18th February 2024

What’s The Future Of The Luxury AAA Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Replica Watches UK? To Figure It Out, We Have To Look To The Past

It’s a question I’ve been mulling for the past year: What’s going to happen to the Royal Oak Concept?

Last year, when Audemars Piguet released the mind-bending Code 11.59 “Universelle” – with its 17 complications – it was a massive moment for the brand. Not only did the top replica watches solidify (or rather remind the world of) Audemars Piguet’s standing as one of the most interesting experts in complications, but it also brought the “Research and Development” label to Code 11.59. It was a milestone for a collection that was pretty widely panned by the Internet at the time of its launch (though the Code was slowly picking up fans). But this time, the Code had not only grown into its own as a standalone and simple watch, but it had also shown it could be home to one of the most complex things Audemars Piguet has done. 

But here’s the thing: I thought that was supposed to be the job of the Royal Oak Concept. Even back in 2015, the Royal Oak Concept case shape was the home of the first RD watch, with the technical innovation of the Supersonnerie. In fact, the company wanted to prove the qualities of the Supersonnerie so much that when it made the prototype, AP chose the worst-sounding material: platinum. In addition to being one of the heaviest UK 1:1 fake watches I’ve handled, it’s still one of the loudest repeaters I’ve heard. It was incredible, and I was hooked. It made perfect sense to test a conceptual product in that form factor, and yet it was the last RD Concept. It was the research and development platform for the brand, perfectly large to allow experimentation in materials and movements that couldn’t fit anywhere else – at least not yet. But when the RD#4 came out, I could suddenly see a world where the Concept was discontinued in the next five years. My immediate question was: is this the end of the Royal Oak Concept?

I’ll cop to the fact that my love of the perfect replica Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept watches stems in some part from first noticing one on the wrist of John Mayer a number of years back – and Pharrell before that. I instantly connected with the idea of the watch as a more refined version of what Richard Mille had been doing for years – large, bold watches that lean heavily on materials experimentation and, yes, technical innovation. To use a watch-writer’s trope, it wears smaller than its often massive 44mm by 16mm (or so) measurements, but regardless, with its wrist presence, it’s a quintessential rock star watch. As many times as I’ve tried them on, my gut tells me I could never pull it off, and yet I love it all the same. It’s a watch that allows me to imagine being someone else.

You could make a strong argument that over the last 50 years, Audemars Piguet has been a brand defined, at its core, more by complicated watchmaking than a singular design or shape. The year 1978, in particular, marked an incredibly important moment for the brand with the release of the caliber 2120/2800, the thinnest self-winding perpetual calendar of its time. Over the following 18 years, Audemars Piguet would produce a tremendous 6,508 cheap copy watches powered by this 3.95 mm-thick perpetual calendar – plus 791 open-worked models – of which the 39mm Jumbo-cased Royal Oaks of the era are likely the most iconic. It was an era punctuated by a high-complication arms race that started Patek Philippe’s unveiling of the Caliber 89 for their 150th anniversary and continued with releases like IWC’s Destriero Scafusia and Gerald Genta’s Grande et Petite Sonnerie Perpetual Calendar. But the Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar was one of the first and arguably the most iconic, and it remained that way for a while.

The Birth Of The Concept

Fast forward to 2002, and Audemars Piguet released the Concept Watch 1 (or CW1) for the 30th Anniversary of the Royal Oak as a way to imagine what the future of the iconic form factor could be. The Concept was appropriately named, as it was inspired by concept cars frequently released by automotive manufacturers to tout cutting-edge developments and show off the future of the industry. It was also incredibly far from the ultra-thin 2120 movements. 

It’s still curious to me how the Royal Oak Concept hasn’t been viewed as more of a brand-defining icon. Its aesthetics were bold for its time. Sleek, futuristic, large – AP told me that this could be considered its first watch truly belonging to the 21st century. From a utilitarian perspective, the original remit for the designers said that the Swiss made replica watches had to concentrate all possible technical innovations into one watch, one that had to withstand being thrown against a concrete wall without being damaged. 

