Royal Oak Origins
In watchmaking, brands most often start with a men’s design and later translate it into a ladies’ version. Audemars Piguet’s Lady Royal Oak is no exception. Its history begins with the creation of the original Royal Oak in 1972.
The night before the 1972 Swiss Watch Show, known today as Baselworld, Audemars Piguet’s managing director, Georges Golay, was toiling. He was feeling unmoved by the offerings the brand prepared to present the next day. Most of them were classically designed dress watches in traditional precious metals. On a whim, he decided to call the legendary designer Gerald Genta. Genta was known for his ingenuity. He was responsible for developing icons like Omega’s Constellation in 1959 and Patek Philippe’s Golden Ellipse in 1968. Golay told Genta of market research showing the growing interest in stainless steel. Then, he expressed he was looking for a last minute, show-stopping design to present the next day. Fortunately for Golay and Audemars Piguet, Genta’s genius quickly went to work.
The day of the exhibition, Genta unveiled the first rendering of the Royal Oak. It was a bold design displaying an octagonal bezel secured by eight exposed screws, inspired by a diver’s helmet. The model’s name matched its nautical aesthetic. The Royal Oak was a series of eight naval vessels, echoing back to the octagonal bezel. It also featured a visible water resistance gasket, a tapisserie dial, and an integrated bracelet. It measured 39mm in diameter, which was large for the time. Yet, it was slim at just 7mm thick. Genta intended the model to be stainless steel. However, the first Royal Oak used a more malleable white gold because of the intricate nature of its design. The initial models, known as the A-series of Reference 5402, housed the self-winding Calibre 2121 movement, first created in 1967. The Calibre 2121 was part of a project with Jaeger –LeCoultre, Patek Philippe, and Vacheron Constantin to develop an ultra-thin automatic movement.
The larger impact of the Royal Oak was the void it filled. It was the first luxury sport watch, proving that precious metals no longer defined a model’s worth. Instead, the design and quality of movement made the watch. Though the Royal Oak was polarizing at first, it ultimately took off. Five years later in 1976, the brand decided they wanted to develop a ladies’ version.
Audemars Piguet’s in-house head of design, Jacqueline Dimier, was tasked with creating the Royal Oak’s ladies’ counterpart. The result was the 29mm Reference 8683, one of the first sport watches for women. Over the past four decades, the Lady Royal Oak has expanded from Dimier’s original design to a full collection. Some of the most recently released versions are particularly remarkable.
In celebration of the Lady Royal Oak’s 40thanniversary in 2016, Audemars Piguet debuted the Frosted Gold. The collection showcases a unique method called the Florentine finish. This ancient gold hammering technique results in a diamond-like appearance that creates shimmer and texture. The original models in the collection were produced in precious metals, either rose or white gold. Additionally, they were offered in two size and movement options: a 33mm with a quartz movement and a 37mm with an automatic Calibre 3120. Now, in 2018, Audemars Piguet has unveiled a third variation in the Frosted Gold family. The Royal Oak Carolina Bucci Edition pays homage to the model’s designer. This 37mm yellow gold version features an all-new mirrored dial as opposed to the Royal Oak’s traditional tapisserie. It is only being produced in a limited run of 300 pieces.
Earlier this year, in January 2018, Audemars Piguet added another special variation to the Lady Royal Oak series. The Ladies’ Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon is the first Concept watch for women since the collection’s introduction in 2002. It features a 38.5mm white gold case. The angles of the octagonal bezel and lugs are set with diamonds in one of two shapes: baguette or brilliant cut. In addition, the all-new Caliber 2951 movement is visible through both the front and back of the case. It showcases an open worked barrel as well as white lacquer and satin-brushed bridges decorated with more diamond accents. Finally, situated at the six-o’clock position is the flying tourbillon function. Ultimately, this model combines high-level gem setting and superb technical capabilities. These characteristics have come to define the Lady Royal Oak collection.
The evolution of the Royal Oak, from Genta’s brainchild to Dimier’s reinterpretation to the latest innovations produced today, represents more than advancements in watchmaking. It illustrates Audemars Piguet’s core values, which include creativity, originality, mastery, and, above all, equality. They believed a first-of-its-kind luxury sport watch with an unconventional design and world-renowned movement was not just reserved for men. Audemars Piguet knew women needed a Royal Oak collection all their own.
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