In the 1970s, many Swiss brands were in financial chaos with the rise of the Quartz movement coming from Japanese manufacturers. Hence, this period in watchmaking was deemed “the quartz crisis.” Audemars Piguet realized it needed to design a watch that would put a stick in the spokes of Quartz, or it would be the end. When hearing from members of Italian markets and their interest in luxury steel watches, the idea of a stainless steel luxury sports watch came to fruition.
The first step in the creation of any product is the design. The man tasked to create the newest watch for Audemars Piguet designed watches for Patek Philippe, Omega, and Universal Geneve—a man named Mr. Gerald Genta. With pressure comes greatness (and diamonds), and on the eve of Baselworld in 1971, George Golay, the managing director of Audemars Piguet, asked Gerald Genta to create an elegant and revolutionary stainless steel sports watch. It needed to be completed by the following morning. The next day, Genta delivered his sketch of what would become the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak.
The inspiration for the Royal Oak was a diver’s helmet. An octagonal bezel held in place by eight screws was implemented to ensure the watch would be unique and revolutionary. While measuring in at an impressive 7mm thin, the watch was considered large or “jumbo” with a case diameter of 39mm, which is now a much more typical size in contemporary watchmaking now. Essentially, it was a watch ahead of its time.
The Royal Oak’s beating heart and life system was the calibre 2121, which can be found in present-day Royal Oaks, specifically the Royal Oak Jumbo ref. 15202. The calibre 2121 is essentially the calibre 2120 with the addition of a date complication. It should be noted that Jaeger LeCoultre created the original calibre 2120 with the funding of major players Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, and Vacheron Constantin, who were looking for an ultra-thin automatic movement.
The Royal Oak, designed to save a large portion of the Swiss watch industry, was created by one of the most excellent designers in watchmaking history and is regarded as one of the greatest watches ever made, and it was conceptualised in a single day. The Royal Oak defines timeless design and will no doubt remain an icon in horology for decades to come.
Born into a family obsessed with motorsport, Tyler Frederick became enamoured with speed and beautiful cars at a young age. His love of Formula 1–and all things mechanical–eventually lead him to horology. Tyler also writes for Montres Publiques. You can follow him on Instagram.
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6 thoughts on “Other Watchy Bits: A Brief History of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak”
Awesome article 👍👍
It is one of my favorite design of watch.
I am not sure what it is, but it just looks elegant and iconic. The AP Royal Oak is one of the 2 Watch in my must have watch of my life and my sure it will be a pass down type of watch for my boy.
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Our desire to pass on a watch demonstrates that timepieces are so much more important to us than simple objects which tell time. Thank for the feedback. Cheers
Thank you so much for the kind words, my friend!
The Royal Oak is a perfect example of timeless design, and it’s fantastic to see you’re passionate about it too!
Best of luck in your hunting for your grail, and I’m sure your son would greatly appreciate such a beautiful watch. Thank you for your feedback!
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An extremely insightful read on the Royal Oak!
Very cool. I love learning about the history behind a brand and specific watches. Thank you for the effort put into this
The introduction of the Royal Oak line from AP has been nothing short of incredible. Genta was a genius in the world of design.
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