The Tiny West African Tropical Getaway You’ve Never Heard Of

The island nation of São Tomé e Príncipe is aiming to become the fashionable getaway of choice for the worldly, eco-conscious traveller.

By Mark Ellwood 16/04/2022

Landing at the airport on the tiny West African island of Príncipe, the plane seems to skim the top of the dense jungle canopy, almost like a pebble skipping the surface of the water. Runway and shack-like terminal aside, there’s barely any evidence of human intrusion into the Jurassic Park–like landscape. Later, as you roam through that jungle on foot, the sensation of time warping is only magnified. The strange caws and yelps that ricochet round the canopy, evidence of the dozens of unique bird species here, could just as easily be a dinosaur’s, out of place and time.

It’s an impression that also hit Mark Shuttleworth when he first touched down here in his Bombardier jet over a decade ago, casting around with his pilot for a handy pit stop between his two permanent bases, the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea and Cape Town, South Africa, where he grew up. “I was looking for an out-of-the-way place where I could essentially just enjoy being at ease with nature in Africa,” he recalls. Though he admits, “I was almost going to write this off,” his mind changed, quickly, after disembarking on Príncipe. “My overwhelming impression was that this was both extraordinary and extraordinarily fragile. And I wanted to take the opportunity to do something with the people there that gives them something unique in the world, forever.”

That impromptu mission—he even showed up at the president’s office unannounced, without an introduction, seeking a meeting—has become a driving force in Shuttleworth’s life and turned the country of São Tomé e Príncipe into one of his primary passions. The 48-year-old South African–born multimillionaire has plowed more than $138 million of his fortune into Africa’s second-smallest nation by area (after the Seychelles), aiming to shore up its economy and thereby help prevent uncontrolled exploitation of its chief resource: nature. His plan is to lure wealthy, eco-conscious travellers here, mimicking the high-spending, low-footprint tourism strategy proven successful in Rwanda and Botswana, for two examples.

Mark Shuttleworth

São Tomé e Príncipe investor Mark Shuttleworth. Maique Madeira

Ten years in, concrete results are now becoming apparent, with three hotels up and running and another on track to reopen by year’s end. HBD Príncipe Group, the company he created for the project, prioritizes the social good, but its chief executive, Malcolm Couch, expects to break even in two to three years and begin generating a profit within a decade. Couch says HBD will reinvest any earnings in the island’s economy.

“We’d want to say to other folks who may have wealth that they wish to do something with, perhaps in other parts of the world, that you could use this model. We’ll show you how to do it.”

Shuttleworth has an estimated fortune of approx. $920 million, accrued mostly through tech start-ups. He’s famous for splurging $28 million of it to go into space 20 years ago as a paid passenger on a Russian Soyuz craft, the first person from his continent to do so, earning him the nickname the Afronaut. It’s a misleading headline-grabber, as Shuttleworth is no playboy prone to frittering away his money on gimmicks. Think of him rather as the antithesis of countryman Elon Musk. He wants to deploy his enormous wealth during his lifetime and in productive ways that emphasize social—rather than social-media—impact. At the same time as he was prepping for space, he established the Mark Shuttleworth Foundation, which provides small grants to Shuttleworth Fellows, who pursue humanitarian and environmental projects around the world, including, but not limited to, in São Tomé e Príncipe. One recent grantee is working on tagging turtles here, to monitor their laying habits.

Such social engineering, and patrician largesse, can reek of neo-colonialism—a charge that Shuttleworth doesn’t dismiss. He understands the complexity and optics of a wealthy, white African funneling his fortune into a poor, majority-Black nation in the 21st century. “I think there is a profound difference between national dominance and investment, but they can sometimes get intertwined,” he tells Robb Report in a rare interview. “I have no real interest in extracting anything from Príncipe or exploiting it. It would be crass to think in those terms.” Shuttleworth presents his intentions as altruistic: “Príncipe is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to steer development in a different direction.”

São Tomé and Príncipe

Fishermen bringing their daily catch to shore. Elsa Young

Shuttleworth believes he is not alone. “I see other very successful, privileged people almost universally have a desire to do something good with their gains in life,” the reclusive Shuttleworth says. “But it’s difficult if you try to do that in your 80s, because you end up with a very limited set of options. I wanted to use the energy and perspective I could bring to bear as a younger person.” And unlike many of his peers, he sees no need to bequeath his wealth; Shuttleworth is resolved to never becoming a parent. “I had the snip in my early 30s to make damn sure, because I came to the view you couldn’t be a great parent and really great at difficult things,” he offers, unprompted. “The fact is that the evidence shows you’re going to be happier, have a better quality of life and a vastly decreased carbon footprint if you don’t have children. I wish we celebrated and talked about that more.”

