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2022: The Royal Oak's 50th Anniversary

by Dana Li

2022 has been a big year for watches with many brands bringing the heat with some amazing releases. From revived designs from the archives to new experimental pieces, these new releases have generated buzz among the industry and collector circles alike. It’s been an especially big year for Audemars Piguet with the 50th anniversary of the Royal Oak, one of the most iconic watches in history. Love it or hate it, it's difficult to deny its significance and influence in modern watch design.

History of the Royal Oak

The Royal Oak was first launched in 1972 and is still one of Gerald Genta’s most notable designs. In the early 1970s, the Swiss watch industry was experiencing economic turmoil after quartz watches began flooding the market. Facing financial trouble, Audemars Piguet commissioned Gerald Genta to design a new watch and doubled down on mechanical movements to revitalize the brand. The result was the Royal Oak.

Despite its iconic status today, the Royal Oak actually struggled to gain popularity when it was first released. The watch defied the conventions of the time with its octagonal design, use of steel, and high price for a sports watch. It even took 3 years to sell its first production run of 1,000 pieces because people did not fully understand the concept of a luxury sports watch. Early trailblazers such as Karl Lagerfeld did however catch on to the potential of the Royal Oak and helped generate admiration for the striking piece. One of Lagerfeld’s personal Royal Oaks was auctioned at Phillips earlier this year for over 900,000 Swiss francs.

Karl Lagerfeld's personal Audemars Piguet Royal Oak that was auctioned at Phillips in May 2022 for 937,500 Swiss francs
Source: Phillips

Since its early days, the Royal Oak has cemented itself as one of the most recognizable watches of all time. By strategically aligning the watch with some of the most influential cultural icons (Serena Williams, Mark Ronson, and Jay-Z just to name a few), Audemars Piguet has been able to not only make the Royal Oak one of the most sought after watches in the market, but also maintain its relevancy even decades later.

Merging Tradition with Innovation

One of my favorite things about Audemars Piguet is how the brand perfectly blends its heritage with modern influences. Despite new releases having upgrades to the movement, refinements on the case design, or a total revamp of a reference, all these pieces continue to reflect the DNA of the brand.

Audemars Piguet has never been shy with experimentation, constantly pushing the boundaries of design and watchmaking. From the new complications that flex its technical capabilities like the extra thin flying tourbillon movement to the development of blue ceramic for the perpetual calendar Royal Oak, innovation continues to remain at the forefront of the brand.

I also appreciate how the brand makes its offerings inclusive to women collectors who may not want small, gem-set watches. The recent black ceramic Carolina Bucci limited edition Royal Oak was a great example of a thoughtfully designed piece for women that doesn’t involve a shrinked down, quartz, and blinged out watch. With the other 50th anniversary releases, Audemars Piguet also expanded the mid-size Royal Oaks, with a number of options in the 33-37mm case sizes, making the modern collection more wearable for women as well.

Highlights of the 50th Anniversary Releases

Honoring a landmark year, Audemars Piguet released a whole lineup of Royal Oaks earlier this year, including some highly complicated and dazzling gem-set pieces. Here are some of my favorites that showcase some of the best of the Royal Oak design and Audemars Piguet’s advanced watchmaking capabilities.

Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin in Yellow Gold

The Royal Oak Jumbo pays tribute to the original proportions of the original reference 5402 with a 39mm case and notable Caliber 2121 movement. For the 50th anniversary, Audemars Piguet developed a new in-house movement (Caliber 7121) for the Jumbo Royal Oaks.

This 18k yellow gold edition with the gold and black dial was hands-down one of my favorites to come from Audemars Piguet this year. The fiery gradient from a bronzy gold to a smoky black gives a nod to the patina on tropical dial watches, yet still maintains a clean, crisp modern look. I’ve always said my dream Royal Oak is a yellow gold one and this piece may become one of my grails because it just radiates boss girl energy.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin Selfwinding 50th Anniversary in 18K yellow gold
Source: Audemars Piguet

Royal Oak 37mm Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon (RD #3)

The new Royal Oak RD #3 (RD stands for Research and Development) showcases some of the best of Audemars Piguet’s horological achievements. As if fitting a flying tourbillon movement into the brand’s signature 39mm Jumbo case wasn’t impressive enough, this new reference takes it a step further with a 37mm case. While the purple petite tapisserie dial is not new to the Royal Oaks, it really elevates the piece with its bright hue.

Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin (RD#3) in 37mm with a purple petite tapisserie dial
Source: Audemars Piguet

Royal Oak Selfwinding Sets with Various Gemstones

When these watches were first released, the first thought I had was “AP's approach to designing this must have been 'we’ll do this just because we can'”. These stunning watches take gem setting to the next level, with various precious gemstones such as sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and tanzanites adorning the entire watch. Salanitro, the brand’s gem-setting partner, took almost a year to select the stones since each one had to be the same color, with one watch needing about 800 stones. These Royal Oaks are one of the most bold interpretations of rainbow watches released this year.

Source: Audemars Piguet


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