Ican say this from extensive experience; the Swiss do tend to get rather dramatic when they decide they want to have allyour attention. In this latest instance this tendency manifested in a black-walled chamber with pitch black tinted windows and dark orange lights, supposedly popular in the interrogation business, along with some pieces of timber to remind you that there is a nice, neat world somewhere out there – just not in here. Seriously, though, their focus on minimizing distractions is immediately, though perhaps subconsciously apparent, which is weird because the product itself is more than sufficient to capture the undivided attention of any serious watch enthusiast – and that’s especially true, when the lid is off the new thinnest of its kind, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak RD#2 Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin.
Like its predecessor, the RD#1, this new piece is another concept watch that, as it stands, is not offered for sale. What it is, is a case study in some sort of a complication to determine feasibility and gauge public reactions. A concept watch it may be, but it still takes some of the keenest watchmaking masterminds to put something of this complexity together – or to just begin experimenting with it in the first place.
At SIHH 2018 it was just two of AP’s watchmakers and myself in that aforementioned dark room that otherwise usually is full of people carving each other’s eyes out for a picture opportunity or to have the watch in hand, at least. I was lucky because this way, not only did I have a bit more time with one of the very, very few RD#2s presented (I heard there was only one but I doubt that’s true), but also got to ask some more detailed questions about the movement answered by the two super kind AP watchmakers who had presented this watch to me.
Audemars Piguet’s press release wasn’t exactly clear about this, as they called this new Royal Oak RD#2 Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin “the thinnest self-winding perpetual calendar on the market today.” They also called the movement record thin at 2.89mm thick. These two pieces of information told me that while the movement was record thin, there might have been another self-winding perpetual calendar watch made before that, all cased up, that was thinner than this 6.30mm thick Royal Oak case.
When checking up on this during the one on one presentation, I was told that nope, this indeed is the thinnest automatic perpetual ever – and that holds true for both the uncased movement as well as the cased-up watch itself. I personally don’t care too much for such records until things start getting ridiculous (like they did with the 2mm thick cased-up Piaget that I’ll cover soon). A record is always impressive, but a variety of other features and elements should in my mind be just as, if not more important than achieving a smaller number.
More interesting than “record-shattering” thinness is the way Audemars Piguet achieved it. As it turns out, the RD#2’s design process started from the outside: it was Giulio Papi of Audemars Piguet skunkworks APR&P who first sketched the layout of the dial and it was only after this, that they started engineering the movement layout. That is not how this is usually done, and especially not when it comes to the levels of complexity of a perpetual calendar… But I presume when you have extensive experience and a list of achievements under your belt like Giulio Papi does, you start looking for new challenges.
Interestingly, the RD#2 is amazing at stretching the limits of a textbook example perpetual calendar, but it doesn’t bother with solving some of the constraints that keep me, for example, from really falling for them.
First, there is the utter lack of any animation whatsoever on the dial side. Lacking a running seconds, the fastest moving object on the dial is the minute hand – and when you’re dropping what I expect to be high five-figure money for the finished product, I presume you’ll want some mechanics-driven eye-candy beyond a range of passive hands and dials looking back at you.
It goes without saying that the mechanism trusted with moving all six indications of the perpetual calendar is nothing short of amazing – but it’s entirely hidden under the dial. I was equally humbled and surprised when AP’s two watchmakers appeared to be genuinely fascinated by my suggestion of a partially sapphire (or open-worked) dial for this watch. They are either really good at acting – in which case thank you for making my day – or just really haven’t yet thought about showing off this particular mechanism in such a way.
Thinness, yes, is an indicator of the engineering ingenuity and refinement unique to the 5133 caliber – but leaving how those little cams and wheels work to the imagination is a missed opportunity both when it comes to the final product and perhaps especially so when launching a halo piece such as this RD#2 concept. Sure, a solid dial should be an option too – you see how easy it is to get along with everyone and their watch tastes?
The main challenge and also the solution in achieving the record thinness of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak RD#2 Perpetual Calendar Extra-Thin was arranging all components of the perpetual calendar module into just one single plane. Every cam and wheel was to be somehow laid out next to one another, creating an impressive flow of information from the watch’s 24-hour wheel all the way to the 4-year-long month disc.
