SETS SHIMMERING WITH IRIDESCENT COLOURED GEMSTONES
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of its iconic Royal Oak, Swiss Haute Horlogerie manufacturer Audemars Piguet reinvents the traditional rainbow with the launch of two unprecedented Royal Oak Selfwinding sets in 37 and 41 mm, both illuminated by some of the most beautiful gemstones. The two sets are composed of ten white gold selfwinding hours, minutes and seconds timepieces, each entirely paved with a different baguette-cut gemstone so as to form a rainbow when all the pieces are put side by side. The different watches are adorned with some 800 baguette-cut coloured stones of the exact same hue, all meticulously selected and custom-cut to offer intense and pure colours. The gemsetting was accomplished by long-time partner Salanitro, a company specialised in watch manufacturing and stone setting. Unique in the watchmaking industry, the Royal Oak Selfwinding Rainbow sets build on Audemars Piguet’s long legacy of avant-garde high-jewellery timepieces, while pushing the art of gemsetting to new heights.
For the first time in the industry, Audemars Piguet reinterprets the colours of the rainbow with two sets of ten watches in 37 mm and 41 mm, each fully paved with a different gemstone. © Courtesy of Audemars Piguet
AN ARRAY OF FLAMBOYANT GEMSTONES
The two Royal Oak Selfwinding sets reinterpret the “traditional” rainbow watch to celebrate 50 years of Royal Oak design innovation. Instead of playing with iridescent colours on one single watch, the Manufacture has reinvented the rainbow altogether with ten timepieces per set, each fully decorated with a distinctive gemstone in a vivid red, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink or orange hue.
Finding the right stones, colours and contrasts, while responding to Audemars Piguet’s strict criteria for colour, clarity and quality, was a crucial step in the design of the rainbow sets and no easy task for timepieces covered with 861 identical gems (ranging between ~30 and ~47 carats per watch) for the 41 mm versions and 790 stones (varying between ~21 and ~37 carats) for the 37 mm models. The sourcing of the perfect stones took approximately a year. Each gemstone also went through an intensive quality control process. After a rigorous selection made by the supplier, an additional check was carried out at Audemars Piguet to ensure full homogeneity amongst the coloured gemstones selected per watch. Lastly, the purity and natural origin of each stone was then verified by an external laboratory.
The three “Queens” of gemstones – ruby, emerald and blue sapphire – set the tone for the colour gradation. To complement these intense colours, the Manufacture’s gemmologist and design team chose a selection of stones rarely seen in the Haute Horlogerie industry. Tanzanites, yellow chrysoberyls, pink tourmalines, amethysts, blue topaz, orange spessartites and tsavorites were selected for their vivid colours and purity so as to achieve a harmonious and expressive rainbow when set side by side. Although evoking the colours of the rainbow when put together, these ten pieces also tell their own story linked to the unique property, colour and symbolism of their dedicated gemstone.
“With these sets available in two sizes, we went off the beaten track to create an unprecedented rainbow with ten bold timepieces, each decorated with a different gemstone. We selected some of the world’s purest and most vivid stones, including emeralds, rubies, tourmalines, tanzanites, tsavorites, chrysoberyls and spessartites. A challenge as we had to find some 800 gemstones per watch, all with the exact same colour and the highest level of quality.”
Audemars Piguet’s Head Gemmologist
BAGUETTES AND THE ART OF INVISIBLE GEMSETTING
Audemars Piguet and Salanitro worked hand in hand through all stages of production to push the gemsetting of the Royal Oak further, while retaining the collection’s aesthetic codes and ensuring water-resistance, reliability, robustness and repairability. Each gemstone being unique, the design, development, manufacturing and hand-setting of each one of the timepieces composing the two sets have been adjusted according to the typology, hardness and specific properties of the different stones.
