Audemars Piguet’s iconic sports watch with the octagonal bezel, the Royal Oak, turns 40 this year, and the Swiss watch firm plans to celebrate the milestone in style, kicking off a touring exhibit of 100 rare Audemars Piguet watches, set against an artistic multimedia presentation showcasing the brand and its history, with an opening engagement this week at New York’s Park Avenue Armory. Click “Read more” for photos from the exhibit.
In 1972, with the quartz revolution gaining momentum, Audemars Piguet caused a stir in the watch world when it introduced to the market a luxury sports watch with an ultra-thin mechanical movement and an unconventional, octagonal steel case, at a price point that at the time was unthinkable for any watch not made of a precious metal. Despite the naysayers at the time, the Royal Oak was not only successful, it influenced the look of many other sports watches that followed it and has become the mainstay of the Audemars Piguet collection. In 1993, the first Royal Oak Offshore, a thicker, sportier offshoot of the original with a chronograph movement, made its debut and quickly established its own identity and success.
Among the legendary pieces on display at the “Royal Oak 40 Years: From Avant-Garde to Icon” exhibition — which travels to five other international cities after its four-day engagement in New York this week — are an original Royal Oak model from 1972, an original Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph from 1993, and even the unique piece owned by Gérald Genta, the prolific watch designer and creator of the Royal Oak, who passed away just last year.
Other highlights for watch enthusiasts: a Royal Oak Grand Complication from 1998, specifically a unique piece made for Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté and worn by him into space in 2009; a model of the first Royal Oak Offshore Alinghi Team Chronograph from 2007; an original Royal Oak Offshore “End of Days” watch, popularized by Arnold Schwarzenegger in his movie End of Days; and 2002’s Royal Oak Concept watch, an avant-garde piece with a revolutionary linear power-reserve display, released to commemorate the Royal Oak’s 30th year. There are also several historic Audemars Piguet wristwatches and pocketwatches that predate the Royal Oak and examples of the new, limited-edition anniversary pieces released at this year’s SIHH watch fair in Geneva. There is also a booth where patrons can view videos of watchmaking from the Audemars Piguet manufacture and a watchmakers’ area where they can see the actual artisans at work.
The ambiance of the exhibit is decidedly elegant and artistic, featuring the works of three artists. Photographer Dan Holdsworth contributed atmospheric, panoramic views of Switzerland’s Vallée de Joux, where Audemars Piguet makes its watches, which set the mood for the visitor. Installation artist Sébastien Léon Agneessens designed the overall exhibition space, including the vitrines, video booths and watchmakers’ station, and also contributed a sculptural piece, made up of metal tubes, which symbolizes the forests of the Swiss valley. And the digital artist Quayola provided the constantly playing video piece in which a series of amorphous forms metamorphose into an image of Rodin’s “The Thinker.”
“Royal Oak 40 Years: From Avant Garde to Icon” is free and open to the public at New York’s Park Avenue Armory (643 Park Avenue) from March 21 through March 24 and then travels to Milan, Paris, Beijing, Singapore and Dubai. (Exhibition photos by Patrick MacMullan.)