The Smart, Quiet, Utterly Bizarre Future Of The Luxury Car

Artificial intelligence and fast, cheap algorithmic design will transform the automobile—and it will only get weirder from there.

By Josh Condon 15/04/2020

For as long as anyone could remember, a car was a car was a car. And then, one day, it wasn’t.

Which is to say the notion of an automobile going back a hundred years—a multi-box design on four tires, with a wheel and pedals, aimed by people and powered by orderly little explosions—has been upended by a maelstrom of globalisation, technological revolution, environmental reckoning and a wholesale assault on the ownership model. Such extreme disruption has unleashed a rapid evolution of the automotive species, with strange creatures now roaming the roads: Rolls-Royce SUVs and silent, battery-powered Croatian hyper-cars; Cybertrucks and fin-shaped hatchbacks with gullwings and brains big enough to take the wheel for a spell. It’s like looking around one day and realizing some dogs are now the size of horses and chirp, while others have opposable thumbs, sonar and definite opinions on Brexit.

Take the luxury car. Not long ago the term meant something fairly specific: a large, imperious saloon with a respectably immoderate gas-burning engine and a leathered and carpeted backseat with ample space for raising a family. Now it’s as formless and atomised as the rest of the sprawling luxury universe, which includes collectible sneakers and stiff, terrifying plastic Japanese teddy bears and feeling very ashamed of your jet. Tesla’s austere, vegan-friendly robots are the must-have choice for the Silicon Valley set even as six-figure SUVs proliferate like 2000kg bunnies in the exurbs. Meanwhile, a younger generation of buyers appreciates zero-emissions vehicles but would really rather the automobile had the good sense to go away entirely, like voice mail.

Yet there are signs the automotive industry is finally coalescing around an idea of what a car will be in the future—and down that road lies an interesting potential detour: The luxury car, instead of simply representing a pricier version of whatever the car du jour is, branches off into something else entirely. For the first time ever, a difference not just of degree but of kind, transformed by three interconnected forces: artificial intelligence, the rise of niche manufacturing and increasing rarity.

Aston Martin

New technology will create streamlined cockpits, like in Aston Martin’s Lagonda All-Terrain Concept. Courtesy of Aston Martin

Artificial Intelligence

Two major technological revolutions are shaping the car of the future: electrification and autonomy.

Electric vehicles (EVs) will eventually win out not simply because of an increased focus on sustainability, or because Tesla made them sexy, but because they provide undeniable benefits for an industry that’s become overwhelmingly consolidated, inextricably globalised and massively regulated—and because EVs ultimately pair better with self-driving technology.

Wide-scale EV adoption not only alleviates regulatory headaches over what’s being spewed from the tailpipe—EVs have no spew, and no tailpipes—but the cars are also simpler to manufacture and suited to the type of modular architecture now favoured by the world’s largest automakers, in which a few platforms underpin a wide variety of vehicles. (The Volkswagen Group, which owns 12 brands across seven countries, produces more than 30 different models on its MQB platform alone, from sports cars to minivans.) Plus, the world’s largest car market, China, is pushing a blistering rate of battery-powered EV adoption—more than a million electric and hybrid-electric cars sold in 2018—with Europe, the third-largest market, attempting to keep pace. Regardless of whether the US intends to continue its retrograde love affair with fossil fuels, an increasingly climate-minded global market will ensure the automobile’s plugged-in future.

As for self-driving technology, it’s anyone’s guess when it becomes a widespread consumer reality; it’s not just a question of technological capability but a complex matrix involving legislation, infrastructure and liability. Meanwhile, everyone from Samsung to Uber is spending astonishing amounts of money to ensure a front-row seat whenever the show starts.

“Without a doubt, on our road map is to have privately owned vehicles enabled with our technology,” says Adam Frost, chief automotive and corporate development officer at Waymo, formerly the Google Self-Driving Car Project, now its own entity within Google’s parent company, Alphabet. “And our partners are obviously very interested in that. We’re in discussions with them around, ‘What is that product?’”

Rolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce says its 103EX Concept will be “as unique as your own fingerprint.” Courtesy of Rolls-Royce

But the day when you can Netflix and chill in your Level 4 autonomous ride is years, if not decades, away. For now, companies like Waymo, Cruise and Argo AI have partnered with (or been bought by) automakers to develop fleets of L4-equipped taxis that operate within the confines of certain test cities: Waymo runs autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans in parts of Phoenix, while Argo has AI-equipped Fords operating in Palo Alto, Detroit and Pitts- burgh. These vehicles rely on information from onboard hardware such as cameras, sensors, radar and a laser-based system called LIDAR, plus incredibly detailed 3-D maps.

“We make a Waymo-specific map,” Frost says. “It’s a very deep understanding of the physical environment. It uses a high-definition mapping system that understands where hills are. It can see stop signs, it knows where the traffic lights are, where the lane markings are. It even has the curb edge captured.”

According to Alex Roy, a journalist for The Drive who writes frequently about automation and is an investor in the AV space, the industry’s “geofenced” operating areas and automotive-technological partnerships hint at how the technology could roll out for personally owned autonomous vehicles.

“The artificial intelligence stack has to be taught anew in each city,” Roy says. “You start with one city, then you add more cities, and then, eventually, those cities can be connected. It’s service coverage, like a cell-phone map.” At some point, Roy says, AV companies will have to compete for personal-vehicle customers in overlapping markets. That could mean choosing a Ford over an Audi based partly on the brand, specifications and range of its autonomous technology, like choosing a mobile phone based not just on features like screen size and operating system but service area and call quality. A vehicle’s tech capabilities (autonomous and otherwise) will increasingly become distinct vehicle features, like the engine or stereo system, upgradable for those who want the latest and best—and not just the tech itself, but how it’s deployed.

Google computer

Part of Google’s advanced quantum computer. Courtesy of Google

Consider that, by design, autonomous vehicles are unlikely to ever truly flaunt the speed limit like a human would, no matter how much open road lies ahead. That means, during the period when roads are shared by both human-driven and autonomous machines, getting anywhere faster than the posted limit in an AV might require the opening of a wallet instead of a throttle.

“Luxury cars that have been upgraded in the system as ‘priority vehicles’ could be allowed to travel much faster and overtake nonpriority cars,” Roy says. “For a price.”

And that’s to say nothing of in-cockpit technology. The crazed rush to develop self-driving capability kicked open the auto industry’s door to Big Data. Now comfortably inside, Amazon, Apple and Google have no intention of ceding a massive captive audience—more than 80 million new vehicles were sold worldwide in 2018 alone—that will soon have to figure out what to pay attention to inside a car once driving has been scratched off the list. Ordering the luxury vehicle of the future might entail ticking boxes for gaming and entertainment packages that include the latest Fortnite release and an Amazon Prime video subscription, or a health package with integrated real-time biometric monitoring.

If that sounds far away, that’s because it is. But Big Data is changing the possibilities around the luxury car in more tangible ways, and some of the most incredible are happening right now.

Niche Manufacturing

“To create a vehicle at the moment, whether it’s a run of one or a hundred or a hundred thousand, the investment needed in tooling and man-hours is astronomical,” says Felix Holst, chief product officer and founding partner of Hackrod, a start-up that explores radical new manufacturing applications in the automotive space. “As 3-D printing and robotic metal forming and all sorts of other advanced, automated manufacturing techniques come online, it has the power to put the consumer in touch with manufacturing—in effect, mass manufacturing in the quantity of one.”

Hackrod

The algorithmically generated chassis design for Hackrod’s La Bandita roadster.

This is the bleeding edge of automotive production. Even Tesla’s heavily automated Fremont factory, a vast California facility where whirring robots press and laser and lift car bodies 15 feet onto a rail system with the ease of placing a can of soup on a shelf, relies on an essentially traditional manufacturing process: Designers sketch cars, engineers model and refine the design, and people and machines assemble the parts. But Holst and Hackrod cofounder Mouse McCoy saw that a convergence of advanced technologies—artificial intelligence, virtual reality, algorithmic design, 3-D printing—could flatten the process in the same way that music software like GarageBand turned the labour-intensive process of making an album into something replicable by a bored teenager in his bedroom. Holst, a former vice president for design at Hot Wheels, says the goal was to imagine “whether three kids in their garage could start a car company.”

The result was Hackrod’s La Bandita roadster, built on a chassis conceived not by engineers but by a machine-learning algorithm and brought to life by advanced manufacturing processes.

