Ode to Black: Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Black Ceramic

You could say that the debut of the Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Black Ceramic, the belle of this year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), was a long time coming. And you’d be right — in more ways than one.

All-black Royal Oaks have been spotted in the wild for decades, though they’ve largely been products of opportunistic third-party vendors, not the Swiss brand itself. Coating the Royal Oak’s case and bracelet in DLC or black paint has proven an effective — if not exactly “official” — means to render Audemars Piguet’s much-beloved design all the more striking. After all, it’s difficult to overstate the elegance of an understated all-black treatment.

Since introducing the Royal Oak in 1972, Audemars Piguet has populated its most iconic line with edition after dynamic edition, employing a wide range of complications and a smorgasbord of materials in the process — your golds and carbon composites, as well as traditional platinum and steel. For this year’s edition, however, the brand has finally embraced the dark side, introducing an official, all-black Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar unlike anything we’ve ever seen from the collection.

The reason the Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Black Ceramic’s debut set horophiles’ hearts aflutter in Geneva in January is, aside from the fact that the watch looks unabashedly badass, that it represents a triumph of material design.

A Case Like No Other

The Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Black Ceramic is the brand’s first all-black and all-ceramic watch — that’d be the case, bezel, and bracelet. Now, those familiar with the Royal Oak’s unique contours will understand just how ambitious an undertaking crafting an edition entirely in ceramic would be. The material is notoriously difficult to work with, and as every single link in the watch’s bracelet is unique, crafting a new edition in ceramic would require developing a brand-new mold for every single one. Needless to say, the process would entail a great deal of trial, error and, of course, money.

Which is why it may come as no surprise to hear that when Audemars Piguet CEO François-Henry Bennahmias first approached his team with a request to fashion a Royal Oak entirely from ceramic, they politely replied, according to Mr. Bennahmias himself, that it simply “wasn’t gonna happen”.

The fact that we’re able to examine this improbable piece today — after two years of strenuous development — is a testament to the manufacture’s unwavering commitment to crafting a Royal Oak that would quite literally break the mold with regard to manufacturing and design. Judging by the watch-loving masses’ fervent response to its introduction, it’s safe to say that Audemars Piguet’s all-black beauty was worth the wait.

The Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Black Ceramic’s sleek design is expressive of Audemars Piguet’s impressive attention to detail. According to the brand, it takes 30 hours to hand-finish and assemble the bracelet alone, or approximately five times longer than would be required to fashion a steel edition.

Close inspection of the bracelet’s exceptionally finished links reveals the unique dimensions of each link, as well as other subtle adjustments that the brand’s artisans have made to the Royal Oak’s familiar form to facilitate an all-ceramic design. The first screws on the Royal Oak’s bracelet, for example, which typically sit beneath the surface of its sides, had to be reworked in this edition. Otherwise, as Mr. Bennahmias explained in conversation with our founder, Wei Koh, at this year’s SIHH, they would “stick out like a sore thumb”.

Each aspect of the ceramic edition’s design was given its due consideration. For example, a great deal of effort went into identifying the perfect shade of understated black to complete the Royal Oak’s makeover, as well as finding the right substance to treat the ceramic with in order to obtain that shade.

While the layman would likely argue that “black is black”, the brand would riposte by highlighting how different shades of the color will reflect different amounts of light, which can ultimately influence the watch’s character. In the end, Audemars Piguet’s artisans identified the piece’s Goldilocks (or “just right”) ratio as absorbing 90 percent of the visible light spectrum and reflecting 10.

Getting the 41mm matte-black case just right required a further 600 hours of research and development. The resulting design features a fine balance of brushed and polished surfaces, is light on the wrist, and is exceptionally sturdy.

Although ceramic is very hard, it’s also quite brittle, and can, therefore, shatter if subjected to enough stress. Which is why, mixed in at the core of this piece, is a strength-endowing metal that the brand is keeping under wraps. This clever bit of chemistry is responsible for the watch’s lightweight and durable form. Not only is it nearly impervious to scratches, it’s also resistant to high temperatures, thermal shocks and the rigors of aging.

A Legacy of Innovation

Audemars Piguet has quite the history with perpetual-calendar watches — a legacy that dates back to its introduction, in 1955, of the first perpetual-calendar movement with a leap-year indication.

The brand-pioneered indication may be found in the watch’s 12 o’clock subdial, sharing space with the month display. At three and nine o’clock respectively sit subdials displaying the date and day of the week, while in prime position at six is the watch’s pièce de résistance: a stunning, remarkably detailed moonphase indication featuring a photorealistic moon against the backdrop of a starry aventurine night sky. Incredibly beautiful and accurate, the indication requires correction just once every 125 years and 317 days.

The textured (and requisite) “Grande Tapisserie” dial is well-balanced and highly legible. Incidentally, the dial of this all-black edition is, in fact, not black but rather slate gray. The color choice creates a pleasing contrast with the inky white-gold applied hour counters, black subdials and black flange. Printed along the latter we find the display for the current week of the year, which is indicated via a centrally mounted pointer.

Humming along at the heart of the Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Black Ceramic is the extra-thin caliber 5134, which is based on the design of the original 1972 Royal Oak’s caliber 2120/2121. Measuring just 4.31mm thick, the automatic movement allows the case to cut a svelte, 9.5mm figure, which means the watch wears extremely well.

The movement boasts a 40-hour power reserve and beats at a rather unusual 19,800 vibrations per hour. To minimize friction and wear and enhance winding efficiency, the caliber’s golden, openworked oscillating weight is guided by a peripheral ring rolling on four ruby runners. In keeping with the watch’s prevailing refined aesthetic, the movement is finished with tasteful Geneva stripes and circular-graining.

Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Black Ceramic is a groundbreaking addition to the manufacture’s most storied collection that’s classic and cutting-edge, and embodies the brand’s “all-in” commitment to crafting exciting innovations. This is a watch that scores of collectors have been anxiously waiting for, which is why none of us should be surprised if popular demand makes securing this all-black beauty all but impossible.

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