Royal Oak is a name every watch enthusiast knows. Launched at the Basel Fair in 1972, the Royal Oak was in fact designed a year earlier and submitted for approval to the brand’s leading market at the time: Italy. Freelance designer Gérald Genta is said to have drawn inspiration from the helmets worn by divers who maintained the dam on the Rhône River which flows through Geneva. However, the name chosen by Audemars Piguet refers to the eponymous Royal Navy ships, in particular the octagonal-shaped portholes of one of them. In England, royal oak is associated with a day in 1651 that became symbolic for the monarchy. On that day, during the Third Civil War, the future King Charles II escaped pursuit by Cromwell’s Parliamentarians – and thus from a death that could have changed the course of history – by hiding in an oak tree. The tree represents strength, longevity and majesty.
It nonetheless took several years for the Royal Oak to establish itself. In the early 1970s, the future of Swiss watchmaking was uncertain to say the least, undergoing not only the first oil crisis but also the quartz revolution. The trend was for demure models and high-end watches were gold, rather small and classical in appearance. Against all expectations, Audemars Piguet dared to combine luxury, steel, a large size and industrial design.