I’ve taken Grand Seiko to task for their Godzilla and GT-R watches. “After years of building timepieces far superior to their Swiss rivals without proper recognition or sales,” I wrote, “Seiko’s marketing mavens lost their minds.” So what are we to make of the $160k 42mm Limited Edition Royal Oak Concept Black Panther Flying Tourbillon? A watch that isn’t powered by Vibranium, because Vibranium doesn’t actually exist . . .
Hard to believe, but this watch does. I repeat: this is not a late April Fool’s joke. The same storied watchmaker that aspires to replace Patek Philippe at the top of the Swiss watch triumvirate – or at least maintain its status as a member of The Holy Trinity – has just released a timepiece based on the Marvel universe character The Black Panther.
“I first imagined working with Marvel 15 years ago but we owe the current collaboration to an unexpected conversation with Don Cheadle, a long-time friend who in 2017 called Marvel on the spot to arrange a meeting. It just goes to show that the most inspiring collaborative adventures result from meaningful human interactions and a strong will to never give up,” recalls [AP CEO François-Henry Bennahmias].
Actor Don Cheadle adds: “When François told me about his long-standing interest in teaming up with Marvel, I said, ‘No time like the present. Let’s give them a call.’ As an Avenger and a long-time friend, it was a no brainer.”
No brainer indeed. As you can see, the focus seems a lot lower on The Black Panther’s anatomy. Although the P man’s laser carved from white gold and the titanium case was “inspired by the Black Panther’s cutting-edge suit,” there’s still something a little off about seeing him so . . agitated astride a tourbillon. And something a lot insane about the price.
There are plenty of significantly less expensive Marvel-themed watches vying for fans’ money. Japan’s Citizen watch brand sells eleven Marvel maniacal timepieces, including Spiderman, Captain Marvel, Deadpool, Captain America and Black Panther (below). Not to mention not one but two Tony Stark models.
Both indeed all of the Marvel themed watches are offered on Citizen’s website for less than $500. As you’d expect; the cartoon character watch genre is as far from high horology as you can get without buying a sundial (no commission on link). A lesson the now defunct R J Watches brand learned the hard way with their $97,700 ARRAW Spiderman Tourbillon.
Citizen bought the rights to the Marvel cinematic universe’s horological manifestation two years ago, just as Timex bought the rights to the Peanuts cartoon characters. So Audemars Piguet cut a separate deal with Disney and/or Citizen.
And then spent big bucks dressing up the Black Panther watch with a stupid “back story” and animating it to look like a superhero’s wristlet. I reckon that makes it even more of a brand defiling abomination. The Marvel cart-and-pony show drags the Royal Oak into the gutter of contemporary culture. Needless to say, HoDinkee doesn’t see it that way . . .
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 point is, I believe, rubbing elbows with celebrities (who are never late). The point should always be: protect the brand.
AP could have done that by resisting the urge to create a watch that elicits YouTube comments like “love this Invicta homage” and “Wakanda forever but should’ve been designed to have that regal futuristic look of Wakanda culture and less kiddy watch.” Ouch.
The world being what it is, I predict all 250 Royal Oak Concept Black Panther Flying Tourbillons will sell, yielding the watchmaker $40.5m.
I also predict the watch will damage AP’s rep, removing a big chunk of the gravitas upon which all high-priced Swiss mechanical watches depend. Leaving Patek Philippe and Vacheron in an unassailable position.
The AP Code 11.59 went over like a lead balloon. The Black Panther watch is a bold (i.e. bone-headed) move to draw attention away from the failure with a watch that makes Richard Mille’s bling “kiddy” watches seem grown-up and demure.
As we await other watches in Audemars Piguet’s Marvel series it’s clear that AP has ignored its past to literally carve out its future. As the Brits say, there will be tears before bedtime.