Hands-On Review – Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel Openworked 37mm Frosted Gold

The Skinny

Diameter: 37mm
Thickness: 10mm
Movement: Calibre 3132 In-house automatic
Water Resistance: 50 M
Price: $118,700

Small But Mighty

I have always looked at the watches in my collection as snapshots of different periods of my life, not to mark any special occasion, but rather as highlights of my impulsive personality. You’d expect to find evidence of purchase regrets, but I’m lucky to say that I have none to date. 

Of all my pieces, the frosted Royal Oak Double Balance Openworked moves me the most. Let me break down why. 

Image: @patpatchu86

As many watch enthusiasts may relate, I spend a good amount of time reflecting on my collecting journey, wondering if I had been exposed to “too much” in the beginning, neglected a lot of entry level brands, and failed to appreciate or even understand what I was buying. For the most part, this was how I felt when I first got this 37mm AP Openworked. There’s a lot to understand and even more to appreciate, but I feel I’ve finally got my head around it, to the extent that that’s possible with a watch like this. 

The Watch & Its Movement

For the first time in 2018, Audemars Piguet finally released the acclaimed Royal Oak in a 37mm case. This obviously opened up the question of whether this watch was designed for men or women, to which I say, both. This should have always been, and should now always, be the case for all watches. 

Image: @patpatchu86

This time-only piece holds an in-house movement, the Audemars Piguet Calibre 3132, best recognized for its two balance wheels and dual balance springs on a single axis. This improved the watch’s precision and elevated the aesthetics (in comparison to its predecessor) by allowing the hair spring to be seen from both the dial-side and the case back of the watch. 

I’m a worrier, and I truly appreciate being able to see how unwound the mainspring is and predict how much of my 45HR power reserve I have left. It’s kind of like checking the battery on your phone to see whether it needs to be charged again. My anxious mind never stops.

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The finishing on the skeletonized movement is nothing short of sublime. Hand-polished beveled edges on the bridges, pink gold applied hour markers and hands with luminescent coating. It’s just an incredible feat of 21st -century Swiss watchmaking. My only criticism of the 37mm version, as opposed to the 39mm, is that the former plates the movement in the same color as the case. This tone-on-tone color scheme reduces contrast, which I think provides depth and drama to the watch. 

Like all the modern Royal Oaks, the 37mm Openworked version uses a well-designed folding clasp on the bracelet and a screw down crown. With 100m of water resistance, this all adds up to a watch that’s ready for daily wear, should one choose to do so. It’s all in line with what the original Royal Oak was all about: luxury and durability in one great watch.

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Now, let’s talk about the frosted finishing. The case and bracelet are hammered 18-carat white gold. In 2017, Audemars Piguet did a collaboration with a fourth-generation Florentine jewellery designer named Carolina Bucci. Her great-grandfather opened his jewelry workshop in Florence in 1885, where many innovative metalworking techniques were developed. The frosted finish on the Audemars Piguet Openworked I own  is achieved by beating gold with a diamond-tipped tool that creates micro dents on the surface. The effect is stunning, earthy and elegant, and for a watch that was designed by Gerald Genta in the 1970s, the dimpled metal feels commensurate with the overall Mid-Century design.

I personally think this is one of the best collaborations I’ve seen in the watch industry in recent years, simply because it makes sense. The collaboration felt effortless with both parties retaining their DNA while accentuating each other’s trademark aesthetic. I’m not a big fan of collaborations that seem forced or too literal (no prizes for guessing which watch I’m referring to).

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The watch did tarnish perhaps one shade darker after 2 years of almost daily wear. I have to admit I’m not the best at keeping my watches clean, and I’ve ignored the advice to give the watch a good brush, because I actually prefer the darker tone the watch has taken on. You might not expect someone to be into patina on a brand new six-figure watch, but I am into it. 

Now how does the watch wear? The use of white gold makes the watch hefty which I enjoy. The finishing of the bracelet does mean it pulls out a lot of threads from my clothing (first-world problems), but who’s complaining when it looks this good? With such a busy dial, legibility is not ideal to say the least, but again, who’s complaining when it looks this fucking good!

Taking the AP Plunge

In 2018, I had the privilege of visiting the Audemars Piguet factory in Le Brassus, Switzerland. During the visit, I was asked to describe my dream watch if I could get it made – hypothetically, I thought. So there I was rambling on about a 37mm frosted Royal Oak Openworked because I had not gotten over the heartbreak I felt when I realized I could never pull off the 41mm, even with all the links removed. Fast forward to two weeks after my trip, I get a call telling me to come down to the boutique, which I kindly rejected as I was still on a high from my previous purchase a month ago. Then the sales person told me that my “dream watch” had arrived. Totally confused, I made it down to the boutique, and then it all made sense. I justified my spontaneous purchase by feeding myself stories about how it was “meant to be.” One must, I thought, fulfill one’s destiny.

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Through pure serendipity I came to own this piece.  

Aside from the little watch-critic complaints above, this watch is truly a stunning piece. It’s beautiful enough in my book to justify such an irrational purchase. But I’m so glad I let my irrational side take control of my pocketbook.

Gender and Swiss Watches

For a while now I’ve felt Audemars Piguet had been doing a good job releasing female pieces that grab the attention of men, but as equals, and not as objects of male affection. Audemars Piguet was, in my opinion, finally making watches for women that simply kicked some serious horological ass and held their own alongside the men’s versions. This affirms that AP was doing something right. It also makes me ponder whether watch brands are testing out designs by releasing new concepts through the women’s line before deciding to replicate them in a bigger size for men, which is a reversal of earlier strategies in the Swiss watch industry. I’m all for it.

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Regarding my earlier point of watches being able to capture moments of my life, I want to make clear that it’s not the memory of the surprise when I saw the watch that I revel in anymore. Rather, I chuckle at the thought of my naivety. How little I understood then or wanted to learn about the watch industry, that I thought it was “meant to be”. Anyone could have looked at the 2017 releases and made a good guess about what was to come next, but I didn’t, and that is a part of my collecting journey that I will never get to relive. The innocence, excitement and temptations before you become an education, and you start to feel jaded by the current reality of no stock and waiting lists. 

Is there a part of me that sounds bitter? Probably. I was a kid that didn’t grow up collecting barbies or toy cars. This hobby has allowed me to express my inner child, a space for me to be curious and illogical, and knowing more about the realities of the watch industry has only made me feel robbed of this newfound freedom.

This watch is loud in the quietest way. It is loud technically in its mastery with its movement, and it is loud aesthetically without the obvious choice of using diamonds. This complexity mirrors the modern women, and for that reason it is a watch I can never see leaving my collection.