We have said this before and will say it again: while unceasingly impressive from a technical point of view, traditional minute repeater wristwatches tend to have a soberingly underwhelming sound when operated and experienced personally. This is the result of thick cases done in precious metals like gold and platinum, as well as the ancient layout and functioning of this centuries old mechanism. With their 2015 concept piece called the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Acoustic Research Episode 1, the Le Brassus-based manufacture strives to join the extremely close circle of high-end watch brands who have set out to improve upon the acoustic performance of this mind-bogglingly complex, and yet in some ways obsolete complication.
The case design will be familiar to seasoned watch enthusiasts: it is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept with its unusual, angular lug structure. As per the norm, it is this case that carries the brand’s experimental calibers, which pave its way into uncharted territories of fine watchmaking. Ask any master watchmaker what they consider to be the most difficult-to-make complication, and chances are that they will either mention a chiming complication (the minute repeater or grand sonnerie), or the split-seconds chronograph.
Already being very difficult to conceive and assemble, the minute repeater is a highly complex mechanism which serves an incredibly difficult function: being a mechanical read-out of time which can be initiated at any moment, “on demand.” Nevertheless, AP, or rather its skunkworks called Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi (whom we have visited recently), has set out to redesign it in a way that, as per their claims, would hugely improve the acoustic qualities of this mechanism. Their acoustic research lab had worked together on the development and implementation of this new design with the EPFL polytechnic school of Lausanne (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) for a period of over three years. Okay, so it was difficult to make, we get it, but what does it actually do?
Being a pre-SIHH teaser, AP is not quite open about the finer details of this new design, but what is clear is that it has been inspired by stringed instrument making – so much so that they have collaborated with “an esteemed academic of the Geneva conservatory” on the subject of perceived sound in order to make the chimes as audible and clear as possible. Furthermore, they have worked on the seals of the case which are there to ensure water resistance so as to minimize their sound-dampening effect – though the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Acoustic Research Episode 1 is still water resistant to a mere 20 meters, meaning that it should stay far away from any amount of water that exceeds your accidental spill of Evian.
Arguably more technically challenging, Audemars Piguet has also designed a new, almost silent striking mechanism regulator, also known as the governor. In traditional chiming mechanisms, this essential component – that is running constantly when the minute repeater is in operation – makes an audible, mechanical winding noise that often takes away from the clear sound generated by the hammers and gongs. Making it virtually inaudible will certainly help the chimes stand out a lot more, making their finely tuned sound all the more enjoyable. Last but not least, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Acoustic Research Episode 1 will come with a 44 millimeter wide titanium case, allowing the sound to be considerably louder, owing to the metal’s comparably lower density to gold or platinum. The movement also features a tourbillon and a column-wheel chronograph – although a column-wheel is more than required at this level of fine watchmaking.
While the brand has not mentioned this anywhere in its official communication related to this pre-SIHH 2015 release, upon closer inspection, we have spotted that the tourbillon assembly of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Acoustic Research Episode 1 watch comprises not one, but two escape wheels (one is at the 6 o’clock position, and the other is at the 10 o’clock position in the picture above), as well as two fixed wheels (one in grey in the center, and another, slightly larger one below, in gold), and two balance wheels! The two balance wheels can be told apart if one looks at the colors of the screws set into the periphery of the wheels: the upper balance wheel has silver colored screws while the lower one has gold colored screws. To the best of our knowledge, this is something that we have not yet seen in any other tourbillon piece from Audemars Piguet; in fact, seeing two balance wheels and fixed wheels on top of one another in this configuration is certainly a novelty.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Acoustic Research Episode 1 will came with a black rubber strap and a titanium bezel, adding that extra bit of sportiness we have come to expect from the brand’s Concept pieces. More details to come in January, as we hope to see (and hear) this very promising and interesting piece of engineering in the metal at SIHH 2015.