The missions that appeal most to him are signaled by the HBD name: The acronym stands for Here Be Dragons, an old cartographer’s shorthand for terra incognita. It’s a nod to pushing boundaries and also suggests why he’d champion a place like São Tomé e Príncipe. The tiny, twin-island nation is barely 1000 square kilometres in total landmass and is volcanic in origin. There were no permanent inhabitants when Portuguese explorers chanced upon the lush, rocky land in the Gulf of Guinea in the late 15th century. They encountered true virgin territory, where almost every inch was heavily forested; the colonials commandeered the land to repurpose as plantations. Initially, they produced sugarcane, but that crop was elbowed aside on the order of the Portuguese king around 1820; deploy the fertile soil, he decreed, on the new, lucrative crop of cacao. The tree had been co-opted by Europeans after they stumbled on it in Brazil, and the chocolate produced by its cocoa beans became a global obsession—so profitable for the Portuguese-speaking world that cacao remains slang for money. By the mid-19th century, what’s now São Tomé e Príncipe was one of the world’s foremost cacao producers. For labour, the industry initially relied on enslaved people, and then indentured workers after slavery was outlawed in Portugal’s colonies in the mid-1870s. Many of those laborers were imported from other Portuguese fiefdoms, notably the Cape Verde islands. They lived on vast roças, estates that functioned more like miniature countries than companies; each typically had its own hospital, food supply and railway.

São Tomé

A restored colonial-era building overlooking Ana Chaves Bay on the coast of São Tomé. Elsa Young/Frank Features

In the early 20th century, the cacao industry here came under fierce critique from the British, whose best-known chocolatiers were Quakers, longtime abolitionists who viewed the indentured labourers as enslaved peoples in all but name. Rowntree, Cadbury and Fry eventually succeeded in implementing boycotts of the islands’ crop. (It may not have been coincidental that cacao producers from nearby modern-day Ghana—then a British holding known as the Gold Coast colony—were competing for the same market.) The snub, along with the islands’ struggle for independence, which was won in 1975, and post-colonial hardships, proved almost lethal to São Tomé e Príncipe’s main industry, and many of the roças fell into disrepair. Since then, some have been rebooted, and cacao remains synonymous with the country. Comprising a majority of the nation’s exports, the produce is touted as among the world’s best and is used by countless luxury chocolatiers. But São Tomé e Príncipe has another asset that Shuttleworth believes could be even more valuable: the land itself.

The larger, dominant island, São Tomé, is more populous, with almost 97 per cent of the country’s just over 200,000 residents. It has plenty of ramshackle charm and a relaxed affect summed up in the local maxim léve-léve, or easy-easy. Water sloshes around the rocks at the Boca do Inferno, or Hell’s Mouth, on its east coast, shooting up in unpredictable spouts; the beach nearby is a fine surfing spot thanks to those same waves. Piglets often scamper down the roads; one resident jokes that owners push them into the street, as the local custom compels any driver who hits a pig to both hand the carcass back and pay appropriate compensation. The capital, namesake city has a faded glamour, its beachfront rimmed by a colonial-era promenade with missing chunks like a gap-toothed smile. In the center, Claudio Corallo, the country’s best contemporary chocolatier, makes his products, which have been sold at high-end shops around the world, including London’s Fortnum & Mason. In Africa for almost five decades, the 70-year-old expat Florentine leads taste-and-tell classes at the factory he built from two shipping containers in his backyard. The raw material on which he relies is cacao from his farm on Príncipe.

Príncipe Kingfisher

The Príncipe kingfisher, one of many species unique to the island. Elsa Young/Frank Features



And it’s Príncipe that is the real draw for most visitors, as Shuttleworth quickly realized on his first trip; today, with the exception of the Omali hotel on São Tomé, most of HBD’s in-country operations are focused here. The smaller island, around 50 square miles, is a UN biosphere. It’s home to dozens of creatures indigenous only to this country, leading it to jostle with the much larger and better-known Madagascar for rights to the lazy but useful sobriquet “Africa’s Galapagos.” This richness of unique fauna is a legacy of the land’s volcanic origin: The island’s never having been connected to the continent proper allowed species to evolve without its influence. Praia Grande, one of Príncipe’s largest beaches, is prime turtle-nesting territory. Leatherbacks and green sea turtles scuttle along the sands starting in late fall to lay their ping-pong-ball-sized eggs under the watchful protection of a local nonprofit. By February, hatching season has begun, and for three months or so, the sands teem with tiny turtles as they exit their nests and make straight for the choppy seas.

