Paris and Milan are the only European cities where you might have been lucky enough to see the 40 year retrospective
exhibition of Royal Oak. Audemars Piguet decided on a contrast: a global anniversary, yet celebrated in only 6 locations
across the world. The brand reveals its story like an open book, or an elderly lady looking back on her past. Yet in
watchmaking, at 40, one is a mere whipper snapper. A select few had the privilege of visiting the exhibition before it
was opened to the public.
Ultimately, Royal Oak is above all this fuss. Passing time holds no sway with her. Last Tuesday, at a private reception
for the European watchmaking high society in the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, it was not a question of guests contemplating
Royal Oak, but rather the contrary. Perched majestically in their cases, an array of some extremely rare watches
scrutinised their phlegmatic audience. Royal Oak is accessible yet impenetrable. The scene is reminiscent of the
famous photograph of the very young, very beautiful, very irreverent Coco Chanel defying the famous jewellers of place
Vendôme and those who attempted to hamper her creativity. They later succumbed.
This is the 40th anniversary of the first luxury sport’s watch designed by Gérald Genta in 1972 and it still inspires
watchmakers today. At the reception, the inexhaustible Giulio Papi explained the equation of time ten times over to ten
different groups, each time with the same fervour. Pete Doherty asked whether anything particular was required of him
during the evening. Patrick Bruel was eager to escape and join everyone downstairs. “It’s magnificent”, exclaimed
Lambert Wilson as he caught a glimpse of a Brassus watchmaker's work bench. Before an admiring crowd, a collector
enthusiastically recounted the story of how the AP logo moved from 6 o’clock to 12 o’clock. An extremely rare 1980's
mother-of-pearl model went almost unnoticed.
That is typical of Royal Oak. There is something for everyone, each collection has its own complication, its own finish,
yet the style is inalterable. Nothing resembles a Royal Oak like another Royal Oak, yet no two are the same.
Under instigation from Octavio Garcia, artistic director of the Manufacture (the Swiss workshop), several special editions
were released in 2012, as well as the tourbillon, skeleton and ultra-thin models. This frenetic desire for limited editions
somewhat diluted the core collection, which seems to have been pushed aside. And there’s more to come as Offshore will
be celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2013. Officially, the schedule of events is still being decided upon. Fortunately,
Audemars Piguet has avoided the traps that others have fallen into, namely Jaeger-LeCoultre who have sacrificed their
majestic Reverso by linking it to a TV series or comic strips for pre-teens. You don't mess around with Royal Oak, no more
than you would boast your strength beneath her namesake, the majestic oak tree where Charles II of England found refuge.
There are some things you just bow to. They are called forces of nature.
Related link: Luxury Watches - Audemars Piguet Swiss Luxury Watches