Royal Oak: fifty years and still going strong – Part 2

Welcome back to our Royal Oak saga! In part one of this article, we’ve told you about how the iconic collection from Audemars Piguet was born in 1972, with the introduction of the “Jumbo” ref. 5402, and how it evolved over the next two decades with the progressive introduction of smaller sizes (starting with the ref. 4100) and with the integration of complications such as the perpetual calendar into the legendary octagonal case.


The early nineties

During the 1990s, then, Audemars Piguet decided to use the Royal Oak line to promote yet another revolution, and launch a watch that, at the time, was so unusual and large that it earned the nickname “The Beast”. Designed by Emmanuel Gueit, housed in a massive and seemingly indestructible 42mm steel case and boasting an automatic chronograph movement, it was of course the Offshore.
Its launch, in 1993, marked the introduction of a chronograph in a Royal Oak case, though not in a traditional one. Over the course of the years, the Offshore has been rendered in several different materials aside from the original steel. Two are worth of a mention: the exceptionally lavish platinum, made in a limited series of 25 pieces, surely an heavyweight champion at almost half a kilogram, and the oppositely light - for how light an Offshore can be - titanium. Right now, the Offshore is still a relevant part of the Royal Oak collection, and it was just last week when Audemars Piguet announced the release of a set of new watches with in-house movements featuring integrated chronograph modules

So, at this point of the story - in 1993 - we already have a fair share of different watches all descending from a single design, from the smallest time-only versions for women to a gigantic and massive diver chronograph. However, it was not until 1997, and again the early 2000s, that the Royal Oak line expressed its full potential. To explain my point, let me quote the words I once heard from Pierre Biver, son to industry titan Jean Claude Biver. In a Royal Oak vs Nautilus comparison, Pierre made a point that I found very wise: he argued that the Nautilus has a peculiar dial shape which, matched to the “ears” of the case, makes it rather difficult to elegantly integrate displays and pushers for a complication; the Royal Oak has a round dial and a geometric case design which, on the other hand, make it way easier to include complications in the watch.

And indeed, while the firs RO Chronograph was housed in the newly designed Offshore case, the 25th anniversary in 1997 was the occasion to introduce a series of “standard” Royal Oaks with chronographs. With just minor modifications, the case seamlessly came to integrate chronograph pushers on the sides of the octagon at 2 and 4 o’clock. Pushers were screw down, with a fitting octagonal nut to secure the gaskets.  Since 1997, the chronograph remains a cornerstone of the Royal Oak collections, with new iterations coming out on a regular basis and, recently, a downsizing which brought to life a 38mm version. 


AP's tradition of grand complications

A way rarer, precious and complicated chronograph, also released in 1997, has instead remained an almost una tantum experiment: it was the Royal Oak Chronograph Tourbillion, a hand wound piece of haute horologerie that is still extremely sought after by collectors as it was made in very limited numbers.

Also regulated by a tourbillion was another 25th anniversary model, the automatic tourbillion with power reserve and date indication. Made in several different configurations, both with regular and skeletonized dials, all versions were strictly limited editions that are almost impossible to find nowadays. All were powered by the same movement - the automatic cal. 2875 with bumper rotor - and featured a winding crown in an unusual position: on the back of the watch, integrated in the beautiful sapphire caseback.

At this point it was clear that the Royal Oak was no longer just a sports watch, but rather a “standard platform” used by Audemars Piguet to express all its admirable watchmaking capabilities. It was just a matter of time, then, until we saw megacomplications made their appearance into the line. At the dawn of the new millennium, the Maison officially launched the automatic caliber 2885, expressly designed to be housed in a 44mm Royal Oak case and featuring - hold still - a perpetual calendar with leap year and week indication, a split seconds chronograph and a minute repeater, all below a beautifully skeletonized dial.


Lately

In recent years, finally, AP has got us almost used to new incredible watches being launched in the iconic octagonal case: we have seen pretty much everything, from the RD2 Perpetual Calendar, the thinnest automatic perpetual calendar in the world, to the Supersonnerie, allegedly one of the loudest minute repeaters in the world. Meanwhile, AP found the time to push the technological boundaries of the line even further, with the futuristic “Concept” collection, but also kept faithful to its roots, with the original Genta design still being the most coveted and sought after piece from the line.


What we have told you thus far should have cleared your mind - in case there was the need - about the birth, evolution and present of arguably the most recognizable wristwatch in history. But what you really need to know is that the future is likely even brighter than the past: with 2022 marking the fiftieth anniversary of the icon, we can easily expect that Audemars Piguet is going to impress us all with some state of the art release.

Be sure that we will be the first to tell you about these news and meanwhile, if our article sparked the desire for a Royal Oak - and if you righteously fear prices will skyrocket next year - have a look at our curated selection of Royal Oaks or send us a message.
What's your thought about this iconic watch? Let us know!