Top 14 Facts About Audemars Piguet Royal Oak – Interesting Things to Know
The Audemars Piguet is one of the most iconic and well-known timepieces in the world. The Royal Oak has led the way for what watch designs can be and it has been the inspiration for many other watch brands to come.
The Royal Oak is today one of the most iconic, sought-after, and collectible timepieces in the world considering the important role it has played in the watch industry, it deserves to be highlighted and celebrated.
Facts about Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
1. The Royal Oak was designed by Gérald Genta
The Audemars Piguet was designed by one of the most influential, well-known, and iconic watch designers, ever. Gérald Genta is responsible for having designed several of the world’s most iconic watch designs, including the Royal Oak, the Patek Philippe Nautilus, the Universal Polerouter, the Omega Constellation, and many more. He is the single most successful watch designer that has unarguably designed more iconic watch designs than any other designer ever.
2. The Royal Oak was almost named The Safari
The watch that we all know and love was almost named The Safari. As a matter of fact, this was the name that Gérald Genta came up with first and how he referred to the prototype as.
However, before the watch was officially released to the market, Audemars Piguet decided not to use the name. The reason was that Audemars Piguet felt that the name didn’t align well with the brand image and identity.
However, Audemars Piguet later released the Royal Oak Offshore Safari to pay tribute to the initial name suggestion, and to Genta.
3. The first Royal Oak prototypes were made in white gold
Although the purpose and idea of the Royal Oak were to create the world’s first luxury stainless steel watch, the prototype was in fact made in white gold. This is quite ironic, but there’s a good reason for it.
The value proposition of the Royal Oak was not meant to be the material, but rather the level of finishing. But finishing stainless steel to that level is actually quite difficult considering the material’s hardness.
Audemars Piguet, therefore, made the prototypes in white gold because it is a softer material and easier to work with. It actually became more affordable to use white gold in the development process than stainless steel.
Still, it’s an interesting fact that steel can be more expensive to work with than gold just because of the complexity of crafting it. It’s not something you think about it was the purpose of the Royal Oak all along – to make it the first luxury stainless steel watch.
4. The launch of the Royal Oak was not a big failure as is often reported
If you read about the history and the early days of the Royal Oak, you’ll likely read that the Royal Oak was a failure, or at least not a success in its early days. But the fact of the matter is that this has been greatly exaggerated. Audemars Piguet themselves have stated that this is “a widespread misconception”. The watch certainly wasn’t a huge failure that was met with criticism and that no one wanted. Yes, there were some skepticism about a watch that cost 3650 CHF and was made in stainless steel but after some time, the popularity and sales of this model picked up. Between 1972 and 1978, the company produced a total of 6,050 reference 5402 models as well as 4,288 in steel, 876 in gold and steel, 736 in yellow gold, and 150 in white gold.”
Now, those numbers may not be impressive today but bear in mind that Audemars Piguet’s total watch production was considerably smaller than it is today.
So to say that the Royal Oak was a complete flop is not quite correct.
5. The Royal Oak is named after a British battleship
The HMS Royal Oak from Britain’s Royal Navy is one of the most famous and iconic battleships ever created. It is also from this ship that the watch got its name. The name of the watch, therefore, has nothing to do with a tree, which some people assume. However, if we look at from where the Royal Nave ship took its name, then it does indeed has a connection to a tree. The ship was named after an Oak tree that, according to the legend, protected King Charles II from the Roundheads following the Battle of Worcester which took place in 1651.
The first name suggested, as mentioned, was “The Safari”, but this was not a name that AP chose to proceed with upon its launch. Instead, they needed something that aligned better with the brand image, but also that had a nautical connection. The Royal Oak name, therefore, made perfect sense.
6. The Royal Oak was designed in less than 24 hours
It’s truly remarkable that the initial design for one of the most iconic timepieces ever created was made in less than 24 hours.
Gérald Genta himself has described this event and how the design came about. It was in 1970, the night before the Baselworld watch fair, that Georges Golay, Audemars Piguet’s managing director, asked Gérald Genta to design a new watch.
According to Genta, Golay told him at 4 PM: “Mr. Genta, we have a distribution company that has asked us for a steel sports watch that has never been done before – and I need the design sketch for tomorrow morning.” Genta later said about the event: “It was a crazy thing, personally I don’t know by what magic it was possible to create such a thing in one night, it was quite amazing!”
It was, in particular, the Italian market that requested a unique, sporty yet luxurious stainless steel watch.
Georges Golay said that he wanted Genta to design an “unprecedented steel watch” and despite the short timeframe, Genta delivered.
7. All bezels screws on the Royal Oak are made in gold
The Royal Oak is designed with an octagonal bezel with eight exposed screws. All screws for the Royal Oak are made out of gold, even if the watch itself is made in stainless steel. The exception is for the Royal Oak Offshore.
The purpose of this is strictly to enhance the elegant and luxurious nature of this watch. The screws on the bezel go all the way through to the back of the case and hold the whole construction together. The fact that they are attached to the back of the watch allows the bezel screws to be perfectly aligned, unlike some other watches with exposed bezel screws.
