It’s here. We’ve heard rumblings for weeks now about a mysterious Audemars Piguet and Marvel collaboration. The watch internet has been blazing with theories about what a watch like this could be. We saw some interesting guesses (and even mock-ups) of a Captain America or Iron Man watch. My money was on Thor – with some long flowing blonde hair hanging from the side of a case shaped like a hammer. But we were all so very wrong.
Audemars Piguet today unveiled – straight from the Vibranium-rich mines of Wakanda – the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Black Panther Flying Tourbillon, the first in a continuing partnership with Marvel (so keep the theories flowing). The announcement was made at a star-studded event in L.A. hosted by Kevin Hart featuring the likes of Serena Williams and LeBron James. It even featured a surprise auction of a unique white gold Black Panther variant with 100% of the proceeds going to charitable organizations aiding underprivileged youth (that watch hammered in a superhero sized $270).
All the Black Panther trappings are baked into this watch, from grey, black, and purple accents to a literal sculpture of the eponymous superhero on the dial. This watch isn’t inspired by the Black Panther – it is the Black Panther.
Watches and comics aren’t obvious bedfellows, but fans share a surprising amount in common. Both communities can be obsessive in all the best and worst ways. Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons could’ve just as easily been Mechanical Watch Guy. Today, these two worlds collide. And loyalists on both sides may be asking themselves: “What is this thing?”
To be frank, you’re either okay with the idea of an AP Marvel watch or you aren’t. If you aren’t, then nothing’s going to change your mind – no matter how well-executed the piece turns out to be. Which in a way is too bad. Because this watch is very well-executed indeed.
The character is sculpted in three dimensions out of white gold, in a shocking amount of detail. You can see his muscles, the pattern of his suit, his polished shoulders and boots. Look again, and you’ll see all the way down to his eyeballs. Those are pupils, folks.
“This was really the make-or-break moment for the watch,” Michael Friedman, AP’s head of complications, told bestbuycheap.ru before the release. “Fans of the comic-book world are so detail-oriented.”
There’s no question AP can make an incredible Black Panther watch. The question is whether AP should. Is it weird for an august Swiss manufacture to produce a six-figure wristwatch based on a comic book all about Black liberation and anti-imperialism? I mean, yeah. It’s weird. It gets a lot less weird, though, when you understand the context.
First, this is not a craven cash grab to capitalize on the recent, tragic death of Chadwick Boseman, King T’Challa himself, who succumbed last year to cancer. Watches (especially at this level) take years of planning and R&D. This particular watch isn’t even based upon the Black Panther movie from 2018, but rather on the character’s comic book, and the watch was conceived before the film became a landmark cultural event and grossed $1.3 billion worldwide.
Second, watches have a long tradition of celebrating animated characters. AP says it drew inspiration from the classic Mickey Mouse watch design – where his arms represent the hour and minute and hands and move with the time. In the 1980s, Gerald Genta (who famously designed the AP Royal Oak) made his own Mickey watch inspired by those of his youth. Marvel comics (and Marvel movies) are to today’s buyer what M-I-C-K-E-Y was to the previous generation – iconic.
If you’re going to do a modern example of a character watch, and you’re trying to elevate the art form, then the AP Royal Oak Concept collection makes an ideal canvas. The silhouette of the watch starts out with white gold on a CNC machine. Then comes laser sculpting to bring out the texture and patterns – and then hand engraving to reveal the character’s claws, eyes, facial features, and rippling muscles. (It takes four engravers and four painters to make all 250 watches.) Finally comes the hand-painting, which is what produces the intensity in the eyes.
“Making a still-life feel kinetic is a real challenge,” Friedman says. “We’re talking about sculpture – miniature sculpture.”
The finished product is much more elaborate than it needed to be to pass as a Black Panther tribute. AP could’ve just made a watch in the character’s colors and called it a day. Instead, the brand went ahead with all of the painstaking work above – and also created a brand new 42mm case. You don’t have to like comic books to appreciate high craftsmanship, and on so many levels, that is what this watch represents.
The purple rubber strap plays nicely off of the sloped purple inner bezel. The case isn’t made from Vibranium (missed opportunity, if you ask me), but it is made from a different anium – titanium. It’s sandblasted with satin-brushed titanium inserts. The dial is open-worked with a cracked finishing that furthers the Black Panther motif. The finishing on the movement plates is present on both the front and the back. The watch utilizes the hand-wound Manufacture Calibre 2965 plus AP’s latest generation flying tourbillon, created in 2018. It’s mesmerizing to look at, though the placement between Black Panther’s legs will certainly raise some eyebrows. You have to put the tourbillon somewhere, but wow.
When the Black Panther made his debut in Fantastic Four #52, I doubt Stan Lee or Jack Kirby (the OGs of Marvel) ever conceived their character would end up here. Then again, you could say the same for Jules Audemars and Edward Piguet, who surely didn’t see this coming when they started back in 1875. But hey, isn’t it fun to be surprised? Isn’t it refreshing to see both comics and watches stretch to their outer limits? The only way either moves forward is through experimentation. Besides, watches and comics are both hobbies we pursue for sheer escapist pleasure. Anyone who gets too upset about a comic watch is missing the point.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Black Panther Flying Tourbillon. 42mm sandblasted titanium case with satin-brushed titanium inserts. Black ceramic bezel and crown, sapphire crystal and caseback, water-resistant to 50m. Dial with hand-painted white-gold 3D Black Panther character, white-gold hour-markers with black PVD coating, purple inner bezel, white-gold Royal Oak hands with luminescent coating. Hand-wound Manufacture Calibre 2965 with a frequency of 3 Hz and 72 hours of power reserve. Flying Tourbillon, hours and minutes.