Opinion: The Bulova Royal Oak Myth

Bulova and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak

Gerald Genta is arguably the greatest watch designer of all time. Having designed the Patek Philippe Nautilus, the Bvlgari-Bvlgari, the Cartier Pasha de Cartier, and the IWC Ingenieur, his portfolio is undoubtedly iconic. Of all Gerald Genta’s designs, there is definitely one that stands out, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. While this watch is nothing short of terrific, the downside is that it’s often out of reach for most. But what if there was an alternative? What if this alternative was the original, and arguably more important, Bulova Royal Oak? Allegedly, there was, and if Genta designed the Royal Oak originally as a Bulova, it could very well be one of the watch industry’s best kept secrets.

1972 Royal Oak

1972 Royal Oak A Series

As the legend goes, Gerald Genta was working for Bulova in the late 60’s, and while working on some other projects there, he came up with an idea for a new watch. It would be classically designed, yet new and exciting at the same time — a truly daring concept. With this vision, he designed what was the original Royal Oak. After presenting his design to his superiors at Bulova, it was turned down and scrapped, much to his dismay. Genta then left Bulova and moved on to the Swiss brand, Audemars Piguet. There, they were enthusiastic and dazzled by his design and would go on to release it at the 1972 Basel Fair under the moniker “Royal Oak”. Bulova, taking notice of the Royal Oak’s success, released their nearly identical version later on in the 70’s.

This story can definitely get you excited. To think that one of Genta’s most important designs was originally meant for an American brand is quite amazing. That being said, at the end of the day it’s no more than a false, forum-fabricated myth, perpetuated by those selling examples of the watch. While Gerald Genta did actually work for Bulova at one point, he without a doubt designed the Royal Oak while working at Audemars Piguet. The true story is that after getting a call from the managing director at the time, Georges Golay, Genta was told that he was to design a high-end steel sports watch, and it needed to be completed by the following morning. With inspiration from the design of scaphander dive helmets, Genta fulfilled the task, and came up with the watch we now know and love today.

Genta's Original Royal Oak Sketch

Genta’s Original Royal Oak Sketch

It’s also important to take note of the fact that Gerald Genta’s relationship with Audemars Piguet did not start with the Royal Oak. Prior to the iconic watch’s inception, Genta had been working with the brand for close to twenty years, since 1953. Over that time, he designed almost their entire collection. The next time you’re hunting a vintage Audemars Piguet, it’s a safe bet your search results will yield a host of Genta masterminded timepieces. As an aside, possibly the most interesting Genta “fun fact” is that the man preferred not to wear a watch; he was more interested in creating timepieces, and not so interested in wearing them.

In a day and age where horological knowledge is so readily available through the Internet, one must be diligent in separating fact from fiction. In this case, what might have started as an idealistic and somewhat misleading sales pitch has evolved over the years into becoming moderately believed. So when you’re browsing through sales threads, don’t be fooled. You haven’t stumbled upon a hidden grail, but merely an homage created by Bulova, to capitalize on the success of another brand’s design. Case closed, class dismissed.

Check out this excellent interview with the late Gerald Genta to hear some of this info straight from the man himself.

Featured photo courtesy of Tariq Malik of Momentum Dubai.

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While Isaac could very well be the youngest watch journalist on the web, what he lacks in grey hairs, he makes up with passion and enthusiasm. After being introduced to mechanical watches at the young age of 5, his interest was sparked and he’s been obsessed with timepieces ever since. To keep up with Isaac elsewhere, you can follow him on Instagram (@isaacwin). If you'd like to get in touch with Isaac, you can email him at isaac@woundforlife.com.

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