In April 1972, Audemars Piguet shocked the luxury watch world with an innovative, unique and striking watch. Attendees at the Swiss Watch Show (now known as BaselWorld) were intrigued by AP’s new creation — the watch we know today as the Royal Oak.
The Royal Oak, with its stainless steel construction and eight exposed hexagonal bezel screws, turned the world of luxury watch design upside down. Its bracelet was integrated, and functional components of the watch were visible for the entire world to see.
Even bolder than the design — the masterwork of watch designer Gérald Genta — was the Royal Oak’s price. At 3,300 Swiss francs, its price was upwards of 10 times that of the Rolex Submariner and more comparable to gold dress watches than stainless steel sports models.
With the Royal Oak, AP made a gamble: it bet that a unique, bold design unlike anything else on the market could stand out and become an icon.
Like many unique products, the Royal Oak attracted both praise and criticism when it was first released. Its unusual design was written off as an attention-seeking gimmick. But the Royal Oak has only gotten better with time. As months and years went on, watch enthusiasts warmed to its disruptive design, realizing what a bold and innovative watch it was. Interestingly, it wasn’t just the design of the Royal Oak that was a gamble for AP. In 1971, only one year before the watch was released, the company found itself in the midst of a major crisis that could have led to bankruptcy.
During the 1970s, Japanese watchmakers shook the Swiss luxury watchmaking industry. The Swiss industry, which specialized in mechanical watches, found itself fending off competition from abroad which offered much less expensive quartz watches. Many Swiss watchmakers went bankrupt. Many in the industry expected that AP would become one of them. From 1970, one year before the Royal Oak’s launch, to 1988, Swiss watchmakers laid off more than 62,000 employees — two-thirds of the country’s watchmaking workforce.
By 1978, Hong Kong had become the world’s largest watch exporter. Five years later, the Swiss watch industry had declined from 1,600 watchmakers to just 600. The industry was in crisis, and the Royal Oak was seen as a risky bet from AP at exactly the wrong time. Ironically, it was AP’s risky bet that ended up saving the company. The Royal Oak was a major success, and its unique design and high price tag made it exactly what the foreign competitors couldn’t offer: a distinctly Swiss high-end watch that was all about design instead of function.
Since 1972, the Royal Oak has grown into AP’s most famous watch, and by many standards the company’s signature design. AP’s 1971 gamble not only paid off — it helped the company thrive as many of its competitors failed.
Royal Oak 15300
With its 39mm stainless steel case, blue “Grande Tapisserie” patterned dial and integrated steel bracelet, the Royal Oak 15300 is the quintessential AP Royal Oak. The 15300 uses an in-house self-winding calibre 3120 movement with a 60-hour power reserve and date complication.
Iconic among watch enthusiasts, the 15300 is larger than the original “Jumbo” Royal Oak from 1972, with the same case diameter but a larger 9.4mm thickness. It also includes a clear case back, letting you catch a glimpse of the calibre 3120 movement whenever it’s off your wrist.
Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph 26470ST
In 1993, AP released the Royal Oak Offshore collection — a larger, weightier Royal Oak aimed at adventurers. The Royal Oak Offshore featured a larger 42mm case, which impressed watch enthusiasts as it first came onto the market.
The Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph 26470ST mixes the larger dimensions of the Offshore with a slate grey “Méga Tapisserie” dial, a small seconds subdial, and a chronograph. With its hands-stitched alligator strap, the 26470ST is as charismatic as luxury watches come.
Royal Oak Chronograph 26320ST
The Royal Oak Chronograph 26320ST pairs AP’s iconic design with an elegant silver-toned “Grande Tapisserie” pattern dial and white gold hour markers. The end result is an automatic chronograph that’s sporty but dressy, and modern but undeniably timeless.
The Royal Oak Chronograph 26320ST features a small seconds subdial at six o’clock and a chronograph. The calibre 2385, which has a 40-hour power reserve and 37 jewels, also gives the 26320ST a useful date complication.
In an industry known for its conservative approach to design, Audemars Piguet took a big risk when it released the Royal Oak in 1972. To say the risk has “paid off” for AP would be a major understatement — the Royal Oak has grown to become one of the 21st century’s most iconic watches.
From the standard-sized Royal Oak to the larger, rugged Royal Oak Offshore, the Royal Oak range has become one of AP’s signature offerings — a collection of watches that offer a mix of incredible design, outstanding attention to detail and the world’s finest materials.