“It’s generative design,” says Holst. “Which is basically, set your needs and parameters for what you’re trying to achieve and allow cloud processing to give you an optimised structure that solves for those needs.” This type of algorithmic software can already tackle complex engineering problems, such as an engine swap. When staggeringly powerful quantum computers become widely available (as of this writing, there are reportedly only 11 examples online around the world), such calculations could be computed across infinite parallel universes just for fun.

The implications for vehicle customization are astounding, especially in a future of simplified electric vehicles. A customer could buy a modular EV “skateboard”—a flat row of batteries on motorized running gear—then commission a boutique manufacturer to algorithmically generate a body design to exact performance and safety specifications, crash-tested in virtual reality and printed over the course of days or even hours, and entirely unconstrained by needs like a driver’s seat or a windshield you can see out of.

“We build the entire automotive experience around a steering wheel and pedals, so all cars have a similarity to them,” says Frost. “When you think 30 years down the track, and the Waymo [autonomous] driver being an enabler, it becomes a blank sheet.”

Rolls-Royce

Interior of Rolls-Royce concept Courtesy of Rolls-Royce

And creativity need not stop at the vehicle manufacturing. The interior and exterior could be painstakingly hand-finished using a combination of high-tech and old-school techniques, like contemporary resto-modifiers do today with classic cars. That could mean everything from 3-D-printed seats, designed using personalized body mapping and upholstered by hand, to a carbon-fibre rear wing re-created to the exact, laser-scanned dimensions of the ’95 Le Mans–winning McLaren F1 GTR.

“We really are on the cusp of some very dramatic shifts,” says Holst. “There is a view of the future that is very like the golden age of coachbuilding.”

To make such bespoke vehicles self-driving, imagine AI software and sensor hardware bundled together as an off-the-shelf automotive component the same way you can buy a Ford crate engine or parking sensors from Amazon. Waymo already sells its LIDAR scanning tech to nonautomotive customers, while San Diego– based Comma.AI offers a $930 device called the Eon DevKit, which uses a camera and the brand’s open-source software to enhance the driver- assistance systems of numerous vehicles across brands, like an aftermarket Tesla Autopilot.

Such bespoke and well-equipped machines will not come cheap; they will be the wild exceptions among a herd of increasingly homogenized commuter shuttles—until, of course, they’re not. Citing huge demand for mass-market but customisable 3-D-printed gear from Nike and Adidas, Holst suggests such cars “will very quickly be for the everyman.”

And when such dream machines become available to the masses, where will the luxury car go from there?

The Tesla Cybertruck

Tesla’s Cybertruck brings the post-apocalyptic future to the present day. Tesla

Rarity

There is a future––far away and hardly guaranteed, but possible—in which your average car is nothing but a whizzing electric box powered through inductive charging by the very roads on which it expertly drives itself. A luxury version of such a car is easy to imagine: Just make the box bigger and more sumptuous, an autonomous transport the size of a rock band’s touring bus lavishly appointed by the great interior designers of the time, hung with art and plied with every amenity from sleeping quarters and a gym to climate-controlled wine storage.

But in this same obscure tomorrow there’s another version of the luxury car, one which is considered an astonishing oddity to behold—outlandish, anachronistic, perhaps even deliberately provocative. That car will look, nearly exactly, like the car of today: an utterly servile box and tires, with a steering wheel and pedals, powered by the crude liquefied remains of dinosaurs.

The automobile may be rolling toward an electrified, customizable, self-driving future, but technology trends toward the efficient and the democratic—two qualities the luxury market can’t abide. Just consider the story of the “quartz crisis,” which almost killed off the luxury watchmaking industry as we know it.

In the waning days of the 1970s, the entire horological industry decided it had seen the future, and that future ran on batteries. Quartz-powered watches were more accurate, more reliable and far cheaper to produce than complex mechanical movements. Everyone from Rolex to Patek Philippe embraced the brave new world; brands across Switzerland destroyed their watchmaking machinery, the old ways unceremoniously discarded in heaps of suddenly obsolete tooling.

Bentley concept

Bentley EXP 100 GT concept car Courtesy of Bentley

Then, eventually, the fever waned. Luxury buyers were no longer enamoured of simplicity and efficiency. They wanted instead to absorb themselves in the complex, inefficient, labour-intensive products of human industry, as they did with their architecture and wines and bespoke suits. Powered once again by intricate mechanical movements, the luxury watchmaking industry eventually regrew itself into a multibillion-dollar industry that shows no signs of slowing.

