A Royal Tale

< Audemars Piguet >

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the iconic Royal Oak, the Swiss Manufacture puts together an ephemeral exhibition in Singapore, writes Ami Gandhi

To break the rules, you must first master them — 40 years ago, Audemars Piguet broke all rules of fine watchmaking when in 1972 it introduced the groundbreaking design of the Royal Oak, an unprecedented steel watch and the first luxury sports watch in Haute Horlogerie. No one could have predicted anything whatsoever regarding its legendary destiny when it was launched. Forty years on, the Royal Oak not only became one of the brand’s signature pieces but it is also one of the world’s most recognisable timepieces.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Audemars Piguet’s iconic Royal Oak, the Swiss Manufacture from Le Brassus had put together a unique, ephemeral exhibition in Singapore. Using design, photography, sound and film from three unequivocally 21st century artists, Sebastien Leon Agneessens, Quayola and Dan Holdsworth, the Manufacture curated an exhibition of 100 exceptional timepieces set against the backdrop that underscores Audemars Piguet’s origins, mastery and artistry. These rare watches, from the very first Royal Oak in 1972 the latest models, were presented to showcase the brand’s ability to innovate and create, and also illustrate how the Royal Oak became the icon it is today.

The inspiration of these artists stemmed from their visits to La Brassus manufacture in the Vallee de Joux in the Swiss canton of Vaud, where it is the home of Audemars Piguet since 1875. The artistic rendition by the artists created an ambience that immersed every visitor deep in the Vallée de Joux, the birth place of Haute Horlogerie in Switzerland. The Vallée de Joux in the Swiss Jura mountains has for millennia been a harsh and unyielding environment, a place of raw nature and unforgiving climate. It was not until the sixth century that monks first settled in the Vallée as they saw in its austere surroundings a place of serenity and spirituality, a place where the early watchmakers concentrated on mastering the most complex mechanism during the winter months.

Drawing the inspiration from the natural origins of Audemars Piguet in La Brassus, Sebastien Leon Agneessens, the creative mind behind the overall design of the exhibition, created hundreds of tubular sticks of different heights to symbolise the forests of the valley and treated them as organ-like sound sculptures surrounding the exhibition area. At the core of the Royal Oak exhibition was his sculptural work — Fragments — which were made to resemble a fragmented mineral rock typically found in the Vallée de Joux and symbolising Audemars Piguet. It was composed of a massive metallic rock, split into six individual pieces with each unit assigned to a specific function — a watchmaker’s desk, watch showcases and an interactive station. The angular and multifaceted exterior of the fragments and its dark reflective metal surface were inspired by the Royal Oak, creating a natural contrast with the wooden interior which mirrors Audemars Piguet’s long tradition and humble origins.

Quayola’s work for Audemars Piguet’s
40-years exhibition was a study and celebration of ‘matter’ itself, the substance of all physical objects

Apart from the 100 iconic Royal Oak timepieces and invaluable memorabilia dating back to the beginning of the 70s, the exhibition featured a working guillochage machine with a highly skilled watchmaker, a watchmaker working on two Royal Oak movements, a magnifying video camera linked to a video monitor embedded in the counter, as well as four exploded views of the watches. Visitors were treated to a whole new level of interactive experience as they witnessed the beating heart of the skilled craftsmanship in assembling those finest movements.

The contemporary lens of photographer Dan Holdsworth captured the terrain of the Vallée de Joux and its special – cosmic – relationship to time. Documenting the Valley at its stillest hours, Dan Holdsworth was able to capture the ancient forests and glacial topography under the celestial presence of mist or moon to convey the extraordinary temporal significance vested in the landscape. This incredible link between nature, man and his creations, the complex movements that have become the beating hearts of every Audemars Piguet timepiece, continues to live in Le Brassus of the 21st century and inspires the watchmakers of today as they pursue their never-ending quest to unravel the mysteries of nature. One of these images has been selected for the new branding campaign of Audemars Piguet, launched worldwide this January.

Moreover, Quayola’s work for Audemars Piguet’s 40-years exhibition was a study and celebration of ‘matter’ itself, the substance of all physical objects. The installation focuses on a continuous transformation and metamorphosis of matter — from the grace, complexity and unpredictability of geological forms, to the perfection, beauty and precision of manmade objects of art. Through a process of continuous mutation and metamorphosis it explored simultaneously classical art, 1970s sculpture and contemporary digital aesthetics. Specific sculptures had been reinterpreted by the artist as icons of man’s craftsmanship, reflecting on the classical view of man’s mastery over matter.

As part of the celebration of the forty regal years, the newly launched limited edition Royal Oak Leo Messi Chronograph case no. 10 in platinum and tantalum, was displayed for the first time in Singapore.

This exclusive piece was auctioned off at the end of the exhibition. Other highlights included the Royal Oak Grande Complication which was specially created in 1998 for the founder of Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberté. and the Royal Oak Concept as an avant-garde tribute to the Royal Oak’s 30 years of watchmaking revolution.

ROYAL OAK (1972)

The launch of the Royal Oak represents a watershed in watchmaking history. Designed virtually overnight on a stroke of genius by Gérald Genta, this model was an unconventional response to a request for an ‘unprecedented steel watch’. Genta drew inspiration from diving-suit helmets to create a design comprising several key world-first features: a subsequently patented case construction featuring an octagonal bezel secured by eight hexagonal white gold screws ensuring optimal water resistance; a geometrical ‘tapisserie’ guilloché-pattern dial; and an integrated bracelet with intermediate links arranged in decreasing order. This model epitomised belief against all odds in the future of the mechanical watch, running firmly against the quartz tidal wave that was picking up momentum. To crown it all, the bold and risky move that contradicted all existing industry conceptions of perceived value was the housing of an extra-thin mechanical movement within a steel case — and selling it at the price of a gold watch.

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Category: Volume-19

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