As every keen watch enthusiast knows, this year marks an important anniversary in the history of both watchmaking, and a small, independent, family-owned company based in Le Brassus, Switzerland, known as Audemars Piguet. It was forty years ago that Audemars Piguet took the bold –in the opinion of many, downright rash –step of offering a watch that was unlike anything else anyone had ever seen. That watch was the Royal Oak.
Though it’s become one of the most widely recognized watches in the world in subsequent decades, in 1972 opinion was pretty evenly divided –both inside and outside the company –as to whether the launch of the Royal Oak was a stroke of genius or simply suicidal. For one thing, it was unlike any watch that Audemars Piguet –known before that fateful year primarily for its expertise in complicated watchmaking and for its beautiful gold and platinum dress watches –had ever made before. It was actually unlike any watch anyone had ever made before –by 1972, there were certainly chunky sports watches galore in stainless steel, but an elegant, stainless steel, integrated bracelet luxury sports watch was simply unheard of.
The other problem was that the price was unheard of too –3,650 Swiss francs, an absolutely outlandish price at the time, when most stainless steel watches of high quality were about a tenth of the cost (or less.) But the last forty years have more than vindicated the design (by Gerald Genta, one of the most famous of the modern generation of watch designers) and the decision to market the Royal Oak –and it has become not only one of the most coveted, but also most collectible watches in the world.
If you’re a Royal Oak collector, the Holy Grail is one of the first year Royal Oaks –the so-called “A” series, named for the prefix letter in the serial number. The snag is they’re rarer than hen’s teeth. Only 1000 A series Royal Oaks were made –all using the ultra-high-grade extra thin automatic movement known as the calibre 2121 –and most have long since vanished, either into the mists of history or into the hands of private collectors, who guard these irreplaceable treasures with the jealousy of a dragon sitting on his hoard.
Fans of the original design, therefore, will be delighted to know that the original design is back. At this year’s Salon International Haute Horlogerie, Audemars Piguet has just introduced the Extra Thin Royal Oak 39mm, a near letter-perfect reprise of the groundbreaking original design from 1972. As the name hints, the Extra Thin Royal Oak 39mm is the same classic dimensions as the original (39mm was actually rather a large size in 1972) and it uses the same movement as the original model: the calibre 2121. At only 3.05mm thick, it is one of the thinnest automatic movements in the world, and the thinnest automatic movement with a full diameter winding rotor. Just as in the original the “AP” initials are placed at 6 o’clock. The engine turned petit tapisserie dial is the same distinctive slate blue as that found on the original A series Royal Oak as well.
In every period in watchmaking, there are certain timepieces which define the design ethos of a generation. It’s no exaggeration to say that if one had to choose a single timepiece that defines the modern design spirit of watchmaking, it might well be the original A series Royal Oak. In introducing the Extra Thin Royal Oak 39mm, Audemars Piguet has made it possible for lovers of one of the most important watches in the history of watch design to have a tangible link to that past, on their wrist in the present day.
The Extra Thin Royal Oak 39mm is available in stainless steel or pink gold, with (of course) a matching integrated bracelet (one of the signature features of the original design) in a corresponding metal. Price not yet available.