There is no such mass-market future for the loud, brainless, gas-powered automobile, especially when fossil fuel may cost as much as gold and legislation and liability have driven human-powered cars from the road in the name of safety. And as congestion pricing and subscription-based automotive services conspire to hollow out the middle-class ownership model, “the luxury of private ownership is about to become far more rare, especially in cities,” says Alex Roy, with future roads populated by vehicles paid for “by the minute or mile.”

But for those collectors who can afford to house and feed and maintain a fussy, demanding, extravagant curiosity, the reward will be a direct link to one of humankind’s greatest achievements, a remarkably robust and sometimes dazzling beast of burden on whose back we built the modern world.

One will need more than access to gasoline and a dying breed of knowledgeable mechanics. An archaic automobile kept alive in a distant future will require space to roam. And in a world of whizzing boxes depositing us like pre-sorted mail, what savage freedom it will be to take off toward nowhere and let the thing bellow and fart and run where you tell it, as fast as you dare. They’ll call it senselessly dangerous and heretically backward—the kind of outmoded, mostly illegal fun available only to historical reenactors and the very rich.

Which is to say, according to Roy, “the best way to ensure you’ll be able to drive in the autonomous future is to own the road you’re driving on.”

 

This story comes from our latest Autumn 2020 issue. To purchase a copy or to sign up to an annual subscription of Robb Report Australia & New Zealand click here. To stay in touch with all the latest news click here.

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A Michael Jordan Logoman Patch Card Just Sold for a Record $2.9 Million at Auction

The one-of-one piece is now the most expensive Jordan card to ever cross the auction block.

By Tori Latham 06/06/2024

Michael Jordan was a record-breaking athlete—and the legendary hooper is continuing to set records more than two decades after his (final) retirement from the game.

A one-of-one signed and game-used Jordan Logoman patch card just sold for an eye-popping USD$2.9 million, making it the most expensive Jordan card ever sold at auction. The 2003 card was part of the Goldin 100 auction, where it received 38 bids before finally hammering down for that multimillion-dollar total.

Goldin

The rare card, which was included in an Upper Deck Ultimate Collection, is the very first signed Logoman patch card with Jordan in a Chicago Bulls jersey. The patch itself is from Jordan’s peak with the Bulls, a team he led to six NBA championships. The bold blue autograph on the bottom of the card, meanwhile, was graded PSA 10. It’s unclear where the card was before 2022, when it was submitted to PSA for grading, and this is the first time it’s been offered in a public auction. Altogether, it’s considered to be the most exclusive Jordan autographed Logoman card in the world.

While Jordan is perhaps most well known for what he’s done on the court, the baller is no stranger to making waves on the auction block, too. Earlier this year, a set of his NBA Finals–worn sneakers achieved a bonkers $8 million during a Sotheby’s auction. Even then, that’s not the most someone has paid for Jordan memorabilia: In 2022, the athlete’s game-worn “Last Dance” Finals jersey hammered down for a whopping USD$10.1 million.

The recent card sale may not match those numbers, but almost USD$3 million is still a hefty sum to pay for a relatively compact item. And the card easily swept the rest of the Goldin 100 auction. The highest following lot was a Kobe Bryant jersey that the late Los Angeles Laker wore during a 2013 game. That piece of sports history ended up going home with someone for USD$1.2 million.

As the richest basketball player ever, with a net worth of $3.5 billion as of a year ago, Jordan himself is far outearning his card’s value. But it’s unlikely that he would have ever made that much money without paving the sort of path that makes his memorabilia so desirable when it hits the auction block.

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You Can Now Buy and Sell Luxury Watches and Jewellery on eBay’s Consignment Service

The e-tailer is making inroads on being a major marketplace for high-end goods.

By Tori Latham 06/06/2024

eBay is continuing to make inroads into the luxury industry.

