An icon not just of Audemars Piguet but modern watchmaking, the Royal Oak is a must-have for anyone who loves watches. First released in 1972, this luxury sports watch broke with conventions of the time in ways never-before imagined. Before the Royal Oak there were only two distinct categories of timepieces—for men, as women habitually wore dainty jewellery watches.
There were luxury dress watches, which were usually very elegant and made of precious gold. And there were sports watches which tend to be fashioned from steel, oversized, purely functional, and very robust. The Royal Oak, however, overturned those rules by co-existing within both those spheres as the world’s first true luxury sports watch.
It was made of steel but sold for more than the price of a typical gold watch at that time—around 3,650 Swiss francs. But price was not the only thing that caused an uproar, because the watch was huge. 39mm for a dress watch was unheard of, and paired with a steel bracelet, it weighed significantly on the wrist. Then there was this whole business with the octagonal bezel and exposed screws and water proofing gasket that raised more than a few eyebrows among the conservative crowd. The latter two elements for instance were never considered aesthetic features and typically concealed. But ‘typical’ had not been the operative word that Audemars Piguet was aiming for. Not then, not now.
In addition to rewriting the rules of a modern luxury watch, the Royal Oak also blurred the lines between timepieces for men and women. As quickly as four years after its launch, in 1976, Audemars Piguet released a 29mm feminine interpretation of the Royal Oak, bearing all the beloved hallmarks of the progenitor, but adjusted for slimmer wrists. Designed by Jacqueline Dimier, herself one of the very few women watch designers of the era, it was one of the first watches for women that bore a strong identity, rather than emulated jewelery. Very quickly, the ladies Royal Oak became a runaway hit, and before long, the success symbol for all modern women.
Between then and today, Audemars Piguet has produced countless variations, with the smallest ladies Royal Oaks at a very elegant 33mm (quartz) to 37 and 38mm boy-sized mechanical models. All of them immediately recognisable courtesy of the octagonal bezel, Audemars Piguet finesses the watch with all manner of finish and gem-setting. Diamonds make a recurring appearance, at times just around the bezel, sometimes finely paved all over. Most memorable, though, would have to be the frosted gold models, which comes from a traditional Florentine jewellery decoration technique never-before featured in luxury watchmaking, and introduced by Italian jewellery designer Carolina Bucci for Audemars Piguet.
Indeed, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak has always been a game-changer, which is why it’s not just a watch collectors’ watch, but something for those who believe in breaking boundaries, and designing one’s own course to success.