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Royal Oak: 50 years of existence and still as fashionable as ever

True status symbol easily recognisable, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak celebrates this year, its 50th anniversary of good service. For the occasion, it seemed important to talk about its eventful history before talking about the new collection, restyled to give a modernised dynamic to references that became both « status symbol » and recently, true financial investments.

By Vincent Daveau, Vincent Daveau

Among the representative circles and the circles of collectors, it is said that the Royal Oak is an inspired and well-timed reference with the right design in the watchmaking history. Designed by Gérald Genta to increase the range of the small family watchmaking Maison specialised in the manufacture of timepieces with functions, this watch launched on April 15th 1972, has been initially thought to attract the very booming circle of the golden youth that just finished their studies after protesting for their wish to see the world change on the barricades of May 1968. 

Contrary to what we can often read, the Swiss watchmaking market is remained flourishing in the first years of the seventies and until around the 1975-1976 years. During the first months of this new « Power Flowers » decade, three distributors of Audemars Piguet manufacture indicated that the collectors lacked a steel reference of the brand, a material very clearly in the spirit of the times. Georges Golay, the Managing Director of the brand, understands and analyses this « territory » rise and says to the young designer Gérald Genta to offer a design for a sport chic, modern and thin, steel watch.

One of the first Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak – N° 129

The artist, wants to give his creation its place in the trend of that time and in the creative logic of the sponsor of the brand known for offering timepieces with original design, designs this new piece whose name code is 5402, by using geometrical shapes with strong outlines. Finally, the design of this brand-new piece that will have the name of Royal Oak makes a break in the watchmaking world where most of the other novelties of that time have not this modernity that has an inspired and minimalist design. 

Beginning of an icon 

Appeared in the catalogue of the brand in April 1972 after its presentation to the Basel World Watch Fair, this steel watch that becomes straight away the most expensive, intends to attract a public of young rich who wants to stand out thanks to their timepiece that is already, in the privileged circles, a tool for social distinction. It is said that its creation was earth-shaking for the field. It is very exaggerated especially as the critique lambasted this elitist piece, considered as too expensive for what it offers and especially irrelevant as it is only a sport watch by its metal and bracelet.

The Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak from 1972 was designed in one night by Gérald Genta.

Moreover, the society we know is rather used to deliver complicated watches in very small quantity struggles with making this piece that the legend wanted complex to manufacture whereas the problem comes from the supply due to an important outsourcing (Stern for the dials engraved Petite Tapisserie – Favre & Perret for the case and Gay Frères for the steel in-built bracelet). It is said that for 1972, 490 pieces are sold, what represents a record for Audemars Piguet whose volumes of production were until then among the smallest in the field. For 4 years, the brand only made the reference 5402 to meet the demand’s expectations. However, the Maison goes into the production of a ladies’ piece in 1976 that, designed by Jacqueline Dimier, was 29 mm-diameter and has the reference 8638.

The three versions of the first Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak, case back view.

The next year, two pieces subtly restyled are made of yellow gold and grey gold and a yellow gold and steel version. Is also made (repeats) a 35 mm mid-range product under the reference 4100 that becomes since then the best sales, the trend being for men’s watches of intermediate size. During all the period corresponding to the period of the quartz crisis, the Royal Oak is going to continue its way.

All the Royal Oak are assembled by the expertise of an Audemars Piguet manufacture’s watchmaker.

The light industrial structure, the independency of the old groups and the close relationships that unit the brand to its subcontractors allows it to move on from quartz easily. A bit like Patek Philippe and Rolex whose strategic choices to hammer only the mechanism is an influence of tradition in a hyper modern world, allows them to survive in a changing sector.

The Royal Oak between Eighties and Nineties

Besides daring a few “baroques” variants, between 1978 and 1988 Audemars Piguet looks at the developments of quartz pieces. In the end, 59 references of all sizes will be made. Then, towards the middle of the Eighties it is in the sector of the complications that the Royal Oak is going to make a breakthrough. In 1983, when the first Swatch is made, the manufacture launches the 36mm-diameter Royal Oak with the date (ref. 5572). The following year, it offers a Royal Oak first in steel, then a gold and steel version with perpetual calendar. In 1986, is made a yellow gold version with a skeletonised calibre (ref. 25636).

A gold and steel Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar from 1984.

