Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Ice Baguette 15510BC.OO.1320BC.01
If I were to say to you that today we were taking a nosey around an ice blue dial with baguette markers, many of us, myself included, would rather confidently think to ourselves “Ooh, platinum Daytona”
And on that note, we’d be wrong.
Audemars Piguet is one of Switzerlands finest high-end independent manufacturers and a member of the horological “Holy Trinity” along with Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin. Founded in 1875 by two childhood friends Jules Audemars and Edward Piguet. Both were from the farming community in the Swiss Vallee du Joux, a region with an established horological background built by agricultural workers turning their hands to watchmaking during winter when the land in the valley wasn’t providing income due to heavy snow.
Audemars was highly technical and specialised in the production of complex movements and Piguet was adept at finishing, final adjustments, and casing. As the pairing evolved, Piguet became passionate about sales and marketing so took over that role as the company grew and released absolute mechanical innovations such as the first minute repeater wristwatch in 1892 and the “Grand (7) Complication” pocket watch in 1899.
When the founders passed away in 1918 and 1919 respectively, the company was passed to their sons who carried on the family tradition of high calibre watchmaking and innovation such as the first skeletonized wristwatch in 1934 and the worlds thinnest wristwatch in 1946. Despite being one of the greats, AP found itself struggling to stay both relevant, and afloat, when the quartz crisis hit.
They needed something different.
A freelance watch designer who would later achieve “legend” status as far as modern horology is concerned. Genta designed amongst others the Universal Geneve Polerouter (1955), the Omega Constellation (1959), the Patek Philippe Golden Elipse (1968) and Nautilus (1974).
In 1971 he received a phone call:
‘One afternoon, at four o’clock, Mr Georges Golay, the Managing Director of Audemars Piguet, rings me up and tells me: “Mr Genta, I need a steel sports watch that has never been done before. I want it to be something totally new and waterproof [and] I want the design by tomorrow morning.” I designed it over night and my idea was to replicate the system of the (diving) scaphander helmet on the watch case. With the eight screws and with the joint visible on the case’s exterior. So I was given the ‘green light’ straight away to begin work on the prototype. I completed the prototype myself within a year. In 1970, I designed the watch. And it took one more year before industrial production, which finally came about in 1972.”
This revolutionary 39mm “jumbo” sized watch with its integrated bracelet, visible gasket and strange bezel was a complete gamble on the part of Audemars Piguet. The Swiss industry was on its knees due to accurate and cheap battery powered watches taking over from “obsolete” mechanical technology and the price of the Royal Oak was the highest ever seen for a steel watch soaring far above gold Rolex and Patek. It was released at 3,750 Swiss Francs.
To put that into the context of the era – you could buy 12 Rolex Submariners with change left over for the cost of a single Royal Oak.
Audemars Piguet made 1000 units and it launched at the Basel watch fair in 1972. The Royal Oak was received well, on the face of it, with applause for the innovative design and assembly, the beautiful finishing of steel, the engine turned tapisserie of the dial and the “bravery” of a brand new aesthetic. Behind the scenes however, detractors and competitors were gleefully announcing the brand suicide of Audemars Piguet. The watch, initially, was not a hit.
The fortune of Audemars Piguet and the Royal Oak were changed overnight by Gianni Agnelli, a phenomenally wealthy Italian socialite, playboy, and style icon was seen wearing the watch in the company of Jackie Kennedy Onassis.
It was a double whammy as far star power went.
Once Agnelli had been tied to the Royal Oak, its celebrity soared and watches from the initial batch of 1000 sold with unprecedented speed to the Shah of Iran, Prince Michael of Kent and King Juan Carlos of Spain.
The explosion of interest that followed the Royal Oak being worn by these social influencers of the 70s prompted AP to commission another thousand pieces.
The watch that was expected to sound the death toll for Audemars Piguet was singlehandedly responsible for its resurrection.
It is a watch that had a huge impact on the industry and remains to this day one of the worlds most sought after and enduring timepieces in the world.
50 years later, to commemorate a significant anniversary for the Royal Oak, Audemars Piguet released some new special editions, one of which we’re taking a look at today.
This is the 100 piece limited edition Royal Oak with ice blue dial and baguette markers, and it is spectacular.
Unlike the original “Genta” design which is still reserved for the “Jumbo” line, this is a 41mm Royal Oak which has grown slightly to accommodate those with a preference for larger pieces.
It’s 18 carat white gold which has been coated in Rhodium, a bright white scratch resistant metal known for being anti tarnish, highly reflective and hypoallergenic.
Rhodium is a hard precious metal which has a higher value than platinum, which is why you don’t see many if any pure rhodium pieces. It is however regularly used as a protective coating on white gold, and AP have done exactly that.
The watch is nice and slim at 10.5mm and has a lug to lug length of 50.5mm which gives it the kind of presence it deserves.
As this is a 50th anniversary Royal Oak with the 15510 designation, the bracelet has had a re-design to make it slightly slimmer and the chamfering on the case and bracelet has been tweaked resulting in the 15510 being more comfortable on the wrist with better overall balance.
The dial is a crisp ice blue tapisserie which pairs exceptionally well with the baguette markers, but we knew this combination was a winner already.