THE ROYAL OAK: BIRTH OF AN ICON
I n 1972, Audemars Piguet, the storied Swiss watchmaker, launched its widely famed Royal Oak watch. Today, as it celebrates its 50th birthday, the Royal Oak remains the blueprint for a classic luxury sports watch and is rightfully hailed as a design icon. Born of a collaboration between the Swiss watchmaker and legendary watch designer Gérald Genta, the Royal Oak concept was a true groundbreaker, unlike any watch design that had come before it. Its sleek steel form remains sublimely modern, and its cult-collector status keeps growing, as does its celebrity followers including Drake, Serena Williams and Justin Bieber.
An extra-thin sports watch, the Royal Oak was imbued with an expert jeweler’s touch, its combination of smooth and brushed metal finishes allowing light and depth in all the right places. In 1972, the arrival of a fine steel watch with the price tag of a luxury gold timepiece was nothing short of controversial. Audemars Piguet was accused of taking too big a risk. Yet the subsequent success of the Royal Oak was no fluke – daring is hardwired into the Swiss watchmaker’s DNA.
Born of a collaboration between the Swiss watchmaker and legendary watch designer Gérald Genta, the Royal Oak was a true groundbreaker, unlike any watch design that had come before it.
SPIRIT OF FREEDOM
The business has been family owned and fiercely independent ever since childhood friends Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet strived to create a watch brand in the remote Swiss mountain village of Le Brassus. In 1875, they finally put their names to a registered company, unleashing a sense of creative freedom that has propelled the Audemars Piguet business ever since. Its dynamic impulse to buck the trend and prize innovation and technological advancement above all else has proved right, time and again.
Audemars Piguet’s daring approach ensured that the watch marque survived the industrial crises that saw so many rivals disappear. Rather it prospered, with Audemars Piguet becoming the go-to watch brand for generations of style-conscious, technology-curious collectors. As protagonists in the development of complicated chronograph, minute repeater and jumping hour technology, Audemars Piguet played an integral role in Le Brassus’ reputation as the “cradle of fine watchmaking.” The marque was also a pioneer developer of thin watch movements, which allow for a more easy-to-wear, elegant silhouette on the wrist.
THE ROYAL OAK OFFSHORE
Along with its technical expertise, Audemars Piguet deployed a marketing-savvy, stylistic design profile in much the same way that today’s consumer tech brands have – you could argue that Le Brassus was the Cupertino of its time. And so it was, when in 1992, with the Royal Oak already established as a design classic, Audemars Piguet presented a somewhat boisterous sibling, the Royal Oak Offshore.
The Royal Oak Offshore introduced new case materials and movements far more freely than they did with the founding Royal Oak design. That freedom resulted in a radical new material in watch design: forged carbon. The Royal Oak Offshore then was a seriously tough yet surprisingly lightweight design, well-suited to the functional demands of sports.
Royal Oak Offshore
ONE FOR ALL
The luxury sports blueprint of the original Royal Oak translated surprisingly well to the varying dimensions of women’s wrists, too. And, as AP always approached women’s designs in the same spirit as their men’s, in 1975, Audemars Piguet invited Jacqueline Dimier, one of the first female designers in the watchmaking world, to continue a dazzling legacy and create the Royal Oak II. Her debut women’s model presented a fresh twist, playing with the geometric lines of the original to create a bi-metal design, alternating gold and steel to powerful graphic effect.
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BACK TO NATURE
Beyond its visionary character, Le Brassus, the tiny village surrounded by huge rocks and trees as far as the eye can see, and where temperatures can reach an inhospitable -40°F in winter, remains the soul of the Audemars Piguet brand. In 2020, Audemars Piguet unveiled a dazzling new museum, a modernist coil of stone and steel designed in harmony with the landscape. It is dedicated to the people of the valley and the watchmakers that began its history, whose families continue to make it today.
Designed by star architect Bjarke Ingels, when it opened in late 2020, Jasmine Audemars, chairwoman of the board of directors at Audemars Piguet and the great-granddaughter of founder Jules Audemars, told Wallpaper Magazine: “At first, we thought it was crazy, but then we thought, we make complicated watch designs and we like to complicate our lives, so let’s just do it.”