In 1992, the reference 14802, the 39mm Royal Oak Jumbo for the first time equipped with a sapphire case back, celebrates the success of the most modern watch of its generation. Appears concurrently the first 36mm-diameter Royal Oak on leather strap, designed by the designer Jörg Hysek (ref. 14800) and the famous Royal Oak Offshore. This robust 42mm-diameter reference designed by Emmanuel Gueit shows the stylistic choices made a decade later.

An Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak tourbillon from 1997.

Alongside these products is developed a range dedicated to women. Besides skeletonised pieces are discovered high jewellery pieces from 1998. And because the topic would be incomplete without mentioning it, the manufacture of Le Brassus launches in 1997, a 20mm mini–Royal Oak powered by a quartz calibre. This very period sees the emergence of the Royal Oak with complications.

An Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak grande complication from 2000.

In 1997 the Royal Oak Tourbillon is offered in an edition of 25 steel pieces for the 25 years of the collection with a series of 5 watches of 40 mm-diameter in yellow gold, rose gold and platinum. This launch is combined with the launch of the first chronograph of the family (ref. 25860) in 39 mm-diameter and of the first Royal Oak with Grande Complication. With its 44 mm-diameter, this piece offered in grey gold features a minute repeater, a perpetual calendar, and a chronograph with second hand. In 28 years of services, the Royal Oak will have been offered 300 variants whose 200 during the Nineties. 

The revolution of the third millennium 

Passing to a new era justifies the launch of a new generation of Royal Oak. It arrives under the reference 15202 and is 39 mm-diameter. The piece has a sapphire case back again and is decorated with a new Grande Tapisserie dial, the launch appeared the previous year. At that time, this watch competes equally with new generation products. This does not prevent the manufacture from exploring new territories. In 2002, the manufacture reveals jointly: the first Royal Oak Concept and the Royal Oak Tradition d’Excellence that is part of a collection of timepieces with complications all limited to 20 pieces and designed to be part of an inlaid cabinet in which all the watchmaking complications are gathered.

With Nick Faldo in 1990, Audemars Piguet starts a great love story with golf. Nowadays, the champion is not part anymore of the Maison’s ambassadors but the TEAM AP GOLF is one of the most powerful of the professional golf tours.

At the same time, the Royal Oak exists through limited editions made in collaboration with renowned celebrities and athletes. In 1990, the first is designed by Nick Faldo, the golf champion. Then comes the Royal Oak City of Sails made to celebrate the partnership with Alinghi (1999): a profitable association that allowed the Royal Oak to pass from luxury watch to an identity reference, symbol of success. Then comes in 2008: the Royal Oak Sachin Tendukar and the Oak Leaves series designed in collaboration with Michelle Yeoh. In 2012, for the 40 years of the Royal Oak, Audemars Piguet, the reference 15202 Jumbo is displayed at the same time as a skeleton version powered by the new calibre ref. 5122.

The emblematic bezel of the Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin 39 mm in steel is put.

Next comes a Royal Oak Tourbillon Extra-Thin (ref. 26510) with manual winding (in steel and rose gold). With a refined aesthetics, the Maison sells in 2016 the majestic Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel Openworked. Offered in 41 mm, it is then with a 37mm variant and in a great variety of materials including black ceramic. The period also saw the launch of the Royal Oak Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin (26586). 

Celebrate half a century of perfection 

With more than 80 % of its turnover goes over billions Swiss Francs, made thanks to watches of the Royal Oak collection, the manufacture of Le Brassus can pay tribute. And it is what it does for its 50thanniversary that takes place this year.

50th anniversary oscillating weight of the Royal Oak Jumbo 39mm

We know in advance that all the Royal Oak novelties that we know for many years are difficult to find, are even more with the celebration of this half century of existence. On this topic, François-Henry Bennahmias, the CEO of the company explains to Frank in the Frank sans C programme dedicated to Audemars Piguet, the reasons of this rarity that is visible and exclusively linked to the very high demand. Despite all the effort of the company and the hard work of the teams at work in the workshops, these new anniversary references, have everything for them to be in advance collectors and difficult to find. It must be admitted that the pieces 2022 have something of electrifying when we discover them. 