The website on Tuesday expanded its consignment service to include high-end watches, jewellery, and footwear. Among the brands being accepted by the program are Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, and Louis Vuitton for shoes; Chanel, David Yurman, and Neil Lane for jewellery; and Breguet, Girard-Perregaux, and Jaeger-LeCoultre for timepieces.

eBay’s consignment program debuted at the end of last year for handbags, and it added apparel to the mix in March. The service is meant to make selling high-end goods easier for those looking to offload their pieces, and more trustworthy for those hoping to buy them. The e-tailer has partnered with the company Linda’s Stuff to streamline the process: A seller fills out a simple intake form, then receives a prepaid and insured shipping label to send in their items. eBay and Linda’s Stuff photograph, price, and list the item, with the seller receiving a commission based on the final sale price. If a piece sells for $5,000 or more, for example, the seller receives 80 percent.

Since launching its consignment service, eBay has seen that items listed that way are selling for more than similar pieces listed on the website in the more traditional way. In just one example, a small quilted Chanel 19 flap bag consigned in December hurdled past the average sales price for the same purses sold on eBay by 45 percent.

In recent years, eBay has been training its efforts on making high-end, pre-owned items easier to sell and buy on its platform. It has implemented programs like Certified by Brand and Authenticity Guarantee to ensure that users feel confident when buying and selling luxury items on the website. And those sorts of used and refurbished items now compose 40 percent of eBay’s gross merchandise volume.

While it may seem a bit strange to sell your luxury items on eBay rather than a designated site like the RealReal, the e-tailer might be breaking out as the next big luxury marketplace, especially when it comes to pre-owned pieces.

 

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Four Seasons’ Private Jet Trips Will Take You to Asia, Africa, and Beyond in 2026

The six 2026 itineraries range from 13 to 21 days and cost between USD$159,000 and $229,000 per person.

By Rachel Cormack 06/06/2024

It’s never too early to start planning a vacation. Just ask Four Seasons.

The hospitality giant just unveiled its private jet itineraries for 2026, giving travelers a chance to book their next adventure a good two years in advance. Designed by a team of experts, the six journeys allow jet-setters to explore far-flung destinations in five-star luxury. You’ll fly the globe in the fully customized Four Seasons Airbus A321neo and stay in lavish Four Seasons hotels along the way. More importantly, guests can partake in curated experiences a cut above the typical tour.

“Our goal is to create connections with travelers of this generation and the next, fostering a legacy of transformative experiences that extend far beyond the journey,” Marc Speichert, executive vice president and chief commercial officer of Four Seasons, said in a statement.

Dubai at Jumeirah Beach
Four Seasons

The itineraries cater to a wide range of travelers, with differing lengths and routes. The 16-day Asia Unveiled trip, for instance, takes guests on a deep dive into the East, with stops in Tokyo, Bali, Angkor Wat, Hoi An, Bhutan, the Maldives, and Bangkok. Other adventures, like the 21-day International Intrigue journey, cover many global destinations from the African savannah to the city of Paris.

Wellness enthusiasts can indulge at Four Seasons Resort Maldives.
Four Seasons

Similarly, the experiences on offer are designed to appeal to a myriad of personality types, from culture vultures and history nerds to thrillseekers and gourmands. On the African Wonders trip, fitness buffs can join a Maasai guide for a nature walk in the Serengeti and then chill out in a meditation session led by an expert yogi. During Timeless Encounters, explorers can take a submarine scooter to Bora Bora’s renowned diving spots. With International Intrigue and Asia Unveiled, wellness enthusiasts indulge in lavish treatments at the Island Spa within Four Seasons Resort Maldives. Asia Unveiled also allows foodies to embark on a sushi masterclass with a Michelin-starred chef in Tokyo, while International Intrigue gives gluttons the chance to craft six courses with celebrated chefs in Mexico City’s local markets. In addition, history connoisseurs can visit famous landmarks like the Taj Mahal on Timeless Encounters. That is just a taste of the experiences on offer, too.

The 2026 itineraries range from 13 to 21 days and cost between USD$159,000 and $229,000 per person. To start planning your trip, visit the Four Seasons website or email the team at fourseasonsjet@fourseasons.com.

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Audemars Piguet Just Dropped a Bevy of New Watches—Including a Mini Royal Oak

From the new Royal Oak Mini to skeletonised 37 mm versions and a wild asymmetrical reissue, AP just slayed the spring watch season.

