Insider: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Laptimer Michael Schumacher. Hands-On with The World's First Mechanical Chronograph with Independent Memory and Three Column Wheels.

Earlier this year, Audemars Piguet unveiled the new Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Laptimer Michael Schumacher ref. 26221FT.OO.D002CA.01. Finally, we were able to get our hands on one of the watches to bring you this hands-on review and live pictures. The watch, was a true collaboration between Audemars Piguet and Michael Schumacher, taking five years to come to fruition after Schumacher challenged Audemars Piguet to create a watch with the ability to measure and record an extended series of consecutive lap times. In late 2010, F1 legend and Audemars Piguet ambassador Michael Schumacher posed an apparently simple question to the engineers at Audemars Piguet: would it be possible to create a mechanical wristwatch designed specifically for use in motorsport which would make it possible to measure and record an extended series of consecutive lap times?

From the outset, Michael explained that he did not want to develop a watch to use while in the cockpit of a race car, but one which would enable him to time laps accurately from track side when, for example, he was mentoring young drivers or advising on how a car’s performance might be improved. It was a horological challenge that had never before been met in a mechanical watch, and one that was inspired by motor racing’s very specific requirement to be able to time and compare multiple, consecutive laps —a task which has traditionally been carried out using a bank of two or more stop watches arranged in series

The Dial

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Laptimer Michael Schumacher features a blackened openworked dial with small running seconds hand at 9 o'clock and a 30-minute chrono register at 3 o'clock. The watch is fitted with two seconds hands for the chronograph positioned at the central pinion, thus allowing the wearer to keep track of two different events at the same time. The 'AP' and 'Audemars Piguet' writings are located on the sapphire crystal instead of the dial. The white gold hands are skeletonized with very minimal luminescent material applied on them. While the curved sapphire crystal is glareproof, unfortunately it is not treated with anti-reflective treatment on both sides, hence the unwanted glare you see in the pictures.

The Case, Bezel, Crown, Pushers & Strap

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Laptimer Michael Schumacher is fitted with a 44 mm forged carbon case and for the first time on an AP, a slightly curved glareproofed sapphire crystal and slightly curved titanium bezel with mirror polished edges.

The screw-down crown and the chronograph pushers are made of black ceramic with 18K rose gold inserts, while the Laptimer pusher at 9 o'clock, is completely made of black ceramic with Michael Schumacher's 'MS' monogram on it. The pushers are all equipped with titanium guards and right above the pusher at 9 o'clock, the case band includes seven stars symbolizing the seven championships won by Michael Schumacher. The watch is water-resistant to a depth of 50 meters, granted that you don't activate the chronograph underwater. One thing we should point out, is that activating the chronograph pushers is an experience in itself. Buttery, smooth and quiet are some of the words that come to mind when activating this chronograph. The watch is equipped with a black rubber strap with titanium folding clasp.

The Movement

The new Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Laptimer Michael Schumacher is the world’s first mechanical chronograph with alternating consecutive lap timing and flyback function specifically designed and engineered for continuous action and relentless precision in timing laps on the racetrack. Developed at the design and technical department of Audemars Piguet, the Royal Oak Concept Laptimer Michael Schumacher features a pending patent covering its unique functionality, which is based on a mechanism incorporating no fewer than three column wheels.

This new Audemars Piguet in-house manual-wound calibre 2923 functions at a frequency of 4 Hertz —28,800 vph. The calibre has a total diameter of 34.60 mm —15¼ lines— and a total thickness of 12.70 mm. Composed of 413 parts and 34 jewels, it provides a power reserve of at least 80 hours.

One column wheel, located at the six o’clock position, controls the chronograph sequence, while the two at the 12 o’clock position control the complex laptimer sequence. The gear train is driven by two mainspring barrels set in parallel which provide double the usual amount of torque and 80 hours of power reserve, and to ensure exceptionally smooth operation, the watch features specially developed conical gear teeth which mesh seamlessly and accurately at all points in the movement’s cycle for a perfectly linear torque transmission. A new oscillating wheel coupling mechanism has been developed for jerk-free action when the chronograph is stopped or started.

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Laptimer Michael Schumacher features a single chronograph driving two central hands which can be controlled independently via three pushers —the first sited at the conventional 2 o’clock position to start and stop the chronograph; the second sited at the 4 o’clock position to reset the chronograph, and the all-important third pusher sited at the 9 o’clock position. This third pusher bearing Michael Schumacher's MS monogram makes it possible to simultaneously stop either of the two chronograph hands, while returning the other to zero and restarting it —meaning that, while the time of the most recent lap is being noted down, timing of the next lap is already underway. The watch therefore negates the need for two or more hand-held timing devices, streamlining the operation within a single wrist chronograph. Alternatively, the watch can keep a certain lap time as reference, stopping one hand with the laptimer button, and using the flyback function on the other chronograph hand with the pusher at 4 o’clock to restart the measurement of each new lap. Finally, the timepiece can be used as a “standard” flyback chronograph with both hands running together in parallel.

Since the new Audemars Piguet 2923 calibre operates at a frequency of 4 Hertz —28,800 vph— and features a variable-inertia balance wheel, it is capable of recording times down to one-eighth of a second. Due to the complexity of the movement’s construction, it contains several unusually long and slim components which would not operate satisfactorily using traditional lubricating methods. As a result, the engineers at Audemars Piguet chose solid lubricants which will not deteriorate easily and which will remain consistent and offer exceptional longevity.

On the Wrist & Pricing

On the wrist, the watch wears bigger than its actual size and more like a 47 or 48 mm watch —on a 7.25" wrist. While we typically have no problem wearing bigger watches, this piece feels really big and bulky on the wrist. However, it feels very light thanks to its forged carbon case construction. Regardless, its wrist presence is just out of this world. If you can afford this watch and you are an AP lover, the Laptimer Michael Schumacher is a must have. This timepiece is available in a limited edition of only 221 pieces, at the Audemars Piguet New York City, Bal Harbour and Las Vegas boutiques.

Sticker Price $229,500 USD. For more info on Audemars Piguet click here.