An exciting year

Women's novelties have undergone a major upgrade, writes Vivian Chen

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 March, 2013, 3:54pm

If 2012 was a big year for Audemars Piguet to launch men's novelties in celebrating the 40th anniversary of its iconic sports watch, Royal Oak, this year is an exciting one for women.

Changes are afoot at the luxury watchmaker with new CEO François-Henry Bennahmias at the helm.

Appointed shortly before this year's SIHH, Bennahmias has been with the family-owned brand for more than 15 years and succeeded Philippe Merk. Bennahmias announced at a product presentation in Geneva, a new global campaign for a women's watch collection being launched at the start of next month.

Judging from the SIHH collection, it is clear women's novelties have undergone a major upgrade.

Apart from the classic Royal Oak in 39mm case, the brand extended the collection with a feminine gem-set version featuring a 37mm, 18ct white gold case driving a calibre 3120, and limited edition Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph in collaboration with Dona Bertarelli and her Swiss female sailing team Ladycat.

The new Royal Oak 37mm adopts a self-winding movement for the first time featuring a 22ct gold rotor that winds automatically and has a 60-hour power reserve.

Aesthetically, 2.46ct of diamonds adorn its dial, case and bezel, while a hand-sewn blue alligator leather strap adds to the elegance. The glare-proof sapphire crystal caseback provides a glimpse into the heart of the complicated movement.

Also featuring a 37mm case is the Ladycat Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph. It comes in stainless steel, limited to 150 pieces, and white gold, limited to 10 pieces. Both versions feature a black mother-of-pearl dial counter, adorned with a gem-set bezel, case and folding clasp mounting to approximately 5.82ct diamonds.

Its self-wound calibre 2385 houses an 18ct gold oscillating weight and chronograph capable of measuring short times over a 12-hour period.

Transforming the aesthetic principles from cases of different diameters while maintaining consistency was a major challenge for the design team, says Octavio Garcia, the brand's artistic director.

"We have been thinking about the collection for the past four years, anticipating the 40th anniversary of Royal Oak last year," Garcia says. "The idea was to create an alternative to the classic 39mm Royal Oak. When we created the 41mm version, we thought it would be good to develop models with smaller diameter cases to have a balance within the family."

Although the original Royal Oak was inspired by the masculine British Royal Navy warships, Garcia says it could also be an everyday watch for women with active lifestyles.

There has been an evolution towards jewellery pieces for the Royal Oak collection this year. Apart from the automatic versions with 37mm cases, the quartz 33mm, for the first time, arrived in an 18ct white gold version fully set with 675 brilliant-cut diamonds on the case, bezel and bracelet.

"This is opening a new avenue of creativity for us, whether the quartz piece or on the 37mm automatic," Garcia says. "Expressing ourselves on this kind of canvas is quite special."

One of the great traditions for Audemars Piguet since 1882, has been the launching of Grande Complication.

Inside the Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication, beats the self-wound calibre 2885 with a power reserve of 45 hours. The mechanical heart featuring complications including minute repeater, perpetual calendar, moon phase indication and split-second chronograph is entirely open-worked and assembled by hand. The parts are revealed partially through the sapphire crystal dial and the display back.

A pocket watch from the brand's archive inspired the complicated wristwatch, says Giulio Papi, co-founder of Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi. "Of course you can't simply just shrink the pocket watch and make it into something smaller because when you reduce the size [of the watch], you lose power," he says.

The wristwatch, though still running the basic solution of a pocket watch, saves power in a different way. All the 648 parts of the calibre were painstakingly polished by watchmakers to reduce friction and thus save energy. The titanium and ceramics version, for example, takes a single artisan more than 820 hours to perfect.

The Grande Complication is also available in 18ct pink gold case and, like the titanium one, features a dial 44 mm in diameter and limited to three pieces each. Other men's novelties launched this year include the 47mm Tradition Tourbillon Minute Repeater Chronograph produced in two 10-piece limited editions in pink and white gold or titanium and white gold, powered by a hand-wound movement.

The collection launched shows innovation and the integrity of the brand's 130-year history, and more tradition in the craft of fine watchmaking. Garcia says his design philosophy has to be aligned with the brand's positioning.

"We have defined it with three very important elements - origin, family [values] and the artistic and creative dimension," he says. "This relationship between creativity and the brand has been a driving force that gave us the unique space within the horological landscape."