It might come as a surprise to newer watch fans but the concept of openworked watches, the dramatic art of removing as much material as possible from a movement to reveal the mechanism’s ‘skeleton’ of vital elements, is far from a modern fascination.
Forget the industrial, steampunk-esque designs of today’s openworked inventions, French clockmaker André-Charles Caron wooed the Parisian elite back in 1760 by peeling back the ornate stylings of the day and revealing the inner workings beneath.
It experienced something of a renaissance in the 1970s when the likes of Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and even Patek Philippe started looking more seriously at openworking as a means of showcasing the tangible benefits of a mechanical watch over a cheaper less exciting Quartz movement.
Let’s face it, it’s an undeniably cool effect so it makes perfect sense but, then and now, the greatest beauty of this aesthetic style is that it leaves nowhere for the watchmaker to hide; it’s all out there in the open (pun very much intended). This is how the best in the business flex their horological muscles.
It’s perhaps no surprise that Audemars Piguet should have an extended history in this domain. Between the 1930s and 1950s, long before the Royal Oak exploded onto the scene, it could be said that openworking was one of AP’s main areas of expertise – in fact the watchmaker is largely credited as pioneering the very first openworked wristwatch in 1934. Later down the line, it also launched its own openworking department dedicated to this unique watchmaking art form.
Of course, Audemars Piguet indelibly changed the watch world at large – along with the fortunes of its own company – when it launched the Royal Oak in 1972, and the iconic design has proved a fitting canvas for numerous openworked models over the subsequent years.
Openworking was first introduced to the Royal Oak collection in 1981 in the form of the ref. 5710BA pendant, but it wasn’t until the simply magnificent ref. 25636 Quantieme Perpetuel Automatic of 1986 that we saw just how good openworking looked within a Royal Oak wristwatch. Here was a watch that not only featured all of AP’s horological might in the form of a flawless perpetual calendar movement, but showed its workings – like a magician inviting you into the Magic Circle.
Since then, AP has released more than 50 openworked Royal Oak models, including the highly coveted Jumbo Extra-Thin Openworked, a skeletonised take on Gerald Genta’s original 1972 “Jumbo” (so called as the 39mm case was large for the era) design. AP has made a habit of saving this particularly rare beast for special occasions, so in a way you might say we saw this release coming for its 50th anniversary.
Still, this year’s Jumbo Extra-Thin Openworked is the first new iteration in eight years. On first impressions, we’re very pleased to report that it’s been well worth the wait.
Naturally, 2022 being the biggest anniversary in the Royal Oak’s history, this isn’t just a new colourway or tweaked iteration of a former model. No, sir. This is an honest-to-goodness fresh take on the Jumbo Extra-Thin Openworked featuring the brand-new in-house calibre 7124: a self-winding, extra-thin movement based on the new generation of movements going into this year’s closed-dial Jumbo.
Why is this a big deal? For the first time in 50 years, AP is stepping away from the 2121, a Jaeger LeCoultre-based movement found inside its Jumbo models, and taking matters into its own hands with a movement designed, developed and produced in-house.
Particularly notable for purists is that all of this work has been carried out within the confines of the classic 39mm Jumbo case – and despite the watchmaking wizardry required to openwork this beauty, it’s only a little bit taller at a svelte 8.1mm in height.
The case, bezel, crown, caseback, bracelet and clasp are all identical to the Jumbo we know and love. And that includes the use of stainless steel, too. While there is a very dashing 18-carat rose gold variation available for those who want it, AP also offers it up in steel – and we’re really happy about that.
Returning to the movement, AP has poured numerous hours of labour into hand-decorating every nanometre of the geometric frame, balance, and barrel.
We could while away hours looking at the veritable feast of movement architecture on display here. But there’s brawn to go along with all that beauty, thanks to a 57-hour power reserve beating at an accuracy-boosting 4Hz frequency. The cherry on top is a slim oscillating weight, mounted on ball bearings, dedicated to the Royal Oak’s 50th anniversary. It’s a fitting birthday present to its most iconic model.
For more information, see audemarspiguet.com