The year 2021 feels like ages ago. In April of that year, Audemars Piguet, under the wonderfully maniacal vision of Francois Bennahmias, released a six-figure Royal Oak Concept tourbillon with a miniaturized sculpture of the popular Black Panther character planted at the center of the dial – and more design cues spilling onto the case.
My description of the watch is quite pedestrian compared to the reaction it garnered from the watch community. And I understood where some of the outraged watch lovers were coming from, but some of that apoplexy missed the point of the watch and the soon-to-be-ending brand stewardship of Bennahmias.
At its heart, the Audemars Piguet Black Panther Concept Tourbillon was about merging a cultural touchpoint with modern watchmaking and craftsmanship. The result was a hand-crafted sculpture of the highest detail that is best appreciated in the metal.
I was lucky enough to experience that watch for an extended period of time and came away moved by the craft rather than offended by the idea. And it hit culturally, as we saw celebrities gravitate towards the watch, whether it be Kevin Hart or NBA stars Draymond Green and Spencer Dinwiddie.
Knowing that Bennahmias is a pop-culture nut (and lover of all things film and comic book) helps to contextualize the thinking. And after a few years of sitting with the Black Panther – we now have a new contender swinging into the mix.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Spider-Man Tourbillon is the latest Marvel-comic-book-horological-crossover from the holy trinity brand. In terms of a literal explanation: The thing basically speaks for itself and in many ways continues the design decisions made on the previous launch. It is limited to 250 pieces and will come in at CHF 195,000.
That means that the base model remains the Concept collection, in the very good 42mm sizing (not-so-hot take: All AP RO Concepts should be this size). It features an internal chapter-ring-style minute readout as well as a tourbillon.The dial features alternating black PVD-coated gold hour markers and Arabic numerals that are overlaid by hands of the same material. The hands and numerals are finished in white luminescence that turns blue in the dark, in what the brand says “subtly referring to the world of Spider-Man.” And lest we forget the three-dimensional, mini sculpture of a web-slinging Spider-Man center of frame.
But where the Black Panther utilized designs derived and inspired by the Vibranium-rich mines of Wakanda, it would seem that this watch takes a webbier approach. In that vein, I won’t call this a skeletonized dial, but rather a “web dial” that appears to be partially open-worked.
The strap on the Black Panther was full purple, but Spider-Man opts for black (why it wasn’t blue, I don’t know) with red accents. For the first time on the Concept, AP is delivering an interchangeable strap system, so in addition to black and gray, there is also a black and red strap. Both feature a titanium buckle. The overall finishing of the titanium case alternates between polished and blasted surfaces, with no added engravings like the previous model. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Spider-Man Tourbillon case itself is titanium but the bezel is black ceramic.
And then there’s Peter Parker himself. The dial art finds Spider-Man mid-swing around Manhattan with one hand out of frame (ostensibly clutching some webs) while the other hand comes forward as if reaching out from a 3D movie screen, ready to shoot some – um – more webs. Now, the design form of Spidey isn’t from any big-screen adaptation of the character, but rather pulled directly from the pages of a comic book. That has always been the clear delineation of AP’s partnership with Marvel on these releases. These are Marvel comic characters, not some extension of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Excuse me for not knowing the exact artist this is inspired by (I only have room in my brain for so many forms of nerdery), but I have to say that the dynamism of the sculpture really gives a sense of motion to what is literally a frozen, lifeless image. And a hat tip to the designers of the watch, as Parker’s backside narrowly avoids the wrath of the tourbillon.
Inside this watch beats the Manufacture Calibre 2974 – a brand new movement based on the caliber 2948 which also represents a change from the 2965 caliber of the Black Panther. The open-working took the full engineering might of the AP team to reduce the movement down to only the necessary parts required to make Spidey the star of the show. In so doing, what we’re left with is Spider-Man essentially emerging from a void of black space, swinging around the tourbillon. According to AP, “The silhouette and volume of the character are first cut from a block of white gold using a CNC machine. The Super Hero’s suit is then laser-engraved to obtain the differences in texture that give it its textile appearance.”
Following this process, touch-ups and engraving-related finishing is done by hand by a single artisan. The painting is also a hand-finished step. In all, this is a 50-hour process. Utilizing the same basic case of the prior release was a great move here. If there is one single piece of consensus from the last release, it’s the overall form of the 42mm case.
There is enough experimentation with a watch like this. If there’s even one part that isn’t broken, you definitely don’t fix it. Instead, AP and the team kept it as a relatively blank canvas to allow the Spider-Man sculpture to shine.
I have not yet had the pleasure to see this one IRL, but if it’s anything like the Black Panther, these images you see here don’t do it justice.
In some ways, this is a silly collaboration – marrying comic books with the highest of high (the hautest of haute) luxury watchmaking – but maybe it’s also brave. Given the limited quantity, this is sure to enter the realm of collectibility just like its predecessor did.
But it doesn’t end there, just like it did with the Black Panther, Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Spider-Man Tourbillon will also be offering a piece-unique variation of this watch up for auction to benefit the First Book and Ashoka associations. The Black Panther piece-unique sold for $5,200,000, so we will certainly be on standby for the hammer price on this one.