Audemars Piguet, Royal Oak – the Rolexkiller?  

Die polarisierendste Uhr, die Audemars Piguet je produziert hat, die Royal Oak

The Royal Oak by Audemars Piguet may be one of the most popular watches of our time. It's silhouette is as iconic as distinctive. In some way, this model stands for the brand Audemars Piguet.

This wristwatch enjoys increasing attention, particularly in the social media. And that's absolutely legitimate. Because the Royal Oak is hands down a very special watch.  

The Royal Oak is the flagship of Audemars Piguet. Her most striking attributes are the octagonal bezel and the fluent transition between the case and the bracelet. Responsible for this iconic design is the infamous Gerald Genta. The Royal Oak comes in different variations with diverse complications.  

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The brand Audemars Piguet

The first attempts to walk of Audemars Piguet are far back in history. In 1875 the brand was found in Switzerland by Joules-Louis Audemars and Edward-Auguste Piguet. The last names of the gentlemen compound the established name of the brand.

Though the founders chased their own requirements. While Jules-Louis Audemars takes care of the technical aspects, was Edward-Auguste Piguet an exeptionally gifted salesman.  

The two aspired to design complicated and refined watches, which to this day didn't exist. For example, in the 19th century the brand developped their first wristwatch with a tourbillon

But the company also specialices on aesthetic innovations, like this they gave distinction to the concept of luxury and elegance in the watchworld.  

Today, Audemars Piguet is one of the most famous watchbrands of the world Every watch, that leaves the factory is the result of meticulous craftsmanship, paired with innovative technology and a passion for exceptional design and flamboyance.

Though, with its exclusivity, the luxurybrand serves a particular upscale audience.  

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The Royal Oak - a versatile classic

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Perhaps the most well-known watch from Audemars Piguet is the Royal Oak. Anybody who's well versed knows exactly which watch we're talking about. She stands out with the iconic design and its to some extent abnormal complications.

It is often said that the watch was a enormous flop, as she entered the market. But that was not the case, it's a rumor. Although it's true that many in the scene where sceptical about the Royal Oak which was released in 1973, because it is a steel watch with fancy design and as that at 3650 Swiss franks truly expensive.

But this sceptisism subsides fast, since in the following years people recognized the brilliancy behind this watch. Even between 1972 and 1978 the factory produced over 10'000 Royal Oak models, which is a appreciable amount for that time. Considering the small target audience they address.

The name Royal Oak comes from a legendary British navy warship, the HMS Royal Oak. So, actually, the name of the watch has nothing to do with the wood species oak at all. At first, the designers even proposed the name Safari, however, Audemars turned it down because they thought the name would not fit the brand image.

With the name Royal Oak, Audemars Piguet did nothing wrong; we think it is a very appropriate name that sounds very luxurious  

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The mechanics behind the Royal Oak.

The movement of the Royal Oak is one of the finest mechanical movements of Audemars. Meanwhile, the Royal Oak has its own in-house caliber, however, this was not always the case.

For a long time, it was actually Jaeger-LeCoultre that supplied the movements of the Royal Oak. This movement was used in the Royal Oak with the designation of 2121. The movement had a date complication, but weirdly didn’t have a second hand at all. With its 3.05 millimeters in height, the biggest advantage of this movement was its compactness. With a Gyromax-balance wheel, a Kif-antishock system, and a rotor made from 21 karat gold, the movement supplied by Jaeger-LeCoultre was by no means a bad or a cheap movement at all.

Still, in the year 2005, Audemars stopped using the movement from Jaeger and started using their own in-house Calibre 3120. With the now added second hand, the Calibre comes out a bit thicker than the old 2121. One of the biggest differences is that the new rotor does not run on ruby rollers anymore, but on a ball bearing.

The 3120 was updated several times and they have even added all sorts of complications. Today, the Royal Oak can be bought with almost every complication available, for example, with a perpetual calendar,, a GMT function, with a chronograph or even with a tourbillon.

There is even one version of the Royal Oak, the Grand Complication, that features a minute repeater, a perpetual calendar, and a chronograph at the same time.  

The legendary design

In terms of her design, the Royal Oak is very special. She is probably the most recognizable watch, due to her extravagant design, that features a lot of unique design elements.

The man behind this beautiful creation is Gérald Genta. He not only designed the iconic Royal Oak, but also designed watches for Patek Philippe, where he created one of Royal Oak's biggest competitors, the Nautilus. Additionally, he was also working for Rolex, thus, his name is undoubtedly one of the most significant in the watchmaking history of the twentieth century.

One thing Genta is especially known for is designing a flowing transition between the bracelet and the case of the watch, creating a very harmonic watch, that looks like it's made out of one single piece.  

One of the more dominant design features of the Royal Oak must be the octagonal bezel. This bezel gives the watch a rather aggressive and hard design, but it is what makes the watch so recognizable. After all, the octagonal bezel matches perfectly with the industrial look of the case and bracelet. To add one more touch, they added some hexagonal bolts with a little slot in the middle to round off the look. The industrial style in combination with a slight elegant touch is what makes this watch so iconic.

