On April 10, 1970, Audemars Piguet’s then-managing director, Georges Golay, made a fateful request. Calling the watch designer Gérald Genta, he asked him to dream up “a steel sports watch that has never been done before”, with the design sketch required the very next morning. Genta duly presented a radical design.
Released in 1972, the watch sat upon an integrated bracelet, a style of strap that had never been attempted before. Also unusual was the octagonal bezel that was secured to the case, the eight bolts left exposed. The textured dial was distinctive, too, consisting of hundreds of miniature truncated pyramids punctuated by diamond-shaped holes. This creation was the Royal Oak, and Genta, a man subsequently known as “the Picasso of watches”, had created an iconic design. Celebrating its 50th birthday this year, the Royal Oak is significant not just for spearheading the integrated bracelet phenomenon, but also for showing that stainless steel could be a proposition in luxury watchmaking.
In the intervening years, the Royal Oak has blossomed into a vast collection with a range of sizes, materials, colours and complications. Out of the acorn of Golay’s unexpected request, the Royal Oak continues to grow.