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Hands-On Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin RD3

Most of you are well aware that the Royal Oak, Audemars Piguet’s emblematic and (probably) most crucial watch ever, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2022. An array of new models were launched for the occasion, with the star of the show being the new Jumbo Extra-Thin 16202ST. Another watch, launched a couple of months later, didn’t really get the attention it deserved… Maybe it was the overload of new RO watches at the beginning of the year? However, the Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin RD#3 is a watch with a lot of interest. Why? Because it’s everything we love about a classic Royal Oak Jumbo, but fitted with a tourbillon. And it also shows that AP can be discreet, elegant, and technical and still has a word or two to say when it comes to extra-thin watchmaking. 

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin RD#3

The new chapter in the RD# Series

While this new Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin seems to be, at first, just a hole punched in the dial of a Jumbo, the brand is actually quite proud of its watch. So much so that this has been categorised as an RD# project. Known as Research and Development models, the RD# collection started bold and loud (literally) with the Royal Oak Concept Minute Repeater Supersonnerie prototype of 2015, which materialised in commercial form in 2016. An impressive watch, visually and technically, that redefined the concept of a minute repeater and chiming watches at Audemars Piguet, with intensive work done on all elements – case, resonator, governor, chimes – to enhance the sound of the watch, whether for its musicality or its level. In 2018, AP unveiled its RD#2 concept, a Royal Oak Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin prototype with a 2.89mm movement that made it the world’s thinnest automatic calendar wristwatch of its time, taking home the top prize at the GPHG in 2019. Although Bulgari has surpassed it in the meantime, it is nevertheless a stunning watch.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin RD#3

The latest watch in the RD# Series, the Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin, is certainly not as loud or impressive at first sight. It is a discreet take on innovation but one that is meaningful in the brand’s history. For many years, Audemars Piguet was a horological UFO on the watchmaking scene with an ultra-thin tourbillon model with the in-house automatic calibre 2870. Presented in 1986 (when basically no one was doing developments like this anymore), this watch/movement was the thinnest automatic tourbillon on the market (4.8mm thick) until 2018, when Bulgari presented the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Automatic. With the Royal Oak RD#3, the brand pays tribute to a unique legacy in the field of thin tourbillon watches.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin RD#3

The second important thing to note is this: RD#3 isn’t just a research and development watch. It is the first “Jumbo” in history to be equipped with a self-winding flying tourbillon. Indeed, up until now, the Jumbo featured two-hand and date displays. And nothing else. Finally, the watch is a flying tourbillon. Nothing new, right? Well, for many years, AP has used the same tourbillon module, held in place on both sides (so not a flying tourbillon) with an inverted V-shaped bridge. It was only in 2019 and onboard a feminine model that the brand moved to a flying architecture. But in the RD#3, it’s not even the same module anymore… Thinness obliges.

A jumbo first and foremost

Let’s talk about this Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin. The most important thing to keep in mind is that we’re looking – most unequivocally – at a Jumbo model; it has all the attributes of the reference 16202ST plus a hole in the dial, minus the date.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin RD#3

The Jumbo, whether the older 15202ST or the current 16202ST, is the closest you can get to Gérald Genta’s original stainless steel Royal Oak. Distinguished by its octagonal bezel with eight white gold screws and an integrated bracelet, the original 39mm steel case of the Royal Oak was considered massive and nicknamed Jumbo. With the current generation, the case retains its 39mm, the height is still very much under control at 8.1mm, and the dial has not only the symbolic Petite Tapisserie pattern but also the same colour as the 1972 model: Bleu Nuit, Nuage 50.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin RD#3

What’s remarkable about this new RD#3 is that the addition of the tourbillon hasn’t affected the proportions. The classic case specifications of the new Jumbo 16202 – 39mm diameter, 8.1mm height and 50m water-resistance – have been retained in the new Royal Oak RD#3. Naturally, it’s slightly thicker than the 7mm original, but it is now fitted with a sapphire caseback. I can live with one extra millimetre to be able to see the movement that beats in this watch; there are concessions I’m willing to make. The stainless steel case and bracelet feature the collection’s signature satin-brushed and polished hand finishes, the white gold hexagonal studs and is… well, a Jumbo Royal Oak from head to toe.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin

The other notable link with the classic Jumbo is the dial. While the new tourbillon aperture is obvious, the Jumbo Tourbillon 26670ST has a Bleu Nuit, Nuage 50 Petite Tapisserie dial. However, the colour is now obtained using a PVD process, ensuring a uniform and lasting tone across all dials. The white gold applied bathtub-shaped hour markers and hands, treated with luminescent coating, are a nod to the original. The Audemars Piguet signature at noon and the minute track are printed in white, not applied or gold like some of the more recent and bulkier watches.

Finally, as you’ve guessed, the bracelet of this Jumbo RD#3 ref. 26670ST is identical to the classic Jumbo 16202ST. This means it retains the classic, highly desirable design of the collection, but it lacks the quick-release system or fine-adjustment device.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin RD#3

An ultra-thin Flying tourbillon Calibre

The caseback reveals the openworked bridges and rotor of the automatic 2968 calibre. The movement is based on the modern 7121 calibre fitted inside the automatic Jumbo 16202 with an extended power reserve and a ball-bearing mounted rotor. Composed of 226 components, the movement measures 29.6mm across and has a height of just 3.4mm (just 0.2mm more than the straightforward automatic). The model we photographed has the 50Y rotor, which won’t be available anymore when you read this article, as it was only reserved for the watches made in 2022. The decoration, with openworked bridges, is quite spectacular, with sharp inner angles and polished bevels. The flat surfaces are finished with modern traits tirés (line-cut) replacing the traditional stripes.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin RD#3

The challenge with this movement was to implement a tourbillon regulator without changing the case of the Jumbo. This issue was addressed with different solutions. A first for AP, the automatic flying tourbillon had to be revisited to reduce its thickness by repositioning specific components. One of the solutions was to equip the titanium tourbillon cage with a peripheral drive. The combination of titanium and a peripheral drive means that the regulating organ is lighter, and the distribution of energy is improved. Visibility was also a key issue; the flying tourbillon is placed at dial level, and the balance wheel arms have been redesigned and positioned to allow a view of the watch’s beating heart.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin RD#3

Conclusion, (Un)Availability & Price

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin RD#3 reference 26670ST.OO.1240ST.01 is a paragon of discretion. It is entirely dedicated to thinness and to making it a Jumbo with a Tourbillon. Indeed, it is, without a doubt, a Royal Oak Jumbo through and through. And that’s exactly why it is so appealing. It is delicate, traditional, and elegantly sporty, just like a classic Royal Oak should be, and it adds a restrained dose of Haute Horlogerie to the equation. I applaud AP for not overdoing it, and for delivering a very well-executed and well-balanced model. And this is precisely why it has been one of the most “under the radar” novelties of AP in 2022…

This Royal Oak Jumbo Tourbillon is a boutique exclusive and retails for CHF 157,500 before taxes. Now, regarding availability, it will surely be a challenge. If you thought obtaining a regular Jumbo was tough, getting your hands on one of these 26670STs will be a veritable mission… For more details, please visit AudemarsPiguet.com.

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