To match the architecture of the Royal Oak case, bracelet and dial, the gemstones have been individually cut in baguettes of 179 different sizes for the 41 mm models and 153 sizes for the 37 mm, before being polished by hand to present sharp and clear angles. The quality of the gemstones’ cut is as important as their inherent quality and clarity. The custom-cut baguettes not only need to be eye clean (i.e. no visible inclusion by the naked eye), their lines and stepped facets have to be perfectly symmetrical and aligned to let the light shine through and emphasise the stone’s purity and transparency.
To give pride of place to the gemstones and use as little material possible between them, the Manufacture chose the intricate technique of invisible gemsetting for the dial and bracelet links. Tiny grooves have been delicately incised in the baguette-cut stones, which are then carefully snapped one by one into a hidden rail mounted in the gold component, giving the impression that they are holding on their own. The complexity also lies in reaching flawless alignment between the different stones once set – a painstaking task requiring extreme precision. Only ten artisans at Salanitro, out of 80, were trained to perform this meticulous gemsetting which amounted to a month and a half of work per artisan to create one of the sets to be launched in 2022.
“The invisible gemsetting has influenced the entire fabrication process of the dial and bracelet links, from their construction and manufacturing, which has to be extremely precise, to their finishing. The aesthetic advantage of invisible gemsetting is that we do not see the material holding the custom-cut stones, as they are fixed from beneath thanks to metal rails.”
Founder of Salanitro
The gemsetting of the dial embodies the technical prowess behind these invisibly set watches as the very thin gold plate has been covered with 152 baguettes, cut in 30 different sizes for the 37 mm timepieces and 28 sizes for the 41 mm models. To further highlight the stones, the hour-markers have been left out, while the “Audemars Piguet” signature and the “Swiss Made” indication have been discreetly printed in white or in black on the sapphire crystal.
SELFWINDING CALIBRES OF THE LATEST GENERATION
The two sets are driven by two selfwinding hours, minutes and seconds movements without date indication in order to give pre-eminence to the gemsetting on the dial.
The 37 mm references are equipped with Calibre 5909, the Manufacture’s latest selfwinding hours, minutes and seconds movement without date indication. Calibre 5909 is based on Calibre 5900, which first appeared this year across the 37 mm Royal Oak collection. This mechanism, which beats at 28,800 vph, is also endowed with a minimum of 60-hour power reserve when not on the wrist.
The 41 mm references are powered by Calibre 4309, the most recent selfwinding hours, minutes and seconds movement of this diameter developed by the Manufacture. Its generous size enables optimal timekeeping precision, while its power reserve of a least 70 hours when not worn makes it ideal.
To celebrate the collection’s 50th anniversary, the two calibres are fitted with the dedicated “50-years” oscillating weight crafted in rhodium-toned 22-carat pink gold to elegantly match with the white gold case. The two movements’ oscillating weights and their emblematic Haute Horlogerie decorations, such as Côtes de Genève, satin brushing, circular graining, traits tirés and polished chamfers, can be admired through the timepieces’ sapphire casebacks.
A LEGACY OF HIGH-JEWELLERY TIMEPIECES
Since its inception, Audemars Piguet has collaborated with a variety of prestigious jewellery brands, including Tiffany, Cartier, Oscar Heyman and Bvlgari to case its movements in unique Haute Joaillerie creations. From the late 19th century through to the 1970s, the Manufacture often sold the movement and dial to the jeweller who took care of the watch’s external design and signed the watch before selling it through their network. Diamonds and coloured gemstones such as rubies, emeralds and sapphires were frequently used to embellish women’s creations, at first, and came to decorate multiple designs at Audemars Piguet over time.
