In official circles and among collectors, the Royal Oak is said to be an inspired reference introduced in watchmaking history at the right time and with the right design. This watch was designed by Gérald Genta to widen the range of the small family watchmaking maison, specialised in the manufacture of complication timepieces. Launched on April 15th 1972, it was originally aimed at the flourishing golden youth who had just finished their studies and protested for their wish to see the world change, on the barricades of May 1968.
Contrary to what we often read, the Swiss watchmaking market kept flourishing throughout the early seventies until around 1975-1976. During the first months of this new “flower power” decade, three Audemars Piguet distributors pointed out their lack of a steel reference, a material very clearly in the spirit of the times. Georges Golay, then Managing Director of the brand, took in the feedback and asked young designer Gérald Genta to come up with a design for a chic, modern and thin steel sports watch.
The artist was determined to create a watch aligned with the trends of that time and the creative identity of the brand, known for offering unique timepieces. He designed this model, code name 5402, with geometrical shapes and strong lines. This brand-new piece, which would later be named the Royal Oak, was born from gouache paint overnight and made history. At that time, most new watches did not display such modernity, with an inspired and minimalist design.
Beginnings of an icon
The steel watch appeared in the brand’s catalogue in April 1972 after its introduction during the Baselworld Watch Fair. It immediately became the world’s most expensive steel watch. Designed to attract a young and wealthy public who wanted to stand out with their timepieces, this watch was already a tool of social distinction in privileged circles. And admittedly an earthshaking revolution for the field. However, this is an exaggeration, especially since critics tended to lambast this elitist piece claiming it was too expensive for what it offered and only a sports watch by name – and bracelet.
In addition, the brand, then known for delivering complicated watches in very small quantities, struggled to release this piece. Legend has it that it was due to difficult production, when the problem actually came from the supply and important outsourcing (Stern for the Petite Tapisserie guilloché dials, Favre & Perret for the case and Gay Frères for the built-in steel bracelet). 490 pieces were admittedly sold in 1972, a record for Audemars Piguet whose volumes were until then among the smallest in the field. For 4 years, the brand produced the 5402 model only, in order to meet demand expectations. However, the Maison launched a ladies’ piece in 1976: the 8638 model, designed by Jacqueline Dimier, with a 29-mm diameter.
The next year, the brand launched two subtly restyled pieces, a yellow gold and grey gold version, and a yellow gold and steel version. A 35-mm intermediate product also came out under the reference 4100 and immediately became a best seller, as medium-sized men’s watches were in trend. During the entire quartz crisis, the Royal Oak kept going.
The light industry structure, the independency of the old groups and the close relationship between the brand and its subcontractors allowed Audemars Piguet to easily overcome the quartz crisis. A bit like Patek Philippe and Rolex who claimed that mechanic models were a traditional hold in a hyper modern world, which allowed them to survive in a changing sector.
The Royal Oak, between eighties and nineties
Besides a few daring “baroque” variations, Audemars Piguet turned to the development of quartz pieces between 1978 and 1988. In the end, 59 models of all sizes were produced. Then, in the mid-1980s, the Royal Oak made a breakthrough in the complication watch market. In 1983, when the first Swatch was made, the manufacture launched the 36-mm Royal Oak with a date display (ref. 5572). The following year, the brand introduced a steel version of the Royal Oak, then a gold and steel version with a perpetual calendar. A yellow gold version with an openworked calibre followed in 1986 (ref. 25636).
In 1992, the 39-mm Royal Oak Jumbo reference 14802 was the first to feature a sapphire case back. It became successful as the most modern watch of its generation. The first 36-mm Royal Oak on a leather strap appeared at the same time, created by designer Jörg Hysek (ref. 14800) alongside the famous Royal Oak Offshore. This robust 42-mm model designed by Emmanuel Gueit announced the stylistic choices of the next decade.
Alongside these products, Audemars Piguet developed a collection for women. Openworked pieces as well as high jewellery pieces were produced after 1998. And we cannot leave out the launch by the manufacture from Le Brassus of a 20-mm mini–Royal Oak, powered by a quartz calibre, in 1997.
This period was also the introduction of the Royal Oak complication watches.
In 1997, the Royal Oak Tourbillon was introduced in a limited edition of 25 steel pieces to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the collection along with a series of five 40-mm watches in yellow gold, rose gold and platinum. This release came alongside the introduction of the family’s first chronograph (ref. 25860) in a 39-mm diameter and the first Grande Complication Royal Oak. With its 44-mm diameter, this grey gold piece featured a minute repeater, a perpetual calendar and a double chronograph. In 28 years of service, the Royal Oak had 300 variations, including 200 during the 1990s.
