Diamond Watches London

History of the Audemars Piguet – Royal Oak

An industry redefined: The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak.
How one watch created the modern world of horology as we know it.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Every once in a while, an industry gets shaken to its core. Whether it’s by a new product or service, times change, and industries are forced to adapt. In the 1970s, the world of Swiss watchmaking was brought to its knees by the Quartz Crisis. With quartz movements being far more accurate than traditional mechanical movements and eye-wateringly cheap at the same time, brands without quartz watches just couldn’t compete. In 1971 with their sales plummeting and fellow Swiss brands capitulating entirely, Audemars Piguet knew they had to do something that would either ruin them or catapult them to success. While the risk was huge, the cost of doing nothing at all was immeasurable. AP’s idea wasn’t to compete with quartz watches; it was to create an entirely new market – the luxury steel sports watch.

The Royal Oak is born.

In 1971, with some market research from Italy indicating potential demand for a luxury steel sports watch, AP’s executives approached the relatively famous watch designer Gerald Genta. Having worked on numerous watches for other brands, Genta was by no means a novice and knew how to design a watch that wasn’t like anything seen before it. Approaching Genta at 4 pm the day before Baselworld in 1971, he was given just one night to design an “unprecedented steel watch” for the Italian market, and oh did he deliver.

A new kind of watch.

Released the following year, in 1972, due to the complexity of its construction, the Royal Oak wasn’t like anything anyone had seen before. With exposed screws, a massive 39mm case and made just from steel – the Royal Oak seemed like a bizarre release. Inspired by a diver’s helmet, the Royal Oak’s aesthetic was visually bold. The exposed screws, rubber gasket and stainless steel construction all seemingly flew in the face of the extremely expensive price tag for the time – costing around the same as ten Rolex Submariners. Nicknamed the ‘Jumbo’ due to its 39mm case, which was far more significant than conventional watches at the time, the Royal Oak wasn’t an immediate hit.

The Royal Oak takes off.

Having weathered its initial criticisms, the Royal Oak ref. 15202, with its beautifully finished self-winding Calibre 2121 movement, began to sell. The striking design started to reel in the sales as collectors wanted something unique and fresh. The idea of a luxury steel sports watch had finally taken off. This was perfectly timed too, as AP didn’t have much money left – making bankruptcy all but a certainty. Following tongue-in-cheek advertisements about the exposed screws and use of seemingly in-exclusive steel, the Royal Oak took off and saved AP. We can say with confidence that without the Royal Oak we wouldn’t have Audemars Piguet today, or at least as we know them now. We also wouldn’t have a lot of other watches that exist within the luxury steel sports watch segment of the market, that only exists because of the Royal Oak. The Patek Philippe Nautilus is one such watch.

The Royal Oak Today.

With its importance to AP, the Royal Oak’s design has been in constant evolution. While there are numerous references, complications and materials, the Royal Oak has managed to spawn two completely separate collections; the Royal Oak Offshore and the Royal Oak Concept. These two collections each took the Royal Oak aesthetic and applied it to different markets. The Offshore is geared towards younger and more active individuals, while the Concept is a vehicle for AP to showcase their latest efforts in Haute horology and their latest technology. The Royal Oak itself has become an extensive collection with numerous complications and various styles. Having become such an icon within the watchmaking world, it is only fitting that the Royal Oak is the shining light of one of the most influential brands in the history of watchmaking.

Our example.

With the Royal Oak being as iconic as it is, we are incredibly proud to be able to offer this 1997 E-Series Royal Oak Dual Time for sale. Provided with its original presentation box, original outer sleeve and original papers, our example is a collector’s dream. Completely unpolished, this timepiece is in spectacular condition given its vintage. With its gorgeously aged off-white dial beautifully contrasting the warm glow of the 18kt gold used in its construction, this watch is simply stunning. Coming with a dual time complication fitted at 6 o’clock, this timepiece is functional as well as beautiful. Evermore, it also comes equipped with a power reserve indicator at 9 o’clock and a date subdial at 2 o’clock. With the added visual benefit of its complications, this piece’s dial has the perfect balance between legibility, function and intrigue – which is only further compounded by AP’s famous tapisserie pattern.

While the Royal Oak is an aesthetically beautiful timepiece, the value it offers does not end there. With the Royal Oak, you get a piece of horological history that has undoubtedly reshaped the world of watchmaking and impacted the entire industry in ways we will never be able to truly appreciate.