Reference Guide - Audemars Piguet Bamboo

By J. Heffner | @pinaplwtchs

The inception of an AP design that’s among their most creative 

 Undoubtedly, one of the most tumultuous eras in watchmaking occurred between the 1970s and 1980s. As the Quartz Crisis tested the survivability of the most historic Swiss manufacturers, watchmakers were forced to innovate. This was nothing short of an attempt to stay relevant, especially in this newfound world of battery powered timepieces.

In short, a combination of Japanese competition, and influences of the decade, this era leaves us with some of the most daring designs to date. Even the most traditional, and conservative brands could not escape the 1980s without a few avant-garde references on the market; Audemars Piguet was no different.

Today, we examine a niche AP that’s both beautiful and rich. A watch from a seemingly bygone era, and one unlike anything else in modern production. First, we discuss AP’s position as a brand in the 1980s, followed by an exemplification of their offerings within this era. Finally, we will finish with a comparison of like references, and discover the influence that these vintage pieces have on current offerings.

AP During the Quartz Crisis

Like most other Swiss brands, AP was not immune to the struggles of their newfound Japanese competition. They weren’t quite the brand we know today, and their customer base was much more fragile. It was during this era that they began to unveil references predicated on a certain complexity in design. Enter - the Royal Oak.

Royal Oak Sketch - a Sotheby’s lot that sold for over $500,000

1972 was the year when one of the most iconic designs to date first appeared on the market. Priced at 3300 Swiss Francs, it drew critical reception from those pondering why a steel watch had such a cost. As bankruptcy loomed, the company sold nearly 1,000 units during that year thus proving the continued relevance of AP in a quartz-dominated market.

In the years following the inception of the Royal Oak, AP continued with more ‘left field” designs, including the beloved ‘Bamboo’ references. It was the first time in their history when outside influences shaped their offerings. Trends of the decade, market appeal, and staunch competition were some of the key motivators for AP.

Other notable, yet similar designs in theme include the ‘square’ case Royal Oaks, and dress pieces of the broad ‘Classique’ line such as the reference 4162.

Notice how integrated bracelets and rich cases were characteristic of the era / Credit: Plus Ultra

Detailed Look at the Bamboo

No piece better represents AP in the 1980s than this ‘Bamboo’ reference.

The star of this discussion courtesy of HWC

Not only is this one of the finest examples to recently be brought to market, but one of the last true survivors in virtually untouched condition; fortunately, this also happens to be a more rare example (in regards to its dial configuration).

First, we must define what ‘Bamboo’ means in the world of AP lingo. This moniker is in reference to the integrated bracelet design that resembles stalks of bamboo, hence the name.

Formally, this line spans across many different reference numbers and years of production. Common differentiators amongst the references include variations of case material, size, and dial configuration. Other known examples within this sparsely produced line include those in solid white gold, two tone (white and yellow), monochrome dials, ladies models, etc.

Other than condition, the presence of a factory-set diamond dial commands a bit of a collectors premium on the basis of material and rarity.

Both qualifiers are met with this example - diamond dial, and untouched condition

Today’s specific example is an excellent representation of the Bamboo line as a whole. In solid yellow gold, this beaut features a diamond pave dial original from the factory. Underneath its sapphire crystal, the dial is void of any superfluous details such as hour markers, brand name, and movement type. One can’t help but presume this was purposeful in an attempt to accentuate the beauty and craftsmanship of this luxurious piece.

The choice of a dauphine handset was a careful selection as it both adds to the vintage class of this piece as well as its angular, yet careful construction.

More than one shade of gold in any light

It’s rather obvious which genre of watch this piece falls into. Although its status of ‘dress watch’ is rather fitting, this AP is anything but understated. In an ironic sense, this watch was built to steal the show, and be a display of wealth. While most consider subduedness an attribute to a classic dress watch, a watch this loud is nothing short of pure joy on the wrist. Truthfully, its inclusion of a quartz movement is both indicative of its era, and ‘dress watch’ classification.

Just as sports watches prioritize function over form, a true dress watch proudly enunciates its artful design. Many believe that when a watch’s sole attribute is its design, the movement inside is less important than other pieces where the movement is traditionally the center of attention. In the case of the AP Bamboo, the inclusion of a quartz movement forces its wearer to appreciate its design even more.

Continued Influence

The Bamboo came at a time where demonstrations of wealth became more common in the watch community. What do I mean? Consider similar pieces from the era - solid gold Piaget, stone dial Day Dates, Santos reference 2960 in 18K - watches of this category would be out of favor had they been from a few decades prior.

As the Quartz Crisis caused a need for Swiss innovation, watches of this sort began to hit the market, and even today we can admire their continued influence.

The most impressive watches, those with solid gold cases, diamond dials, ornate movements, and artful bracelets offered by the likes of AP are commonplace today, and flaunted by the most expensive wrists. While no piece directly resembles the Bamboo in modern production, its lasting influence is one that spans decades, specifically at the convergence of wealth, art, and horology. A quick gaze to the AP website proves that the Royal Oak family has absorbed this sect of the market, but remains nonetheless related to its predecessors in the Bamboo lineup. While I recognize that we’re talking about two different models/references, it’s undeniable that AP doesn’t consider the 1970s/1980s when advertising their catalog.

One last picture of this stunner

And yet, quite recently, dress watches from the Bamboo era are experiencing a renaissance, specifically within the vintage watch community. Auction results continue to climb, and days spent on the market are steadily decreasing. For too long have the ornate designs of this era been overshadowed by the versatility of the steel sports genre. Generally, the lack of toughness in this corner of the dress watch market was scoffed at by the likes of the Submariner or Speedmaster, but now, this characteristic is their greatest asset. This, in my eyes, symbolizes a return to cherishing design over all, especially in the place of function. In short, the AP Bamboo is the perfect representation of both this influence, and shifting attitude.

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