A.P. Birthday, Royal Oak: A Tribute to Enduring Design

A.P. Birthday, Royal Oak: A Tribute to Enduring Design

The Royal Oak is 50 years old, and it’s more desirable than ever! So, seeing as the Watchonista creative teams in both the US and Switzerland have had the pleasure of capturing the icon for years, let’s hear from them about how they experience the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak.

By Marco Gabella
Chairman & Executive Publisher

People who weren’t expecting the announcement of new Royal Oak models in 2022 are either not into watches (and thus never heard of Audemars Piguet) or don’t know how to count. That is because: The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is celebrating its 50th birthday this year.

As most of you reading this already know, the Royal Oak came into being in 1972 due to the audacity of two men: Georges Golay (Audemars Piguet’s Managing Director at the time) and Gérald Genta (the visionary watchmaker and designer who really shouldn’t need introduction).

However, today we will not get into how the Royal Oak has changed over the years. That’s well-worn history.

Instead, today, in honor of the Royal Oak’s 50th anniversary, members of Watchonista’s Swiss and US editorial and creative teams who were lucky enough to explore the new references in person before their release share their experience of the latest Royal Oaks.

Reference 16202BA a.k.a. “The Golden Lady”

First from our team to play with the 50th-anniversary references was our self-described “Royal Oak Junky” J.J. Owens and talented Senior Photographer Liam O’Donnell, who attended a preview of the new collection at Audemars Piguet’s New York offices shortly before its release.

Among all the new members of the Royal Oak family, the “Jumbo” Extra-Thin Ref. 16202BA, aptly nicknamed “The Golden Lady,” was probably the pinnacle for J.J. (and most of Team Watchonista, to be honest). Commenting shortly after discovering the new release, she said, “Love at first sight! For me, it is the culmination of what the Royal Oak was, is, and can be. I couldn’t be more excited!”

The 16202BA is such a fitting tribute to the legacy of the Royal Oak. It’s an amazing homage to the 5402BA, and the dial sings in sunlight.

But then, in a series of tremendously beautiful images, Watchonista’s Senior Photographer Liam O’Donnell brought the 16202BA and other references to life, showcasing their audacity and elegance in a way that made you feel as if you were standing in front of them.

Summing up the experience of working with the new Royal Oak references, Liam O’Donnell said, “Each and every Royal Oak reference dazzles the eyes with scintillating reflections. I wish everyone could experience the diligent refinement of the Royal Oak as it changes over the years, something I’ve been fortunate enough to experience a fraction of during my short time photographing watches.”

In The Studio with The Royal Oak Reference 16202ST

After Watchonista’s US team explored the whole collection, the Swiss team decided to focus on the new 39mm “Jumbo” Extra-Thin Ref. 16202ST for a dedicated photo and video shoot in the studio.

As we were choosing a complementary background for the “blue nuit nuage 50” dial of the 16202ST, we found ourselves gravitating toward panels of dark slate. Interestingly (and a bit unexpectedly), they acted as a natural link between the iconic Royal Oak “Petite Tapisserie” dial pattern and the brutality of the black rocks seen across the Vallée de Joux’s landscapes.

When the new Royal Oak models came out, Watchonista European Editor, Steven Rogers, broke down the main changes and updates for us. But after playing with light in the studio, Watchonista’s creative team in Switzerland found they had strong feelings about what they saw through the viewfinder.

About the Royal Oak Ref. 16202ST, Senior Photographer Pierre Vogel had this to say: “The brutality of the design is as assertive as it is rhythmic but with an undeniable minimalism.” On a personal note, I must confess that I share this view, as 50 years later, the game-changing nature of the Royal Oak design looks as fresh today as it did on day one and retains its indescribable visual power.

Finally, in an effort to highlight the emotions the Royal Oak instilled in him, Watchonista Videographer Johan Corminboeuf animated the 16202ST’s case, strap, and dial details via the juxtaposition of light and shadow, saying: “It’s like a raw, precious stone. As if taken directly from its hidden sanctuary deep within the Earth.”

There is no doubt that the new Royal Oak Reference 16202 is ready to challenge and entice future generations of watch lovers who, when they discover this piece, will experience the same awe and excitement as if they were back in 1972.

Happy Birthday, Royal Oak!

(Photography by Liam O'Donnell & Pierre Vogel)

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