6001 Audemars Piguet ‘Beta 21’ Quartz
The ref. 6001 is not something you’re likely to have seen before. It’s not a Royal Oak, designed by Jean-Fred Meylan not Genta, and it shares almost no visual identity with any other AP save for its petite tapisserie dial. Fewer than 350 are thought to have been made from 1974 until 1978, succeeded by the ref. 6005 which looks much more like a Royal Oak (though not in name). This 6001 was an experiment, testing the quartz waters for AP at the height of the revolution. It proved successful enough that the quartz range was expanded drastically, but pretty much everyone has forgotten where it started. Forget the romance of mechanical watchmaking, if you care about watchmaking as a history this is one of the most intriguing watches AP has ever made.
Jacques-Louis Audemars and Georges Golay debated for many years into the quartz revolution if the Royal Oak should move that way. With typical Swiss caution, they tested the market here first. It’s easy in retrospect to forget, but there was not a single Swiss brand that didn’t feel the heat turn up as quartz proliferated. Blancpain only claimed not to have in post, they weren’t active at the time. Ultimately, AP bowed to the technology and integrated a modified Beta 21 from Omega, which was known as the ‘megaquartz’ for its 2,359,296 vibrations per second. It would lose or gain no more than one second per month. That one second is what the small pusher near the crown corrects for.
Its design is decidedly not Genta, but also not foreign to the Royal Oak. Yes, the case is octagonal, but much softer. The dial shares the most design cues, an elongated take, but still with an ‘AP down’ placement and the full Stern dial treatment and tritium. The contrast between the case and dial makes it look quite foreign and AP all at the same time, with a space-age framing. It was made in steel, yellow gold, and white gold across two series, the second of which removed the word quartz from the dial. Yes, the Beta 21 is a finicky bastard from a watchmaking perspective. But the 6001 is the rare faltering step from AP, clearly uncertain and drastically different to anything else in the museum. It very well captures the attitude in Le Brassus in the 70s, and the spirit of daring which that time required. It falls into one of my personal favorite categories to study: not beautiful, but awesome.
This example is fantastic. The case is razor sharp to factory bevels, the retailer claims unworn. It is in any even hardly aged and a bit of a time capsule. It comes as watch only from a well-regarded French retailer.