“First must evolve,” says LeBron James in Audemars Piguet’s Future of First campaign video for the 25th anniversary of one of its flagship watches, the Royal Oak Offshore. And for over a century, the leading Swiss watch brand has done exactly that: evolve. What began in 1875 as a handmade workshop in a small Swiss village has transformed, today, into a cultural icon for a generation steeped in streetwear and social media influencers. Celebrities flexing their wrist game with Audemars Piguets include Gucci Mane, Jay Z, and Yung Hurn. In October, Justin Bieber posted an Instagram shot of the bespoke Audemars Piguet watch he wore at his wedding.
This year, Audemars Piguet released an unprecedented, tour-de-force in its flagship series, the Royal Oak Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin. With a movement of 2.89 millimeters in thickness and a case of just 6.3 millimeters in height, the Royal Oak Ultra-Thin is the world’s thinnest wristwatch with an automatic perpetual calendar — part of what’s referred to by watchmakers as “complication.”
It’s kind of a big deal. To most watch aficionados (you know who you are), the Royal Oak needs no introduction. It was the era-defining masterpiece of Gérald Genta, who designed the watch in 1972 at a time when the luxury industry was modernizing and the brand wanted to release a high-end sports watch made out of steel, which at the time didn’t exist. Inspired by deep-sea diving helmets, Genta designed — in the course of a night, the legend goes — the Royal Oak’s iconic stop-sign shaped bezel, which the series still carries today.
Jay-Z describes encountering an Audemars Piguet for the first time like a conversion experience. It was in 1997 when the watchmaker brought him into the private vault in its New York headquarters that he “really got serious about wristwatches.” He’d go on to name-check Audemars Piguet in rap lyrics that emblematized a critical era in the history of hip hop and luxury.
In 2005, Jay-Z and Audemars Piguet released a limited edition of the Royal Oak Offshore to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the rapper’s debut with the dial’s numeral ’10’ set in diamonds.
Other rappers followed suit in name-checking Audemars Piguet in their lyrics: Kendrick Lamar, Drake, J. Cole, A$AP Rocky, and Future. It became a name-drop that signified luxury, sure, but not just any luxury brand, but one that had real roots in the hip hop community. Those who knew, knew. To take a word of the zeitgeist, you could say the Royal Oak ‘disrupted’ the watch industry in the ’70s. And it continues to do so today, which is why it’s favored by trailblazers in music, sports, and fashion.
Head to Audemars Piguet’s site for more on the Royal Oak and the Royal Oak Offshore.