01/15/2015 | Updated on: 04/17/2024
 6 minutes

Audemars Piguet: Tradition and Innovation

By Sebastian Swart
Audemars-Piguet-2-1-Brand

Exclusivity, innovation and passion. These three words sum up the luxury watch brand Audemars Piguet. Thanks to its combination of precise, high-quality craftsmanship and unique designs, the company has been able to secure a place at the very top of the Swiss watch industry, alongside only a few other manufacturers such as Patek Philippe or Vacheron Constantin. What makes Audemars Piguet special is not only its long history in watchmaking, but also the fact that the brand has remained in the hands of the same family since its founding. At the same time, the family business focuses on innovation in the art of watchmaking, proving time and again that tradition and modernity are not mutually exclusive. Since January 2024, Ilaria Resta, formerly of Procter & Gamble, has been at the helm of the brand, aligning it with the values of Generation Z. Remarkably, Audemars Piguet has managed to do all this while offering essentially only two watch collections.

The best-known model by far is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, a sporty luxury watch first launched by Audemars Piguet in 1972. As of 2019, the Code 11.59 line is also part of the AP catalog. In this newer collection, the manufacturer offers timepieces that seamlessly combine traditional design and modern technology.

The History of Audemars Piguet and Its Most Important Models

Two master watchmakers, Jules-Louis Audemars and Edward-Auguste Piguet, laid the foundations of Audemars Piguet in 1875 in the Swiss town of Le Brassus in the Vallée de Joux. Operating under the name Audemars Piguet since 1881, the manufacturer has always been known for its technical innovation and high level of craftsmanship. In 1892, the company created the world’s first wristwatch with a minute repeater, marking a milestone in the history of watchmaking.

Find out more about the history of Audemars Piguet in “Audemars Piguet Through the Ages,” written by my colleague Barbara.

Royal Oak: The First Luxury Steel Sports Watch

Audemars Piguet’s big breakthrough came with the aforementioned Royal Oak. The timepiece was the work of the legendary designer Gérald Genta, whose genius is also behind the Patek Philippe Nautilus and IWC Ingenieur. When it launched, the Royal Oak was the world’s first luxury sports watch made of stainless steel and caused a sensation at a time when luxury watches were made of precious metals. In addition to its unconventional material, the look and sheer size of this watch model caused a stir. In 1972, the 39-mm case diameter was considered enormous; the octagonal bezel with decorative screws and integrated bracelet made the watch appear even larger. The model quickly earned the nickname “Jumbo,” which is now part of the official name of several Royal Oak variants.

APs Klassiker, die Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Jumbo 15202ST
An AP icon, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Jumbo 15202ST

Over the decades, Audemars Piguet has created a vast array of different versions of the Royal Oak, which you can find in the Royal Oak, Royal Oak Offshore, and Royal Oak Concept lines. Along with watches made of stainless steel, the range also includes titanium and ceramic models. The manufacturer crafts top models from precious metals, embellished with diamonds and equipped with a tourbillon.

Code 11.59: Classic Design, Modern Technology

Challenge, Own, Dare, Evolve. These are the values that shape Audemars Piguet’s Code 11.59 watch collection launched in 2019. The newly developed series sets itself apart with a unique design concept. The round bezels of the Code 11.59 models are paired with an octagonal mid-case, hearkening back to the famous Royal Oak. The skeletonized lugs are also unconventional. Furthermore, the spring bars are fastened with two octagonal screws, a design element that can also be found on the bezel of the Royal Oak.

Tradition trifft auf technische Innovation – Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 mit Tourbillon
Tradition meets technical innovation: Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 with a tourbillon

AP has added a variety of new models to the Code 11.59 collection. Alongside timepieces in yellow or rose gold, the range also includes models with ceramic or stainless steel cases. The brand developed new in-house calibers exclusively for this collection. Depending on the reference, these offer a simple display for hours, minutes, seconds, and date as well as complications such as a chronograph function, tourbillon, perpetual calendar, or a sonnerie.

Who Wears Audemars Piguet?

Audemars Piguet boasts a worldwide fan base. Among the brand’s enthusiasts are a whole host of celebrities.

