A Cultural Icon

OHLALA looks at the evolution of Swiss luxury watchmaker Audemars Piguet’s avant-garde collection, the Royal Oak, over 50 glorious years.

Launched in the early years of the quartz crisis in the 1970s and early 1980s, the first Royal Oak watch combined sportiness with ancestral know-how, heralding the beginning of a new fine watchmaking era.

Audemars Piguet commissioned Gérald Genta, a trained jeweller and experienced watch designer, to combine the manufacturer’s unconventional designs and the cultural groundswell of the ‘60s and ‘70s to create the most expensive steel watch on the market. It drew strong reactions, including criticism, nonetheless marking the beginning of a steady commercial success for Audemars Piguet. In 1976, the first women’s model was launched.

Audemars Piguet’s ‘Quartz’ debuted in 1978; the next 10 years witnessed at least 59 models equipped with six different quartz movements. The brand also played a crucial role in the revival of classic complications; the first day-date model was released in 1983, followed by a new one with multiple calendar functions. In 1986, Audemars Piguet introduced an 18-carat yellow gold timepiece, the first openworked design and the collection’s first sapphire.

1992 witnessed the launch of the first limited-edition model and the first leather strap. In 1993, the Royal Oak Offshore was launched, eventually giving rise to a new collection. The first openworked women’s models made their debut, and gem set models gained ground – the Royal Oak High Jewellery Openworked timepiece ushered in a new wave of high jewellery timepieces in the early 2000s.

The brand incorporated the new guilloché Grande Tapisserie dial, which gained popularity as larger watches were preferred. The Tradition d’Excellence cross-collection series combined complications innovatively. The 2000s witnessed the rise of limited editions in collaboration with personalities including Nick Faldo, Sachin Tendulkar and Michelle Yeoh.

A blend of refined aesthetics and technical mastery permeated throughout the decade, notably with the Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel Openworked – Audemars Piguet’s patented mechanism improved precision and stability. Another technical breakthrough was the Royal Oak Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin, which became the world’s thinnest automatic perpetual calendar wristwatch of its time.

Forever Young. This decade has seen so far a new generation of 39mm Royal Oak ‘Jumbo’ Extra-Thin models with increased performance and reliability. The Royal Oak Extra-Thin Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon – the manufacturer’s first ever flying tourbillon housed in a 39mm extra-thin ‘Jumbo’ case – will soon be complemented with an additional Royal Oak Extra-Thin Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon in a 37mm diameter – yet another first for the brand.


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