Audemars Piguet Royal Oak | An Icon at Forty

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]

1972 Royal Oak
Vintage Print Ads for the Royal Oak
2012 Royal Oak Extra-Thin

Comments on “Audemars Piguet Royal Oak | An Icon at Forty

    Mike V. on March 31, 2012 6:14 PM:

    The AP RO is most certainly a classic. I, too would love the new smaller one, though it’s not in my immediate future. Another reason they are so expensive is the movement, of course. The calibre 3120 is one of the finest movements made in Switzerland.
    The “large to be large” fad in watches is kind of irritating. I have a vintage Speedmaster which is a fairly good sized watch, but it’s also properly engineered and built so that it doesn’t LOOK particularly big. I have no problem wearing that or my vintage DateJust.

    Jensen on April 1, 2012 1:19 AM:

    Prices are indeed ghastly. Good for them if they can get it, I guess?

    This is a great watch. However, the frustrating thing with pretty much all high-end sport watch companies is that the ratio of classic and attractive to tacky and baroque is way off. The majority of people who can afford them must have atrocious taste, which is kind of depressing (especially when you consider it’s them driving up the prices).

    AMV on April 1, 2012 4:16 AM:

    I love the ddesign, and the calibre, but it is not even 10atm water-proof, such a shame…

    ben on April 2, 2012 1:07 AM:

    As a vintage car mechanic, functional beauty appeals to me, and there is one thing that has always bugged me about royal oaks..
    The fasteners with the slots in them around the dial are redundant.
    If you have a hex headed fastener sunk into a matching hex hole, you cant turn it to tighten it, which is the only function the slot serves, so therefore it has no purpose. It is functional looking, but has no function.I find that really irritating.
    Is it just me?

    Ramalhoni on April 2, 2012 6:20 AM:

    This one is on my extended wish list … in 1st place is a IWC Portuguese!

    sinuhe on April 2, 2012 1:44 PM:

    This is an old man’s watch. An old man that probably drives a new Jaguar and doesn’t understand the idea of timeless classics.

    jiheison on April 2, 2012 5:04 PM:


    It is not just you.

    Mike V. on April 2, 2012 5:39 PM:

    You do realize that this has been around for 40 years, right?
    I mean, in the world of horology, it’s not that long, but still..

    DSRG on April 3, 2012 10:50 AM:

    Sorry, but the design of this watch pales in comparison to that of the true timeless classics – Cartier tank watch, Omega Speedmaster moon watch, JLC Reverso, Rolex Sub, vintage Heuer Carrera, and the aforementioned IWC Portuguese all immediately come to mind. The Royal Oak is best left hiding behind that tree with King Charles II so no one need look at it.

    sinuhe on April 4, 2012 4:56 PM:

    @mike v Just because something is old doesn’t make it timeless or classic.

    Emily on April 4, 2012 7:11 PM:

    A beautiful watch indeed. This is a nice summary of some of the highlights of the last 40 years:

    spitzbube on April 4, 2012 11:38 PM:

    @ben- After many many years asking myself the same question, I came across a Royal Oak in person. I realized the screws on the face are not meant to “turn” on the face side: the screws themselves are “sex bolts”, and they are turned from the back. The hexagonal housings on the face side are meant to prevent them from turning.

    This was confirmed by an exploded diagram of the Royal Oak’s case I ran into later on.

    The question is, why then do the screws have a flat-screwdriver groove on the face side of the watch? My guess is that it is a decision driven purely by visual design. The screws -and the watch bezel- would look too dull if it weren’t for those grooves.

    One thing is sure, Mr.Genta didn’t f**k around with this watch… a true classic from day one.

    Shane on April 17, 2012 5:57 PM:

    Really do like the design, especially the watch face crosshatching

Comments are closed.