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Audemars Piguet  - Edward Piguet Saphire Tourbillon

Audemars Piguet Edward Piguet Saphire Tourbillon

The Corundum Conundrum*

How precious is the Edward Piguet Sapphire Tourbillon?

As one of the “Big Four” (or ‘Big Four’) alongside diamonds, rubies and emeralds, sapphires fall within the category of precious gemstones. Sapphires are a type of corundum – a naturally occurring aluminium oxide material – and their appearance can be transparent to translucent. Interestingly, the “precious gemstone” classification may be a somewhat archaic term for modern-day professional gemmologists because among other things, the rarity and quality of a semi-precious stone rather than its classification may well lead to a higher valuation as compared to a precious one on a per carat basis.

In the watch industry, synthetic rather than natural sapphires are used to protect the dials and casebacks of timepieces. Synthetic sapphire crystals are made from pure aluminium oxide heated at high temperatures and and – similarly to natural ones – have a hardness of 9 on the Mohs scale. The Sapphire Tourbillon is no exception, as it is protected by synthetic sapphire crystals. Is there truly a need then to name the Edward Piguet Sapphire Tourbillon as such?

Firstly, the sapphire used in the Edward Piguet Sapphire Tourbillon is of the natural translucent variety and it serves as the mainplate for the manual-winding 2888 calibre. Secondly, this is part of what Audemars Piguet presented as a “two-fold innovation” when this model was introduced in 2002. This referred on the one hand to the use of new materials – and particularly that of natural sapphire as a functional component – and on the other to the Renaissance-inspired aesthetic design.

Edward Piguet Saphire Tourbillon

Edward Piguet Tourbillon Saphir © Audemars Piguet

Natural sapphire’s sheer limpidity that revealed tiny inclusions was one of the reasons for this choice. Such imperfections are characteristic of sapphire, whereas synthetic sapphire is flawless. A perfectly flawless sapphire is therefore a tell-tale sign that it has been treated or – to put it crudely – is a fake. Using the natural mineral stone wasn’t plain sailing for the Audemars Piguet team as they had to develop the technique to machine the sapphire plate to house the components as well as to protect it from thermal shocks.

What is instantly noticeable and recognisable about the Edward Piguet Sapphire Tourbillon is its “moustache-style” tourbillon bridge. This architecture is inspired by the pendulum clock – and notably its base – that was designed by the great Renaissance figure Galileo Galilei (1564 to 1642) shortly before his death. According to the British Science Museum, this creation represented the first attempt to apply a pendulum to control the rate of a clock. Innovation and audacity are synonymous with Audemars Piguet. Despite not having a rich legacy in tourbillons, the brand made watchmaking history in 1986 with the world’s first self-winding tourbillon wristwatch. Prior to this, records of only four pocket watches fitted with tourbillons can be found in its archives.

Apart from the design, one must also consider the decorative finishings that contribute strongly to the overall aesthetics of the Sapphire Tourbillon that is cambered and decorated with two fluted gadroons. Materials used in the movement include the arcap alloy and steel. All movement parts are chamfered, grained or polished. Understandably, its delightful aesthetic appeal explains its place as one of the highlights in the Conception et Production de Montres à Complications booklet published by Audemars Piguet (Renaud & Papi) SA.

The Edward Piguet Sapphire Tourbillon pays tribute to the brand’s co-founder. The watchmaking Manufacture was established in 1875 in Le Brassus by Jules Louis Audemars. With business flourishing that same year, he roped in Edward Auguste Piguet who offered his invaluable assistance. The duo enjoyed a synergistic business relationship and six years later in 1881, their joint firm Audemars Piguet & Co was formally established. Timepieces from the Edward Piguet line like the Sapphire Tourbillon have always been extremely limited in production quantities due to the manufacturing time and skills required. What’s more, the collection has been discontinued, similar to the Jules Audemars series following the 2019 launch of the Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet. Such rarities can therefore be right-fully deemed precious. 

*This year GMT Magazine and WorldTempus have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the last 20 years of the Tourbillon in  The Millennium Watch Book - Tourbillons, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. This article is an extract. The Millennium Watch Book - Tourbillons is available on www.the-watch-book.com, in French and English.


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Audemars Piguet is one of the few independent family-owned watch businesses and has been based in Le Brassus, in Switzerland's Vallée de Joux region, at the heart of the fine watchmaking industry, ever since the company was first established in 1875.

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