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01 June 2022
In 1976, Jacqueline Dimier designed the women’s version of the Royal Oak – a watch in its own way as shockingly revolutionary as the original. For Audemars Piguet, this model was the first milestone in a rich and varied women’s line, since punctuated by amazing creative collaborations.
The creation of an object is much more than a matter of chance. It springs from the cultural, political, economic and social changes of an era. Model 8638, the version of the Royal Oak designed for women, was launched in 1976, four years after the original men’s watch. The world of the 1970s was a time of considerable instability. It sounded the death knell of the Trente Glorieuses period of sustained growth following World War II and was marked by two global oil crises. The watchmaking world was experiencing its own crisis with the advent of quartz. Only a few die-hard manufacturers continued to believe in mechanical watchmaking and Audemars Piguet was one of them. These years also saw the rise of liberation movements.
The first Royal Oak for women designed by a woman, Jacqueline Dimier, was launched during these contrasting times of crisis and search for freedom. At the time, she was Audemars Piguet’s Head of Product Design and one of the first designers to occupy a position (one she held from 1975 to 1999) usually taken by a man.
Jacqueline Dimier was one of the first women to occupy the position of Audemars Piguet’s Head of Product Design, from 1975 to 1999.
A Geneva-based designer, Jacqueline Dimier had worked for many big names before joining Audemars Piguet. Her first mission was to revisit the Royal Oak, a men’s watch that had already attained unprecedented heights. Her task was to transform it into a timepiece for women. “It wasn’t easy,” the designer recalls. “The watch was barely four years old and it was quintessentially masculine. It was intimidating to be asked to adapt one of the legendary Gérald Genta’s creations. My approach was to preserve its character as a timepiece and focus on proportions. I wanted the watch to stay big, which wasn’t the trend for women at all.” The designer was able to capture the feminine side of Gérald Genta’s original model, whose distinctive hand-finished steel case and bracelet recalled the many facets of a diamond.
Reducing the case diameter to 29 mm, Jacqueline Dimier kept the eight visible screws on the octagonal steel bezel originally inspired by a diving suit helmet – undoubtedly two of the Royal Oak’s most emblematic features.
It was intimidating to be asked to adapt one of the legendary Gérald Genta’s creations. My approach was to preserve its character as a timepiece and focus on proportions. I wanted the watch to stay big, which wasn’t the trend for women at all.
Audemars Piguet’s Head of Product Design from 1975 to 1999
In the 1970s, women’s watches were made of noble materials, gold or platinum, so creating the first Royal Oak for women in steel was a massive disruption of design codes, while the oscillating weight made of 21-carat gold offered another unusual touch. Jacqueline Dimier left her mark on the dial with an AP monogram in white gold positioned at 12 o’clock. Audemars Piguet chose the Calibre 2062 to equip the new timepiece, a movement measuring just 15.4 mm in diameter, a masterpiece of miniaturisation. Contrary to tradition, the launch was not held at the Basel Fair but in Paris, at the Fred jewellery boutique. The success of the Royal Oak for women surpassed expectations, to the point that the workshops struggled to meet demand. In 1977, the brand launched yellow gold and two-tone models.
But the story of Audemars Piguet and women goes back much further, to the origins of the Manufacture in 1875. From the start, Audemars Piguet created timepieces for women set with precious stones, pearls or enamels, worn as pendants, rings or brooches. All ladies’ watches designed by Audemars Piguet were particularly small, each model challenging the Manufacture’s limits of creativity and miniaturisation. One of Audemars Piguet’s early watches for women was a brooch with a minute repeater movement fitted in a dainty 22.6 mm diameter case sold in 1897.
Taking a step forward in history to the twentieth century, decorative arts were flourishing in the 1920s and the Art Deco style is evident in the geometric shapes of several women’s watches. It was a time when the painful memory of the First World War moved people towards growth and modernity, a trend that Audemars Piguet’s watches for women perfectly interpreted with their sleek and inventive designs. This period was actually pivotal in the history of wristwatches, with women’s pieces playing an instrumental role in their growth and development.
Since then, the brand has never ceased to shine a light on women, creating models that capture the zeitgeist of each decade.
For instance, the Millenary collection, which was dedicated to women from 2015 to 2020, featured an elliptical case with a multifaceted dial revealing part of the escapement. It is an elegant way of recognising the fact – often overlooked – that many women love beautiful mechanisms too. By way of contrast, and as a tribute to both women clients and the art of gemsetting, Audemars Piguet launched a Haute Joaillerie collection in 2013. In 2016, the Manufacture collaborated with jewellery designer Carolina Bucci to reinterpret the women’s Royal Oak in celebration of its 40th anniversary. This is how the Royal Oak Frosted Gold was born with its shimmering hammered gold case and bracelet and diamond dust effect.
But the ultimate development in this love story between Audemars Piguet and women is perhaps Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet. This gender-neutral watch marries male and female sensibilities in a case that is both round and octagonal, perfectly narrating the creative journey of the Manufacture since its beginnings.
In 2016, Audemars Piguet worked with Florentine jewellery designer Carolina Bucci to revisit the Royal Oak to mark the 40th anniversary of the women’s model.