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When Carolina Bucci Met The Royal Oak

In the world of luxury watches, the name Carolina Bucci may be synonymous with the Audemars Piguet Frosted Gold Royal Oak — a unique hammered gold treatment that nods to Bucci’s signature Florentine finish. The watch has been a sell-out hit with both women and men but now, three collaborations in and on the occasion of the Royal Oak’s 50th birthday, Carolina Bucci is clearly looking ahead.

I come from the same place as I do in my jewellery, which is a very selfish need to create something that I want next,” says Bucci. “I don’t want to be a one-trick pony.

That explains why her latest design for the Swiss watchmaker, the ceramic Royal Oak Selfwinding Carolina Bucci Limited Edition, has not an ounce of frosted gold. Instead, the pièce-de-résistance is a cool and futuristic, holographic dial that, at first glance, looks black, to match the black ceramic case and bracelet. But a flick of the wrist then reveals the house’s Tapisserie signature, shining through in iridescent hues that vary depending on how light hits the watch.

Movement is at the heart of the design, the rainbow-like tones exuding a sparkle that’s similar to jewellery when worn. “You really need to find the Tapisserie,” says Bucci. “It’s not obvious until there’s a play of light — then comes the illusion of the Tapisserie. It’s there — but not there. It’s a treasure hunt.”

Carolina Bucci's latest collaboration with Audemars Piguet, a black ceramic Royal Oak

Love at first sight

Bucci’s newest watch is a culmination of her six-year collaboration with Audemars Piguet — but it’s also a design that’s perhaps more borne out of Bucci’s longstanding, personal relationship with the Royal Oak, which began years before she worked with the brand. Bucci’s 1982 Royal Oak — in 36mm, yellow gold, matched to a champagne Tapisserie dial, and no diamonds — is something of legend: seeking a watch to mark her 35th birthday, Bucci had first clocked the Royal Oak in New York City, where she was living at the time, on the wrist of a woman across the street.

“I had no idea what it was but it caught my attention — especially the proportions on the wrist,” recalls Bucci of the watch. She was drawn to its “boldness, without being shiny”, and the “goldness of the gold” (she was after a yellow gold watch specifically). Bucci proceeded to follow the woman across the street and into the department store Bergdorf Goodman to try and see the make (“I kept chasing her, going up and down the escalator, each time getting a closer look,” recalls Bucci. “It didn’t occur to me to just ask her about her watch.”). Bucci also liked how flat the watch sat on the wrist.

It was sturdy, it wasn’t a dainty watch. I don’t wear my watches — or any of my jewellery for that matter — loose. Everything is like it’s super glued,” she says. “That’s what got me from afar.

She eventually learnt that the watch was a men’s Royal Oak from the late 1970s / early 1980s, which meant that Bucci was unable to buy the watch in the boutique — though she did try. There, the salesperson showed her the full offering of women’s Royal Oaks instead, none of which Bucci liked. “I left the store pretty deflated,” she recalls.

Bucci’s husband later tracked down the watch from a vintage dealer, delivering it on his wife’s 35th birthday. “It was exactly what I wanted,” recalls Bucci. “I put it on my wrist and from then on I stopped wearing all my other watches. It worked fantastically with all my jewellery to the point that I never took it off — it became my uniform.”

A prototype of Carolina Bucci's 2016 limited edition Royal Oak

Prototype of Carolina Bucci's 2016 limited edition Royal Oak, with her signature Florentine Finish

Master of Light

Several years would pass before Bucci was approached by Audemars Piguet to reimagine the Royal Oak for women — and given carte blanche to do so. Yet after so much time exclusively wearing her own Royal Oak, Bucci soon realised that there was nothing really to change.

“To be honest, my watch was pretty perfect,” says Bucci. “The proportion, the size, the technicalities — it’s an icon. I don't want to mess with that.” The only thing missing, she felt, was a sense of emotion — and which she sums up as how men versus women approach watches. Or perhaps more fittingly, how watchmakers versus jewellers approach watches.

“In the men’s world there is so much detail — the complication, the mechanism, the technicalities, the preciousness,” says Bucci. “Watches are looked at so closely — you open it, turn it around, you see everything — and then you decide if you like it or not. But for me, like that woman I saw across the street: I decided I liked it. And I had no idea what it was.”

Her solution was to combine both methods, and “tweak” the watch with her Florentine finish. The result, in 2016, was a Frosted Gold Royal Oak that could be admired, like jewellery, from afar. “When you move your wrist and the light hits the facets in the gold, that's when you have the magic. You actually see the sparkling effect much better from afar than if you're looking at it two inches from your face,” says Bucci.

In Carolina Bucci's workshop, the Florentine Finish being demonstrated to Jacqueline Dimier and Jasmine Audemars, October 2016

In the workshop — Carolina Bucci's signature Florentine Finish being demonstrated to Jacqueline Dimier and Jasmine Audemars, October 2016

In 2018, Bucci introduced her second vision for the Royal Oak. Restricted to making only one watch, in one finish, she replaced the Tapisserie dial with a reflective one. Bucci explains: "I wondered how I could make a watch that worked on everyone, which unites all the women in the world together — but at the same time not feeling like we’re all wearing the same thing. That’s how the mirror came into play. The watch will never look exactly the same because the light is always different. The room you're in, the wrist position, the clothes, the clouds in the sky…nothing is ever going to be exactly the same as that moment.” Limited to 300 pieces, the watch quickly sold out.

The mirror dial Royal Oak was also the first time that Bucci designed the watch’s box — a fully mirrored, jewellery like object — which not only deepened her relationship with Audemars Piguet, but also the world of watches and all its technical challenges. In 2020, she introduced her K.I.S.S. collection of gold bracelets, which took its cue from a mechanical watch spring. Ultra-wearable and versatile, the bracelets exude Bucci’s signature sprezzatura vibe, which belies the piece’s underlying sophistication. “The K.I.S.S. collection looks very simple and effortless but the technique behind it is very complicated,” says Bucci. “I'm always interested in different techniques and pushing and creating things that look quite simple in their result. You need to master something before you can do it,” she says — sounding very much like a true Audemars Piguet watchmaker.

Unexpected beauty

That desire to master techniques certainly informs Bucci’s latest collaboration. If her second watch completely did away with the Tapisserie dial, her third now invites the wearer to find it — in a deep spectrum of colour. Bucci was inspired by rainbows, but not the “lazy and obvious” ones that all designers seemed to embrace during the pandemic. Instead, Bucci found her multi-colours in the slicks of oil that swim in dark city puddles. “It's not anything beautiful but about beauty in unexpected places,” explains Bucci of the all ceramic watch. “Here you have every colour of the spectrum, on black, which is itself the absence of colour.”

The dial is a true scientific and engineering feat. The rainbow is achieved through a sapphire plate of micro-structured squares that rests on top of the brass dial plate. Meanwhile a special golden metallisation process, applied to the plate’s back — which pretty much took all of lockdown to develop — creates a mirror-effect that shines light onto the dial. Add the bezel’s rose gold screws and the tactical, jet-black ceramic case and bracelet, and this is a watch that feels contemporary, sporty, and utterly unisex.

Ultimately, designing for our times is what Bucci has always been about — whether in her jewellery or with a watch. “As a designer, I look at all my collections like a photo album. Each one represents a different moment in my life — different emotions, different places, different experiences, different stages. Designing with watches is the same,” she says. “It’s important that it reflects your time.”

Carolina Bucci's latest collaboration with Audemars Piguet – a black ceramic Royal Oak