The Le Brassus’ Octagon – Considered by many as the pioneer of luxury sports watches, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak became a huge international success and remains as one of the most iconic watches ever.
Brief History of Audemars Piguet
Founded in 1875, Jules Louis Audemars joined forces with his childhood friend, Edward Auguste Piguet to develop highly complicated and groundbreaking timepieces in Vallee de Joux, Switzerland. Audemars was highly technical, creating complicated watch movements and manufacturing the raw components while Piguet is a master watchmaker, assembling the movements and performing the final regulation on the watches. Little did they know that their namesake brand, Audemars Piguet would become one of the best watchmakers in the world.
In 1892, Audemars Piguet made its first truly groundbreaking creation with the development of the first-ever minute repeater complication in a wristwatch.
In 1899, they introduced the Grande Complication pocket watch with unique complications, including a grand and small strike, minute repeater, alarm, perpetual calendar, deadbeat seconds, chronograph with jumping seconds, and split-seconds hand.
In 1915, Audemars Piguet released the smallest 5-minute repeater calibre with a size of just 15.8mm.
The company remained in the hands of the Audemars and Piguet family after Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet passed away, continuing to carry on the brand’s tradition of innovation with the creation of the thinnest pocket watch caliber at only 1.32mm in 1925, the development of the first skeletonized pocket watch in 1934, the debut of the thinnest wristwatch in 1946 and the first Audemars Piguet wristwatch with a perpetual calendar in 1957.
Fast forward to 1972, the world witnessed the first-ever luxury sports watch made in stainless steel. The Royal Oak.
The Royal Oak Collection
The 1970s changed everything in the watch industry. The first salvo of the Quartz Crisis was fired when Japanese watchmaker, Seiko introduced the world’s first commercial quartz watch, Astron in 1971. The high demand for quartz watches posed a problem for traditional watchmakers offering expensive mechanical watches. Audemars Piguet realized that, without introducing any form of drastic innovation, they will suffer the same fate as other traditional watchmakers due to their plummeting sales. While many expected Audemars Piguet to innovate and release a better and more complicated quartz watch, they did quite the opposite. Based on feedback from the Italian market, they took a gamble and decided it’s time to introduce a luxury waterproof sports watch made in stainless steel. Audemars Piguet is sending a message to the entire watch industry – Haute Horlogerie could come up with prestigious timepieces without necessarily relying on precious metals or the need of quartz. It is all about the design, the precision of the execution, the quality of the movement and the brand’s history.
Legendary designer, Gerald Genta was tasked by AP managing director, Georges Golay to be the creative mind behind this concept and within a day, the design of the Royal Oak Ref 5402ST was born.
The Royal Oak shape is inspired by a traditional deep-sea diving helmet, characterized by an octagonal shaped bezel secured by eight visible hexagonal screws and a “tapisserie” dial. (I’m pretty sure Gerald Genta loves the ocean, considering that his another creation, the Nautilus is inspired by the porthole.)
The name “Royal Oak” came from a historical tree in England that saved King Charles’s life and became a historic political English symbol, with the name being used for several British Naval ships.
At the time of its release, the Royal Oak was more expensive than a gold Patek Philippe dress watch and 10 times more expensive than a steel Rolex. Although it took a while for the Royal Oak to overcome criticism and win over a discerning audience, Audemars Piguet’s bold decision to create a steel sports watch paid off. The new flagship model, Royal Oak saved Audemars Piguet during the quartz crisis and became Audemars Piguet’s most successful model.
In the current Royal Oak collection, you can find models in different precious materials and complications such as chronographs, minute repeaters, perpetual calendars, skeletonized movement and tourbillons.
Popular Royal Oak Models
Royal Oak Extra -Thin “Jumbo”
“The Best Luxury Sports Watch Ever.” Nicknamed “Jumbo”, the Royal Oak Ref 15202 is the modern-day Royal Oak Ref 5402. Even after almost five decades after the original release, the DNA of the original “Jumbo” remains with slight differences such as a more refined case and different bracelet. At a modest 39mm x 8.1mm thick, the Royal Oak Ref 15202 is very comfortable on the wrist and the bracelet integrates into the case seamlessly. You can wear the Jumbo for almost any occasion, from casual to formal. In the secondary market, Ref 15202 is one of the most sought after Royal Oak.
Royal Oak Self Winding
The Royal Oak Self Winding is the younger sibling of the “Jumbo”. First released in 2005, the most significant characteristic of the design is that a large AP logo is placed at the 12 o’clock position. The “Jumbo” has the “AP” logo above 6 o’clock. Since 2005, it went through different updates with a new movement and a bigger 41mm case size. The latest variants have the “Grande Tapisserie” pattern as compared to the “Petite Tapisserie” found on the “Jumbo”. The Royal Oak Self Winding does not deviate from the original Royal Oak concept that Gérald Genta envisioned and is considered as the best time and date only Royal Oak model besides the “Jumbo”.
Royal Oak Chronograph
The Royal Oak Chronograph is very much in line with the original concept and design of the Royal Oaks. The introduction of additional complications to the Royal Oak is a more modern approach, marrying one of the most popular complications with one of the most iconic watch designs. It is available in different sizes, materials and dial colours.
Royal Oak Offshore
A decade after the original Royal Oak Jumbo launched, Audemars Piguet’s young designer, Emmanuel Gueit was appointed with the task to design a new version of the Royal Oak. Audemars Piguet wants to launch a more masculine and sportier collection for younger customers. The result – Royal Oak Offshore.
The watch industry thought the Royal Oak Offshore was a mistake, just like the Royal Oak back in 1972. Even Gerald Genta, the original Royal Oak designer, reportedly stormed into the AP pavilion at Baselworld yelling, “You killed my baby!”
The Royal Oak Offshore collection is not for everyone. It’s for individuals who love bulky, masculine and sporty watches. Imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. Imagine Panerai and Hublot Big Bang
Just like the Royal Oak collection, the Offshore has also proved itself to be an icon. The Offshore collection consists of different complications such as chronographs and divers as well as limited-edition collaborations with Grand Prix and Team Alinghi.
Why should you own an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak?
Audemars Piguet spent over 130 years mastering the construction of their watches. They pride themselves on producing luxury timepieces that last a long time and revolutionizing watchmaking with complications and new materials such as carbon and titanium. Till date, Audemars Piguet is still an independent and family-owned company, allowing the company’s unique vision to continue.
Like the Patek Philippe Nautilus, the Royal Oak models are highly sought after by watch collectors and fetch a high premium in the secondary market. Waiting time for a Ref 15202 and Ref 15500 from an authorised dealer can take up to 8 years and 5 years respectively. A timeless design like the Royal Oak will always be appreciated by collectors.
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