Why Alyx Transformed One Of The Watch World’s Most Iconic Pieces
What does it take to make a great watch? Time helps, obviously: whether that’s the few minutes it took to design the Patek Philippe Nautilus or the harried years-long race between Heuer and Zenith to create the first automatic chronograph. The creation of Alyx’s new sleek-as-the-underside-of-a-CD Audemars Piguet Royal Oak began, for designer Matthew Williams, at birth. Consider the designer’s full name: Matthew Michael Williams, the middle name a nod to his godfather, a watch dealer who got him interested in timepieces when most kids were hunting Beanie Babies and Pokemon cards. Decades later, in Williams’s 20s, he’d spot his dream watch: “Kanye had one when I first met him,” he tells me over the phone from Italy, referring to the brand’s legendary Royal Oak. “The rose-gold one...it was 2006 or 2007, and he was the first person to have one that I ever saw.”
More time elapsed: “[It] took a long time to save up to be able to get the one I always wanted,” Williams says. So, almost 10 years after admiring Kanye’s wrist, Williams purchased a vintage Royal Oak originally released in the ‘90s for himself, and has worn it regularly since. The last piece of inspiration came after another interval, during a dinner with the celebrity tattoo artist Dr. Woo, who was wearing a piece customized by Mad Paris, which reliably takes grail watches and turns them matte black through a chemical process. Williams enlisted Mad to make blacked-out Royal Oaks for friends and family. A little more time elapsed, and he decided to go wider, deciding to make a 41-millimeter edition in brushed steel available to customers. Alyx will make 40 pieces in total before cutting off supply. The watch costs $47,995, according to a stockist. “They're not gonna all sell tomorrow,” Williams acknowledges. “They're probably gonna sell over the next few years.” The entire process took a year.
Why retool a classic? “A lot of Alyx is really just based on my taste,” Williams says. “We work with brands that I buy on my own or I wear, so it really was just because that was the watch I've had. It was as simple as that.”
The watch is unmistakably an Alyx production, as natural a fit on the brand’s runway as its metal belts and bags. Most of the time spent creating the watch was devoted to working with Alyx’s metal suppliers to make a bracelet with the brand’s signature roller-coaster buckle. There was a ton of fiddling involved in making sure the buckle was secure and that the bracelet would lay flat. “[The buckle’s] so small, so it was just like really minute measurements we had to had to get right,” Williams says.
Williams’ whole life may have pointed him in this direction, but it’s an unusual one for a brand like Alyx. Labels on the higher end of the spectrum typically focus on creating fashion-forward watches that rely heavily on recognizable designs, without fretting too much over the mechanics inside—applying the same techniques, basically, that make handbags and accessories such big sellers. Those closer to the bottom of the fashion totem pole work to create affordable pieces with collaborators like Timex and G-Shock. Alyx, while not directly collaborating with Audemars Piguet, is taking a watch-world icon and outfitting it with all of its own best-known signifiers—and in the process, trusting that its customer base will appreciate an almost-$50,000 timepiece.
But that might not be such a wild idea: much of Alyx’s success comes from a similar approach. “It's modern that people would wear high -fashion and then at the same time have a more affordable shoe,” says Williams. “It’s about that mixing of high and low. And it allows lots of different age groups to engage with the brand.” You can buy sneakers made in collaboration with Nike, or a roller-coaster belt. You can graduate to the main fashion line. And if you won’t be satisfied until your entire body is ready to hop on a Six Flags ride at any given moment, you can grab the buckled-up Royal Oak.
Making his own Royal Oak, Williams says, is of a piece with the way he thinks about dressing, where a luxury watch isn’t out of place with a T-shirt and sneakers. “I think it was a Rolex salesman who actually said to my father-in-law something along the lines of, ‘If you have your Rolex on and a white T-shirt, you're dressed,’” Williams says. “And it's kind of true, in a weird way.” And today, as all the worlds Williams is versed in—from runway fashion and super-luxury watches to Kanye-adjacent streetwear—share one massive bucket, that statement has never been truer. Only now, it also applies to designer-made Royal Oaks: clasp that roller-coaster buckle and—presto—you’re dressed.