The 1970s gave us a wealth of iconoclasts that continue to influence us today— watches not exempted. By Charmaine Ho.
If the 1960s was a flower child with love in her heart, then the 1970s belonged to a woman who left her innocence for fervent self-exploration and realisation— with attitude and rebellion thrown in for good measure. Bands like The Ramones and Sex Pistols were screaming their way to history, while partner-in-crime and mother of Punk, Vivienne Westwood made sure they looked good dressed in angst. Meanwhile, David Bowie kicked the glam quotient up a few notches with his alter ego Ziggy Stardust, who was rousing the cultural and fashion discourse with his flamboyant, gender-fluid persona. It was an excitingly tumultuous decade that pushed the boundaries of societal expectations with a dizzy devil-may-care attitude that revelled in novelty. And it showed in a plethora of iconoclast designs that continue to spread their tendrils of influence well into the 21st century.
Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak timepiece was introduced in 1972—the same year that Diane von Furstenburg took her first steps to becoming the doyenne that she is with the creation of her evergreen wrap dress. While the wrap dress has remained a firm fixture in the fashion landscape, the Royal Oak has cemented its choice position in the world of watches. Yet, for all the adoration and admiration it receives today, things were not as rosy when it was first unveiled to the world.
Born from the creative mind of watch design virtuoso Gerald Genta, the watch’s revolutionary, polarising looks—its distinctive octagonal bezel and prominent use of hexagonal screws as a design feature, inspired by a traditional diver’s helmet, stood out like a sports jacket in a sea of tuxedos—and caused a schism in the watch world. Many loved it just as much as many hated it. It was a gamble that Audemars Piguet was willing to make and it more than paid off. The Royal Oak remains one of horology’s most emblematic and beloved timepieces.
Its immense success saw a ladies version being introduced four short years later. In the deft hands of Jacqueline Dimier, the watch was downscaled to a petite 29mm size that presented women with the same robust nature in a more feminine guise. However, it wasn’t as easy as simply shaving off the millimetres. As Dimier recalls: “The difficulty came from the fact that the design of this watch was torn between aesthetics and functionality. The transverse screws could not be reduced much in size, as they play a role in ensuring water resistance, so the bezel had to remain of a certain thickness as well.”
Fast forward 40 years later and Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak Ladies collection has flourished and thrived, with complications and looks to please every temperament—from the sleek sports-luxe looks of the bi-coloured edition, to the stunning full diamond encrusted designs (first introduced in 1983) to win any aristocratic heart.
Clockwise from top: Rose gold and diamond Royal Oak Chronograph, $214,800, Audemars Piguet. Diane von Furstenburg fall/winter 2016. David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust. Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood fall/winter 2016.