  • Jay-Z: Rapper and producer Jay-Z was spotted wearing an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar “Yves Klein Electric Blue” ref. 25820ST. The dial, which AP describes as a sapphire blue Grande Tapisserie, is known among collectors as “Yves Klein Blue” – a nod to the French artist of the Nouveau Réalisme movement. Crafted from stainless steel, the 39-mm model costs around 183,000 USD.
  • Bukayo Saka: Bukayo Saka, star player of the British soccer club Arsenal, owns a Royal Oak Chronograph 26240CE. The 41-mm model features a black ceramic case and a Grande Tapisserie dial accented with rose gold indices and hands. Audemars Piguet launched the model in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Royal Oak in 2022. The model costs approximately 150,000 USD.
  • Ed Sheeran: British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran is well-known for his extensive watch collection, which includes several Audemars Piguet watches. One of these is the Royal Oak Tourbillon Extra-Thin in black ceramic (ref. 26522CE.OO). The 41-mm watch is limited to just 100 pieces and costs over 375,000 USD.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph41mm Black Ceramic 26240CE.OO.1225CE.02
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph 41 mm Black Ceramic 26240CE.OO.1225CE.02

Other famous owners of an AP watch include Hollywood stars Will Smith and Chris Hemsworth, as well as the musician John Mayer. Tennis legend Serena Williams also has a soft spot for Audemars Piguet and has even partnered up with the manufacturer to serve as their brand ambassador.

The Craftsmanship and Expertise of Audemars Piguet

The luxury watches from Audemars Piguet exude passionate craftsmanship and outstanding expertise, but what exactly are the key elements that characterize this craft? Here are just some examples.

  • High-quality materials: Audemars Piguet uses only premium materials for its timepieces. These include gold, platinum, titanium, and stainless steel as well as innovative materials such as ceramic. Many models are also set with carefully curated gemstones.
  • Fine craftsmanship: Each Audemars Piguet watch is handmade by experienced watchmakers. The brand places great value on precision and exceptional craftsmanship to ensure that every watch is perfectly finished.
  • Technical innovation: Audemars Piguet is one of the leading companies in the watch industry in terms of technical innovation and pioneering functions. These include complex movements with complications such as tourbillons, minute repeaters, perpetual calendars, and chronographs.
  • Distinctive designs: While Audemars Piguet only offers essentially two watch lines, the variety of designs is enormous. The brand often combines traditional elements with modern styles and materials, resulting in watches that are at once timeless and avant-garde.
  • Elaborate finishes: Audemars Piguet prioritizes beautiful embellishments on its watch cases and movements. Many models feature sophisticated hand-engraving, guilloché, perlage, or other handcrafted finishes that turn each timepiece into a work of art.

Audemars Piguet or Patek Philippe?

Many watch enthusiasts contemplating the purchase of a sophisticated luxury sports watch often ask themselves whether they should opt for a watch from Patek Philippe or Audemars Piguet. In many cases, the choice is between the popular models Nautilus Ref. 5711/1A-010 and Royal Oak Jumbo Extra Flat Ref. 16202ST.OO.1240ST.02. Let’s first compare prices: While a new Nautilus will require an investment of around 133,000 USD as of mid-March 2024, the price for an unworn Royal Oak Jumbo is just over 76,000 USD. That’s an impressive difference of around 57,000 USD. If price is an important factor, and you like the AP just as much as the Patek, then the choice is clear.

However, if price is not an issue, and you like both watches equally, let your taste guide you. Both brands and models are legends of the watch industry. They both carry the iconic design signature of Gérald Genta and they both helped define the style of the 1970s. In terms of technology and quality, both manufacturers are leading Swiss watchmakers and enjoy an excellent reputation worldwide, although Patek Philippe may be ever so slightly more prestigious. Whether this reputation is ultimately worth a 75% premium in the case of the two examples discussed here is for you to decide.


About the Author

Sebastian Swart

I've been using Chrono24 for years to buy and sell watches, as well as for research purposes. I've had an infatuation with watches for as long as I can remember. As a …

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