If there were a superhero in the watch industry, it would probably be François-Henry Bennahmias, the head of the Swiss watch manufacturer Audemars Piguet. The success he has helped the brand achieve over the past 11 years as CEO is actually impossible to accomplish with normal human strength. Since taking over as CEO of AP in 2012, he has tripled sales and increased demand enormously, despite risky strategic decisions.
Bennahmias does not adhere to the codes one might expect for such a traditional brand. He comes across as rebellious, disruptive and seems untouchable in the process: distancing himself from retail partners through his own monobrand boutiques (AP Houses) instead of multi-brand points of sale, introducing the controversial CODE 11.59, and last but not least creating the partnership with Marvel’s superheroes. Thus, Bennahmias dared to infringe upon the Royal Oak – aka the company’s holy grail, which is largely responsible for the brand’s success over the last 50 years. Bennahmias has a certain penchant for superpowers, so it’s not surprising that he’s harboured the idea of partnering with Marvel since long before he was even CEO of the brand.
The second AP x Marvel edition
Good contacts pay off. Bennahmias’ long-time friend, the actor Don Cheadle, made contact with Marvel a few years ago after he played the role of James Rhodes – aka War Machine – in Avengers. What seemed like the impossible became possible in 2021, when Audemars Piguet unveiled the first Royal Oak Concept x Marvel watch. It was Black Panther, one of the great Marvel characters, floating as a 3-D figure above the dial of a Royal Oak Concept. The 250 pieces sold out instantly, even though a few pieces are now circulating again on the pre-owned market, albeit with a substantial price increase. A unique piece sold for charity fetched 5.2 million dollars at auction. The coup was a success, and the next edition was already being planned, as now, two years later, Bennahmias ceremoniously presents the second Marvel creation in Dubai. The new superhero is none other than Spider-Man.
In this model, too, the Marvel character seems to float within the case. The shape and contours of the figure were milled from a single piece of white gold using a CNC machine. The lower half of the superhero suit was laser engraved, while the upper surface of the figure was engraved by hand and then painted by hand. The decorators spent more than 50 hours just working on the figure. The Concept, launched in 2002, serves as a playground for experimental materials, shapes and functions. The 42 mm case of the Royal Oak Concept Tourbillon Spider-Man is made of titanium, which would be unthinkable in the regular Royal Oak line. Moreover, the case was specially made for this edition (as was the case for the Black Panther). Meanwhile, the bezel and crown are made of black ceramic.
Master of skeletonisation
Comic book fans are already considered to be detail-oriented (more on that later.) Accordingly, AP has taken it to the extreme and skeletonised the new movement to the max. The watchmakers removed as much material as possible, resulting in Spider-Man being the main protagonist. The result is the new calibre 2974 with manual winding, a successor to the calibre 2948 that ticks in all CODE 11.59 tourbillon models. Bennahmias already announced in our conversation from 2020 that from now on, the newly developed movements of the CODE 11.59 will also be installed in other watch lines. The Royal Oak Concept Black Panther still featured the calibre 2965, a classic Concept calibre based on AP’s 2964.
The new Royal Oak Concept Tourbillon Spider-Man comes with a black and grey interchangeable rubber strap with an AP buckle made of titanium. The horology house also includes a second rubber strap in black and red. It costs 195,000 Swiss francs (around 238,000 euros).
Unique Piece: Royal Oak Concept Tourbillon ‘Black Suit Spider-Man’
Let’s return to the comic fans of this world, who will be aware that Spider-Man didn’t just exist in his red and blue suit, but also with an all-black outfit. He was seen in it in issue #252 “The Amazing Spider-Man” from 1984. For the unique piece accompanying this year’s Marvel Edition, Spider-Man is therefore dressed in a black suit. The case is not titanium, but rather white gold with engravings that make the light shimmer as if Spider-Man’s web were glowing in the dark. The sapphire crystal caseback bears the inscription ‘Royal Oak Concept Unique Piece’. The unique piece comes on either a black rubber strap with a textured finish, or a black calfskin strap with a textile effect and silver stitching.
The Royal Oak Concept Tourbillon ‘Black Suit Spider-Man’ was auctioned at Christie’s on 25 May for the sum of 6.2 Million US Dollar. All proceeds will go to the First Book and Ashoka non-profit organisations, respectively promoting entrepreneurship among young people from financially disadvantaged families and creating fair, sustainable and humane lives.
The only question that remains is what Marvel character Bennahmias would be. Maybe a bit of Tony Stark – aka Iron Man – with his indestructible armour, with which Bennahmias simply bounces off his sceptics and adversaries. Perhaps there’s also a touch of the nerdy but ingenious Peter Parker alias Spider-Man with his sixth sense; a superpower that Bennahmias also seems to be blessed with, and which defined the future of the watch industry like no other.