To accomplish that, the watch had a case made of Alacrite 602, an innovative alloy of cobalt, chrome, tungsten, silicon, and iron, which was superior in strength to steel but was never again used in any other watch. The bezel was made of polished titanium. The movement itself acted as a dial while emphasizing the fact that the movement plate, bridges, and tourbillon cage anti-shock support system were made out of forged carbon. The 2024 China super clone watches also offered new functions, including a dynamograph (showing the quality of torque on the mainspring), a function selector, and a linear indicator of barrel revolutions. To top it off, the fabric strap was made out of kevlar fiber.

“The Concept really represents freedom and the extremes,” said Lucas Raggi, Development Director at Audemars Piguet, when I spoke to him on the subject last year. “We took it as an opportunity for exploration in terms of mechanisms, materials, ergonomics, while also being one of the first replica watches online without a dial.”

The watch was revolutionary for Audemars Piguet. But you can also immediately see the similarity between the Royal Oak Concept and Richard Mille’s RM-001, which was released just a year prior. It’s no coincidence. By that time, Audemars Piguet was already a majority investor in the famous firm of Renaud & Papi, which was influential in the RM-001’s development, a partnership that has only deepened over the years. At the time when a tourbillon was considered an incredibly fragile regulating organ, Richard Mille turned it into a nearly shock-proof and eye-catching design element. A year later, Audemars Piguet had taken it to the next level.

In the 13 years between the CW1 and the RD#1, the brand continued to innovate with the Concept. The 2008 Concept Carbon was a chance for the brand to experiment with forged carbon, titanium, and ceramic, which arguably set the stage for future all-ceramic releases. The Swiss made fake watches featured the caliber 2895 with a double barrel giving 237 hours of power reserve, a function selector, and a chronograph with an unusual linear counter. At six o’clock on the dial, a function selector shows whether the watch is set for winding (R for remontoire), neutral (N for neutre), and setting (H for heures). In 2011, the Concept GMT took that 237-hour power reserve tourbillon, took away the chronograph, and added a GMT function for maybe the most straightforward and reserved of the Concept releases. It was a practical, functional release that, more notable than anything, featured a dial-side design language for the movement architecture that most closely aligns with what we still see today.

“The Concept is also very convenient because it’s quite thick,” Raggi told me with a bit of a laugh. “When you want to try some new mechanisms, sometimes you need a little bit of space to do it. So for all of those reasons, we have been using the concept over the last years to explore technical watchmaking.”

The Concept Laptimer Michael Schumacher in 2015 was AP’s first real focus on innovating on the difficult-to-create chronograph in the 21st (or even 20th) century. The AP caliber 2923 featured a single chronograph that moved two central hands that could be independently triggered via three pushers. While the two standard pushers operated normally, the third at nine o’clock would stop one chronograph hand and restart the other from zero, allowing timing lap intervals. The similarities to MB&F’s later LM Sequential are immediately apparent, but the Concept Laptimer does it all in a more traditional layout.

Then came Marvel – well, kind of. For all the divisiveness that the Concept Black Panther launch caused in the watch community, it wasn’t really the first major change to the role the Concept could play in the AP lineup. Back in 2018, Audemars Piguet launched its first women’s Concept model and, with it, the caliber 2951 with the brand’s first flying tourbillon. But from a visual standpoint, the technical achievement largely took a backseat to the 38.5mm white gold case set with 460 baguette or brilliant-cut diamonds. Over the years, it’s released a variety of other metal and precious stone variations of the lady’s Concept, all with the same flying tourbillon, cementing the high quality replica watches as a design platform nearly as much as a technical one. That continued with the release of a frosted rose gold 38.5mm Concept made with Haute Couture designer Tamara Ralph, itself a play on a 2020 set of releases shown below.

