Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Minute Repeater Supersonnerie 26591TI.OO.1252TI.02
I’d say drumroll please, but gong-roll is probably more fitting for this incredible chiming piece from AP, so let's get down to business.
It’s a minute repeater, which means that it will chime the time to you on demand courtesy of a spring-loaded slider positioned on the left-hand side of the case. It uses different pitches of sound to alert the user to the minutes, quarters and hours. The different pitches are achieved by using hammers and differently-tuned gongs inside the case.
Think of it as a small crew of percussionists attached to your wrist ready to activate whenever the mood strikes (geddit?)
Minute repeaters do not have or operate as an alarm function, neither do they chime without deliberate request, which is fortunate as I’m sure we can all think back to the digital watches of our misspent youth and fondly remember frantically scrolling through the functions to try and get the darned things to shut up and stop chirping hourly.
Striking watches, which were the forebears of minute repeaters are elderly complications. Their lineage can be traced back to the late 1600s in pocket watch form. They were, of course, not as advanced back then so the best you could expect was a dull thud or vibration that could be felt if you held the watch in the palm of your hand. These were favoured by courtiers who needed to keep on top of the time in order to perform their routine duties without offending the monarch by appearing bored or impatient.
Sounding pieces evolved over time and by the mid-1700s chimes for the hours and quarters were audible and used a bell and hammer system incorporated into the rear of the case.
Abraham Louis Breguet was the first to create a system which provided different chime tones to denote hours, quarters and minutes and used coiled wire gongs rather than bells to sound different tones as well as saving space. This laid the foundations for modern-day minute repeaters and the recipe has only been tweaked in the quest for perfection ever since.
The reason for the invention and evolution of chiming watches is startlingly simple given their complexity -
They were developed so that people could tell the time in the dark.
It was the early watchmakers’ solution to the night hours way before electricity and watch luminescence ever made their way to the table. Given that the old world went completely dark as soon as night fell, with only candlelight or paraffin lamps offering low light at best, the development of audible timekeepers was almost a necessity.
To hold something in hand in the 21st century that is SO complex yet has such simple roots is for me at least, absolutely mind-bending.
It’s so obvious, but I’ve overlooked it for years and never really put two and two together, possibly because minute repeaters are held in such high regard and considered so special by watch aficionados that I’ve always assumed that their origins are as grand as the complication itself.
I guess the phrase “Every day’s a school day” has relevance here!
Now we’ve covered the minute repeater part of this piece, we should probably get to the “Supersonnerie” element which is Audemars Piguet at their highly audible best.
Unlike minute repeaters which can be found across a spectrum of brands, the Supersonnerie is specific to AP and references their quest to create the most audibly pleasing sound that they possibly could.
Each chime needed to be pitch-perfect so as not to offend the ears - think of how humanity grimaces at a bum note in a musical performance.
It also had to sound at an optimum volume, not loud enough to be obnoxious, but not so quiet that you’d strain to hear it.
Given that all of this delicate balancing act of tone, volume, and resonance needed to be engineered using gongs coiled to pitch perfection inside a watch case, you can appreciate the scale of the task.
The first “Supersonnerie” was released as a Royal Oak concept piece, RD#1 in 2015.
Giulio Papi of Audemars Piguet Renaud et Papi (APRP) fame led the project as he is the Papi element in a company known worldwide for being specialists in complications. Who better for the challenge?
Without baffling myself and you with trying to fully explain a crazily complicated piece, it's probably easier to walk through some of the steps taken in the creation and assembly of the Concept Supersonnerie. We’re gonna boil it down here, folks!
Creation Of Sound
The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology assisted AP to analyse the sound made by a minute repeater in a dedicated echo free chamber so that a perfect sound profile could be created.
Previously chimes were pitched and set by the ear of the watchmaker, the use of modern audio technology removes the potential for sound to be displeasing if the watchmakers ear is slightly off.
Traditional minute repeaters were never sporty.
They couldn’t utilise robust cases because cases sturdy enough to offer dust and water resistance are also sturdy enough to deaden sound and render the complication housed within, useless. If you’re using a seal or gasket to prevent water ingress, its going to prevent the travel of sound as well, think double glazing.
