MAKING A CASE FOR THE ROYAL OAK
BY WALT ODETS
The protection of the movement and function of the large rubber ring are illustrated, right. The magenta lines represent sealed surfaces. The stem tube (at left) is soldered to the metal support ring around the movement and sealed by the entire thickness of the rubber ring, through which it projects to the outside of the case. There is a very thin silicone gasket between the crystal and bezel, which serves only to keep contamination from under the bezel and the outside of the rubber ring. The crystal is sealed against the top surface of the rubber ring by the pressure of the bezel, and it is this seal that provides movement protection. The design is remarkably waterproof and is entirely without reliance on the thin, fragile O-rings that most water-resistant watches utilize.
As earlier mentioned, the rubber ring surrounding the movement mechanically decouples the movement from the case. Neither the stem tube, nor the crown touch the case. The screw-down crown is screwed to the tube. Shock and vibration are thus isolated from the movement.
Audemars rates the water resistance of the illustrated watch to 10 ATM, although some other models with case pushers (for setting movement complications) carry lower ratings. Regardless, the real-world performance of this case design is excellent and is very unlikely to deteriorate over time.
With the watch mostly assembled, it may be seen that the screws and nuts extend unobstructed through the case, rubber ring, and bezel.
Over the years, Audemars has provided this case with a wide variety of movements, from simple automatics to serious complications. Unlike The Queen and the frigate, the watch has been offered in a number of sizes from 33.5 to 42 millimeters case diameter. The watch at hand is a new, if modest, Royal Oak, the 33.5 millimeter automatic. Previously only available with a quartz movement, this small case is now provided with the Audemars caliber 2140, an iteration of the Jaeger LeCoultre caliber 960.
The 2140/960 is conceptually related to the well-known JLC caliber 889/2. The 960 is a smaller movement, 20.5 or 9”’ versus 26 millimeters or 11.5”’. This size difference puts the two movements in entirely different classes, the small class until now dominated by the Piguet 951. The 960, however, is a bit thick at 3.95 millimeters, versus 3.25 for both the 889 and 951. While the 889/2 uses 36 jewels, the 960 uses 31. Differences in construction require 202 parts in the 889/2, 226 in the 960.
The most obvious difference between the 960 and 889 is the barrel and automatic winding bridge (1). The 960 uses a “floating” barrel (2), although the barrel might easily have been supported at the upper arbor pivot by the winding bridge without a height penalty. I was pleased to see a jewel (3) for location of the automatic-winding switching rocker to replace the steel piece in the 889. This should improve the already-excellent bidirectional switching over longer service intervals. The 960 carries over the 8-ball bearing assembly from the 889 for the winding rotor (4). There are many other detail changes from the 889/2, most notably in the keyless works. In all, the 960 radiates the aura of a husky, very well-constructed movement. While the small diameter necessarily introduces some very small compromises, one does not sense that the purpose of this movement was cost-saving over the expensive 889/2.
Obviously concerned about the winding performance of the small-diameter rotor (something of a problem with the Piguet 951), JLC has used an exceptionally massive 21K weight.
While the movement is generally very well finished, the anglage on plates and bridges has the characteristic appearance of machine-embossed work (left), and lacks the charm and refinement of hand-done work. The effect is particularly discordant in an Audemars.
BACK TO THE FRIGATE
Frigate or no frigate, I’ve come to like the Royal Oak. I can ignore its stylistic conceits and see it for the watch it is. The concept and quality of the case, and immaculate quality of the bracelet are, arguably, unequaled by anything else in the world of “sports” watches. There is no doubt that the Royal Oak qualifies as an extremely rugged, do-anything watch. Among metal-bracelet watches, the RO is also exceptionally easy to wear. Even with a bracelet loose enough to allow blood flow to the hand, the very long, angled case (above right) keeps the watch stable on the wrist.
As if the concept and quality of the casework were not enough, the Royal Oak is available with a range of extremely high-quality movements, including simple automatics, dual-times with power reserve, perpetuals, chronographs, and tourbillons. This watch is–well, it’s a Royal Oak. And, hey, if that isn’t enough to convince you, consider the comment of a friend when I mentioned my newfound admiration: “Well, it’s not as ugly as a Nautilus.” In my view, the Queen has her hat and the Royal Oak has its gun port.