Royal Oak Jumbo 39 mm 

€ 34,400

This new generation of the 39mm Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin piece (ref. 16202) is here in stainless steel and water-resistant to 50 m. Only 8.1 mm-thick, it is very thin. It features here a night blue dial Cloud 50 with Petite Tapisserie pattern and date aperture at 3 o’clock, applied hour markers and Royal Oak hands in grey gold and luminous deposit.

The Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak Jumbo 39 mm.

It features the self-winding mechanical calibre 7121 of 29.6mm. Including 268 components, it has a 55-hour power reserve and vibrates at 4 Hertz. Like all the pieces of the 50th anniversary, the oscillating weight of the instrument is specific and in the colour of the metal of the piece. The instrument is offered on a metal bracelet fastened by a folding clasp. 

Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin 39 mm rose gold 

73,100

The reference is already available in steel as the original is also offered in 18 carats rose gold. This case is also water-resistant to 50 m and is also 8.1mm-thick. It features a smoked grey dial with Petite Tapisserie pattern and a date aperture at 3 o’clock, applied hour markers and Royal Oak hands in rose gold and luminous deposit. The calibre is the same as on the steel version.

Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin 39 mm rose gold.

Therefore, it is the self-winding automatic calibre 7121 of 29.6 mm. Including 268 components, it has a 55-hour power reserve and vibrates at 4 Hertz. Like for all the anniversary versions, the oscillating weight has the 50th anniversary engravement and is here made of rose gold. The piece is worn on a rose gold 18 carats bracelet and is fastened at the wrist with an AP folding clasp. 

Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin 39 mm yellow gold 

€ 73,100

The reference 16202 is also offered in yellow gold 18 carats. This case, like the previous is water-resistant to 50m and is also 8.1 mm thick. The piece features a smoked yellow golden dial with Petite Tapisserie pattern and a date aperture at 3 o’clock, applied hour markers and Royal Oak hands in yellow gold and luminous deposit. The calibre is the same as on the steel version.

The Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin 39 mm yellow gold.
The extra-thin calibre of the Royal Oak Jumbo 39 mm yellow gold.

Therefore, it is the self-winding automatic calibre 7121 of 29.6mm. Including 268 components, it features a 55-hour power reserve and vibrates at 4 Hertz. Like for all the anniversary versions, the oscillating weight has the 50th anniversary engravement and is here made of yellow gold. The piece is worn on an 18 carats yellow gold bracelet and is fastened to the wrist with an AP folding clasp. 

Side view, the Royal Oak Jumbo 39 mm yellow gold shows the thinness of its case.

Royal Oak Jumbo 39 mm Extra-Thin 39 Platinum 

€ 118,300

This new 39mm Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin (ref. 16202) is also available in platinum. Water-resistant to 50m like the other pieces having the same reference, its thickness does no go over 8.1 mm. For this metal, Audemars Piguet kept a green dial with Petite Tapisserie pattern and date aperture at 3 o’clock, applied hour markers and Royal Oak hands in grey gold and luminous deposit.

Royal Oak Jumbo 39 mm Extra-Thin 39 Platinum

The piece also features the self-winding mechanical calibre 7121 of 29.6mm. Including 268 components, it has a 55-hour power reserve and vibrates at 4 Hertz. Like all the 50th anniversary pieces, the oscillating weight of the instrument is specific and in the colour of the metal of the piece. The instrument is offered on a platinum bracelet fastened by a folding clasp. 

Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Openworked

Price on request to the manufacture

To celebrate the fifty years of the Royal Oak, the manufacture of Le Brassus offers a brand-new 41 mm-diameter Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Openworked in stainless steel. Water-resistant to 50 m, it features the calibre ref. 2972.

It is a self-winding mechanical movement entirely and traditionally skeletonised (CNC and EDM), but whose techniques have here been advanced to give this feeling of depth. It is 31.5 mm-diameter that is 30.94 mm and only 6.8 mm-thick.

It includes 271 components and is regulated by a flying tourbillon whose balance wheel vibrates at 3 Hertz, that is 21,600 alternances per hour. Once completely wound up, this heart ensures a 65-hour power reserve. Like all the products dedicated to celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Royal Oak range, the oscillating weight of the piece has the numeral 50 engraved and is offered in the metal of the case to keep a graphic coherence. As the piece is skeletonised, the dial features only twelve hours with motion work on a slate-grey case back and grey gold hour markers. 

Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon 41 mm Grande Tapisserie

Price on request to the manufacture

In stainless steel, titanium and rose gold variants, these three new references whose design changed for this jubilee year, replace the first three revealed in 2020. To show in terms of design the 50thanniversary of the collection, the case, and the bracelet of these three new references are equipped with larger bevels, highlighting more the light effect between the satin-finish and polished surfaces that decorate the different components.

Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon 41 mm Grande Tapisserie.

In a constant will to improve the ergonomic design, highlighting the thinness effect of the watch, the first links of the built-in bracelet feature a decreasing thickness to be both light and comfortable to wear. The sapphire case back has been slightly covered in the case middle so that the watch fits better the wrist. These three new tourbillons also feature the Audemars Piguet signature logo in applied chapter 24 carats gold. It is made of thin gold layers obtained by increasing the output voltage of a galvanic cell and put by hand on the dial thanks to tiny dial feet. The versions in stainless steel and rose 18 carats gold are equipped with a blue Grande Tapisserie dial in gradient-effect smoked black.

The magnificent case back of the Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon 41 mm Grande Tapisserie.

The reference in titanium features an elegant blue sand dial that offers an alternative to the traditional Tapisserie pattern, that became the hallmark of the Royal Oak. The three pieces are equipped with the Calibre 2950, the latest generation movement of the Manufacture that combines a self-winding flying tourbillon with a 31.5 mm-diameter central rotor that is 30.94 mm. It has 270 components and a 65-hour power reserve. Equipped with a flying tourbillon, its balance wheel vibrates at 3 Hertz that is 21,600 alternance per hour. Combining technical specifications and aesthetic refinement, these pieces reflect the savoir-faire of the brand for generations. 

Royal Oak SELFWINDING FLYING TOURBILLON EXTRA-THIN (RD#3) « 50th ANNIVERSARY » – Price on request to the manufacture

This 39 mm-diameter and 8.1mm-thickness anniversary piece in stainless steel is the first Jumbo piece with tourbillon in the history. At the heart of this innovation is the Calibre 2968, an ultra-thin flying tourbillon self-winding movement that needed five years of development.

The Audemars Piguet’s engineers and watchmakers took up many challenges to integrate this complication until then reserved to the 41mm-diameters in the reduced volume of a Jumbo. To make more visible the tourbillon and the components of the movement, the engineers and watchmakers have redesigned the structure of the mechanism. Bringing the aesthetic details to a fever pitch, the Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin features a new escapement while revealing as much as possible the gears of the movement. The geometries and the positioning of the arms of the balance wheel have also been restyled so that the beating of the heart of the watch is even more present.

THE INCREDIBLE ROYAL OAK SELFWINDING FLYING TOURBILLON EXTRA-THIN (RD#3) “50th ANNIVERSARY”

The technical design of the movement makes flush the flying tourbillon right above the dial, for a visual experience even stronger. The new RD#3 remains faithful to the aesthetic codes of the iconic Jumbo pieces. The case and the stainless-steel bracelet feature the satin and polished hand finishes of the collection, whereas the Petite Tapisserie Night Blue dial, Cloud 50 pays tribute to the original Royal Oak. The colour is obtained by PVD treatment (Physical Vapor Deposition) ensuring a homogenous and durable colour to all the dials. Just like for the piece from 1972, this new reference Jumbo features hour markers and bathtub-shaped hands with luminescent coating for a better legibility in the dark. The Audemars Piguet signature, just like the minutes scale, is printed in white on the tapisserie. 

The Audemars Piguet museum (at 18 Route de France at Le Brassus in Switzerland) to understand the spirit and the power of the iconic Royal Oak.

« LIKE ME, GO TO THE Audemars Piguet MUSEUM It is THE FOUNDERS’ HOUSE! WATCH OUT IT ROCKS… » Frank Sans C

AUDEMARS PIGUET MUSEUM

18 Route de France
Le Brassus 1348
Switzerland

Here is the phone number for the mandatory visit bookings:
+41 21 642 39 00

Tuesday to Friday from 2 to 3 PM
Saturday from 10 to 11 AM

https://www.museeatelier-audemarspiguet.com/en/home.html

Premier coup de pelle pour Jasmine Audemars et François-Henry Bennhamias pour la construction de la Maisons des fondateurs.
First shovelful for Jasmine Audemars and François-Henry Bennhamias for the building of the Founders’ House.