Audemars Piguet released Royal Oak in 1972, in the heat of the “Quartz Crisis.” It changed what “luxury” meant, and is the bedrock for modern wristwatch culture. Let’s dive in.
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Today, Christian dives into the world of perhaps the most important luxury watch of the last half dozen decades – the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. Audemars Piguet began their life as a more traditional luxury watch manufacturer, producing slim, precious metal dress watches predominantly, right up until 1969. In 1969, Seiko introduced the Astron, the world’s first quartz watch, and began the stretch of time in the industry commonly known as the Quartz Crisis, wherein many of the traditional brands fell to the wayside or had to otherwise completely shift their focus towards watches that could hold up in the era of the ultra-accurate battery powered timepiece.
The then CEO of Audemars Piguet recognized the looming threat of quartz to brands even as old and storied as their own, and decided to make a change in his own right. He called on a man named Gerald Genta, a watch designer who began his career with designing the Universal Geneve Polerouter. According to legend, Genta drew up and delivered the design for the Royal Oak in just 24 hours. It wasn’t just an industrial, sort of tool-esque case, but it was also the very first steel watch to ever be billed as a luxury item. Previously, steel was thought to be a sport or tool watch metal, the kind of thing someone in a factory or some other blue collar job might wear, but Genta and AP together changed that perception and shifted focus from the old world, to the young one.