The revolution of the third millennium
The beginning of the new era called for the launch of a new generation of Royal Oak. It came dressed as a 39-mm model, reference 15202. Once again, it displayed a sapphire case back and boasted the new Grande Tapisserie dial, launched the previous year. At that time, the watch competed on equal grounds with new generation products – which did not prevent the manufacture from exploring new territories. In 2002, they revealed both the first Royal Oak Concept and the Royal Oak Tradition d’Excellence as part of a collection of complication timepieces, all limited to 20 models and designed to be part of an inlaid cabinet in which all the watchmaking complications would be gathered.
At the same time, a few limited editions of the Royal Oak were produced in collaboration with renowned celebrities and athletes. The first was designed in 1990 by golf champion Nick Faldo. Then, the Royal Oak City of Sails celebrated a partnership with Alinghi (1999). Through this profitable combination, the Royal Oak evolved from luxury item to statement of identity and symbol of success. Then in 2008 came the Royal Oak Sachin Tendukar and the Oak Leaves series designed in collaboration with Michelle Yeoh. In 2012, to celebrate 40 years of the Royal Oak, the “Jumbo” reference 15202 was released along with an openworked version, powered by the new 5122 calibre.
Next came a hand-wound Royal Oak Tourbillon Extra-Thin (ref. 26510) in steel and rose gold. Carried by its refined aesthetic, the Maison launched the majestic Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel Openworked in 2016. Originally designed with a 41-mm diameter, it became available in a 37-mm variation and in a great range of materials, including black ceramic. This period also saw the launch of the Royal Oak Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin (26586).
Celebrating half a century of perfection
Owing more than 80% of its turnover (1.5 billion Swiss Francs) to the Royal Oak collection, the manufacture from Le Brassus has every reason to pay tribute to these watches. Which it very much intends to do this year for the 50th anniversary of the collection.
With this celebration of half a century of existence, all the new Royal Oak models, known for many years to be difficult to find are expected to be even more in demand. In the Frank Sans C show dedicated to Audemars Piguet, CEO of the company François-Henry Bennahmias explains the reasons for this rarity, exclusively related to very high demand. Despite all the efforts from the company and the teams hard at work in its ateliers, these new anniversary references are already very likely to become collector’s items – very difficult to get your hands on. The 2022 pieces have an undeniably electrifying quality.
Royal Oak Jumbo 39 mm
This new generation of the 39-mm Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin piece (ref. 16202) is in stainless steel and water resistant to 50 m. It is astonishingly thin, only 8.1 mm. Here, it features a night blue “Cloud 50” dial with a Petite Tapisserie pattern and a date aperture at 3 o’clock, applied hour markers and Royal Oak hands in grey gold and luminescent coating.
The watch houses the 7121 self-winding mechanical calibre in 29.6 mm. It features 268 components, offers a 55-hour power reserve and vibrates at 4 Hertz. Like all other 50th anniversary pieces, the oscillating weight was specially made and matches the colour of the metal of the piece. The instrument is available on a metal bracelet fastened by a folding clasp.
Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin 39 mm rose gold
This reference is available both in steel like the original and in an additional 18K rose gold variation. The case is also water resistant to 50 m and 8.1-mm thick. It features a smoked grey dial with a Petite Tapisserie pattern and a date aperture at 3 o’clock, applied hour markers and Royal Oak hands in rose gold and luminescent coating. The calibre is the same as that of the steel version.
This watch also houses the 29.6-mm self-winding automatic 7121 calibre. It features 268 components, offers a 55-hour power reserve and vibrates at 4 Hertz. Like all the anniversary versions, the oscillating weight was engraved with the 50th anniversary inscription and is here made of rose gold. The piece is worn on an 18K rose gold bracelet and is fastened at the wrist with an AP folding clasp.
Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin 39 mm in yellow gold
The 16202 model is also available in 18K yellow gold. Like the others, the case is water resistant up to 50m and 8.1-mm thick. The piece features a smoked yellow golden dial with a Petite Tapisserie pattern and a date aperture at 3 o’clock, applied hour markers and Royal Oak hands in yellow gold and luminescent coating. The calibre is the same as on the steel version.
This watch also houses the 29.6-mm self-winding automatic 7121 calibre. It features 268 components, offers a 55-hour power reserve and vibrates at 4 Hertz. Like all the anniversary versions, the oscillating weight was engraved with the 50th anniversary inscription and is here made of yellow gold. The piece is worn on an 18K yellow gold bracelet and is fastened at the wrist with an AP folding clasp.
Royal Oak Jumbo 39 mm Extra-Thin 39 Platinum
This new 39mm Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin (ref. 16202) is also available in platinum. Water resistant up to 50m like the other pieces of the same reference, it is just 8.1-mm thick. For this model, Audemars Piguet has kept a green dial with a Petite Tapisserie pattern and date aperture at 3 o’clock, applied hour markers and Royal Oak hands in grey gold and luminescent coating.