The watch world has litigated the Marvel releases ad nauseam. I will say the Black Panther impressed me far more in person than I ever would have thought, though I still don’t love it. The eyes of the figurine on the dial have a captivatingly lifelike quality. But the only real complication in the watch was the same flying tourbillon you could find in the ladies’ Concept line – there was no massive horological innovation. 

The other defining factor of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept fake watches for men was that they were never released in particularly high numbers. The CW1, for instance, was produced for at least five years but in only 140 serially-produced pieces, with 14 other unique watches made for top clients. The Michael Schumacher Concept was done in 221 pieces, one for each of his points finishes in his Formula 1 career. The recent release with Tamara Ralph will be only 102 pieces in total. While many others were not officially limited editions, they certainly were limited in production. 

When I talked to Raggi last year, he told me that it was clear from early on that the new “Universelle” release was going to need a round case to be able to be released, but at the time (the watch started development in 2016), the Code 11.59 didn’t even exist yet. It’s not clear to me if that means the Code came into existence for this monumental achievement, but from the start, the watch was destined not to be a Royal Oak Concept. So, does that mean we’re seeing the end of the collection?

Learning From The Past

Last year, I got to peruse AP’s archives and handle a variety of best quality replica watches from the brand’s history. The earliest watch I was able to see was from 1893, an incredibly complicated pocket watch that predated the brand’s iconic “Universelle” by six years and featured a grande sonnerie, minute repeater, perpetual calendar, split seconds, moon phase, and ingenious “safety bezel” that locked the functions from being accidentally triggered. The watch was likely based on a Louis-Elisée Piguet ebauche, produced by AP, and signed by Dürrstein & Co., Dresden & Glashütte i.SA and Glashütte Uhrenfabrik Union. 

From 1893 to the 1930s, the watch belonged to Hungarian bishop Károly Emmánuel de Csáky before being gifted to Achille Ratti, future Pope Pius XI, at the time of Csáky’s death. The pope then passed the watch to his personal physician, Dr. Amanti Milani. The watch was purchased by AP from Christie’s in 2013 for a whopping CHF 437,000. Call it the pre-Universelle; it was a tremendous pocket watch and, for a history geek like me, something you relish a chance to handle (so excuse the extra photos below).

More important, however, were the other wholesale fake watches AP pulled for me – examples I chose as proof that the brand has never restricted its complications to one collection, style, or even case shape. Sometimes, it’s an instance of form-follows-function, but even more curious are the times when it’s obvious that function must have certainly come after form. Take, for instance, the Millenary Tradition d’Excellence Number 5. Released in 2006 in only 20 pieces, the watch has an oblong platinum case with a tourbillon, perpetual calendar, double barrel movement, and seven days of power reserve. The watch also had a locking mechanism in order to eliminate the undesirable torque ranges of the drive spring.

Two other fascinating examples of a strange mix of function and form were the unusual displays featured in a 1929 “Streamline” pocket replica watches store (with complete calendar, movement-side moon phase, and minute repeater) and the much later 1995 “John Shaeffer” Starwheel Minute-Repeater. Both were interesting proof that for AP, complications and design have never been a “one or the other” proposition. It’s also proof that the past informs AP’s future.

“Take, for instance, the Code 11.59 Starwheel project,” said Raggi. “The first exploration was to take what we had in the past to make it evolve, of course, and to solve the issues of the design if there were any. So I work with the museum very frequently. I’ll often say to Sebastian [Vivas, AP’s Heritage Director], ‘I think we’ve invented something.’ So we meet and he’ll bring some kind of old pocket watch from, say, 1903 that’s very similar. It just proves we’ve got a nice history that’s very rich for inspiration.”

