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François-Henry Bennahmias talk about Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak history

One year to go. Perhaps it is still too early to talk about it. But it will certainly be a very important moment because it celebrates the 50th anniversary of a timepiece that has become part not only of Audemars Piguet’s history but also of watchmaking in the broadest sense. The Royal Oak saw the light in April 1972, in one of the darkest moments for the time industry which, at that very time, was coming to terms with the consequences determined by the advent of quartz. And yet, even though the premises were not the best, something unique, unrepeatable and extraordinary happened. The encounter between Gérald Genta and the Maison de Le Brassus led to the creation of what, almost 50 years later, is still considered an icon in the world of hands. A success that is full of meaning and that also smells of the sea, as François-Henry Bennahmias, CEO of Audemars Piguet, tells us in this interview.

François-Henry Bennahmias – ©Marc Ducrest

Almost 50 years ago, the Royal Oak rewrote rules in world of watch-making. What is the secret of its continued success today? 
It is about keeping the integrity of the collection and refining as much as you can on small levels not on big splashes. It’s a very fine line between volumes, slight changes, and serious innovation while respecting the integrity of the Royal Oak. 

The Royal Oak Offhsore automatic chronograph in a 43mm steel case. – © Diode SA – Denis Hayoun

Does the Royal Oak have a very strong connection to water? 
When it came out, it was meant to be waterproof hence the construction of the case. Gérald Genta saw a guy with a diving bell in Lake Geneva and thought if that system is good enough to protect a human being, then it should be good enough to protect the mechanism. So yes, water really surrounded the whole picture there. 

The Royal Oak Flying Tourbillon Automatic. – © Diode SA – Denis Hayoun

The Royal Oak seems to have had an innate ability to offer opportunities to experiment with new techniques and materials. 
The construction of the case was a challenge from day one. From the beginning, one of the main focuses was the hand-made finishes of all components – whether it is the bracelet, the bezel, the case. But next year you will see a few adjustments in the collection that will make it even more relevant to today’s world.

The Royal Oak Flying Tourbillon Automatic. – © Diode SA – Denis Hayoun

Will we see new materials?
Nice try! (laughter)

The Offshore Diver made its debut in 2010. What was the focus in that direction? 
It was about going back to our roots and what we stand for. We had to ask: “What would divers really think about? Would they actually dive with the watch?” All while knowing we would never go as technical as a dive to 500m. So we thought: “Okay, it will be a watch that expresses the feeling & mindset of diving”. 

Audemars Piguet flanked Alinghi when it brought the America’s Cup to Europe for the first time. Was that experience a source of inspiration?Absolutely – we launched the Carbon, made from forged carbon, because of Alinghi. The partnership with the team that brought the America’s Cup to Europe not once but twice, by using specific materials to be the most advanced boat on the ocean, helped us to push ourselves to new boundaries. 

Why do Audemars Piguet’s diver and maritime watches strike such a chord?
It’s a reflection on how people’s emotions are touched by the wonders associated with water: it’s still unknown territory for so many. So there is a sort of dream about what it might represent.

The sertissage of the bezel of the white gold version, embellished with 32 emeralds of the Tourbillon version.

In this specific case, what is the Royal Oak Offshore Diver watch’s client profile? 
We can sell to 15 year olds, 20 year olds and 70 year olds from different places, different cultures, different backgrounds. There is no specific profile that buys a specific watch, lucky for us!

2021 marks arrival of three new references for the Offshore Diver: what are their most salient features?
First of all, the interchangeable strap. We’ve been working on this for years. We also toned the colours down a bit to make the watch more wearable with a city style whether it’s in Hong Kong, New York, Singapore or Milano. 

Audemars Piguet was one of the first watch companies to try to protect our oceans through its foundation since 1992. Why did it become so involved?
The Audemars Piguet Foundation first and foremost focuses on the protection of forests worldwide and the environment at large. Jasmine Audemars and her dad were among the first ones to have the vision that the environment would become very important in the years to come and they were right. We have to keep working as hard as we can to help open people’s eyes.

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