History of the Royal Oak

A Masterpiece Designed by Gerald Genta for Audemars Piguet

Original advertisment for the Royal Oak
Original advertisment for the Royal Oak

It was Baselworld, 1972 when a legend was born: Audemars Piguet and Gerald Genta unveiled the Royal Oak, an integrated bracelet, luxury steel sports watch, the likes of which the world had never seen before. Long before steel or sports watches were a thing, AP and Genta had the foresight to introduce this icon, but why? Like everyone else, Audemars Piguet was struggling due to the quartz crisis and they felt a financial collapse was on the horizon. Having done some research in the Italian market, they found that there was a longing for a steel sports watch, something to wear every day, beat around and not worry about it. Surprising as it may be, that was the original intended use of the legendary Royal Oak, perhaps the most coveted watch in the market today. 

Gerald Genta, created the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Patek Philippe Nautilus and Omega Constellation, in addition to designs for his own brand and more. Image via The New York Times

It is said that Genta designed the Royal Oak just 24 hours before it was presented to the world; he had a carte blanche from Audemars Piguet to do what he wanted. According to Genta, the Royal Oak octagonal bezel was designed after a diver’s helmet. The famous Tapisserie dial of the Royal Oak is made on a Rose engine that is over 100 years old, and is believed to be the only one of its kind. This watch, is one of a few that has transcended watches as a whole; it is akin to wearing art on your wrist. 

Audemars Piguet

Scholarship says that in 1874, two school friends reconnected after becoming master watchmakers. In 1875 those friends, Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet, decided to join forces in Le Brassus, a village in the famed “Center of Complicated Watchmaking,” Vallée de Joux in Switzerland. While both watchmakers had the skill and mastery to make their own watches, they chose to combine their time and efforts. Audemars oversaw the production, creation, and technical side of watchmaking while Piguet focused on sales and management. In 1881, the young team founded Audemars Piguet & Cie and a legend was born.

Audemars Piguet’s technical innovation is arguably best-in-class, as they have no shortage of patents and iconic complications. In 1892, the brand released the first minute repeating wristwatch and in 1899 they debuted their Grand Complication pocket watch. This piece had no less than seven unique complications: grand and small strike minute repeater, alarm, perpetual calendar, deadbeat seconds, chronograph with jumping seconds, and a split-seconds hand. In 1921, they created the first jump hour wristwatch and in 1986, the ultra-thin self-winding tourbillon—the smallest ever made.

Sandwiched between the two aforementioned technical accomplishments in 1972, Audemars Piguet employed a young Gerald Genta and introduced the legendary Royal Oak. The brand introduced this piece in the middle of the “Quartz Crisis” when traditional watchmaking was in danger of being forgotten. The Royal Oak was an outlier at the time as it was different from every other watch on the market. Stainless steel with an integrated bracelet, the piece also featured a case with octagonal bezel and screws set inside of it.

Technical innovation has always been the name of the game for Audemars Piguet, which to this day remains a family-owned manufacture in the Vallée de Joux. Whether it be the award-winning ultra-thin perpetual calendar Royal Oak, the entirely ceramic Royak Oak, or the the Royal Oak Concept—the very best sounding minute repeater—they have always delivered technical prowess. Audemars Piguet is one of the only high-end manufactures to supply movements to other manufactures, and they are considered the third and final name in the Holy Trinity of watchmaking.

Auction Results Audemars Piguet