An Exclusive Collection Of Audemars Piguet Royal Oaks From MAD Paris

Link Copied


An Exclusive Collection Of Audemars Piguet Royal Oaks From MAD Paris

Words by Ms Laura McCreddie-Doak

6 March 2024

Illustration by Mr Charlie Davis

“Our customer base is that percentage of society that has access to rare and special items,” says Mr Robbie Bradford, director at Names, the multidisciplinary agency that has a 30 per cent stake in MAD Paris. (The studio, founded in 2006 by Mr Pierre Lheureux when he started customising his own watches after becoming bored with wearing the same one as everyone else, does not “do” press.) “We work in a very limited way with selected collaborators, working on major projects for major brands.”

Customisation of watches has courted controversy in the past – voided warranties, the sheer hubris of messing with revered Swiss icons, even the legalities of it all – but MAD Paris has managed to avoid the backlash. This is partly due to its secretive nature. Little is known about the team, it abides by the aforementioned press black-out and it safeguards its supply chains, saying it buys only pre-owned watches. It does not officially take credit for Abloh’s Nautilus. MAD also escapes censure because these are no wham-bam black-out jobs. The level of work involved turns customisation into an art form.

These watches are not simply sprayed with DLC and dusted with diamonds. They are taken apart and completely reimagined. It is a dialogue between the existing creation and the imagination of the collaborator. Take its 2016 collaboration with the cult French fashion store Colette (now closed): a Rolex Milgauss with a bead-blasted case and bracelet and a white dial. The numerals, in a Mr Quentin Blake-style font, have tumbled to the bottom of the dial and in the middle, in a loopy cursive reminiscent of a French schoolgirl’s writing, is the throwaway “Who cares. I’m already late”.

There are the two brightly coloured Royal Oaks created by Mr Charaf Tajer, the LVMH prize finalist and founder of the joyfully eclectic Parisian fashion house Casablanca, which have bracelets and dials in gorgeous candy-cane colours, the seriousness of the original transformed into something playful.

Then there’s the curious case of Mr Matthew Williams, now the creative director of Givenchy, who collaborated with MAD in 2019 under his 1017 ALYX 9SM label on a Royal Oak that looks suspiciously similar to the one launched in August this year in an official partnership with Audemars Piguet.

“We’re not a brand to dwell on that sort of thing,” Bradford says when these similarities are discussed. “We know AP uses us as a testing ground. They love what we do.”

“So many brands stagnate and don’t move forward. Once we sell out, we evolve”

MR PORTER is also fond of what MAD Paris does, so much so that we have entered into our first collection together. Six Royal Oaks and six Offshores have been given the MAD treatment through the MR PORTER style lens. “We’re super excited to be partnering with MR PORTER,” Bradford says. “It’s something we’ve wanted for a while.”

The starting point for every MAD collaboration is, in Bradford’s words, “to do something we’ve never done before”. In this case, that means three Royal Oaks with custom bezels, dials and seconds hands in muted tones of sage green, blue and grey.

The Offshores, in keeping with the brasher personality of the Royal Oak’s younger brother, draw from a bolder palette. Against black DLC cases are subdials and outer rings in robin-egg blue and purple luminescent numerals rimmed in green, or MAD’s classic black if all that colour is too much. The standouts are two Royal Oaks with custom layered dials. One, with a matt black bezel and grey case and bracelet, has a dial that looks like the pooled remains of Terminator 2’s T-1000. The other black DLC version brings a wonderful murkiness to the same design.

If past MAD collaborations are anything to go by, these limited editions won’t be around long. That’s the bad news. The good news is Bradford sees this first drop as a starting point. He won’t say what’s in the pipeline, but it won’t be a rehash of this collection. “So many brands stagnate and don’t move forward,” he says. “Once we sell out, we evolve. The MAD of five years ago isn’t who we are now.”

We ain’t mad at these