Remaking An Icon: Audemars Piguet Royal OakWritten by Alvin Wong
Michael Friedman, Audemars Piguet’s head of complications
Introduced in 1972, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak rewrote the rule book for high-end horology by establishing the blueprint for the modern luxury sports watch.
Baselworld ticket from 1972
Designed by the late – and legendary – Gerald Genta, the Royal Oak’s launch was at first met with incredulity for its then-astronomical asking price of 3,600 Swiss francs for a steel watch. But brimming with boldness and originality, the watch soon gained popularity, ostensibly first with the design-conscious Italian customers, whose fervour for the Royal Oak’s curious combination of the off-kilter and the sophisticated quickly spread to neighbouring markets.
1972 sketch of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
Today the Royal Oak is a bona fide icon of modern watchmaking – a globally desired watch with demand that far outstrips supply, and one that easily ranks among the top three most recognisable luxury sports watches of all time.
Read THIS for a primer to the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak.
Needless to say, the Royal Oak’s success is synonymous with that of Audemars Piguet’s. Yet, this immensely intertwined relationship between a brand and its star product can be complex. And one of the biggest challenges that Audemars Piguet faces – as all brands with iconic collections do – is having to make the Royal Oak increasingly coveted well into the future. Anything less could prove tricky for the bottom line.
We speak with Michael Friedman, Audemars Piguet’s head of complications, to learn about the evolution of the Royal Oak and his thoughts on constantly having to reinterpret the collection to ensure continued success.
MAKE IT ALWAYS ABOUT THE HUMAN TOUCH.
"The Royal Oak brings together different elements that express its history, legacy and future. Although it began life as an outstanding design (by the late Gerald Genta), this is only the start.
Audemars Piguet is known for complex case designs that are hand-finished with varying techniques to create contrast and play of light, such as satin and mirror polishing. What the craftsmen (case makers, polishers, finishers) did on the Royal Oak’s case, bezel and bracelet was to make Genta’s design a reality, and it is central to the success of the Royal Oak. When it was first launched in stainless steel, the metal had never been treated in such a way, and it required new tools, techniques and levels of mastery. The craft aspect of the watch adds to its human and emotional appeal."
Exploded view of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
UNDERSTAND ITS TRUE VERSATILITY.
"We owe this chapter of the Royal Oak’s success to Genta’s successor, the brilliant Jaqueline Dimmier, who showed how far the collection could go. She designed the first women’s model in 1976, the first gold models in 1977, and the first complicated models that started in 1984 with the Royal Oak perpetual calendar. The Royal Oak continued to evolve in the 1990s and 2000s and into today with our black ceramic and white ceramic models. Just as it was in 1972, new research, new tools, new approaches and renewed energy are required to achieve the complex finishing and the dance of light on the contemporary Royal Oaks."
Vintage Audemars Piguet Royal Oak ads
LOOK BOTH FORWARDS AND BACK.
The challenge is to always keep moving forward while honouring and respecting the past. The Royal Oak has such a strong design foundation. As long as the form remains a canvas for beautiful and complex finishing work, we feel we are on the right path.
NEVER FEEL CAGED.
"As a family-run and independent brand, we are proud to always be in constant and direct engagement with our clients. Listening to different perspectives is essential and in no way limiting. What is interesting is that the Royal Oak has always provided a platform for diverse designs, and addressed different tastes throughout the years.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Tourbillon Extra-Thin 2019
Look at the new releases in 2019. There is a 39mm Royal Oak in white gold that echoes the original model (15202BC); a highly contemporary interpretation of the self-winding perpetual calendar in full white ceramic with blue dial (26579CB, pictured above); and the thinnest automatic perpetual calendar (26586IP). Early in the year, we also released the first extra-thin tourbillon Royal Oak in full black ceramic (26522CE). These four models have different calibres, case materials, colours, price points and aesthetics."
ALWAYS SHOW RESPECT.
"In each decade since its introduction, the Royal Oak has been reinterpreted in models that are very close to the original, as well as models that incorporate new ideas, materials and sources of inspiration. As long as you have clear knowledge and respect for the past, and have broad cultural awareness and dialogue, these will guide the creative, aesthetic and technical developments as you move forward."
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin 2019
Alvin promises not to be a douche when talking about watches. He may have scoured the Basel and Geneva watch fairs for the past 15 years, and played an instrumental role to the growth of Singapore's pioneering horological and men's lifestyle publications, but the intrepid scribe seeks to learn something new with each story he writes.