What makes a dial? If the five new timepieces by Audemars Piguet are anything to go by, not much at all.
On a 37mm Royal Oak Selfwinding in 18-carat yellow gold, the hour and minute markers are nowhere to be seen; neither is the date aperture. Without the indices, just three gold hands remain to share the burden of time-telling. The other two features on the dial are purely aesthetic additions—signatures at 12 and six o’clock reading ‘Audemars Piguet’ and ‘1017 Alyx 9SM’ respectively.
The latter signature indicates the origin of this new collection. Born out of a collaboration with Matthew Williams, the founder and designer of independent fashion label 1017 Alyx 9SM, the complete lineup comprises two Royal Oaks, two Royal Oak Offshores and a unique Royal Oak piece that was auctioned for charity during the collection’s launch party in Tokyo in August.
Even the brand’s iconic tapissserie dial design has been sacrificed in the name of minimalism (purists, do stay calm). In its place is a vertical satin finishing that CEO François-Henry Bennahmias has revealed took nine runs—instead of the usual two— to perfect. It’s a necessary effort on an uncluttered dial, where the finishing of the gold becomes the focal point.
This isn’t the first time Williams has put his own spin on Audemars Piguet’s timepieces. His first attempt was with his personal piece, a vintage Royal Oak that he sent to watch customisation studio Mad Paris to turn completely black. “I wanted a black one,” he says simply. “It was something I wanted to see exist.” Eventually, he started offering blackened Royal Oaks at Alyx. It caught the attention of Bennahmias, who approached him to initiate the current partnership.
Describing his designs for this collection as ”a continuation of the watches I originally made for Alyx”, Williams explains his pared-back approach. “When touching an iconic silhouette like these watches, it’s really challenging to do something that’s timeless and timely. I handled it with a lot of respect and care. The subtle alterations to the pieces were more about playing with light and celebrating their form and shape through brushing the metal in different ways, through matte or shine.”
Light, in turn, appeals to him because “it’s infinite and understandable. It doesn’t need words; it’s more a feeling. It’s something I naturally want to play with.” Even the blackened timepieces he originally made were a manifestation of this instinct.
Beating within the aforementioned Royal Oak Selfwinding is Calibre 5909. Introduced in 2022, the movement is just four millimetres thick and gives the timepiece a power reserve of 60 hours. The second Royal Oak piece is a 41mm Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph in 18-carat yellow gold. It houses Calibre 4409 without a date indication and has a power reserve of 70 hours.
The two Royal Oak Offshore models are both 42mm Selfwinding Chronographs, one in 18-carat white gold and the other in 18-carat yellow gold. Equipped with Calibre 4404, they come with an interchangeable black rubber strap and a power reserve of 70 hours. All four timepieces feature a 22-carat yellow or white gold oscillating weight specially developed for the collection, which is engraved with the 1017 Alyx 9SM signature.
The unique piece is a 41mm Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph with a two-tone case and bracelet in 18-carat yellow gold and stainless steel. Powered by Calibre 4409, its gold dial is coated in black PVD with a vertical satin finishing—a nod to the blackened watches Williams used to make.
The minimalist dial feels even more austere in the chronographs; Williams and the Audemars Piguet team made the polarising decision to remove the chronograph counters, so that the only indication of the complication are three miniature hands ‘floating’ at six, nine and 12 o’clock.
“It’s a fact: 90 percent of the people who wear chronographs never use the chronograph function,” Bennahmias points out. He’s unapologetic about the design choice that clearly prioritises form over function. “When Williams first came up with the idea, many people said, ‘Wow, no numbers? It’s a chronograph, it’s supposed to measure time.’ Others said, ‘It’s so cool!’ The second we create something, we have to be prepared for people saying they love it, don’t love it, hate it or that it’s average. Everybody has an opinion, especially today. But the dial is so neat, it’s actually even better to look at.”
Less conventional collectors may applaud the experimentation, and purists may cringe, but there’s no denying that these timepieces make a statement—if not on the craft of watchmaking, then definitely on sartorial style.