Creating an iconic product requires many things: a willingness to be innovative, cunning, commitment, a tolerance for failure and at least a little bit of luck. It goes without saying that it is even more difficult for a brand to do justice to that icon when releasing a new version forty years later, but Audemars Piguet (one of the few remaining family owned independent high-end watchmakers in the world) can feel secure in knowing that it has done both with the Royal Oak. In 1972, at the hands of respected designer Gérald Genta, Audemars created a luxury sports watch and named it for the “British Royal Navy battleships, themselves christened for the tree where King Charles II hid from his enemies,” a watch that has since gone on to become an icon. The revolutionary design of the octagonal bezel, which resembles the porthole of ship, has helped the Royal Oak easily become Audemars Piguet’s most famous timepiece.
While in Switzerland at SIHH this past January I had a chance to see my favorite of the two new 40th anniversary Royal Oak editions, the 39mm Extra-Thin (pictured above). I said at the time, that the Royal Oak is definitely the watch in which I covet most. The new Extra-Thin model is exactly what I would want because Audemars actually sized it down, it is now the same size as the original from 1972. When the watch was first released back then, it was considered both very expensive (my math has the 1972 price at about $912) and also very large. These days, 39mm is, in some circles, is considered small. I for one don’t seek out giant watches, though I have a few exceptions to this rule (pilots and Panerais mostly).
While the sizing has changed slightly, just like when it was launched in ’72, the Royal Oak still demands a hefty price tag, especially for a watch made from stainless steel. The pricing is high, partially, because of all of the machining work that goes into making this watch. It is also expensive because AP can get it, and even after all these years later the demand is still there. Forty years in the life of an icon is little more than the warm up. [Audemars Piguet Royal Oak]