Now nearly 150 years old, Audemars Piguet has been in the top tier of watchmaking since its foundation.
One of the secrets behind the brand’s success is that it’s still owned and run by descendants of founders Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet. Mr. Audemars and Mr. Piguet set very high standards for their watches, and the company has continued to create more refined, more accurate, and more complicated timepieces over the years.
Today, Jasmine Audemars is the chairwoman of the company’s board of directors, and Olivier Audemars is vice-chairman. Under their leadership, like the generations before them, the brand continues to sit at the very pinnacle of fine watchmaking. Let’s look at the brand’s storied history of success.
The Birth of Audemars Piguet: Pocket Watches and Royals
In the 1800s, before the wristwatch era, Audemars Piguet, like all their contemporaries, made pocket watches, clocks, and pendant watches. The brand’s pocket watches were often richly decorated with engravings, enameling, and precious gemstones. Prominent European families and royalty frequently commissioned timepieces. During this time, Audemars Piguet developed and refined complicated movements for its pocket watches, including a split-seconds chronograph, a quarter repeater, and a perpetual calendar.
Audemars Piguet and the Perfection of the Wristwatch
Fast forward to the 1920s and 30s, and Audemars Piguet’s business was booming. The brand was crafting elegant wristwatches for both men and women. For women, the tonneau oval shape imbued femininity, as did their diamond-encrusted watches with diamond-set bracelets that doubled as jewelry and timepiece. Highlights of the men’s wristwatches from this period included complications like moon phases and chronographs. Rectangular-shaped models were particularly popular. Moreover, Audemars Piguet made the first skeletonized watch in 1934, adding another feather to its cap.
The 1940s were an era of great innovation at Audemars Piguet. The brand crafted the thinnest caliber ever made for a wristwatch (at the time) in 1946. The movement was hand-wound and just 1.64 mm thick. The movement’s thinness made it possible for the brand to fit it into real gold coins, thus creating a gold coin watch.
In the 1950s, Audemars Piguet took the ultra-thin movement even further, creating a skeletonized watch and a perpetual calendar timepiece. Asymmetrical dials were a hit with collectors. The now-iconic Millenary watch, which also had an asymmetrical case, would later become a cornerstone of the brand’s offerings.
The Birth of an Icon: Audemars Piguet Introduces the Royal Oak
Audemars Piguet continued to innovate and perfect its watches in the 1960s. Arguably the most significant moment for the brand, however, was the 1972 introduction of the octagonal Royal Oak, which left the watch world agog when it debuted at the annual Basel Watch Show.
“The revolution in design and appearance affected by the 1972 introduction of the Royal Oak probably represents the biggest challenge ever undertaken by Audemars Piguet: to create a sporty model in steel that was nevertheless a luxury watch,” wrote François Chaille in the 2011 book AP Audemars Piguet.
The octagon is historically a symbol of rebirth and resurrection, and the Royal Oak has certainly lived up to this symbol in its journey to becoming the brand’s most iconic watch. It’s been at the heart and soul of Audemars Piguet for 50 years. The model that caused such a stir back in 1972 remains a collector favorite and grail watch for many to this day. Audemars Piguet has experimented with new metals and materials throughout the watch’s evolution, including tantalum, forged carbon, alacrite, and more. Modern Royal Oaks range from diamond-set gold pieces to sporty titanium watches on rubber straps.
The Royal Oak watch is available with anything from a time-only movement to the highest complications imaginable and everything in between. Chronographs are a great choice for this sporty model, while some may prefer a tourbillon or skeletonized perpetual calendar.
The Newest Royal Oak 50th Anniversary Series
According to the brand, the newest Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 50th Anniversary timepieces have “slight ergonomic adaptations in terms of case, bracelet, and dial design.” So, what makes these watches so different? Well, the case back is slightly more integrated into the case for enhanced comfort, and the bracelet links are more tapered in terms of both thickness and width. Royal Oak collectors will certainly appreciate the increased comfort afforded by these changes.