In the colonial era, both islands held plantations. On São Tomé, many remain in some form, quarters for enslaved people often still used as housing. On Príncipe, though, the jungle has reclaimed most of the grander roças, with nearly 60 percent of the island’s landmass reserved as a national park. The best way to see it is by sailing through the Baía das Agulhas, or Bay of Spires—on a fine day, the skyscraper-like igneous-rock towers are free of mists, spiking above the canopy into the sky. Hike through the undergrowth on foot, and it’s easy to discover a man-made detail—a brick bridge, perhaps, or some old railroad tracks—that seems out of place in the wild forests, like an outtake from the finale of Planet of the Apes.

Príncipe Island

The O Quê Pipi Waterfall on Príncipe. Scott Ramsay

If you want to stay on Príncipe, HBD now owns and operates three hotels here, each anchored in the landscape in a particular way. “Príncipe is incredibly safe, remote and everybody knows everybody—that’s sort of unique,” Shuttleworth says of the strategy behind his tourism operation. “It allows us to try some things we wouldn’t in other places.” Take Sundy Praia, a tented camp on the beach, which was built from scratch four years ago and is deliberately hidden from view so as not to impinge on the untouched landscape. It lacks barbed-wire border fences or any other evidence that the local community is unwelcome; indeed, one Sunday morning, a group of teenagers loll on one of its beaches. Each structure has been built to minimize its impact on the land and can be removed leaving virtually no trace. The air smells warm and slightly moist, and the only sound other than the birds is the waves. A gray-bearded lepidopterist, one of the hotel’s guests, appears occasionally from the undergrowth, net in hand, questing for specimens of the island’s unique butterflies; he has been coming to Príncipe for decades to combine vacation with a little fieldwork.

A 15-minute walk up the hill is Roça Sundy, a former plantation home that has been repurposed as a 16-room hotel. Close by sit the sanzalas, erstwhile quarters for enslaved people, which 150 or so families still occupy; many of the residents work on the cacao farming that HBD has undertaken on the property. The final holding is Bom Bom (Good Good), the island’s best-known hotel, which sits in an extraordinary setting, perched on a promontory wedged between two beaches that face east and west, respectively, ideal for sunrise and sunset both. The cabin-like rooms connect by a bridge to a tiny islet that’s home to the resort’s restaurant and bar. An avian-friendly garden, planted by Shuttleworth’s bird-watching mother, helps draw the island’s exotic species to flutter through the property.

Sundy Praia

The infinity pool at Sundy Praia, a five-star tented camp on Príncipe. Scott Ramsay

Robb Report has exclusively previewed the next phase of HBD’s efforts on Príncipe. Bom Bom, first built as a fishing lodge in the 1980s and currently shuttered, will receive guests again later this year, after an extensive renovation. “We’re celebrating those extraordinary beaches, that kind of Robinson Crusoe feeling of just you on a beach that no one has ever been to before,” Shuttleworth explains. “When you’re sailing past Bom Bom in the future, you won’t know it’s there.” Sundy Praia will get a new spa, as well as an alfresco gym, integrated into the forest. HBD has also bought a building in the island’s tiny capital, a 40-minute drive away, where it will create a new market, gallery, offices and restaurant, as well as a few guest rooms. And at Roça Sundy, the company plans a renovation of the sanzalas. Shuttleworth hopes they will be reborn as a marketplace for São Toméans to sell food or crafts; the families currently residing there will decamp to an HBD-constructed modern village nearby.

HBD has made significant efforts to ensure its building projects aren’t destructive, even inadvertently. Shuttleworth has worked to provide an economic uplift as a result of HBD’s presence—all but one of the 50-plus staff at Roça Sundy, for instance, are São Toméan. (As is still unfortunately common in the African hospitality industry, the general managers of all three properties are white.) Many of the employees live in the sanzalas, and guests can even dine there at a restaurant run by one of the women, who cooks up superb fresh-caught calamari and fish to serve at a long table wedged under the wooden awnings that jut out from the old concrete quarters. As for the environmental side, Emma Tuzinkiewicz arrived in March as HBD’s first on-site sustainability director, lured from an executive role at KKR & Co. in New York. HBD is also part of the Long Run, a nonprofit that brings together resorts and lodges in remote destinations around the world, from Kenya to Australia, collaborating to share sustainable practices.

