Alacrite: In the League of Super-Alloys
Alacrite was only used for one watch ever created by Audemars Piguet but both the timepiece in question and the material itself was cool as hell. It is specifically a “cobalt based” material that is highly resistant to oxidization and corrosion. It was originally designed for aerospace applications, in particular components for turbine engines. But the other benefit to the stainless super alloy is its high surface hardness, which allows it to be mirror polished. When the 2002 Audemars Piguet “Concept” was first launched it was the brand’s first definitive step into futurist watchmaking. It utilized materials that all came from aerospace or F1: titanium for its bezel, Kevlar for its strap and Alacrite for its case.
As its movement was developed simultaneously for the Richard Mille RM 02, both watches had torque indicators for the mainspring – a “dynamographe” in AP speak, and gear selectors for neutral, winding or hands. The Concept’s tourbillon featured an electro eroded spring type bridge that was meant to provide added shock resistance. While alacrite was not used again, it opened a door to the future that Audemars Piguet stepped through with confidence.
Forged Carbon Fiber: Athleticism Unbound
Carbon fiber’s unbeatable strength to weight ratio has revolutionized every performance sport from F-1 to bicycling to tennis to yacht racing. It is used in applications as wide ranging as car chassis to the mast in the America’s Cup boats. So the idea of using carbon fiber as the case material to create an ultra light, super strong high luxury watch was a goal multiple manufactures were chasing in the early part of the new millennium. Audemars Piguet got there first with a technology called forged carbon fiber.
The genesis of the forged carbon case came from a trip made by former Audemars Piguet’s CEO Georges-Henri Meylan to a trade fair for the aerospace industry. There he caught wind of something extraordinary. He explains, “There were companies specializing in creating carbon fiber parts utilizing a forged carbon technology. We thought that this could have applications to make unique, ultra light weight high performance watch cases.”
But rather than outsource forged carbon cases AP made the daring move of building an in-house carbon case making facility. There a team was assembled including Julien Stervinou, a young carbon fiber specialist who was previously building helicopter parts using this technology, and Yves Leuba, an experienced project head from AP.
The forged carbon procedure goes like this: carbon is first cut into precise quantities. The type of carbon fiber is specifically sourced to incorporate the correct blend of carbon and resin. It is then placed into a mold, heated and compressed. The result are cases that emerge almost fully formed. Says Stervinou, “The only additional processes we need to do are some milling for the screws, for the strap and in a few other places.”
In 2007, the world’s first forged carbon timepiece was made by AP to commemorate sponsorship of the Swiss team competing in the Americas Cup. The resulting watch named Alinghi Team Royal Oak Offshore, and featured a regatta timer (basically a countdown function) and was made in a run of 1,300 watches.
But soon other versions of carbon fiber Offshores emerged including one of our favorites, the Bumblebee, bestowed this evocative sobriquet thanks to its yellow and black color ways. The Bumblebee also features a ceramic bezel, one of the earliest use of this material, which is almost totally scratch proof.
Ceramic: Perfection that Endures
Next to diamond, ceramic is the hardest material on earth. Its incredible strength makes it the material of choice for the protective plates found in high tech bulletproof vests. Indeed, ceramic armor is so effective that during Desert Storm, not a single British Challenger tank reinforced with ceramic was lost. Since Audemars Piguet’s unique eight-sided bezel is positioned in such a way that it is vulnerable to scratches, it made absolute logic to eventually utilize the material for this element.
The first Royal Oak Offshore to feature a ceramic bezel was the 2006 Rubens Barrichello II special edition, one of the most stunning timepieces created in the modern age. Other Offshores featuring ceramic bezels include the legendary 2008 Survivor, a decidedly Mad Max inspired timepiece replete with assault rifle trigger guards for the chrono pushers and the aforementioned Bumblebee.
Also featuring ceramic bezels are the incredible Concept GMT and many an Offshore.
Additionally, there are the F1 driver watches, which feature cermet bezels, including 26202AU.D002 (Jarno Trulli, made in 2010 and limited to 500 pieces), and 26568 (Michael Schumacher; made in 2012, and limited to 100 pieces in platinum, 500 in rose gold and 1,000 in titanium.
But the ultimate demonstration of AP’s full ability with ceramic was the incredible 2017 Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar. What’s impressive about this damnably seductive Royal Oak is that beyond it’s heart stopping good looks it features a case, bezel as well as a full ceramic bracelet in which every single link had to be cast separately and that takes 300 hours to assemble and finish.
Everyone from Karl Lagerfeld to King Juan Carlos of Spain has experimenting with blacked out Royal Oaks but it took Audemars Piguet to create what is both the most handsome and considering that ceramic has a Vickers hardness second only to diamond, the most robust version. It is mind boggling that AP managed to brush finish the ceramic to retain the model’s signature surface finish. Add to this the manufacture’s ultra thin perpetual calendar complication it’s no wonder this watch has a long waiting list with watches on the secondary market commanding a huge premium.