Image Courtesy of Cigar Aficianado

Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak is one of the most celebrated watches of all time. But why did this watch make such a splash on the luxury watch scene? And what led to it gaining its cult classic status? Read on to learn how this watch, born out of crisis and designed in a single night, became a legendary timepiece and saved Audemars Piguet from going out of business.

The Royal Oak’s Birth During the Quartz Crisis

Audemars Piguet Royal Oakd

Image Courtesy of Bexsonn

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak was designed out necessity during a time of crisis for the Swiss watchmakers at Audemars Piguet. In the early 1970s, all mechanical watchmakers were facing a dire situation: quartz movements were taking over. Quartz watches had just been invented and were drastically rising in popularity, thanks to their durability, high accuracy, and much more affordable price tags. The rise of quartz watches posed a problem for traditional mechanical watchmakers offering delicate, expensive mechanical watches. As the sales of quartz watches rose, the sales of mechanical watches dropped.

Audemars Piguet was hit hard by the quartz crisis. They realized that, without making some kind of drastic change, they would soon go out of business due to their plummeting sales. Audemars Piguet decided to make a bold move and task one of their designers with creating an entirely new kind of watch: a luxury sports watch.

Audemars Piguet instructed their watch designer Gerald Genta to create this watch. According to Genta, an executive came up to him one day in their Switzerland office at 4PM and said, “Mr. Genta, I need a steel sports watch that has never been done before, I want it to be something totally new and waterproof.” Genta had to make quick work of his design, as it was due the next day.

That night, Genta came up with the design for their new watch, the Royal Oak. To create Audemars Piguet’s new waterproof steel watch, Genta drew inspiration from a deep sea diving helmet. The stainless steel case of the Royal Oak echos the shape of the deep sea diving helmets of the era and its octagonal bezel features the same type of exposed screws.

When the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak first debuted, it was not an instant hit. The idea of a luxury sports watch was new. Additionally, many consumers balked at the Royal Oak’s unusual design and high price tag. At the time of its release, the Royal Oak was more expensive than a gold Patek Phillipe watch and 10 times more expensive than most steel Rolex wristwatches.

Because of the Royal Oak’s unusual design and high cost, it took three years for Audemars Piguet to sell their first 1,000 Royal Oak watches. Though sales were slow at first, after these first three years, interest in the Royal Oak suddenly skyrocketed. After a while, the public seemed to warm to the idea of the Royal Oak and seemed to be drawn to its incredibly unique design. It also didn’t hurt that a number of famous figures were early adopters of the Royal Oak. Famously, the first Royal Oak ever sold was sold to the Shah of Iran.

While it took a while for the public to warm to the Royal Oak, the watch soon became Audemars Piguet’s most successful model. Audemars Piguet’s bold decision to create a watch unlike any other paid off. The Royal Oak saved Audemars Piguet from going out of business during the quartz crisis and became their new flagship model.

Audemar’s Piguet’s Royal Oak Today

An ultra luxurious, modern chronograph pink gold Royal Oak watch with tapisserie dial

Today, the AP Royal Oak is one of the most legendary watches in existence. It’s now the flagship model of Audemars Piguet, and they have created numerous editions of the watch since its initial release. There are now Royal Oak models in precious materials like rose gold and white gold, chronograph Royal Oak models, Royal Oak models with minute repeaters, and Royal Oak models with superb perpetual calendars. There are also Royal Oak models that are even larger than the sizable original Royal Oak, such as the Royal Oak Offshore.

In part, the continued success of the Royal Oak can be attributed to how it impacted the history of luxury watches as a whole. The Royal Oak changed the watchmaking world and paved the way for luxury sports watches as we know them today. Today, it’s par for the course for luxury Swiss watch makers to offer luxury sport watch models. Watch industry giants like Omega, Patek Philippe, and Jaeger-Lecoultre all now offer luxury sports watches— but Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak was the first.

Another reason the Royal Oak is still so successful is its extraordinarily unique look. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, with its large size and distinctive geometric shape, is truly in a category of its own in terms of style. The striking, unique Royal Oak is beloved by horology enthusiasts across the world. Owning a Royal Oak— whether it’s an original Royal Oak, a Royal Oak Offshore, a Royal Oak Chronograph, a Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph, a Royal Oak Jumbo, or a Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar— is considered a must among many collectors.