The latest addition to Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak collection for ladies is one that will continue the brand legacy brilliantly.
What sparkles like a diamond and yet is not diamond? Ask any woman that question and she’ll be able to name a couple of materials that don’t have the same effect but get the job done (but not without a look of disgust on her face, if she’s a woman of taste). Pose that same question to the good people at Audemars Piguet, however, and they’ll tell you that it’s gold, or Frosted Gold, to be exact. That’s the name of the Swiss watchmaker’s latest timepiece, launched in commemoration of its Royal Oak ladies collection’s 40th anniversary last year. And as you’ve most probably guessed, it is designed to sparkle like a full diamond pavé timepiece with nary a diamond in sight.
To find out how this is achieved, we travelled to Florence as part of a select group of guests who have been invited to see the watch before it appears at Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) at the start of this year. But before that happened, we were ushered to the Ponte Vecchio workshops of the project’s collaborator and jeweller Carolina Bucci, who is the woman responsible for this innovative effect, which is known as the Florentine technique.
“The Florentine technique, as you can see, is a signature about my jewellery,” says Bucci as she looks at a showcase of designs nearby. “If you squint your eyes, you’ll think a design is covered in diamonds but it’s not; although we do use the back of a diamond to create this effect.”
Maybe it’s the clever lighting that accompanies the jewellery display but a quick glance at the jewellery in the showcase is all it takes to show that there’s no need to squint—the gilded designs glitter with absolute glee. In all honesty, the simple designs on their own are nothing to shout about. However, the Florentine technique has transformed them into alluring baubles worthy of any must-have list.
It’s an impressive sight made all the more thrilling when you realise how theoretically simple it is to achieve the look. Using a tattoo-gun like pen with a diamond tip, a craftsman will then draw on the smooth surface of a gold piece, marking it with tiny holes that break out into a brilliant sparkle when it hits the light. Under dim conditions, the gold displays a quality that is similar to opaque frosted glass; hence the name Frosted Gold.
The difficulty of achieving this effect then lies in the steadiness of the hands applying the technique. Using too much pressure will result in a rough, coarse surface that could hurt the skin. Too little pressure, on the other hand, will result in a “frost” that will fail to sparkle under any conditions. Theoretically simple but not quite so in reality, especially when you throw in the complex parts of a watch into the mix.
“Applying the finish on a piece of jewellery and a watch is a very different process. When you have a watch with different moving parts that have to fit together like a puzzle, there is no room for error; it needs to be perfect,” says Bucci. “There were probably about seven more back-and-forths after the first sample came back [from Audermars Piguet’s Manufacture in Le Brassus, Switzerland] to our workshops. First, it was a bit too rough to the touch. Then, the touch was perfect but there was no magic. It was about finding the perfect balance of angle, pressure and depth; it was a very extensive process.” And one that apparently took approximately three years— from the time Bucci was introduced to Audemars Piguet CEO François-Henry Bennahmias, to the timepiece we see today.
“I put myself through challenges sometimes but redesigning or reimagining an icon? I think it’s a harder job than designing something from scratch; which I found quite exciting,” Bucci adds. As the story goes, the challenge came in the form of a question that Bennahmias asked Bucci upon their meeting. Glancing at the yellow gold Royal Oak that she wore on her wrist (a birthday present from her husband), he wondered why a feminine person who designed feminine jewellery was wearing a man’s watch. Her reply? “You don’t make a women’s watch that I want.”
Available in both white and pink gold, the new watches come in 33mm manual-wind and 37mm automatic versions that juxtapose the Florentine sparkle with smooth gleaming surfaces. It’s a beguiling look that utterly transforms the watch without compromising on any of the features that make a Royal Oak the emblematic, beloved timepiece that it is: An iconoclastic classic, instantly recognisable for its strong bold looks and elegant nature.
Later that evening, as we sat under the frescoed ceilings of the Palazzo Vecchio for the gala dinner for the watch’s grand unveil, it’s whispered that a man has already bought a pink gold Frosted Gold for himself. As surprising as it sounds, I can imagine the 37mm sitting comfortably on a male wrist, peeking out at the world from its perch under a shirt sleeve. Judging from the gushing reactions of the guests sitting beside me, it seems the brand will be losing a few more of its new timepieces to its clients before the night is done. A fitting timepiece to commemorate 40 years of success, Audermar Piguet has yet another winner on its hands.