On a bit of a watch kick lately, I know. This weekend I attended the 40th Anniversary Exhibition of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak watch at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. And here are some thoughts on the exhibition.
I’ve never been a giant fan of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. The more basic models are just not my horological grails and the more audacious marks can be a little brash for my taste. No denying the Royal Oak is an icon though, and, as with most things, the more you learn the more you appreciate.
It was in 1972 that Gerald Genta’s landmark design hit the market, and its status as an icon belies the innovation this timepiece represented forty years ago. The screws in the case design, the dial shape, and even the size were revolutionary. A 39mm dial is minuscule by today’s giant wrist clock standards, but was huge when it came onto the market.
Over the years Audemars Piguet has packed the Royal Oak with every complication and augmentation imaginable. Tourbillons, diamonds, and new “concept” complications that are more marketing tactics than anything else. Genta’s original Royal Oak, a completely paved example, and a grande complication that has made it into space were all on display. But me, I’m partial to the extra-thin models in modest steel.
A watchmaker was also on hand to demonstrate deconstructing and reassembling movements, which was by far the most interesting thing in the room. Little things, the things you don’t ordinarily think about, make all the difference. For instance, proprietary tools are required for working on each calibre. Little pitch-fork-shaped tools for holding wheels in place while removing screws without throwing off the balance of the movement are crafted specially for each calibre. Who knew.
The artistic, ambiant installations were ok, but a little contrived if you ask me. Not bad, but certainly not the main attraction. The exhibition was only on in New York for four days, but it will be moving around the world over the next few months. If you get the chance, go. It’s a perfect opportunity to learn more about a modern classic.
Check out Audemars Piguet to get details on where the exhibition will be going next.