Arabic numerals mark the 6 and 12 o'clock positions
Hands and Markers
Pull / Push
20 meters / 60 feet
Price: $ 279
18 kt white gold case with a black alligator leather strap. Fixed bezel. White dial with luminous hands and stick hour markers. Arabic numerals mark the 6 and 12 o'clock positions. Dial Type: Analog. Luminescent hands and markers. Automatic movement with 40 hour power reserve. Scratch resistant sapphire crystal. Solid case back. Case diameter: 23.5 x 38.5 mm. Case thickness: 11.2 mm. Rectangle case shape. Deployment clasp with push button. Water resistant at 20 meters / 60 feet. Functions: hour, minute. Luxury watch style. Watch label: Swiss Made. Audemars Piguet Canape Automatic 18 kt White Gold Mens Watch 15091BC.OO.D002CR.01.
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Audemars Piguet - Royal Oak, the watch with eight lives
By rights, it really shouldn't be here. The Royal Oak, Audemars Piguet's famous octagonal wristwatch, was born into a world that didn't want it, didn't understand it and chose to ignore it. It's hard to imagine now, but it took Audemars Piguet four years to shift the first 1,000 Royal Oaks. In its many guises, the watch that helped define a generation now sells that many pieces every month. Explanations for its survival rest in the kind of curious anecdotes particular to the watch industry. It started life in chaotic fashion. In 1971, at 4pm the night before the Basel watch fair, then Audemars Piguet chief Georges Golay gave Gerald Genta a call. Genta had been contracting for the brand for 20 years as a 'watch stylist' in the years before the notion of a 'watch designer' emerged.
Golay briefed him to come up with a watch for the Italian market - by the morning. The Italians, he said, wanted a luxury sports watch, one they could wear just as easily on Capri's beaches as in its swanky restaurants. Genta pulled one of the great all-nighters and in the morning presented Golay with his design. The octagonal-shaped watch of his first drawings was inspired by traditional diving-suit helmets - and the Italians loved it. At Basel a year later, Audemars Piguet launched the first Royal Oak. But if the design had a back-of-a-fag-packet feel about it in 1971, the business strategy behind its launch in 1972 was even more haphazard. Not only was the Royal Oak staggeringly expensive for the time, it was also cast in steel, an industrial material few considered 'luxury'. It cost CHF 3,650 (about CHF/US$ 10,000, or £6,500 in today's money) and was the most expensive steel sports watch ever marketed. Consider, by comparison, that at the time a Rolex Submariner cost around CHF 1,000.
The case was made of a single block of steel to improve water-tightness. Manufacturing steel monobloc cases was still in the early stages of development - a bit like carbon, another material Audemars Piguet is pushing, today - and therefore pricey. It seems improbable now, but AP made Royal Oak prototypes in white gold - because it was cheaper. The watch was also big by the fashions of the day. At 39mm, angular, and with its chunky eight-sided bezel, it looked gargantuan next to many of the more modest three-handers then on the market. The industrial feel continued in the exposed bezel screws and the articulated steel bracelet, which made no attempt to hide the methods behind its construction. Added to all that, the oil crisis loomed, the price of gold was heading north fast and inflation was crippling the global economy. It was a time of austerity and watch designs were becoming smaller and less flashy, something that sounds familiar to a contemporary audience given events of the last five years. And then there was quartz. By 1972, the period now known as the Quartz Crisis was well under way. New-fangled technology from the Far East was casting long shadows over the mechanical watch industry and the Royal Oak, for all its mechanical excellence, couldn't have been less fashionable.
But then came peripeteia. In 1974, Fiat boss and style maven Giovanni Agnelli was spotted with one on his wrist. The brand often goes by the story that it was this that proved the vote of confidence the watch needed to persuade a wider clientele to embrace it - its fortunes took a turn for the better soon after, and the rest, as they say, is history. In 1993, it spawned a sister watch, the Royal Oak Offshore, which at 43mm in diameter and with a chunkier case became one of the forbears of the trend for man-sized sports watches that dominated the industry until recently. At SIHH this year, AP's flag bearer was a collection of 20th anniversary Royal Oak Offshore models. Last year, the Royal Oak notched up its 40th anniversary and Audemars Piguet introduced an ultra-thin model that reverently replicated the look of the original, right down to the AP logo at 6 o'clock. Like Genta's design, it's picked up the moniker 'Jumbo' and has that iconic blue tapisserie dial and brushed steel finish. It too lacks the sweeping central seconds hand of AP's Self-Winding series. It's been imitated many times, most successfully by Genta himself, who later in the 1970s penned the Patek Philippe Nautilus and IWC Ingenieur, both of which have a similarly utilitarian look. All three are collectors' favourites, but it's reasonable to conclude that the Royal Oak was the key to their collective longevity.
With age, it just gets better - the Royal Oak has become one of the great establishment watches. One writer friend of mine recently described the Royal Oak as the sophisticated gentleman's ultimate calling card, one that shows he needs no fussy complications to demonstrate his success to the world. He would say that - he owns one. But I'm inclined to agree.