The 1920s saw the rise of colourful high-jewellery watches, such as the one-of-a-kind platinum secret watch created in collaboration with New York-based jeweller Oscar Heyman, sold in 1921. This timepiece showcases an array of diamonds, rubies and emeralds and incorporates the small Calibre 8RP 15/12 developed in 1920 by Audemars Piguet (Audemars Piguet Heritage Collection, Inv. 1666). Another notable example is the so-called “Tutti Frutti” watch sold in 1929, equipped by Calibre 5/7SB, the smallest movement ever produced by the Manufacture. The external design of this unique piece was crafted by the Parisian jeweller Egouvillon Lafon & Cie Paris. The imaginative and expressive multi-coloured timepiece comprises diamonds, emeralds, rubies as well as blue and yellow sapphires (Audemars Piguet Heritage Collection, Inv. 1378).
The 1920s also witnessed an array of gemset timepieces paved with baguette-cut diamonds or coloured gemstones, whose elongated form and straight lines strongly resonated with the Art Deco movement. For instance, Audemars Piguet’s extra-small minute repeater movement, Calibre 8MV, was fitted in a platinum wristwatch, whose dial was signed by E. Gübelin, Lucerne and sold in 1924. This rectangular watch presents an elegant contrast with its alternation of baguette-cut blue sapphires and diamonds (Audemars Piguet Heritage Collection, Inv. 147).
The use of gemstones took another turn in the 1960s and 1970s with the development of highly creative watches enriched with natural stone dials. Dials made of tiger’s eye, lapis lazuli, aventurine, grossular garnet, opal, onyx, ruby, amethyst and japser, to name but a few, could be found in the Audemars Piguet catalogues, sometimes in combination with other gemstones featured on the case and bracelet. This is the case of the winner of the Golden Rose competition of Baden-Baden in 1971: an evocative and experimental wristwatch comprising a grossular garnet dial and an 18-carat white gold case and bracelet featuring textured hand-carved grossular garnet segments alternated with diamonds (Audemars Piguet Heritage Collection, Inv. 1120). While the design of this watch was done internally at Audemars Piguet, the manufacturing of the external parts was outsourced.
In the 1980s, the growing trend for watches with welded bracelets led Audemars Piguet to open its own jewellery workshop, ran by a handful of experts. Although the Manufacture continued to collaborate with external jewellers, jewellery-based timepieces were increasingly crafted in-house. This led Audemars Piguet to create distinctive gemset watches showcasing an increasing variety of coloured gemstones in the decades that followed. The Manufacture notably started to design one-of-a-kind jewellery watches and matching jewellery set in the 2000s, paving the way for its Haute Joaillerie collection debuted in 2013. This collection, which encompasses the Diamond Trilogy, unites horology, high jewellery and design cues from the natural environment of the Swiss Jura Mountains, while disrupting traditional ideas of gemset watches. Sapphire Orbe (2019), the latest piece in the collection, features more than 12,000 diamonds and sapphires in 6 graded shades of blue and orange, each cut in 20 different diameters ranging from 0.5 mm to 1.5 mm in size. The exquisite gemsetting of both the Diamond Trilogy and the Sapphire Orbe piece was done in collaboration with Salanitro.
Far from being confined to these one-off Haute Joaillerie creations, impressive gemsetting continues to infuse Audemars Piguet’s collections. While some timepieces present a bezel set with diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, amethysts or rainbow-coloured gems, others are fully paved with diamonds or coloured stones to offer unique shimmering effects and contrasts. The latest Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon iterations, released in 2021, count amongst the recent highlights with their cases and dials entirely covered with diamonds, graded blue sapphires or iridescent multi-coloured gemstones.
Building on the Manufacture’s long legacy of high-jewellery watches, the two new Royal Oak Selfwinding sets present a new generation of rainbow watches exploring and reinterpreting the colours of the rainbow collectively. Yet, each timepiece also tells its own story based on the flamboyant gemstones it showcases, all carefully sourced and selected to respond to Audemars Piguet’s high quality and ethical requirements. Blending age-old techniques with ever-more contemporary design, the gemsetting of these Royal Oak timepieces ultimately accentuate the collection’s multifaceted architecture, while offering unprecedented plays of light.
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