By Nick Scott, Paige Reddinger, Allen Farmelo 06/06/2024

Audemars Piguet isn’t resting on its laurels and that’s likely just how former longtime CEO, François-Henri Bennhamias, intended. The colourful head honcho left his post at the helm this past December, but he certainly left his mark by taking the brand to USD$2.7 billion in sales by 2023 before handing over the reins to newly minted CEO, Ilaria Resta, who was hired from global perfumery company, Firmenich. (Resta is the latest female addition to AP’s top brass following the appointment of Ginny Wright, who came from L’Oreal, as the CEO of North America.)

Given the lead time of R&D in watchmaking, the latest watches are certainly the mark of Bennhamias’s direction, and the watches are anything but wallflowers. You have wildly innovative new materials like a Royal Oak prototype proposed in Chroma Gold—a new technique blending white gold, rose gold, and yellow gold into a camouflage pattern—and a funky new “Crystal Sand” finish on the Royal Oak Frosted Gold Selfwinding 34 mm model. Meanwhile, Code 11.59 gets decked in an extraordinarily challenging arrangement of sapphires and diamonds, and the latest [Re]Master02 comes in a funky 1960s tv-shaped case with beveled sapphire crystal glass.

Here’s a look at how Audemars Piguet is flexing its craftsmanship muscles with these daring new timepieces.

Audemars Piguet

At 23 mm across, these are not the smallest Royal Oaks ever produced: a 20mm iteration was launched in 1997, alongside a 44mm Royal Oak Grande Complication, to celebrate the model’s 25th anniversary. They’re also not the sparkliest Royal Oaks: any number of abundantly gem-set models are all vying for that crown.

But the frosted gold trio before you are definitely amongst the most attention-grabbing Royal Oaks to date, residing as they do in the intersection of two Goldilocks zones: they’re well suited to slender-wristed wearers, but not so small that they invoke outmoded notions of femininity; and they’re mischievously sparkly, but packing only carefully measured flamboyance.

Audemars Piguet

Built from 18 carat yellow, white or pink frosted gold, the new pieces’ shimmering diamond-dust effect contrasts beautifully with the polished bevels. The case, bezel and bracelet have been created using a Florentine jewelry technique first applied to a Royal Oak in 2016, and again in 2018 with the help of Carolina Bucci. The frosting involves hand-hammering the metal using a diamond-tipped tool, and the effect is uniquely elegant and understated.

The dials—like that on Gérald Genta’s original steel game-changer—are uncluttered bar the petite tapisserie pattern. Unlike Genta’s original (a major counter-offensive salvo from the mechanical watches camp during the quartz crises) the beating heart for this trio is calibre 2730, a quartz movement with a seven-year battery life and easy-to-use deactivation mode.

Audemars Piguet

The smallest selfwinding Royal Oaks ever made remain Calibre 2062, a 29mm piece – created by former head of Audemars Piguet’s design office Jacqueline Dimier – which retained the codes of Genta’s original model created in 1976, and the gem-set derivative released shortly afterwards.

“These mini creations pay tribute not only to Audemars Piguet’s long tradition of miniature and jewellery watches, but also to the women who have left their mark on the history of the brand, including Jacqueline Dimier to whom we owe the first Royal Oak for women, and Carolina Bucci, the mastermind behind the Frosted Gold finish,” said Ilaria Resta Audemars Piguet’s Chief Executive Officer, in a statement.

Audemars Piguet

Sébastian Vivas—the maker’s Heritage and Museum Director—added that the three pieces “demonstrate the extraordinary plasticity of the Royal Oak collection, which transcends decades, gender, trends and dimensions.”

Size: 27 mm
Material: white, yellow and rose gold
Price: $51,700

Audemars Piguet

AP’s frosted gold Royal Oaks have been a hit for the brand since it debuted as a collaboration with Italian jeweler, Carolina Bucci in 2016. There have been several versions, including one with a mirrored dial, and now the nouveau classic is sporting a “Crystal Sand” finish.

Audemars Piguet

The 34 mm model’s dial offers a magnified and dramatized interpretation of the hammered case and surface of the bracelet. Made from embossed ruthenium crystal, the dial is then adorned with a stamping die via electroforming, a process that forms or grows metal parts onto a model. The color is achieved through a galvanic bath of both rhodium and gold coating to accentuate its 3D form.

