The AP Chronicle project was born in 2019 as the Royal Oak’s 50th anniversary was approaching. The birth of the famous Royal Oak had been told a thousand and one times, orally or in the form of press articles, books or brochures. This abundance of information could give the illusion that everything had been said, and even repeated ad infinitum. However, on closer observation, it soon became apparent that the stories sometimes contradicted each other, that the sources were almost never cited and that beyond the few stories repeated with infinite modulations, countless questions remained unanswered.
How could a steel watch sold for the price of gold and initially a glaring commercial failure give birth to more than 500 variations, including two new collections? Obviously, the legend of Charles II taking refuge in his oak tree, which became royal in 1651, could not answer this question... Why was the very first variation of a radically masculine watch made for women? Why had the designer Gérald Genta stopped working for Audemars Piguet just after designing his masterpiece? Where did the name "Jumbo" come from? What was the true history of the fabled Calibre 2121? Who invented the Tapisserie motif? How did the heart of the Royal Oak collection evolve during the 1980s?
Each question led to other questions, which in turn led to the conclusion that the field of research was not only vast, but almost uncharted territory. However, the early 2020s were marked by a sharp increase in the number of Royal Oak enthusiasts and collectors and by a spectacular rise in prices on the auction market. In such a context, the need for reliable and documented information was stronger than ever. The Heritage team therefore decided it would get to work!
In order to build a reference source on the Royal Oak’s history, the team set itself the objective of publishing, in the most transparent way possible, all the relevant information for a wide audience ranging from the curious-minded to the informed collector.
This encyclopaedic and universal approach involved exploring both the global historical background (economic and cultural evolution, history of Swiss and international watchmaking, fashion, technologies, etc.) and the more specific context (history of Audemars Piguet, regional players, manufacturing methods, production structure, etc.). It also implied investigating the history of the watches themselves, from the first sketch to the tiniest details (movement of the lug holes of bracelet 344, number of diamonds on the Model 5402 dial, etc.). Finally, it entailed painting portraits of exceptional personalities such as Gérald Genta, George Golay or Jacqueline Dimier, as well as of key locations such as the Basel Fair, Geneva or the small village of Le Brassus.
The sources were first gathered, examined, studied and then compared in order to establish and interpret the facts. Production records, plans, dial orders, photographs, advertisements, catalogues, interviews with witnesses from previous periods, experts’ advice, collection analyses, books and press articles... The work involved drawing upon all the documents and all the people liable to answer various questions. Production and distribution tables were established, serving to make statistical calculations, etc.
We allowed ourselves the luxury of delving into each theme and digressing freely when a subject invited us to do so, as well as of evoking successes as well as difficulties, famous heroes as well as artisans working behind the scenes, whether suppliers of movement blanks, dials, bracelets or advertising. When the sources were insufficient to dispel every doubt, we shared with the readers our hypotheses, recognising that they remained to be proven.
Each article has been generously illustrated, not only to bring the text to life, but also to complement it and to support some of the stated facts with archive material.
In addition to the articles devoted to history and techniques, we have chosen to publish sheets describing the hundreds of Royal Oak models equipped with mechanical calibres from their origins to the present day, including dates, characteristics and, where possible, the number of examples per material. We have also published technical data sheets dedicated to the calibres they house.
The only way to establish such data is to pore through the hundreds of thousands of handwritten lines of the Registres d'Établissage (production registers) individually and by hand – since no software to date can transcribe these complex documents in a reliable and reasoned manner. Aware that such a painstaking task requires, if not decades, at least many years of uninterrupted research, we decided to stagger the publication over time. In 2022, the first decade will be available online on the occasion of the Royal Oak 50th anniversary celebrations. Subsequent decades will be published as research progresses. In parallel, the published articles will be expanded, refined, if not corrected as time passes. Indeed, the information contained in the AP Chronicles articles reflects the state of knowledge at the time of publication and is susceptible to evolve.
Most of the AP Chronicles articles published in 2022 were written by Sébastian Vivas, historian and Heritage & Museum Director for Audemars Piguet since 2012. Michel Beziat, AP Academy manager, wrote the summaries of the articles.
AP Chronicles would not exist without the constant work of the Audemars Piguet Heritage team. In addition to extensive research, Raphaël Balestra, an archivist and watch identification expert, wrote the articles on the numbering of the watches. He also drew up the statistical tables for Model 5402 and elaborated the model database with the help of assistant and documentalist Annabelle Arbez and the apprentices Dounia Schmid and Sergi Espinosa. Clara Invernizzi, watchmaker and heritage specialist responsible for managing the Heritage Collection, coordinated the photographs of the watches and components. Dave Grandjean, assistant curator and historian, managed the museographic aspect of the Royal Oak’s 50th anniversary and actively participated in structuring the archives.
The entire team benefited from the expertise and advice of the Audemars Piguet Restoration Workshop, staffed by four passionate craftspeople: Francisco Pasandin, Head of the workshop with over 40 years of experience at Audemars Piguet; Malika Schüpbach, Roberto Catellani and Sébastien Berney, who restore Audemars Piguet antique watches and those of other workshops that have now vanished, thereby perpetuating or rediscovering ancient expertise.
The Heritage team is behind the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet in Le Brassus. In close collaboration with other specialised departments, it designs and organises numerous travelling exhibitions and enriches the brand's publications. It is in charge of the Heritage Collection and the company's historical archives, which it uses to authenticate watches and conduct thematic research.
Among its most significant achievements is the reference book titled Audemars Piguet 20th Century Complicated Wristwatches published in 2018, which shed light on an area that had been very poorly documented until then. On the strength of the very positive reception from collectors' circles, the team set about an in-depth study of the Royal Oak’s history, applying a comparable method.
2018. Audemars Piguet's 20th Century Complicated Wristwatches. Four years of research were necessary for the Audemars Piguet Heritage team to shed light onto the previoulsy unknown history of Audemars Piguet complicated wristwatches.
2021. Restoration Atelier. Situated where Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet established Audemars Piguet in 1875, the Restoration Atelier preserves, rediscovers and transmits the traditional techniques required to take care of ancient timepieces.
2020. Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet. Linking the brand's oldest building to a futuristic spiral designed by the architect office BIG, the Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet tells the story of the Vallée de Joux society and of the exceptional horological destiny of this isolated region.
2020. Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet. Entirely supported by curved glass walls, the museum tells Audemars Piguet's history through some 250 horlogical masterpieces and didactive devices. Two traditional workshops bring visitors in closer proximity to the Manufacture's artisans, while immersing them at the heart of their craftsmanship.