Roça Sundy Restaurant

A papaya and passion-fruit smoothie served at the property’s Oca Sundy restaurant. Elsa Young/Frank Features

“It’s very important that the people who are there now feel like they had a hand in shaping things,” Shuttleworth says, acknowledging that the new housing development he’s funding and into which the current sanzala residents will move, has a name that might seem patronizing, at best: Terra Promitida, or Promised Land. But the community chose it for themselves. “I was taken aback, as it’s a little awkwardly biblical for my taste. After I got over my eek, at the very least we know this community desperately wanted better [housing] and saw this as their best shot.”

Shuttleworth has actively engaged with São Toméans from the outset, seeking their counsel. “My first impression of [Shuttleworth], I confess, was suspicious. I thought, ‘Why would a young man, apparently in his 30s, be interested in investing in a lost island in the Atlantic?’ ” José Cassandra writes in an e-mail.

The 57-year-old was regional president of Príncipe island for 14 years, until August 2019, and worked closely with Shuttleworth as HBD’s interest in the country grew and their visions aligned. Cassandra notes approvingly of that resettlement project, as well as HBD’s approach to job creation, preserving the island’s natural resources even as unemployment levels were high.

Cassandra dismisses concerns of neo-colonialism outright, noting that locals already occupy several senior roles across HBD’s various enterprises. “We need investors who believe in the potential of our country, in various domains like agriculture and tourism, and will involve people and train them, as HBD has done,” he writes. “This will contribute to creating a national know-how to assume our own development projects. The opposite would be some kind of colonialism.”

São Tomé

Blue-and-white azulejos above the main altar in Sé Catedral de Nossa Senhora da Graça (Our Lady of Grace Cathedral) in São Tomé. Elsa Young/Frank Features

It’s heartening to hear, but Shuttleworth remains aware of the uneasy bargain into which Cassandra and his country entered. “I would say it’s sort of icky to see a place like Príncipe, so fragile, precious and beautiful, and do nothing,” Shuttleworth says. “One might easily look at it, and think, ‘This will soon be destroyed,’ and then walk away. Development tends to follow a tragic curve, with a tremendous destruction of culture and identity. Would the locals and that environment end up in a better place if I did nothing? That’s unanswerable.” He’s perhaps being modest: When he first took interest in the island, the Sundy plantation area had been earmarked for sale to Agripalma, an oil-palm business, which would have felled the rain forest to replant it with palms—an economic uplift, for sure, but an environmental catastrophe. Shuttleworth and his team petitioned the government that they could create jobs without destroying the jungle.

Shuttleworth’s efforts are certainly well placed in terms of the trends in African tourism, according to Deb Calmeyer of Roar Africa, the elite travel specialist. “There’s a new wave of places that are becoming reachable and just about luxurious enough without [a guest] needing to be a pioneer adventurer,” she says. “It’s sad that when Americans think of Africa, it equals safari—the coastlines are sometimes so dramatic, and you can have the feeling of living on the edge of the wilderness on African beaches. You’re not going to find overdone, heavy-traffic resorts like in the Caribbean. There’s a raw beauty.”

Bom Bom Príncipe Island

Diving to a sunken airplane at the bottom of Bom Bom Bay. Scott Ramsay

São Tomé e Príncipe remains one of the least-visited countries in the world—it logged only 33,000 visitors in 2018, before the pandemic slashed numbers. The count is destined to remain comparatively low, at least in part for logistical reasons: International flights are limited to connections to a few West African hubs, including Accra in Ghana, and the colonial holdover route to Lisbon. Private jets are a handier way to visit.

Which is how Shuttleworth continues to alight here three times a year for monthlong stays on his properties, enabling him to remain involved, firsthand, with HBD’s efforts. “After a week in Príncipe, I feel like I’ve deepened something about myself— somehow soothed and challenged at the same time,” he says. “Life passes us by no matter what, and we only get to wake up and go to sleep so many times, and this feels like something that’s profoundly important.”


Subscribe to the Newsletter

Stay Connected

You may also like.

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.


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.

Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected

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.


Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected

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

Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected

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.


Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected

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!


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.


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


Buy the Magazine

Subscribe today

Stay Connected