Audemars Piguet

Size: 34 mm
Material: frosted gold
Price: $93,250

Audemars Piguet

Since 2010, Audemars Piguet’s Openworked Royal Oak models have been offered in sizes ranging between 39 mm (e.g., reference 15305) and 41 mm (e.g., reference 15407). Something about skeletonizing watches seems to cause many brands to reach for its larger cases: Perhaps it’s the larger dial for skeletonizing, or perhaps it’s a tendency to assume that men who like big watches will also prefer openworked dials. To be honest, I’ve long shared the latter assumption, though I’ve never had much reason to examine it before now.

Audemars Piguet often challenges our assumptions (consider the Spider Man Royal Oak, for example), and this new Openworked Double Balance Wheel Royal Oak at 37 mm in white or rose gold disregards assumptions about gender and watches while also underlining the small watch trend for men.

Audemars Piguet

Thirty-seven mm is pretty much the perfect “unisex” size. Many brands (for example, Grand Seiko, Lange, Rolex, Zentih) offer 37 mm watches that serve as a bridge between their men’s and women’s collections, and sometimes these brands will point that out. However, in its typical avant garde manner, Audemars Piguet is way ahead of this shifting norm—especially when compared to its counterparts in the Horological Holy Trinity, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin, both of which offer 37 mm watches steered more obviously toward men or women with gem setting, or the lack thereof. By offering the Openworked Royal Oak at 37 mm, Audemars Piguet cleverly sidesteps that old-school his/hers conundrum.

Audemars Piguet

This watch is going to resonate with men who are continuing to lean toward smaller watches, and it’s going to resonate with women who are looking for a larger and more daring timepiece that won’t overpower (or simply overhang) their wrists. And this Royal Oak does all that gender bending by simply shrinking its skeletonized watch. In this regard alone, I think it’s a brilliant offering—and I’m not a big fan of openworked dials.

The dual balance wheel mechanism of caliber 3132 helps stabilize the balance staff in its ruby mount, which improves precision.
Audemars Piguet

With all that said, what’s really driving this watch’s avant garde nature is the movement, known as caliber 3132. The dual balance wheel is a unique approach to minimizing the tilt of the balance staff (the axil on which the balance wheel oscillates). When the balance wheel swings back and forth (like a pendulum), there is a tendency, due to inertia, for it to slightly tilt within its ruby mount. When the balance staff tilts (however slightly) gravity has its way with it, causing timing discrepancies in different positions (known as positional variance). By adding a second balance wheel (not just a second spring, as found in some movements), Audemars Piguet has added stabilizing mass to the mechanism, as well as a counter-force that further stabilizes the balance staff as it changes direction. Theoretically, this reduces tilt of the balance staff and reduces positional variance.

It also looks very cool, and you’ll get a good view from both the front and the back of this watch.

Size: 37 mm
Material: pink and white gold
Price: $147,300

Audemars Piguet

If you’d told me a few years ago that brutalism—a minimalist, institutional architecture style of the mid-20th century rendered with massive concrete slabs—was going to be a catchphrase of watch design by 2024, I’d have declared you an iconoclastic crackpot. But, you’d have been right.

Audemars Piguet has picked up on the recent nostalgia for that strangely appealing architectural style. Reaching into their catalog from the 1960s, when brutalism was peaking globally, they’ve found a very cool watch to recreate—or, as AP insists, to “[RE]Master.” Audemars Piguet has borrowed the term from the recording arts: Remastering is generally a slight modernizing of a recording for current markets, so the analogy holds here, as this watch slightly modernizes vintage model.

Audemars Piguet

Crafted from Audemars Piguet’s proprietary sand gold, the case will shift between white and pink gold hues, depending on ambient lighting. Using the trusted time-only only caliber 7129, this auto-winding mechanical movement is on display through a circular window in the caseback.

Audemars Piguet

Sébastian Vivas, AP’s Heritage and Museum Director, states that “Between 1959 and 1963, Audemars Piguet created more than 30 asymmetrical models, most of which were produced in less than 10 pieces. [RE]Master02 is a fantastic opportunity to revive this forgotten golden age.”

Audemars Piguet

Despite the wildly brutalist case, it may be the dial that steals the show here. Created using a dark blue PVD treatment over beautifully brushed surfaces, the 12 individually crafted dial segments cleverly help time telling without relying on applied markers. These dial segments are separated by galvanized sand gold partitions, and each segment sits on miniscule legs attached to a brass dial plate beneath. All of this geometric precision is accentuated by the beveled sapphire crystal.

