In 1972, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak showed that steel sports watches can be as elegant – and expensive – as their luxury counterparts. Half a century later, the cottage industry it inspired is having a moment: avant-garde design principles such as octagonal bezels, exposed screws and bracelets integrated into the watch case itself have been reinterpreted by brands big and small, with surprisingly versatile results.
Smaller brands like Maen show you can get a solid product and features typically associated with five-digit watches – like built-in strap models – for a lot less.
You’ve got the octagonal case, prominent bezel, and integrated strap, but Yema’s Wristmaster Traveler leans into sport.
An integrated strap doesn’t mean a watch can’t be versatile for formal or everyday wear. The Frederique Constant Highlife proves it.
Raising the bar with a guilloché dial and refined design, this Sino-French brand offers a unique and attractive interpretation.
The Defy Skyline recalls the angular design of a Zenith watch from 1969, but is reinterpreted for a modern feel and powered by an impressive movement within.
Hublot watches tend to offer bold interpretations of the Royal Oak concept, but this smaller, simpler model brings it much closer to the classic.
The watch started it all
With the Royal Oak, Audemars Piguet launched a new type of luxury item to the world. Its design is iconic, inspired by nautical themes, but it also introduced the idea of the steel sports watch as a luxury item. Today, it has become a coveted status symbol beyond what even its creators could have imagined.
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