When Gerald Genta dreamt up the Royal Oak, ref. 5402, he drew out three defining features in his sketches that will forever remain as the watch’s primary identifiers. First there is the octagonal bezel with the eight hexagonal screws, the integrated bracelet with its intermediate, tapering links and, lastly, the tapisserie guilloche dial.

Gerald Genta's original sketch of the Royal Oak (1972)
The Royal Oak Bezel
Dismantled Royal Oak bracelet
The Tapisserie dial of the Royal Oak

Sure, Genta’s 39mm case design has grown to 41mm for meet today’s size preferences. That initial bracelet has undergone several rounds of improvements, with ergonomics and comfort in mind. Even his tapisserie pattern has been stretched to give three different variations: Petite, Grande and Méga.

Actually, there have been even instances of Royal Oaks with dials completely without the tapisserie pattern, like the 1987 Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar, ref. 25654. There’ve also been quite a number of openworked dial Royal Oaks and, let’s not forget, the sapphire crystal dial on the Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar, ref. 25829.

1987 Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar, ref. 25654, in 18K gold (Image: christies.com)
1987 Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar, ref. 25654, in 18K gold (Image: christies.com)
The Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar, ref. 25829, in steel (Image: christies.com)
The Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar, ref. 25829, in steel (Image: christies.com)

The most recent stretch of Genta’s tapisserie dial has now come with the new Royal Oak Tourbillon Extra-Thin, introduced at SIHH 2018. Where previous modifications to the tapisserie pattern has simply seen it enlarged, here on the new watch, the motif has been quite drastically changed to take on a more sunray, radial pattern.

The 2018 Royal Oak Tourbillon Extra-Thin with the new Tapisserie Evolutive dial (© Revolution)
The 2018 Royal Oak Tourbillon Extra-Thin with the new Tapisserie Evolutive dial. (© Revolution)

Audemars Piguet has christened this new pattern the Tapisserie Evolutive. A completely dumbed down way to describe the new pattern is that it takes the basic squares of the tapisserie design and radiates it out from the tourbillon aperture with ever size of the squares gradually increasing towards the outer edge of the dial. Adding to the radiating effect is the smoked dial colors that Audemars Piguet’s chosen for the watches, with the plum dial being the one that got the most attention at Palexpo.

It is interesting that of all the watches to have chosen to introduce this radical new take, on the classic Royal Oak dial, the manufacture chose the Extra-Thin Tourbillon, fitted with the 4.46mm thick, calibre 2924.

Caseback of the 2018 Royal Oak Tourbillon Extra-Thin with the new Tapisserie Evolutive dial (© Revolution)
Caseback of the 2018 Royal Oak Tourbillon Extra-Thin with the new Tapisserie Evolutive dial (© Revolution)

Now, the Extra-Thin Royal Oak Tourbillon was introduced by the manufacture on the occasion of the Royal Oak’s 40th birthday, back in 2012. In creating this watch, Audemars Piguet set itself up with two challenges. First, to put an impressive movement into an ultra-thin case; much like Genta’s orginal ref. 5402. And second, to pay homage to the first tourbillon wristwatch made under the Audemars Piguet banner, the Ra Automatic Tourbillon.

2012 Royal Oak Tourbillon Extra-Thin in pink gold, created for the Royal Oak's 40th anniversary
2012 Royal Oak Tourbillon Extra-Thin in pink gold, created for the Royal Oak's 40th anniversary
1986 Audemars Piguet Ra Automatic Tourbillon (Image: Audemars Piguet Archives)
1986 Audemars Piguet Ra Automatic Tourbillon (Image: Audemars Piguet Archives)

In 1986, when the Ra Automatic Tourbillon was introduced, it was possibly one of the most disruptive developments to have taken place in the Swiss watch industry in the period. Not only was it produced with technology never previously used in the business, but it proved that tourbillons could be produced in quantity.

While the design of the watch made the tourbillion carriage the focus of the dial, with the gold or inlaid mother-of-pearl rays radiating from it, the tourbillon aperture, now a feature of almost every tourbillon watch sold, was not a design decision, rather it was an engineering one; if the dial had covered the tourbillon, the watch would have needed to be a millimeter or so thicker.

1986 Audemars Piguet Ra Automatic Tourbillon (Image: Audemars Piguet Archives)

Hang on now, doesn’t that sunray design look familiar? Kinda how the new tapisserie design looks like. You have to understand that the tapisserie dial is one of the three strands make up the legendary Royal Oak’s DNA. Audemars Piguet would never mess about with it without rhyme or reason.

Allow us to, therefore, suggest that on Audemars Piguet’s part, the Tapisserie Evolutive was no mere design exercise. Rather, that it’s yet another nod to the Ra Automatic Tourbillon — specifically, it’s dial — interpreted using the signature motif of the Royal Oak.