AUDEMARS PIGUET’S Royal Oak has come to define the sports-luxe watch market since it launched in 1972. But why was it called ‘Royal Oak’? To find out, we need to go back further – 321 years further to be precise.

In 1651, the Royalists were routed at Worcester, the last battle of the English Civil War. On the run for his life, Charles Stuart, heir to the throne, was trying to get out of the country. After failing to cross the River Severn to Wales, he and his trusted companion wound up at Boscobel House in Shropshire.

Although the house was equipped with secret hiding places known as ‘priest holes’ and was surrounded by a dense wood, the latter was deemed too obvious a refuge and the former too risky if the pursuing Parliamentarian troops tore the house apart.

Opting to hide in plain sight, Charles, and his companion chose a large oak standing on its own in front of the house. The oak had a particularly impenetrable canopy. This allowed a great view for the fugitives and
an unlikely choice for the hunters.

The gamble paid off, and while the house and grounds were thoroughly searched, no one thought to look in the tree. A further six weeks of running and hiding saw the future King make good his escape to France.

Charles never forgot his time in the tree at Boscobel, and on his restoration to the crown in 1660, the story spread and gained huge popularity. The Royal Oak became the given name of more than 500 pubs in England.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak

But fear not, the iconic originator of Swiss Sports-Luxe is not named after an English boozer. In 1664, the navy launched a new 100-gun First Rate Ship of the Line and King Charles named her The Royal Oak as a tribute to both his arboreal saviour and the material the ship was built from.

It was burnt by the Dutch navy three years later, but the name continued and in all eight ships bore the epithet Royal Oak, the last a Revenge-class battleship launched in 1914 and sunk at anchor in 1939.

Gerald Genta cites a diver’s helmet as the design inspiration for his octagonal masterpiece. If the watch were nautically themed and with the Swiss navy consisting of only a few patrol boats on lakes Constance and Leman, what could be better than a historic battleship that had endured for 275 years? Especially if your watch is octagonal and there were eight ships of the name.

Watches are so much more than time-telling devices. They are stories that we wear on the wrist, whether our own, the brand’s or in this case historical references. Watch Collecting understands that ownership is about expressing yourself through your choice of watch and all the associations that go with it.

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