running gears in view. The chronograph rings, with the 30-minute counter on the left and the 12-hour counter on the right, use red markings and hands for a bit of contrast. The central chronograph seconds hand is finished in the same red tone.
The subdials are slightly moved up from the horizontal axis of the dial, to give way to the large, one-minute flying tourbillon regulator at 6 o’clock. On the opposite side, we have the applied AP logo, and the time is indicated by large, bold white gold hands with a Super-LumiNova strip down the centre. The chronograph is started, stopped and reset by the pushers on either side of the crown. And naturally, being a flyback chronograph, it can be reset to zero on the run.
Powering this beast of a watch is a reworked version of the brand’s in-house flying tourbillon flyback chronograph movement first introduced in the Code 11.59 in 2020. Originally known as calibre 2952, it is now labelled as calibre 2967. The biggest difference is not so much the technical details, but the construction and design. It features new plates and bridges in a more technical, almost industrial configuration, adding to the contemporary look of the watch.
The watch is regulated by a flying tourbillon, suspended only from the backside. It’s worth mentioning AP has been using cantilevered tourbillons, which is the technical term, for only a few years now. We first saw it on the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept for Women in 2018. The escapement uses a rhodium-toned balance wheel, keeping in line with the predominantly grey tones of the rest of the watch. An interesting touch to the calibre 2967’s construction is the use of black PVD coated titanium bridges and plates.
Once again Audemars Piguet puts great attention to detail on the decoration here. On all the bevels of the plates and bridges, the PVD coating has been stripped back and polished by hand to give contrast against the black surfaces. It also has titanium inserts for even more contrast. And lastly, the 22k white gold rotor driving the mainspring barrel is also coated in black PVD. All in all the movement gives great levels of depth to the watch, perfectly befitting the watch’s habillage.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Flyback Chronograph 26622TI is worn on a black rubber strap with an AP-shaped folding clasp. The strap has a grainy texture, which is quite nice to the touch. A secondary large-scaled alligator leather strap is also supplied with it, and the interchangeable strap system allows you to easily swap one for the other. This reference 26622TI.GG.D002CA.01 is limited to 100 pieces only, at a retail price of CHF 242,100.
To me, this watch is all about angles, textures, contrast, the play of light. Even within components made from the same base material, AP shows its expertise in finishing. The result is an interesting contradictio in terminis between the contemporary design, modern materials and the traditional hand-applied finishing techniques. A perfect example of this is the alternating brushed and polished finish of the ceramic pushers. Yes, it is a big and bold piece, but the amount of work to elevate it into being more than just a testosterone packed tool is very admirable, and typical of AP’s philosophy.
For more information, please visit AudemarsPiguet.com