The Great Oak

It is extraordinary to think that one of the most irresistible watches of the modern era can trace its origins to an antiquated diving helmet. But Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak has always possessed a special kind of alchemy. Ross Povey celebrates five decades of a horological legend and previews AP’s anniversary models.

The Great Oak
I remember reading a letter from the sheriff of these parts, Editor-in-Chief Tom Chamberlin, in which he argued that the labelling of an object or person as ‘iconic’ was overused and therefore grated on him. Ever since, I have used the word sparingly. However, I feel that in writing this story, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, the shackles have been removed and I can liberally throw around the term. For if any watch deserves to be held up as an icon, it is surely this rock star of the watch world.
Leeny wears cream cashmere cable-knit sweater and jeans, Polo Ralph Lauren. Royal Oak Selfwinding, 37mm, Audemars Piguet. Robertas wears cream cashmere roll-neck sweater, John Smedley; flannel Aleksandar trousers, Kit Blake. Royal Oak ”Jumbo” Extra-Thin, 39mm, Audemars Piguet.
An overnight sensation Five decades is a long time, especially in this high-turnover, fast-moving, bored-quickly world in which we live. The genesis of the Royal Oak has been told many times, but it is arguably one of the most incredible stories in the history of watchmaking and perhaps in the history of design. The hand that penned the Royal Oak belonged to the legendary watch designer Gérald Genta, whose creativity was responsible for some of the most well-known timepieces of the 20th century. I have always thought of Genta as akin to one of the master session guitarists of the 1970s, a player such as Big Jim Sullivan. Sullivan was one of the most prolific and in-demand guitarists of his era, with dozens of credits to his name for artists such as the Rolling Stones, Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey. What Sullivan did was weave his unique touch into the star’s ‘house’ style; all told, he played on an incredible 49 No.1 singles.
Leeny wears cotton ribbed roll-neck and checked wool flares, Sportmax at Fenwick; platform boots, Roker; earrings, Roxanne First. Royal Oak ”Jumbo” Extra-Thin, 39mm, Audemars Piguet. Robertas wears light brown silk and wool cocktail suit, beige twill hidden button-down shirt, Edward Sexton; print silk tie, Cifonelli for The Rake; silk pocket-square, New & Lingwood; socks, The London Sock Company; Luca brown penny loafers, Malone Souliers. Royal Oak ”Jumbo” Extra-Thin, 39mm, Audemars Piguet.
Leeny wears silk single-cuff loose blouse, Connolly; cream pleated wool trousers, Polo Ralph Lauren, black suede court shoes, Jimmy Choo. Royal Oak Selfwinding, 37mm, Audemars Piguet. Robertas wears cream knit long sleeve polo and light brown silk trousers, Ralph Lauren Purple Label. Royal Oak Selfwinding, 37mm, Audemars Piguet.
The history of the Royal Oak starts in 1970, on the eve of the Baselworld show. That one of the most enduring horological creations was designed in a single evening is astonishing, and shows that the story of the watch’s origin goes beyond Genta to include Audemars Piguet’s craftspeople and the best artisans in the industry. That’s not all. It needed the courage of AP’s then General Manager, Georges Golay, and Jacques-Louis Audemars, then the Chairman of the board and the man in charge of production, to bring the radical design alive, as well as the manufacturing team’s ability to make both a prototype and the first series within a year. They were incredible feats. Models: Robertas @Select and Leeny @Milk Hair Stylist: Brady Lea @Premier Make-Up Artist: Andrew Denton at Premier Production: Nina Alonso Read the full feature in Issue 81 of The Rake - on newsstands now. Available to buy immediately now on as single issue or 12 month subscription. Subscribers, please allow up to 3 weeks to receive your magazine.

Magazine Subscription