“With its steel case, octagonal bezel, ‘tapisserie’ dial and integrated bracelet, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak overturned the prevailing codes in 1972 and took its rightful place as a true modern icon.” That’s AP’s online intro to their Royal Oak collection. No question: Gerald Genta’s design upset the apple cart, saving Audemars Piguet’s horological bacon during the quartz crisis. But as S. E. Hinton would say, that was then, this is now . . .
In the intervening 48 years, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak has mutated into a 122 watch farrago of high priced models. A number that doesn’t include limited edition watches that aren’t on the main Royal Oak product page or the Royal Oak Concept page. Like the just released $80,300 boutique-only Classic Royal Oak in Inky Black Ceramic (above).
Which isn’t steel and doesn’t have a ‘tapisserie’ dial (“a guilloché design requires a skill and savoir-faire that are no longer taught in horology schools“). But it does have an octagonal case, eight exposed case screws and an integrated bracelet. Characteristics that define the Royal Oak these days, as Audemars Piguet milks Genta’s design for all its worth (i.e. tens of millions).
The new RO IBC is an awesome watch, sporting the double balance wheel mechanism introduced in 2016. “The combination of two balance wheels and two hairsprings assembled on the same axis means the entire system can oscillate in perfect harmony,” The Robb Report rhapsodizes. As well they should, nouveau riche readers being an important Royal Oak fanbase.
That said, I reckon old money collectors at the top of the market have at least one Royal Oak on a winder. They’re enticed by the big money complications AP keeps shoehorning into the octagon: tourbillon, self-winding tourbillon, chronograph tourbillon, flying tourbillon GMT, minute repeater super-sonnerie, perpetual calendar, etc. Not to mention gold, diamond encrusted, platinum and ceramic watches; and extra thin variants.
There’s an eight-year waiting list for the classic RO. I’m wondering why anyone would bother.
The watch industry has moved on in the last five decades. Everyone and their mother makes a luxury steel sports watch. Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, H. Moser & Cie., Lange & Söhne, F.P. Journe . . . Everyone.
You could argue that few of these watches are as historically significant as the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. All of them enjoy the distinction of not being the Royal Oak – a watch whose basic design hasn’t evolved since The Godfather hit the silver screen.
The Royal Oak is played out. There I said it. Back when there was one Royal Oak, back when there were I dunno, 10 different models, wearing an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak was a big deal. Now, not so much.
With so many amazing high end, low volume watches clamoring for attention, purchasing an RO shows a lack of imagination. For high end collectors, it does nothing to move the horological ball forward – which they consider a thrill, a responsibility and a point of pride.
Even as it counts its money and works on new ways to keep the Royal Oak “fresh” – adding new complications, movements and materials – Audemars Piguet knows this. Hence the all new Code 11.59.
A watch with none of Genta’s disruptive genius. A timepiece that’s done little to establish the brand as a full line manufacturer like Rolex or Patek Philippe. Audemars Piguet is still the Royal Oak.
I view the Royal Oak ownership the same way I view Ferrari ownership: it’s something wealthy automobile enthusiasts have to go through. For some, Maranello’s magnificent machines remain a single-minded obsession. For others, they’re a stepping stone to better rides. Less obvious? More prestigious? No matter how you slice it, Ferrari ain’t complaining. Neither is Audemars Piguet.