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Audemars Piguet - One Year, One Watch

Audemars Piguet One Year, One Watch

2002 : Royal Oak Concept*

Institution

Institutions stand the test of time, take root and become part and parcel of our daily lives. Sometimes they rule us; sometimes they inspire us. And sometimes, they can tremble, shift or crack. Surprisingly enough, 2002 was a year when many institutions were called into question. To begin with, consider the European Union. 2002 was the year when the EU adopted the Euro as its official currency. A few months later, change also came to two other institutions: Swiss neutrality and the United Nations. After decades of isolation, the Swiss Confederation became a full member of the UN. Switzerland also witnessed the end of another institution that year: the national airline brand. To misquote a lyric, “Don’t call me Swissair anymore”. Henceforth, it would simply be Swiss.

Meanwhile NATO, formed as an institution to protect the West against Soviet Russia and its allies, saw Russia actually become one of its partners in January of that year. For her part, Halle Berry turned the institution of the Oscars upside down by becoming the first woman of African-American descent to win an Academy Award. And if there’s an institution in fashion, it must surely be Yves Saint Laurent. In January 2002, the founder’s career came to an end with his retirement. Another fashion legend, André Courrèges, also presented his last show. On the silver screen, Star Wars had been hogging the limelight since 1977 – and still was in 2002… until it was upstaged by another film, based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary classic The Lord of the Rings.

One Year, One Watch

Royal Oak Concept © Audemars Piguet

In sport, the institutions were Brazil, the Lakers, and Tiger Woods. All three made the front pages by winning the World Cup, the NBA Championship and the US Open respectively. Porsche and Ferrari are two other giant institutions that deserve a mention here. Porsche shifted gears, daring to launch a 4X4 dubbed the Cayenne, while over in Maranello, Ferrari unveiled the Enzo, successfully paying tribute to its Commendatore. Sometimes, however, institutions also die. In the United Kingdom, the Queen Mother passed away at the ripe old age of 101, having indubitably made her mark on the century. All this means that the watch of the year should epitomise an institution being challenged. The ensuing choice was obvious: the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept.

Why Audemars Piguet?

The Royal Oak is one of the watches that’s made the biggest impact on the history of watchmaking. Having first seen the light of day in 1972, this brainchild of Gérald Genta (another great name in the business) turned a very prim and proper world upside down. The sporty watch was to become the most expensive steel timepiece ever marketed. With its bezel and integrated bracelet, it created a stylish benchmark that’s still at the top of its game in 2020. Its slimline yet robust style marked the advent of sporty chic. And in becoming a firm favourite among men and women alike, it opened up a whole new realm of possibilities, breaking the institutional divide between men’s and ladies’ watches. The Royal Oak ushered watchmaking into the 21st century – 30 years ahead of time. And for its 30th anniversary, Audemars Piguet decided to give its star a facelift. Would the gamble pay off?

The Royal Oak Concept

In 2002, something strange happened to the 30-year-old Royal Oak. It underwent a transformation that resulted in the birth of the aptly named Concept. The piece brilliantly demonstrates Audemars Piguet’s ability to challenge its own design ethos. The Concept looks like a Royal Oak, and yet it’s completely different – and therein lies the magic. Crafted from a special alloy, the case features a brutalist, angular, almost threatening design. The strap is still integrated, as it was before, but appears here in rubber. The movement, made by Renaud & Papi, includes both a chronograph and a tourbillon. It still sports the distinctive bezel, rooting the timepiece firmly in the Royal Oak family.

The Take from the Devil's Advocate

Hell and the devil have themselves been institutions for millennia, so what’s not to like in the Concept? Is there anything at all wrong with it? Well, I’d have loved to see a three-hand version of the piece; as far as I’m concerned, that would place it on a level with its classic big sister. In my view, its positioning is too ‘exclusive’. In the end, it is proof of the brand’s motto: “To break the rules, you must first master them”.

*On the occasion of GMT Magazine and WorldTempus' 20th anniversary, we have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the last 20 years in watchmaking in The Millennium Watch Book, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. This article is an extract. The Millennium Watch Book is available on www.the-watch-book.com, in French and English.

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Audemars Piguet is one of the few independent family-owned watch businesses and has been based in Le Brassus, in Switzerland's Vallée de Joux region, at the heart of the fine watchmaking industry, ever since the company was first established in 1875.

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