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Harrods Magnified: Icons

Audemars Piguet: 50 Years of the Royal Oak

Half a century has passed since Audemars Piguet debuted its ground-breaking Royal Oak timepiece in stainless steel – marking the birth of an icon that would change the world of watchmaking forever. To celebrate the anniversary, Audemars Piguet head of complications Michael Friedman explains why the Royal Oak resonates as much today as it did fifty years ago.

Audemars Piguet is the oldest watchmaking manufacture still owned by its founding families. What impact does that have on the pieces it creates today? 
Audemars Piguet is an independent company and our traditions are passed through the generations. Preserving the methods, techniques and artisanship behind our objects is the most important aspect of our watch production.

As well as head of complications, you have also held the role of historian at Audemars Piguet. Why does heritage matter so much to the future of the house?
Audemars Piguet is defined by a contemporary, sometimes even futuristic, form language – however, the history and heritage of the company is woven into everything that we do. The way our watches are created is the thread that connects creations throughout our history – the hand-finishing, care, and detail that our watchmakers put into each piece.

It’s been 50 years since the iconic Royal Oak made its debut. Who was the mastermind behind it?
The Royal Oak’s creator, Gérald Genta, was perhaps the most important watch designer of the 20th century. The idea came to him fast – and the impression that it left was immediate. Without a doubt, the Royal Oak is his crowning achievement.

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Audemars Piguet

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Audemars Piguet

Michael Friedman, Audemars Piguet head of complications


"There have been hundreds of variations of the Royal Oak; it’s a design that remains young, even 50 years after its initial creation"

Why was the Royal Oak considered so forward-thinking in 1972?
The Royal Oak was such a radical design – unlike anything that had been seen before. Most significantly, it was made in stainless steel. Until 1972, high-end watchmaking had primarily focussed on precious metals. Creating the Royal Oak in steel was a bold choice that forever changed the landscape of watchmaking. A metal with almost no value was given worth through the craft and artisanship of the men and women who worked with it. It was also the first time that a watch at this level had been created with multiple geometries. Early wristwatches were primarily comprised of very few shapes: they were rectangular, tonneau or barrel-shaped and, later, round. By contrast, the Royal Oak has a tonneau case, a powerful octagonal bezel, and a circular dial – three dominant geometries in one watch.

Most Royal Oak watches feature the ‘tapisserie’ dial. What is this, and why is it so integral to the iconic design?
‘Tapisserie’ is the result of a process that utilises engine-turning technologies, producing a unique pattern that creates a play of light – an experience on the wrist unlike any other watch. You’ll often see people wearing their Royal Oak and just looking at it, as if it’s a work of art instead of a timepiece.

Michael Friedman, Audemars Piguet head of complications


"Creating the Royal Oak in steel was a bold choice that forever changed the landscape of watchmaking"

What can we look forward to in the Royal Oak’s 50th year?
For the 50th anniversary of the Royal Oak, Audemars Piguet has introduced many new models as well as updated case aesthetics for the Royal Oak collection. Among my favourites are two 39mm watches. The first is the Royal Oak ‘Jumbo’ Extra-Thin Openworked watch, which means the entire engineering of the watch is on full display as it has no dial. The other is a real landmark achievement and speaks to the next 50 years – a new Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin RD#3. This is the first time that we’ve been able to fit a High Complication into the original dimensions of the Royal Oak, only 8.1mm thick.

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