The traditional build for a minute repeater is that the gongs are attached to the movement on a front plate just behind the dial. When the gongs chime, the dial, case, and crystal act as surfaces that the sound resonates through. For this sound to travel well, it needs to have as little material as possible to travel through to prevent deadening. This wouldn’t work for a sportier piece.
To resolve this, AP have essentially reorganised the movement layout and the gongs are no longer attached to the movement plate at the front.
Instead they are mounted at the rear on a thin titanium plate that acts as both an amplifying soundboard and a layer of water resistance as it is screwed down and uses a gasket between the movement and case-back to create a seal to prevent dust and moisture ingress.
The case-back has openings all around its periphery to enable the sound to freely escape.
The design of this gong + soundboard plate + vented case back works so well that the sound created is both louder and clearer when the watch is worn on the wrist.
A new chiming system was also introduced to eliminate lag in between strikes as the gear train works its magic. It also uses shock absorbers to remove any excess operating noise that could interfere with the clarity of sound. This ensures that essentially, this thing is crystal clear and doesn’t miss a beat.
Would it be bad to reference a Carry On film during a sensible review? No? Good.
DING DONG, You’re not wrong!
Four years after the unveiling of the RD#1 Concept, a 20-piece limited edition blue dial Royal Oak Minute Repeater Supersonnerie appeared on the AP website overnight.
Given that this was the first sight of a Supersonnerie in Royal Oak form, there was surprisingly little fanfare.
This limited edition 35-piece salmon dial variant was released just as quietly in late 2020.
Subsequently, there has been a 5-piece limited edition blue smoked dial variant and a similarly smoked black dial model which is in the current collection and not a limited edition, although probably limited by low production numbers.
Stating the obvious first, this is a larger Royal Oak at 42mm diameter and 14mm tall.
The additional height is necessary to house the sound system, and that’s absolutely fine as it adds balance to the overall dimensions.
It is beautifully proportioned, particularly with the addition of small seconds at 6 which is pretty vital on larger pieces as it minimises what I tend to reference as “dinner plate syndrome” - an expanse of empty dial which can throw the visual proportions off on broad but slim watches.
Unlike standard Royal Oak, the Supersonnerie has a screw-down crown. This is to prevent disturbance when the watch is striking which could be a bit of a disaster in the same way that fiddling with the date change at close to midnight can also end in tears.
You don’t want to foul the movement by messing about with it mid-chime!
The screw-down crown also adds a bit of additional security regarding water resistance which is 50 metres for this piece.
Pretty cool given that the caseback has holes in it, but as we discussed previously, the rather ingenious soundboard sealing the movement plays a larger part in this.
That said, be sensible and keep it out of the pool.
Wear-wise it sits very similarly to its 42mm offshore relatives, which for me is absolutely spot on as I like a bit of a chunky monkey.
I won’t bore you by harping on about “wrist presence” but you get the picture.
It’s incredibly comfortable and still feels nice and lightweight due to being Grade 5 titanium rather than steel. Hefty without being weighty and hypoallergenic to boot.
If you were paying attention to the 5270P review that we have up on the channel, you’ll know by now that I’m an absolute sucker for salmon dials, and this is no exception.
This is a Grand Tapisserie dial which has been turned on a pantograph lathe, a gadget that etches a hobnail pattern onto the dial plate and has been in use since the mid-1800s. All very pleasing as far as mixing modern acoustic tech with traditional watchmaking techniques is concerned.
It is a gorgeous rose opaline shade that really lightens the overall appearance of the watch and contrasts exceptionally well with the matte grey of the titanium case and bracelet.
Sometimes I find that dark metal combined with dark dials can look a little on the drab side of things despite being considered a classic combination so I’m all for brightening things up a bit without going overboard and AP has really nailed it here.
Overall, and I’m not prone to hyperbole, this is an absolute grail piece.
Limited production, sings like Celine Dion, and is perfectly proportioned and balanced while showcasing one of the world's most prestigious complications.
The element that draws me the most to this piece, beyond its chime, is that despite its complexity, it retains the absolute elegance of an “unadorned” Royal Oak.
There’s no announcement, no additional dial text, clutter or advertisement indicating the movement within.
It is clean and simple, which for a super-complication is an absolute winner for me.