In 1972, moviegoers lined up to see The Godfather, Don McLean’s American Pie topped the song charts, and the late Gerald Genta designed the Royal Oak for Audemars Piguet. The visionary steel sport watch shocked the Swiss establishment, but the design drew an enthusiastic fan base to become a brand flagship that has evolved over time.
This year, Audemars Piguet is celebrating four decades of Royal Oak with eight new models and a multimedia exhibition, Royal Oak 40 Years, which kicked off in New York City in March. The installation—featuring about 100 timepieces including dozens of Royal Oaks and works by artists Sebastien Leon Agneessens, Quayola, and Dan Holdsworth—will travel around the world as an artistic tribute to the unconventionality and longevity of the collection as well as to the origins of the brand.
Of the new models, the Royal Oak Extra Thin is the purest expression of the original Jumbo, which is distinguished by its octagonal bezel with polished octagonal screws, a blue dial engraved with a grid-like petite tapisserie pattern, and an extra-thin mechanical movement housed in what at the time was a brawny 39 mm steel case. The new one closely emulates its ancestor both in design and mechanics, as it uses the same automatic movement.
The 2012 line up also includes an extra-thin tourbillon, two limited-edition skeletonized Royal Oaks, new automatic models measuring 41 mm and 37 mm, a chronograph, and a diamond-splashed quartz model for ladies.
The brand’s Chief Artistic Officer Octavio Garcia compares Royal Oak’s groundbreaking design to a timeless Mies van der Rohe building. “That’s why it has such a long-lasting effect,” explains Garcia, noting the watch’s perfect finishing and proportions. “It’s 40 years old, and it’s still one of the most modern watches around.”
Laurie Kahle is a regular contributor to Cigar Aficionado.