Audemars Piguet Royal Oak: the evolution of design and innovation
As recognized as one of the most iconic watch designs, Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak has a place in history books. This watch was born in a bold new era of watch design in 1972. According to legend, this watch with a “steel body and gold heart” saved the luxury watchmaking industry. As the famous origin story says, Audemars Piguet took a huge risk to launch the rule-breaking Royal Oak, which completely changed the industry with a brand new watch category. However, those who follow Audemars Piguet’s technical and aesthetic achievements may think that this is not so much a revolution as it is a natural evolution in the brand’s history.
Audemars Piguet has launched a number of world firsts: the minute repeater watch in 1892, the skeleton watch in 1934, and the thinnest watch in 1946. Among the many achievements of the manufacturer, the Royal Oak may be its most famous contribution to the history of watchmaking, as it launched the first luxury sports watch and even heralded the way we wear timepieces today. These inventions are often cleverly adapted to the changing needs of the times. Taking the 1970s as the midpoint, reviewing Audemars Piguet’s milestones reveals a clear technological innovation route.
History of Watchmaking Achievement
Audemars Piguet (Audemars Piguet) was founded in 1875 in the Swiss village of Le Brassus. It has long been one of the most respected watchmakers in the world, proud of its ancestral expertise and innovation drive. Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet are the fourth and fifth generation watchmakers, respectively, and have had successful careers in the industry. When Audemars and Piguet joined forces, the advent of industrial machinery and mass production had begun to erode traditional watchmaking techniques. During this time, these two friends insisted on hand-made complex mechanisms and established themselves as masters of ultra-complex pocket watches.
Audemars Piguet luxury played a pioneering role in the development of the watch, laying the foundation for the brand’s experimentation in form and function.
Quite importantly, they also used their expertise in horology to make horological movements for women. In the fashion of the time, women wore them as pendants, brooches or rings—and, in turn, they were regarded as women’s jewelry watches. These are all hard technical feats of miniaturization. Therefore, in a broader context, Audemars Piguet has played a pioneering role in the development of watches, laying the foundation for the brand’s experimentation in form and function.
Mechanical watches are almost down
Fast forward to 1970, when the so-called “quartz crisis” was wreaking havoc on the Swiss watch industry. The appearance of the quartz movement provided a cheaper, more convenient, and more durable alternative than the dress watches of the time. This brings an existential crisis to traditional mechanical watchmakers. Consumers are also beginning to adopt a more active lifestyle and enjoy extreme sports. In the global context of cultural change and economic depression, highly complex (and fragile) formal watches are increasingly seen as advancing with the times.
In response to the drastic changes, an Audemars Piguet executive called the legendary designer Gérald Genta on the eve of the Basel Watch Fair. Genta is asked to imagine a new category of high-end watches that is both bold and futuristic; they will attract a new generation of customers. Most importantly, they will be made of stainless steel. The next day, Audemars Piguet published a sketch of the Royal Oak. 1:1 Quality Replica wathes
Stainless steel armor
At that time, steel was still regarded as an unconventional material, too practical to be used in high-end watches. Before that, fine watches were almost always gold or platinum. The Royal Oak is named after the legendary Royal Oak that saved King Charles II in battle and the steel-clad warships of the British Navy, giving stainless steel the status of a valuable and noble material. There are also practical considerations. Steel is more difficult to process than gold, so new tools and techniques need to be invested in fine hand finishing; the iconic hand-polished and satin-brushed processing enhances the aesthetic lines of the timepiece.
Ultra-thin and durable
The first Royal Oak models were equipped with calibre 2121, which was based on calibre 2120 developed by Audemars Piguet in 1967, which was the world’s thinnest automatic movement with date display at the time, with a total height of 3.05 Mm. The 2121 movement is also equipped with a Gyromax balance wheel and anti-vibration system, mounted in an extremely durable metal case, so that the Royal Oak can withstand heavy blows. Although the focus is usually on the way Audemars Piguet created the first “luxury sports watch”, these innovations also emphasize the important fact that the watchmaker was also a pioneer of ultra-thin movements. Six years after the advent of the Royal Oak series, Audemars Piguet released the 2120/2800 movement, which reignited the industry’s interest and development in classic complications.
Is a steel watch that looks like a machine so expensive?
Audemars Piguet showed their avant-garde watches to the public, and they didn’t know what to do at first. In contrast, this makes it more expensive than the gold Patek Philippe dress watch and more than ten times that of the Rolex Submariner. In addition to material issues, the watch itself looked strange or unconventional at best at the time. Until then, the size and appearance of luxury watches usually did not change much. Audemars Piguet’s new watch breaks many existing design norms. Genta’s vision drew inspiration from deep-sea diving helmets. The sketch shows a round octagonal bezel, secured with eight exposed hex screws. The large tonneau-shaped case with a diameter of 39 mm has earned it the nickname “Jumbo”. The one-piece bracelet is made of links of decreasing size, while the “Tapisserie” dial is made of precision metal chisels.