At the end of a long, brightly lit corridor in Manufacture Audemars Piguet at Brassus, the sound of ticking resonates continuously. The noise is far too rapid and loud to come from watch movements - it is generated by machines which perform the guillochage of Royal Oak’s dial. In other words, they make the weaving pattern that forms the square and lozenge motif of “Grand Tapisserie”. This highly intricate guillochage captures the light and accentuates the timepiece’s geometric relief.
“The brass dial is engraved by a burin (a precision metalwork chisel) that reproduces the motif on a disc attached to the machine, like a pantograph. A pointer rotates across the disc from the periphery to the centre. The system is combined with a tool that forms the little lozenges between the squares,”
explains engineer Nicholas Prost, who heads the decorative engraving project. The process takes between 20 and 50 minutes, depending on the dial’s diameter. It’s a delicate operation. A mere skip is all it takes to damage the piece as the slightest impact is as visible as dust on a mirror. As the ’piquetage’ gets closer to the circle’s centre, the rhythm gets faster and hails the birth of a brand new dial, ready to be sent out for the finishing processes.
Since the birth of Royal Oak in 1972, the guillochage work had been exclusively subcontracted to a dial-work artisan. In order to produce this element in the workshop, the horology brand recovered 40 year old machines in Canada and the United States. The machines were then completely overhauled and improved over the period of a year before they took their place in the manufacturing process 3 years ago.
The new range of Royal Oak models which are currently being produced in the workshop will be coming out in 2012 to celebrate the collection’s 40th