Size: 41 mm
Material: sand gold
Price: $70,900(limited to 250 pieces)

Audemars Piguet

The Code 11.59 is getting all dolled up this year in a splash of gem-set models. Two 38 mm iterations come in either 18-karat pink gold or white gold set with 533 brilliant-cut diamonds and colored sapphires.

Audemars Piguet

What is notable here is the pixelated-looking setting. The pink-gold version comes with an array of navy, baby blue and yellow sapphires on the dial, while the white-gold version comes in pink and purple sapphires. Both look as though the colors were shaken in a glass and poured onto the dial so that the pattern is haphazardly arranged. It’s a fun take on a gem-set dial, one which we can’t recall seeing before and is, no doubt, extraordinarily difficult to arrange to achieve the right balance of hues. Each piece is set with the three-hand selfwinding caliber 5909.

Audemars Piguet
Audemars Piguet

One of the coolest pieces in the new lineup is just a prototype for now, but it offers a glimpse of what’s to come in the future. Chroma Gold is a patented innovation blending yellow gold, white gold, and rose gold via Spark Plasma Sintering technology. Each gold variation is melted before droplets are atomized into powders. They are then combined in their respective pattern in a circular graphite mold which is then sintered via an electrical current. It is a first for the watch industry.

Audemars Piguet

Even in jewellery it is notoriously difficult to work with multiple types of metal in one piece due to the variations in consistency and that’s without trying to blend them together. The only time we have seen the blending of two different types of gold before is in American jeweler Adam Neeley’s proprietary SpectraGold, which is currently pending a patent. AP’s Chroma Gold follows the debut of a similar method with ceramic that debuted in a prototype earlier this year allowing the company to blend various hues of the material. Camo isn’t for everyone, but the multi-hued gold version certainly makes a compelling case for the machismo pattern. On the right hands it will be irresistibly cool.

 

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Watch of the Week: IWC Ceralume Pilot’s Chronograph

The concept watch hints at the future of IWC’s proprietary luminous ceramic technology.

By Josh Bozin 31/05/2024

Did you catch Lewis Hamilton rocking a new IWC Schaffhausen timepiece at the Monaco Grand Prix over the weekend? We did too, and as curious watch fanatics, we couldn’t help but speculate on what exactly this stark-white timepiece could be. A new iteration of the 2022 Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN “Lake Tahoe” edition, perhaps?

Sort of.

Earlier this week, IWC took to Instagram to reveal what its experimental engineering division, XPL, has been working on over the last few years. Introducing the new IWC Ceralume Pilot’s Chronograph—a ceramic watch, albeit a prototype, that completely glows in the dark, from case to dial to strap!

IWC

Such wizardry is thanks to a proprietary luminous ceramic technology that IWC calls “Ceralume.” This technical feat has allowed IWC watchmakers to produce their very first fully luminous ceramic watch. Building on its 40-year journey as true pioneers of engineering ceramic material within watches—ceramic is notoriously difficult to work with, you see—IWC is no stranger to such technical feats.

Thanks to the homogeneous mixing of ceramic powders with high-grade Super-LumiNova pigments, IWC has fashioned a luminous material that acts like a battery for storing light energy. Utilising the new Ceralume technology, this fully luminous concept Pilot’s Chronograph emits a bright blueish light that lasts more than 24 hours.

“With the first fully luminous ceramic case rings, we underscore our role as a pioneer and innovator in ceramic watches. The development of Ceralume took several years. The main challenges we faced were producing watch cases with maximum homogeneity and meeting our exacting quality standards,” says Dr. Lorenz Brunner, Department Manager Research & Innovation at IWC Schaffhausen.

“To achieve these goals, we engineered a ground-breaking new manufacturing process – tailored to the unique combination of ceramic powders and Super-LumiNova pigments.”

If we’re to get extra technical, the ceramic material absorbs light energy from sunlight (or artificial light), stores it temporarily, and then emits the absorbed energy as visible light—the luminous “glow” that you see below. According to IWC, this cycle is infinite and will never cause the material to age or diminish its light storage capacity.

IWC

Developed completely in-house by IWC and its Experimental Engineering Division (XPL), the patent-pending Ceralume technology will undoubtedly form the foundation of future developments and releases, with a broader commercial release imminent.

To learn more, visit iwc.com

 

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