Royal Oak Concept gets a new hero

Royal Oak Concept gets a new hero

Spider-Man weaves his web onto new collection by Audemars Piguet

Royal Oak Concept gets a new hero

More than 60 years since his debut in 1962, Marvel's arachnid superhero is slinging from a comic book to a horological tower. In collaboration with the entertainment powerhouse, Audemars Piguet (AP) has unveiled the Royal Oak Concept Tourbillon Spider-Man that breaks the boundary between popular culture and high-end watchmaking.

It is the second instalment of its partnership with Marvel that came out in 2021 when they launched the Royal Oak Concept Black Panther Flying Tourbillon.

Recently unveiled in Dubai, the limited edition of 250 pieces held guests spellbound. Inside the 42mm titanium and black ceramic case, Peter Parker's alter ego is the man of the moment. Clad in a mat red and metallic blue suit, the wall-crawler leaps in midair, using his web shooter either to swing or fight an enemy. The timepiece shows the intricate movement of the new hand-wound Calibre 2974.

"The big challenge is to highlight the character," said Anne-Gaelle Quinet, AP's head of complications, in a roundtable interview. "That is why we created the new movement to highlight the character to give him more space."

Despite fewer components, watchmakers spent twice as much time working on the arachnid superhero as the Black Panther. The character alone requires over 50 hours of work. It is cut from a block of white gold. The spider suit is then laser-engraved to provide differences in texture. Touch-ups and finishings are done by hand, making each piece unique. Finally, the figure is handpainted.

"It is a combination between traditional craftsmanship and innovative machine," Quinet said.

The dial features PVD-coated gold hour markers and Arabic numerals. Its white luminescence can turn blue in the dark, a subtle reference to the world of Spider-Man. The case offers diverse touches, including polished, micro-blasted and satin finishes. For the first time, the timepiece includes interchangeable straps. It is equipped with a black and grey rubber strap and a titanium buckle, as well as a black and red rubber strap.

In addition, the model is accompanied by a special piece. The Royal Oak Concept Tourbillon Black Suit Spider-Man comes in a white gold case with a spider leg motif. It boasts the superhero in a black suit from the 1980s comics, notably The Amazing Spider-Man #252 in 1984. Its luminescent materials can glow green in the dark. It offers a black rubber strap with a velvety texture and a black calfskin leather strap.

To some, it is a paradox that the luxury watch features comic characters. François-Henry Bennahmias, AP's chief executive officer, recounted his encounter with kids who excitedly approached him for a superhero wristwatch. Despite how unaffordable it is to many, "we make them dream about" and "improve the core factor of who we are", given the amount of work behind the creation.

"The thing is not AP, but the entire watch world sees the arrival of kids who are supposed to be dead for watchmaking, but fall in love with craftsmanship and exclusivity and actually preach to their parents that watchmaking is cool. We play a big role because of our connection to hip-hop, culture, music, entertainment, sports and everything years before others," Bennahmias said.

Inside the Royal Oak Concept Tourbillon Spider-Man. (Photo: AP)

"It is funny. In my office, there is a framed The Financial Times. We made it for the first time in 2005 when we launched a watch with Jay-Z. At the time, no one would touch the world of hip-hop."

In fact, AP wanted to collaborate with Marvel in 2003-4, but its pitch in New York did not catch fire. Years later, Bennahmias met Don Cheadle, who portrays Marvel's War Machine, at the Tony Awards, and since then became friends. After twists and turns, their relationship paved the way for the start of this partnership. In a deal that came in 2017, six characters were planned.

"The only thing which is not [determined] is the third one. It is already ready. It is not given to us by Marvel. We pick the next character. If we come out in 2025, the name of the character is… I forget," he laughed.

Bennahmias said he did not invent anything, but went back to the 1930s when timepieces started to feature comic characters. It was not until in the 1980s that they incorporated Disney's Mickey Mouse and friends. Despite its ancestral roots in 1875, AP is not forbidden from venturing into Marvel's universe. If the watchmaker respects the integrity of craftsmanship, why is it not allowed to experiment in a fun way?

"We saw culture changing. Two worlds. Luxury and street," he said. "That is an evolution. You have to live with the world. If you are not living with your world, at some point, you wake up, old, and eventually die. You have to keep in mind that it is not chasing trends. It is much more feeling what is happening and going with your own guts. Okay. What is it going to be and where are we going?"

AP's Royal Oak Concept Tourbillon Spider-Man. (Photo: AP)

In spite of some derision at the superhero-themed edition, Bennahmias said people will judge whatever you do in life anyway. "My entire life has been used to hearing yes and no," he said, comparing it to a boxing fight where there is a winner and a loser. But for him, the point is that the brand makes its mark -- its stance much better than it was a decade ago, as sales increase and staff expand.

"Somehow, the brand is doing something good," he said.

Like Marvel's superhero, AP is committed to making the world a better place. It raised US$8.5 million (295.3 million baht) from an auction of the Royal Oak Concept Tourbillon Black Suit Spider-Man, as well as other lots, and donated it to First Book and Ashoka, two non-profit organisations that empower low-income and historically excluded communities to become changemakers.

After 29 years, Bennahmias will leave AP at the end of this year. The company announced that Ilaria Resta will be joining in August and, after a brief transition period, will take the helm in 2024. Bennahmias will remain fully engaged to handle a seamless and orderly transition of leadership. When asked what the legacy of Marvel is for him, he said it is his relationship with everybody involved.

"The biggest reward is to see in people's eyes … that we have built something very unique. That is what I want to go with," he said.

The Royal Oak Concept Tourbillon Black Suit Spider-Man comes in a white gold case with a spider leg motif. (Photo: AP)

François-Henry Bennahmias, left, CEO of AP, and Tom Best, CEO, founder and auctioneer of the Auction Collective, in Dubai. (Photo: AP)

Do you like the content of this article?