The Concept Endures

As I made my way through writing and researching this story, I had to admit that there was at least some evidence that the immediate concern I had over the potential demise of the Concept was probably overblown. Obvious evidence, in fact. When the RD#4 came along, it was joined by the Concept Split Second Chronograph GMT Large Date with a new 43mm case. So what if very few people seemed to talk about it? It’s clear that the Concept has never been the audience’s darling in the way that the Royal Oak is. The price and limited availability of the Concept puts it squarely in the realm of inaccessibility to the point that it might as well be imaginary to the general consumer.

But the new Concept holds a lot of cues to the future of the collection. First, you have to take a look at Audemars Piguet’s history with chronographs to understand the newest Concept Split Second achievement better. Over 100 years ago, in the brand’s heyday of experimentation with complications (many of them based on L.E. Piguet ebauches), around 50% of the chronographs AP produced were split-second mechanisms. But the moment the brand hit the wristwatch era, everything changed. Between the creation of their first wristwatch and 1996, AP made only one split-second chronograph wristwatch in 1949.

The issue is that chronographs are one of the most difficult mechanisms to develop in a novel way. Even harder – and more fragile – are split-second chronographs, with their mass of bridges and levers extending to the center post and operating a precariously perched wheel for the second chronograph hand. On the Concept Split Second Chronograph GMT Large Date, the split second mechanism has been ingeniously designed to fit inside the ball-bearing for the rotor. It makes everything more compact while allowing the replica watches site to be one of the few automatic split-second chronographs on the market. It makes sense this would have been tried first in a Concept watch and implemented elsewhere – like the “Universelle” where it ended up. Except, that’s backward.

“The split second began around one year after the ‘Universelle,'” Raggi told me. “When we started in 2016, it was not named RD#4 at first, but rather, it was an open project – one for experimentation. The specifications were not finalized at the beginning, so we were open to trying things. For instance, the tourbillon and the grande sonnerie were added later on. We also had the idea, in order to reduce the thickness of the movement, to integrate the split-second mechanism inside the ball bearing.”

“We immediately transferred the ball bearing mechanism to the new Concept. But you’ll notice that we also transferred the big date. In a way, you could say that split second is the first baby of the ‘Universelle.'”

But instead of just producing the Concept as a relatively affordable (and at $175,000, I mean that very loosely) way to access the technology of the RD#4, the key here is actually scale. For the first time in Audemars Piguet’s modern history, they’re going to start producing a rattrapante mechanism at a meaningful quantity per year. While Raggi wouldn’t tell me exactly how many Concept watches they’ll be making each year; he did tell me that until this point, AP only produced approximately 13 Swiss cheap fake watches with split-second mechanisms for the year, all of them Royal Oak Grand Complications. This new watch changes the game for AP.

Frankly, it’s possible the Concept isn’t needed for AP the way it was back in 2002. Maybe there was a reframing of the concept of innovation within AP at some point, or rather, outgrowing the constraints of where innovation could have to live. The RD#2, being an ultra-thin caliber, theoretically had to go in a Royal Oak case – the Concept could never be an ultra-thin watch. The RD#3 was designed to prove the tight measurements of a Jumbo Royal Oak can house a tourbillon. 

So, the questions kept piling up and nagging at me. If one of the best things for AP about the concept was the freedom presented by size, what happens when you master size as well as complications? Do you even need a more forgiving platform anymore? So, I put my very pointed question to Raggi. Will the Concept be gone in five years?

“No, not at all,” he told me. “We have major developments in the Concept that will be ready in the coming years, and the themes of explorations will remain the same. You know, we are celebrating an important anniversary in 2025, and we have plans for up to about 2030. For the Concept, the number and frequency of our developments has never, never been so strong.”

Instead of taking a final bow, the Royal Oak Concept will continue as it always has been, at least for the time being. Instead of a collection that acted solely as a platform to experiment where AP couldn’t otherwise, the Concept is instead set to continue as the pinnacle of where the Maison can push itself technically, not just with the benefits of a more forgiving size, but also to take what it has learned over the past 12 years and to keep doing so at a scale it’s never done before.

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