The way it works is that the hour wheel is connected to a 24-hour wheel (marked top center on the image above). This has a pin (currently hidden by the minute hand… Thanks, minute hand!) that pushes on the lever marked A. This lever acts on lever B, which in turn pushes the 31-tooth date wheel by one increment. One of the patented elements is how this date wheel has one weird tooth (you’ll see it just a bit to the left from where the lever is). This deeper tooth “tells” the mechanism that it’s the end of the month which, through some clever geometrics, helps move the month disc by one increment.
See that weird wheel with the four long cut-outs? That’s the 4-year wheel where the depth of each tooth stands for the length of the month. The shallowest are 31-day months, those with a deeper groove are 30, while the deepest ones are the 28-day long Februaries of each year… Except for the leap year. The leap year (the one notch just above the “M” of the month text) has a little notch to mark the 29-day February. The 3 other deep notches are for 28-day Februaries. Now, this weird wheel determines how much its lever will push on the date disc at the end of the month. Come a shorter month, geometrics will vary in a way that the lever will push more on the date wheel, hence skipping 31 (or the required number of days in February). Now, this is all quite inspired and clever, which is why it would have been cool to see it at least partially displayed on the dial side of the finished watch.
All this is impressive, and that is even more true when you consider how, legend has it, Giulio Papi and APR&P started from the dial layout itself. It is one very symmetrical layout, though it admittedly doesn’t look like it – neither in pictures, nor when the watch is in or on hand.
Usually I’m the one who has an issue with hands that are short or illegible, but here, weirdly, it is almost as though the hands and the “grande tapisserie” pattern of the dial overpowered the already busy indications of the perpetual calendar. There is a lot going on, which for one is impressive in the sense that such a thin watch can keep track of all this accurately until 2100 (2100, 2200 and 2300 will not be leap years), but in a way it perhaps also is a bit too much for its own good.
On the wrist, the Royal Oak RD#2 feels thin (surprise, surprise) and yet very heavy. With an all-platinum exterior, the heft is immense and also rather stable, as it is distributed so evenly and close to the wrist. The watch is barely at all thicker than the bracelet, supposedly making for a more comfortable long-term wearing experience. With the heft comes a natural association of durability – as Boris the Blade put it so eloquently, though not in the context of perpetual calendars, “Heavy is good, heavy is reliable. If it doesn’t work, you can always hit him with it.”
As I said above, perpetual calendars are pretty much the most static complication out there – while, say, a minute repeater or a chronograph won’t do anything automatically, they arguably make for a lot greater visual and tactile appeal when operated. A perpetual calendar is basically interesting 5 times a year – 5 moments at midnight when it jumps from 28/29 or 30 to the first. For the other 360 days of the year you are left with knowing that it will be interesting those five times. This remains unchanged in the RD#2, especially with its solid dial. Also remain the corrector pushers set into the side of the case. For a record-thin watch like this, I understand these correctors could not have been engineered into the crown system but, frankly, I’d welcome a new perpetual from the brand where these are good and the watch has more than 20 meters of water resistance, than a few more millimeters scraped off the overall thickness. I understand neither these pushers, nor water resistance were the focus of this RD#2 project – but in main collection watches sorting these two out I think would be more impressive and practical for the end consumer.
Is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak RD#2 Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin a masterful exercise in the perpetual calendar complication? You bet it is. It is novel both in a few ways in how it works as well as how it was designed – outside in, not inside out. However, I don’t think it addresses some of the criticisms usually associated with perpetual calendars (not to mention the premium they demand over simple dates or even annual calendars). It looks impressively complicated from the front and stunningly thin from the side, but it also has a bit of an early 2000s retro look from when watches started getting larger but the movements did not. The squashed indications in the center along with the (I think) bloated proportions of the 41mm Royal Oak make me think in a 39mm case – which I asked and was told that this 32mm-wide movement would fit in – this RD#2 would have been a more elegant execution.
All this said, during the presentation AP’s watchmakers appeared to have been genuinely excited about the prospect of this new-found approach of merging different functions into fewer components that are then distributed on the same plane. The word “chronograph” was said a few times in relation to what may be coming based on this novel approach. Though whether or not we’ll get to see that is a good question, and so is another whether a Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar as thin as this RD#2 will make it to the boutiques anytime soon.
As such, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak RD#2 Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin is a concept watch and hence doesn’t come with a price tag attached. audemarspiguet.com