We’ve already talked in length about the all-popular Patek Philippe Nautilus. Now let’s talk about it’s spiritual predecessor, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak.

Audemars Piguet, a Swiss watch titan founded in 1875, has always been known for making great timepieces. But it was the Royal Oak, launched in 1972, that really put them on the map globally. This watch didn't just look cool and quite different from its launch peers; it changed the game for luxury sports watches.

The story of how the Royal Oak went from a risky bet to a must-have accessory is all about its groundbreaking design and top-notch engineering. 

The Birth of an Icon

The 1970s were tough for Swiss watchmakers. With Seiko leading the charge, Japanese brands were flooding the market with cheap, accurate quartz watches, making mechanical watches seem the inferior product. In this tough climate, Audemars Piguet made a gutsy move. They called up Gerald Genta, a famous watch designer, and gave him a wild challenge: design a luxury sports watch made of stainless steel, and do it overnight.

For any other ordinary designer, this would be an impossible task. Genta, being the genius that he is, sketched out his design in one night inspired by an old-school diver's helmet. The result? A stainless steel watch with a bracelet that was part of the design and a standout octagonal bezel.



When it debuted at Baselworld in 1972, people were skeptical and for good reason. A steel watch priced higher than even gold models? Crazy, right? But over time, watch lovers fell for its bold style and perfect craftsmanship. The Royal Oak wasn't just a watch; it was a game-changer that showed luxury could come in steel, not just gold.

Winning Design Elements

The Royal Oak's design is a masterclass in breaking rules while creating something timeless. Its most distinctive feature is the octagonal bezel, secured by eight hexagonal screws. This industrial-chic look was a radical departure from the round cases dominating the market, giving it a wow factor that you just can’t get with the commonplace design. The exposed screws weren't just for show either; they were functional, creating a water-resistant seal.

Then there's the integrated bracelet. Instead of traditional lugs and a separate strap, Genta designed a bracelet that flows seamlessly from the case. This not only looked sleek but also made the watch more comfortable and sturdy. The bracelet's links taper gently, adding to its elegance.



On the dial, you'll find the "tapisserie" pattern – a textured, grid-like design that's become the Royal Oak's signature. It adds depth and catches light beautifully. Initially only in steel, the Royal Oak later came in gold and even platinum, proving its design worked in any material.

Over the years, the Royal Oak has evolved. It started at a (then) large 39mm, but now ranges from dainty 34mm models to whopping 44mm versions. Complications like chronographs, perpetual calendars, and tourbillons have been added, but the core design remains untouched. It's a testament to Genta's vision that a 50-year-old design still looks modern.

Movement and Engineering

A great design is nothing without a great engine, and the Royal Oak delivers nicely on both fronts. The original model housed the Caliber 2120, an ultra-thin self-winding movement that held the record for the thinnest mechanical automatic rotor for quite a while. At just 3.05mm thick, it allowed the Royal Oak to maintain a slim profile despite its rugged design. The movement was based on a Jaeger-LeCoultre caliber, showcasing the collaboration often seen in high-end watchmaking.




Later, Audemars Piguet developed more in-house movements. The Caliber 2225, for instance, powered early Royal Oak perpetual calendars. Today, AP's movements range from simple three-handers to complex tourbillons and minute repeaters, all fitting within the Royal Oak's design.

But it's not just about complications; it's about quality. AP's movements are renowned for their precision and finishing. Think hand-beveled bridges, Geneva stripes, and polished screw heads. Even on steel models, the movement finishing is top-notch. This attention to detail, visible through sapphire casebacks, is what separates a luxury watch from a mere timekeeper.

Variants and Collections

The Royal Oak's success spawned a whole family of watches. In 1993, the Royal Oak Offshore was born. Designed by Emmanuel Gueit, it's like the Royal Oak's brawnier cousin – bigger, bolder, with oversized crowns and pushers. It attracted a new audience, including athletes and celebrities, without losing the original's charm.



For the tech-savvy crowd, there's the Royal Oak Concept. Launched in 2002, it's AP's laboratory for avant-garde materials and complications. Think forged carbon cases, titanium bridges, and tourbillons galore. It's the Royal Oak reimagined for the 21st century.

AP hasn't forgotten the ladies. The women's Royal Oak collection offers sizes from 33mm to 37mm, proving that this design is versatile. Some models feature diamond-set bezels or mother-of-pearl dials, adding femininity without compromising the Royal Oak's spirit. And for collectors, limited editions – often celebrating milestones or collaborations – keep the excitement high.

Wrap Up

Fifty years on, the Royal Oak remains Audemars Piguet's crowning glory. From red carpets to auction houses, to even Seiko mods today, its influence is undeniable. There’s no wonder that this case is popularly used for custom builds, even evolving into something like the “Casioak,” which you might have guessed is a hybrid of the Casio and the Royal Oak. It’s a fun design to play around with, and certainly looks great on the wrist!


Source: @shadowwatchmaker on IG


We may not have an AP Royal Oak-inspired modding case (yet), but we do have cases inspired by other luxury watches, as well as more unique designs that will add character to any watch mod. And it’s not just cases - we have a whole catalog of hundreds of watch mod parts so you can bring your modding idea to reality. Be sure to have a look around!

Happy modding!

Juni 07, 2024 — Jeremiah A

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