Nothing screams nouveau-riche like a wrist full of ostentatiously chosen bling. It may make your wrist stand out and shine in a crowd, but it doesn’t exactly project the classy image of multi-generational wealth. Those that appreciate the artisanal craftsmanship and brilliance in engineering involved in the age-old craft of luxury watchmaking know that it is not the precious gems on the watch that gives it value. Rather, it’s the jewels in the watch, the craftsmanship, the finishing, and the fine-tuned horology, chronometry, and metrology within the movement, the beating heart of a fine timepiece that will catch the attention of those in the know. That said, let us examine a fine specimen from one of the ‘Big Three’ watchmakers. Shall we?
About Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Watches
Ask any watch collector about Audemars Piguet, and I’m sure you’ll hear nothing but good things. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is one of the most intricate Audemars Piguet timepieces.
In particular, the Royal Oak is a truly timeless, classic icon that in my view, should have a place in any serious watch collector’s collection. Another highlight of this piece is the integrated bracelet with the AP folding clasp. For those who have not seen it in person, it is simply a work of art – the way the light reflects off it is just remarkable. To date, no other watchmaker has been able to produce integrated bracelets that achieve a similar effect.
While the AP Royal Oak collection has different variations, they all share the defining design characteristics below.
The octagonal bezel, which gives the Royal Oak its bold and recognizable look
Eight hexagonal-shaped screws in the bezel
A hobnail patterned (also known as Clous de Paris) dial, which the brand calls a Tapisserie dial. There are different sized patterns, classified as Petite Tapisserie, Grande Tapisserie, and Méga Tapisserie
Integrated bracelet, which transitions seamlessly from the case
It’s also worth noting that the watch case metal is denoted by two letters following Audemars Piguet reference numbers (all, not just Royal Oaks):
BA – Yellow Gold
BC – White Gold
ST – Steel
OR – Rose Gold
PT – Platinum
TI – Titanium
Understanding this shorthand will make reading Royal Oak reference numbers a little easier.
How The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Came To Be
The House of Audemars Piguet produced its most iconic timepiece, the Royal Oak in 1970. According to its designer, the legendary Gerald Genta, once the design came to him, it only took one night to create the original sketch of the design. The inspiration for the iconic design came from a vintage diving helmet that had exposed screws.
One of the things about this watch that made waves was that this was the first-ever luxury sports watch to be crafted in stainless steel. Something that was unheard of at the time. While the Royal Oak was designed in 1970, it was only actually produced in 1972.
Basel, April 1972: at the annual Swiss Watch Show (later renamed BaselWorld), Audemars Piguet introduced a luxury steel watch with an integrated bracelet characterized by a daring and revolutionary design. After the initial disconcert of the market, the watch – the Royal Oak – became a huge international success and one of the most iconic watches ever.
The Royal Oak was revolutionary in the sense that it focused the attention of watch collectors on the watchmaking itself and not on the precious metal being used. In a way, they made it very clear that what you are paying for is their watchmaking brilliance, not the material used to display it.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Design
For something dreamt up in an evening, there’s a lot going on with the Royal Oak. First, there’s the unusual octagonal bezel with its eight screws, which aren’t actually screws but bolt-heads; the screws that do the work of connecting the bezel to the case are within the watch. Then there’s the famed integrated bracelet, entirely built by hand; a detail that probably accounts for the lack of an impromptu wrist epilation when wearing it.
The original Ref.5402, much prized by collectors, had the AP initials above the six rather than the 12, but other than that nothing has changed since 1971. Aesthetically it feels like a design out of time, it has none of the retro tool watch vibe inherent in many of the other watches around at the same time, and its future-tech sleekness still looks modern today.
It’s a watch like no other, which is why Audemars Piguet was able to successfully sue a brand called Swiss Legend for ripping it off back in 2014.
AP Royal Oak Mechanical & In-House Calibres
The AP Royal Oak collection has many different complications which require a handful of finely crafted in-house movements. Some are simple three-hand movements and some take months to manufacture like the Grande Complication or Tourbillon.
Common characteristics of the AP Royal Oak mechanicals are excellent power reserves, a high degree of accuracy, they are executed to perfection for the desired complication(s), and every detail has a superior finish.
Below we’ll list which calibres are housed in the different references of the AP Royal Oak collection.
Over the following years, Audemars Piguet introduced many variations of the original Royal Oak adopting precious metals, leather, and rubber straps as well as new technical solutions and complications.
Audemars Piguet built the first series of 1000 pieces which is known by collectors as the A-series of reference 5402. It took more than one year for Audemars Piguet to sell all the first 1000 Royal Oaks but then sales finally took off. After the first A-series, Audemars Piguet still used A serial numbers for the other 1000 pieces, then passed to B and C serial numbers.
A Royal Oak 5402ST No. A26
This first Royal Oak A-series is still the most sought after by collectors and it is easy to recognize for the AP initials placed above 6 o’clock rather than at 12 o’clock like successive series.
Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar
The first Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Calibre 2120/2800 was designed in 1981 to be the world’s thinnest model of its kind, endowed with a mechanical memory taking account of all calendar variations including months and leap year and requiring no manual intervention before the year 2100.
Royal Oak Day/Date Moonphase
Featuring a white dial with secondary dials for day and date displays at 9 and 3 o’clock framing a moon-phase display at 6, all powered by an entirely in-house developed mechanism, the Royal Oak Day Date Moonphase offered an excellent alternative to the perpetual calendar movement.
Royal Oak Offshore
To mark the 20th anniversary of the Royal Oak, the first Royal Oak Offshore was designed to cater to the tastes of sports enthusiasts and young people.
The concept behind this model was the “deconstructed” approach to the timepiece, intended to reveal how it was built and its key elements, like the massive visible black gasket on the bezel. The case had a size of 42 mm, a normal size today but a shock at the time, which brought the watch to be nicknamed “The Beast”.
Royal Oak Concept
The Royal Oak Concept was the 30th-anniversary tribute to the Royal Oak: an authentic “lab watch” embodying absolute performance through a blend of technical sophistication and extreme resistance. The case was the first ever to borrow a superalloy from the aeronautical industry: alacrite 602, the hardest material available at the time.
Royal Oak Equation of Time
In 2010 Audemars Piguet presented the Royal Oak Equation of Time combining four high complications: a perpetual calendar, a precision display of the lunar cycle, the equation of time (which displays the difference between “true” solar time and conventional time), and civil sunrise and sunset times.
Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin 39 mm ref. 15202
To celebrate the 40 years of the Royal Oak, in 2012 Audemars Piguet released an updated 15202 reference which was even closer to the original version bringing back the “Petit Tapisserie2 dial pattern and the AP initials at 6 o’clock.
The AP Royal Oak retail price varies within the collection. There are many different materials used in production and complications that are simple and complex.
On the pre-owned market, Royal Oak Watches can cost anything between $20,000 to $500,000 depending on the design, the material, and its rarity. As a general rule, women’s quartz-powered Royal Oak watches serve as an entry point into the collection with steel versions that cost around $22,000 compared to gold variations that cost around $44,000. Men’s Royal Oak watches cost more. A stainless steel men’s Audemars Piguet Royal Oak watch in good condition can cost around $31,000 whilst gold versions cost around $79,000. Vintage models from the 1970s like the Royal Oak ref. 5402 can change hands for around $67,000, as well as other expensive models like the 20th anniversary Royal Oak watch ref. 14802, which now costs anywhere between $54,000 and $232,000 depending on its condition.
FAQs About The AP Royal Oak
Why Is AP Royal Oak So Expensive
Yes, the Royal Oak does cost more than the average watch but I wouldn’t use the term expensive. You get what you pay for and there is a lot of value with the AP Royal Oak. The reason why these watches have a higher price tag is that Audemar doesn’t produce large quantities of watches so they need to sell them for more, also it takes longer to produce a single watch because of their hands-on manufacturing process. Time is money and so is quality.
What Is The Least Expensive AP Royal Oak
The least expensive men’s AP Royal Oak is the stainless steel 37mm ref 15450. This reference costs $21,700 MSRP.
Is AP Royal Oak Better Than Rolex
Although the answer to this is subjective because it’s an opinion, most watch enthusiasts believe that AP is better than Rolex. Even though both manufacturers produce amazing watches that are extremely accurate, Audemar dedicates more attention to detail and it really shows when both watches are side by side.
Top 3 Watches Similar to Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
Here are some watches that look similar to the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak.
Bulova Classic 98D103
This Bulova Classic is a glimmered-up version of the now-elusive Bulova Royal Oak, which was as close to the Audemars Piguet as a watch can get while still maintaining its own identity.
Two big differences between this Classic and both original Royal Oaks include the faux-diamond indices and the bracelet. Instead of the sophisticated ladder design, the 98D103 is strapped onto an oyster-like three-link bracelet.
Perry Ellis Decagon Watch
What I like about this watch is less about its similarities to the Royal Oak, and more about the thoughtful differences.
In general, there is a lot more linework in the design of the Perry Ellis Decagon. The bezel is ten-sided rather than eight, the links are thinner and more crowded, and the indices are dagger-like. Even the hands are sword-tipped, while the crown guards feature hard edges.
As a Royal Oak alternative, this gold-toned Citizen Corso is specific to the gold-on-gold edition of the Jumbo Extra-Thin.
Like most entries, the Corso features the necessary octagonal bezel. However, the slightly bowed edges is a nice detail that homages often leave out.
Whether in search of a vintage Royal Oak watch or looking for a modern interpretation that conveys all the original features of the much-loved icon, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak watch will always make for a safe investment. This fine choice of watch will never tire of its universally appealing design and ruggedly handsome looks. The Porthole-inspired collectible is a diverse timepiece that continues to appeal to investors and experienced collectors alike.
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