8. Some people found the exposed screws on the bezel strange
The exposed screws caused split opinions back in the day and still do, although most people have come to view them as a part of the watch’s identity.
In fact, Audemars Piguet actually highlighted what some people thought regarding the exposed screws in an advertisement. Audemars Piguet says the following:
“One of the most successful of these drew attention to the visible screws. As transgressive and innovative as steel itself, the screws became the focus of debate. In one scenario, two friends are leaning against a rail: “A price like that”, he teased, “and they don’t conceal the screws?”
Audemars Piguet managed to catch what some people thought and use that in an advertisement that became very successful. Because the fact of the matter is that the exposed screws are not about the fact that AP is not able to hide them. It’s just that it was part of the identity of the design.
9. The Design Of The Royal Oak actually came about because of a misunderstanding
We have discussed the fact that Gérald Genta came up with the design of the Royal Oak in less than 24 hours. But the design he came up with was actually the result of a misunderstanding.
According to Genta, he misheard Golay when he received the instructions for the design of the watch. Genta commented on the event and described what happened:
One afternoon, at four o’clock, Mr. Georges Golay, the Managing Director of Audemars Piguet, rings me up and tells me: “Mr. Genta, I need a steel sports watch that has never been done before, I want it to be something totally new and waterproof.” On my part, I understood that what he was looking for was a brand-new waterproofing technology. “I want the design by tomorrow morning.” I designed it overnight and my idea was to replicate the system of the scaphander’s helmet on the watch case. With the eight screws and with the joint visible on the case’s exterior. So I was given the ‘green light’ straight away to begin work on the prototype.
With that said, Genta understood it as if he needed to design a steel luxury sports watch with a waterproofing technology that had never been done before. And in doing so, he looked for inspiration from diving helmets. The result was that the Royal Oak was designed with visible gaskets, a detail that is now an iconic part of the Royal Oak.
10. The first prototype was completed in less than a year
Whilst it took less than 24 hours to design the watch, creating the first prototype took almost a year. Gérald Genta said the following:
“I completed the prototype myself within a year. In 1970, I designed the watch. And it took one more year before industrial production, which finally came about in 1972.”
11. The idea for a new model that came to become the Royal Oak was not an idea from Audemars Piguet
As stated above, the Royal Oak was the result of a request from a distributor who wanted a steel sports watch that has never been done before. But there’s more to this story with a little digging.
The request actually came from Société Suisse pour l’industrie Horlogère which was a group founded by Omega and Tissot in 1930. Mr. Golay established a deal with the SSIH regarding the distribution of watches for growing production from AP. Golay needed to expand the distribution network for AP and SSIH had 15,000 retailed around the world. But in exchange for access to their distribution network, Golay was asked by top agents to create a watch, the day before Baselworld.
12. The first customer of the Royal Oak was Allegedly the Shah of Iran
Allegedly, the first-ever customer of the Royal Oak was the Shah of Iran was the first-ever Royal Oak customer. The Shah wanted his Roak Oak to be made of white gold and AP commissioned this unique watch for him.
13. The Royal Oak saved the company
The Royal Oak was created in the midst of the quartz crisis when the Swiss watch industry received a heavy blow from the Japanese watch brands who had started making quartz timepieces.
Like most other Swiss watch brands, Audemars Piguet was also affected by the great competition from the quartz watches.
It’s safe to say that the Royal Oak was something truly unique and revolutionary. And this watch couldn’t have come at a better time. It was exactly what AP needed to combat the threats from the quartz watches. The most important thing about the Royal Oak was that it made a statement. It was made in stainless steel but put an emphasis on fine watchmaking and craftsmanship. It was essentially exactly the opposite of the cheap Japanese quartz watches. Yes, the quartz watches were more accurate, but AP proved that the Royal Oak was so much more than that. It was a piece of art.
The sales of the Royal Oak were slow as a start but eventually picked up. Today, it is the single most important model for AP and also one of the most iconic models in the world.
14. The story that the design was inspired by a diver’s helmet is not quite true
We have all heard the story about the fact that the Royal Oak is inspired by a traditional diver’s helmet. However, this has proven not to be quite true.
Yes, it is possible that Genta took some inspiration from traditional diver’s helmets, but the fact of the matter is that diver’s helmets with 8 bolts don’t really exist. Moreover, Audemars Piguet themselves have done their own research and have not been able to find a diver’s helmet with an octagonal faceplate.
AP stated that the “octagonal shape definitely stems from another source.”.
With this said, it’s evident that Gérald Genta didn’t take inspiration from a specific diver’s helmet, at least not when he came up with the iconic octagonal shape. However, that is not to say that he didn’t think about divers’ suits and diver’s helmets for inspiration when he designed the Royal Oak. In other words, the result was what he envisioned in his head when he thought about these items.
The octagonal shape may have come from somewhere else but the screws were definitely inspired by divers’ helmets.