One of the pinnacles of Swiss luxury watches, Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak entered its 5th decade of excellence this year.
The watchmaker brings us contemporary and stylised designs, merging age-old techniques with cutting-edge technology.
The flagship model has evolved throughout the years, sprawling in different directions and finding its place amongst collectors across a variety of societies, cultures and hobbies.
Take a trip back through the history of Audemars Piguet and the Royal Oak, and meet the models that define the line.
The beginnings of Audemars Piguet
The Audemars Piguet brand was born in 1875 in Le Brassus, a village in the Vallée de Joux. The Vallée de Joux is nestled in the Jura Mountains, north of Geneva. Today, it attracts skiers and snowboarders from across the world. Back then, it was the centre of complicated watches.
Watches designed by nature. Farmers produced watch parts by mastering the environment of the area, soon developing some of the most complicated mechanisms ever - even by today’s standards.
It was here that Jules Audemars and Edward Piguet founded the company, which would eventually go on to pioneer the luxury watchmaking industry through inventions that shattered the ground.
“Audemars Piguet is more than a company. It remains independent and family owned, responsible for the transmission of knowledge and know-how to future generations. Here in Le Brassus, where it all started in 1875.”
Olivier Audemars, Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors
The rich history of the Royal Oak
It’s a modern icon named after a famous British sailing ship - and it dates back to 1972.
The original Royal Oak was designed by Gerald Genta, a prolific Swiss watch designer from Geneva. It was marketed as the world’s first luxury sports watch, and made with some of the trademark features we still recognise in models today. The octagonal case, exposed screws and integrated bracelet? They’ve been around since the 1970s.
In an interview, Genta explained how the Managing Director of AP requested a design for a waterproof steel watch to be delivered by the next morning. Genta took inspiration from antique diving helmets and brought the first Royal Oak to life: the Royal Oak 5402.
It debuted at the 1972 Basel Fair at a hefty 3,650 Swiss Franc, which today converts to around £3258. The price tag caused a ripple. It surpassed the cost of other steel watches by a long way, and was even more expensive than many gold watches at the time.
It boasted a huge 39mm case to match its huge cost, which earned the watch the nickname “Jumbo”. Although first met with resistance because of the shocking price and size, other watchmakers soon followed suit.
The luxury steel sports watch market was on the up.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak models
Most AP Royal Oak models share the same design characteristics - with the odd variation here and there. That’s not to say the model hasn’t evolved through the ages, to suit the tastes and lifestyles of new audiences, and to celebrate certain milestones and technological advancements.
Royal Oak Jumbo
When we talk about the “Royal Oak Jumbo”, we’re usually referring to the original Royal Oak ref. 5402. In some cases, though, Royal Oak Jumbo could mean any of the models that were fashioned with the same large case. Cases in this range span from 37mm-41mm.
The latest version of the original Jumbo was released in 2022, bringing with it a Caliber 7121 movement for a longer power reserve.
36mm Midsize AP Royal Oak (1978-2005)
AP’s midsize range was defined by 36mm cases. They were discontinued in 2005
Royal Oak Quartz (1980)
Following the quartz crisis of the 1970s, AP introduced its Royal Oak Quartz model just as the traditional mechanical movement was being gradually phased out.
Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar (1984)
Made with the most classic combination in watchmaking, the Perpetual Calendar displays the day, date, month and week of the year, and the astronomical moon.
Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph (1993)
The Offshore Chronograph was the next piece to shake up the industry, coming in as an even chunkier version. It had a 42mm case and exaggerated features, earning the nickname “The Beast”.
Royal Oak Grande Complication (1997)
A luxurious sports watch with a minute repeater, split-second chronograph and perpetual calendar. Since 1997, Grande Complication has remained at the spearhead of production for Audemars Piguet. A true example of the fine craftsmanship of this line, every Grande Complication takes 6-8 relentless months to make.
Royal Oak Tourbillon (1997)
One of “the greatest expressions of watchmaking art”, the Royal Oak Tourbillon strikes a balance between a discrete watch and a complicated design.
Royal Oak Chronograph (1998)
Five years after the Offshore Chronograph came the Chronograph. This model was fitted with the ultra-thin Calibre 2385, which is still used in Royal Oak Chronograph watches today.
Royal Oak Concept (2002)
The watch that marked the Royal Oak’s 30th anniversary, the Royal Oak Concept collection has a clear futuristic feel. In describing the line, AP says: “Ultra-modern technical precision meets cutting-edge micro-mechanics”. The 2002 collection was limited to just 50 pieces; anyone lucky enough to own one of those has a true piece of history.
Lady Royal Oak (1976, 2004)
The classic Royal Oak made smaller and often featuring diamond embellishments. The Lady Royal Oak stays true to the original design, complete with the octagonal bezel and integrated metal bracelet - with stainless steel and rose, yellow and white gold variations.
Royal Oak Equation of Time (2010)
The Equation of Time is a rare timepiece in that it indicates the sunrise and sunset times, along with the perpetual calendar and astronomical moon phases. These modern watchmaking elements are housed within the traditional Royal Oak case. Complemented by a black or brown alligator leather strap.
Royal Oak 50th Anniversary Edition (2022)
The latest Royal Oak to be released, the Royal Oak 50th Anniversary Edition honours the original Royal Oak while building in new innovations and refined aesthetics.
You can buy the AP Royal Oak 50th Anniversary Edition at Trilogy Jewellers. Own a piece of one of the richest histories in luxury watchmaking.
We can source your next Audemars Piguet
If the watch you want isn’t in our collection of Audemars Piguet watches online, just ask. Our sourcing service is unmatched thanks to our deep network in the industry. In most cases, we can source the watch you want within 24 hours.
Call Frankie on 0203 929 8227.