The Royal Oak is the world’s first ever luxury sports timepiece. Pictured here is a replica of the original 1972 Gérald Genta-designed Royal Oak in steel, launched this year
Limited-edition anniversary platinum Royal Oak, with skeletonised ultra-flat movement and tourbillon dial. Only 40 pieces have been made
The original steel Royal Oak - the world's first luxury sports watch, with designer Gérald Genta's hand-drawn sketch
Anniversary edition platinum Royal Oak with skeletonised ultra-flat movement
A special-edition book has been brought out to commemorate 40 years of the Royal Oak
The Royal Oak book with sketches detailing how its defining bolted dial bezel came to fruition
Audemars Piguet's first concept watch, launched in 2000, went into production in 2002. The case material is a unique mix of alloys and fabrics for an ultra-light feel
A sketch from the Royal Oak book shows how the dial was integrated into the metal bracelet - a revolutionary design in 1972
A Royal Oak Offshore model is an extreme sports version of the original, which has a more sports luxe feel
New York-based artist Sébastien Léon Agneessens has created a soundscape installation to celebrate the artistry of the Royal Oak as a rule-changer in the watch world
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The mechanical watch is often overlooked as an icon of 20th century design but this week in Milan the balance is somewhat redressed, as one of the greatest watch designs of all time - the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak - is celebrated in an eponymous exhibition at the Milan Triennale.
The watch was created by the late Gérald Genta in 1972. Back then, watch creatives were called 'stylists' rather than designers, and Genta was - and always will be - one of the most highly regarded stylists in the profession. So much so, that when his boss at AP was pressed by Italian buyers to deliver them 'a sports watch with a more modern image, that they could wear at the wheel of their car, on the deck of a boat but also at a disco', Genta was set the task of designing it in just one night.
And so the world's first luxury sports watch was created, on a scrap of paper, in just under 24 hours on the eve of the 1972 Basel watch fair. It was a risky move, because Genta designed it in steel rather than gold but with a heftier price tag. Yet the understated utilitarian design - inspired by Genta's recollection of a diver's helmet he'd seen as a child, bolted together with giant nuts - was so revolutionary, everyone who could afford it wanted one before everyone else. Genta had created a seriously desirable product that made the world look at watch design in a new light.
The story of the watch and all those who had a hand in its design is played out in the exhibition, which started in New York last month and will travel to Paris, Beijing and Singapore throughout the year. Artists, including the installation artist Sébastien Léon Agneessens, have also contributed works, underlining the creative vision that enables a great design to get off the page and become a reality. A new book, 'Royal Oak', also launched as part of the celebrations.