The piece also houses the 29.6-mm 7121 self-winding mechanical calibre. It includes 268 components, offers a 55-hour power reserve and vibrates at 4 Hertz. Like all the 50th anniversary pieces, the oscillating weight was specially made and matches the colour of the metal of the piece. The instrument is available with a platinum bracelet fastened by an folding clasp.
Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Openworked
Price upon request to the manufacture
To celebrate fifty years of the Royal Oak, the manufacture at Le Brassus offers a brand-new 41-mm-diameter Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Openworked in stainless steel. Water resistant up to 50 m, it features the calibre ref. 2972.
It is a self-winding mechanical movement, entirely and traditionally openworked (CNC and EDM). The technique has been pushed to the limit to give this model incredible depth. It is 31.5 mm in diameter and only 6.8 mm thick.
It includes 271 components and is regulated by a flying tourbillon, with a balance wheel that vibrates at 3 Hertz, or 21,600 vibrations per hour. Once completely wound up, this powerhouse ensures a 65-hour power reserve. Like all pieces celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Royal Oak line, the oscillating weight of the piece was engraved with the number 50 and matches the metal of the case for aesthetic cohesion. As the piece is openworked, the dial features only hours and minutes on a slate-grey case back and grey gold hour markers.
Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon 41 mm Grande Tapisserie
Price upon request to the manufacture
These three new models in stainless steel, titanium and rose gold replace the first three revealed in 2020 with a specially evolved design for the jubilee. To mark the 50th anniversary of the collection through design, the cases and bracelets of these three new references were equipped with larger bevels, thus enhancing the play of light between the satin-finished and polished surfaces adorning the different components.
In a constant effort to improve ergonomics and highlight the thinness of the watch, the first links of the built-in bracelet feature a decreasing thickness, making it both light and comfortable to wear. The sapphire case back has been slightly covered in the case middle for a better fit. These three new tourbillons also feature the Audemars Piguet signature logo, plated in 24-carats gold. The plating is made of thin gold layers obtained by increasing the output voltage of a galvanic cell and applied by hand on the dial with tiny tools. The stainless steel and 18K rose gold versions are equipped with a blue Grande Tapisserie dial in a smoked black gradient.
This titanium model features an elegant blue dial, an alternative to the traditional Tapisserie pattern, hallmark of the Royal Oak. The three pieces are equipped with the 2950 calibre, the latest generation movement of the manufacture. It combines a self-winding flying tourbillon with a 31.5-mm central rotor. It features 270 components and a 65-hour power reserve. Equipped with a flying tourbillon, its balance wheel vibrates at 3 Hertz, 21,600 vibrations per hour. These pieces, which combine technical performance and aesthetic refinement, reflect the savoir-faire that the brand has accumulated for generations.
Royal Oak SELFWINDING FLYING TOURBILLON EXTRA-THIN (RD#3) « 50th ANNIVERSARY » – Price upon request to the manufacture
This 39-mm, 8.1-mm thick anniversary piece in stainless steel is the first Jumbo piece in history to feature a tourbillon. It is powered by the 2968 calibre, an ultra-thin, self-winding flying tourbillon which required five years of development.
The Audemars Piguet engineers and watchmakers took on many challenges in order to add this complication, only featured on the smaller, 41-mm Jumbo models until then. To make the tourbillon and the movement components more visible, they redesigned the structure of the mechanism. The Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin pushes aesthetic details to the max and features a new escapement while revealing the inner workings of the movement as much as possible. The geometry and positioning of the arms of the balance wheel have also been restyled so that the heartbeat of the watch is even more present.
The technical design of the movement brings the flying tourbillon slightly above the dial, for an even stronger visual experience. The new RD#3 remains faithful to the aesthetic codes of the iconic Jumbo pieces. The case and the bracelet in stainless steel feature the satined and polished hand finishes of the collection, while the Petite Tapisserie Cloud 50 Night Blue dial pays tribute to the original Royal Oak. The colour is obtained by PVD (Physical Vapor Deposition) treatment, ensuring its homogeneity and durability for all the dials. Just like the 1972 piece, the new Jumbo reference features hour markers and bathtub-shaped hands with luminescent coating for optimum visibilty in the dark. The Audemars Piguet signature and the minutes scale were printed in white on the tapisserie pattern.
« LIKE ME, GO TO THE AUDEMARS PIGUET MUSEUM, IT IS THE FOUNDERS’ HOUSE! IT’LL KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF… » Frank Sans C
AUDEMARS PIGUET MUSEUM
18 Route de France
Le Brassus 1348
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