When it comes to the dial, the Royal Oak continues to shine. With a texture that Audemars calls “Clous de Paris,” they have created a dial that matches the character of the whole watch and is unique to Audemars. The dial is engraved on a special machine and is very hard to manufacture.  

we have dedicated a separate post to Gerald Genta that you must check out.

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Different Configurations of the Royal Oak

As we have mentioned before, the Royal Oak has a variety of different complications. But it's not just complications, the watch comes in all sorts of variations.  

When the Royal Oak first came on the market, it was only available in stainless steel. But it didn't take long for the watch to become available in yellow gold, rose gold, as well as white gold or, in some rare cases, even platinum and titanium.

Besides the case material, the dial comes in different colors too. There's even a frosted case that gives the watch a very sparkly look.  

At the same time, there are some variations of the Royal Oak with a skeletonized dial, diamond-set bezels, some with a glass bottom, and even an extra-thin variant.

But there's more, with the Offshore Royal Oak, you get a watch that is slightly bigger, with a case diameter of 42 millimeters and a rubber band instead of a metal bracelet, it looks a bit more chunky.

As you can see, options for the Royal Oak are almost limitless. 

Price Development of the Royal Oak

The flagship of Audemars Piguet is by no means a poor investment. This has been evidenced over the past few years, where we have observed a significant price increase.

The classic Royal Oak in stainless steel, featuring only the date complication, currently has a list price of 24,800 euros. However, on the gray market, the watch regularly sells for up to 40,000 euros.  

This is merely one example of a massive increase in value. If a basic model, such as the one mentioned above, performs so well, consider the potential of all the special editions. For instance, the Royal Oak with a purple dial (Ref. 26240BC.OO.1320BC.01) trades for many times its list price.  

One thing is clear: the Royal Oak has one of the best price developments on the market. But there's a catch – it may be even more challenging to get on the waiting list for the Royal Oak than it is to get on the Waitinglist for a Rolex.

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Facts No One Knows About the Royal Oak

There are countless facts about the Royal Oak. Let's take a look at a few interesting ones to round off the article.  

Did you know Audemars Piguet makes its prototype watches from white gold instead of stainless steel? This is because the gold alloy is easier to work with when handled by hand.

As it turns out, shaping the stainless steel in the desired way was so difficult that it was cheaper to develop the Royal Oak in white gold. Ironically, white gold costs almost a thousand times as much as stainless steel, yet it was still easier and cheaper to use for prototyping. This further emphasizes the uniqueness of the Royal Oak.

Another intriguing fact is that the design of the watch was supposedly completed in under 24 hours. Audemars asked Gérald Genta to design a new sports watch to display at the Baselworld watch fair. After a few initial sketches, Genta designed the watch overnight – or so the legend goes.

One fact that Audemars rarely discusses is how the Royal Oak saved the company from bankruptcy. 

Like every other Swiss watch manufacturer, AP had to navigate the quartz crisis. During this time, the market was flooded with inexpensive quartz watches.

Quartz watches offered significant advantages: they were much more precise and far cheaper. For these reasons, demand for mechanical watches plummeted to nearly zero within weeks. 

Audemars Piguet had to entice customers with a new, innovative wristwatch, and the Royal Oak did exactly that.  

Thanks to its innovative and unique design, coupled with magnificent craftsmanship, the Royal Oak reignited interest in mechanical watches. If not for the Royal Oak, Audemars Piguet may not have survived the quartz crisis.

The first customer of this watch was none other than the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. 

Die royal Oak war schlicht und ergreifend, ein stimmiges Gesamtkonzept, was sich vor allem über die Jahre gegen die Quarzuhren durchsetzen konnte.  

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Conclusion - the Royal Oak is a rather complete watch

In many ways, the Royal Oak is a very special watch with a unique and iconic design. But it's not just about the design and technology – the history, status, and image this watch enjoys are also significant.  

If you're looking for a distinct watch, the Royal Oak fits the bill. Besides the unique design, you'll find so many variations that you're sure to find the perfect watch for you – assuming you have the necessary funds. 

We believe the Royal Oak is a very special watch, particularly with the seamless transition between the case and the bracelet – a signature of Gérald Genta's design – which creates a harmonious aesthetic. Combined with the industrial look, the octagonal bezel, and the various complications available, the Royal Oak represents a perfectly balanced mix of different aspects.  

The fact that this watch has been bought by countless customers for almost 50 years proves its iconic status – and we aren't the only ones who think so.  

So, to answer the question posed in the title, is the Royal Oak a Rolex killer?  

The Royal Oak is already in a class of its own. It is Audemars Piguet's most famous watch, making it unmistakable. What sets the Royal Oak apart is the fundamental design available in so many different variations.  

Rolex, for example, doesn't have a watch with so many different complications.  

Moreover, watches from Audemars are far more expensive. The list price of a stainless steel Royal Oak is almost three times the price of a basic Datejust..  

We believe Audemars can coexist with Rolex without any problem. After all, the two brands undoubtedly appeal to different target groups.

Scource cover image: Unsplash

About the author

Autor bei Gentleman-watches

Alexander Weinberger

For me, the most fascinating thing about watches is the interplay between precise craftsmanship and artistic development. In a watch movement, hundreds of small parts have to be put together precisely so that they form a large whole.

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