Three reasons why the Royal Oak became so iconic
Am I missing something? Let me know if you can think of anything else
As you look more and more into watches and delve into the hobby, you'll eventually find brands that for some reason everybody seems to love blindly. Explaining and trying to rationalize the hype can be a pointless exercise but we can at least try.
Sometimes, it's the whole brand and sometimes there's one particular model that made the brand. Let me give you a prime example. Right now, off the top of your head, name at least another watch by Audemars Piguet other than the Royal Oak. It's hard, isn't it? Everyone seems to be completely obsessed with this watch and while there are several facets and aspects to this, I thought it would be interesting to pin down three reasons, as specific as I can get, to explain why this watch is so popular.
The design just works
The Royal Oak, like the vast majority of watches you probably like, was designed by Gérald Genta who was, there's no two ways about it, a genius. Genta was to watches what Gandini + Giugiaro + Pininfarina were to cars. Combined.
The design was inspired by the traditional diver's helmet, made from steel, and came with an octagonal-shaped bezel with eight visibile screws. It was very slim, only 7 mm, and the case size was perfect at 39 mm, even though it felt big at the time when compared to other watches. It also came with an integrated bracelet with a unique design.
The exposed screws, the fact that it was made from stainless steel not gold, the integrated bracelet that looked nothing like any other integrated bracelet the world knew about. It's important to contextualize the design because the combination it proposed was novel at the time and also, in hindsight, timeless.
It changed the paradigm for the luxury watch market
In the early 1970s, when the Royal Oak was introduced, the Swiss watch manufacturing industry was in a bad shape because it was being completely maimed by affordable Japanese quartz watches, in what is commonly referred to as the "quartz crisis".
For so many years, Swiss manufacturers kept on doing what they'd always been doing and it wasn't working. The market was saturated with small watches that were brittle in the sense that you couldn't use them on any occasion. They were usually made of gold and came with leather straps and apart from the price, they were losing against quartz watches because they were just not as reliable and not as shockproof.
Audemars Piguet specifically wanted to make a luxury sportswatch that was made of stainless steel and the idea is you would wake up and wear it, shower while you're wearing it, go about your day and then go to the swimming pool while you're wearing it and then, this is the crucial bit, keep it on during your jet-set gala dinner. And in 1972, this is exactly the type of watch they came up with at Baselworld, the Royal Oak.
It managed to stay relevant
The original Royal Oak was a simple, no-nonsense automatic watch with a date and that's about it. Over the course of the years, it managed to stay relevant by giving people what they wanted while also staying true to its origins.
The shape never changed but other things did. Audemars Piguet made ceramic, gold and titanium versions of the Royal Oak. They made a tourbillon version, and chronographs and skeletonized versions. Even when they changed a significant design element of the watch by giving it a new rubber strap option instead of the bracelet, they managed to make it look harmonious, without altering the original design.
The numbers have been going up tremendously over the last few years and obviously that's not going to last forever because trends come and go, but this watch is never going to be outdated.
Just for the record. I'm not implying that this is better or worse than other comparable watches. I'm just talking about one specific watch here.