The Royal Oak is a horological icon. It is one of the most popular “luxury sports’ watches in the world and is often seen on the wrists of public figures. Created by the legendary watch designer Gèrald Genta and launched by Audemars Piguet in 1972, the Royal Oak was an instant hit and played a significant role in turning around AP’s fortunes during the quartz crisis. The watch found a niche audience looking for a minimalistic luxury watch with the highest levels of finishing, but one that was made from stainless steel - other similar watches available at the time were made from precious metals.
Since the launch, the Royal Oak has built on its initial success and is now available in several metals, complications and case sizes. I was asked by the Xupes team to test out a recently arrived pre-owned Royal Oak in steel and 18k yellow gold (reference 14790). Here’s how I got on…
I had mixed feelings when I was first handed the Royal Oak. I absolutely love the design, in fact, along with the Polerouter from Universal Gèneve, it’s my favourite Genta designed watch. The reason for me feeling unsure, however, was the mixed metal finish. All of the watches I own are made from stainless steel and whilst I’m sure would enjoy a gold watch, they’re a little out of my price range for the moment. When it comes to combining the two, I tend to dislike the results. For some, it’s the best of both worlds, but I see them as an odd halfway house and I prefer a watch in either all steel, or all gold. I know, it seems a little snobbish to discount a whole heap of great watches, but each to their own as they say! As I put the Royal Oak on and looked at the solid yellow gold bezel and inner links, I wondered if it might go some way to changing my mind.
Leaving my thoughts on mixed metals aside, the Royal Oak is a truly fantastic watch to wear. The 14790 reference dates to the 1990s and measures 36mm across the case (not including the crown). Newer models are available in both 39mm and 41mm sizes, but having tried those on I find the smaller of the three perfect for my wrists. This is mainly down to the design of the bracelet and the way it attaches to the case lugs.
The integrated bracelet attached to the case by way of lugs which are fixed and point both outwards and slope down away from the watch. This rigid shape adds another few millimetres of width to the top and bottom of the case, meaning the 36mm version wears much more like a 40mm watch. When trying on the larger sizes, I found that the watch seemed to hang over the sides of my wrist which not only looked a little silly but was pretty uncomfortable to wear. This was thankfully not the case with the 14790 with the watch sitting flush on my wrist and the bracelet wrapping comfortably around.
Whilst I’m on the subject of the bracelet, it really is something that needs to be seen in the metal to fully appreciate. The combination of brushed and mirror polishing on every single link makes the bracelet shimmer when the light passes over it. I found myself regularly rotating the watch on my wrist and just staring at it, which admittedly must have looked pretty strange to my colleagues, but it really is that pretty. In fact, I’d go as far to say that it’s the best looking bracelet on any watch, ever.
The rest of the Royal Oak doesn’t disappoint either. The octagonal case looks fantastic, with the eight hexagonal screws giving the watch a sporty, nautical feel. It also echos the polishing of the bracelet with a brush pattern on the face and mirrored edges that add a little depth to the overall case design. What impressed me most about the case was how thin it is. At just 7mm, it wears perfectly on the wrist with any outfit and with no need to worry about catching it on a desk or door frame. Add to the fact that the magicians at Audemars Piguet have managed to fit an automatic movement in there and it makes it a real feat in watchmaking.
The dial has the Royal Oak’s signature grid-like tapissiere pattern, which adds a nice three-dimensional effect. The hands and markers are finished in yellow gold and are in a simple baton style that doesn’t take too much focus off the tapissiere. Elsewhere on the dial is the date window, positioned at three o’clock and warmly toned to match the gold in the rest of the watch, which is a nice touch. Finally, the dial is signed with both the AP logo (in place of a 12 o’clock baton), the Audemars Piguet text below and the word automatic above the six o’clock baton marker.
Operation of the Royal Oak is relatively straightforward, which is mainly owing to the simplicity of the watch itself. Winding is done by unscrewing the crown and adjusting the date and time are performed by pulling out the crown and turning. The hexagonal crown is quite small and I occasionally found it a little tricky to get a good grip when unscrewing, but I’d happily put up with that to preserve the thin profile of the watch.
The deployant clasp is operated by a sliding catch neatly disguised as an AP logo on the bracelet. It’s a little tricky the first time you use it, but quickly becomes second nature and does a great job of preserving the design of the bracelet.
On the wrist the Royal Oak is fantastic. The slim profile of the watch makes it unobtrusive and really easy to wear for any occasion. I mostly wore it in casual situations for the week, but I did have the opportunity to wear it with something a little smarter and I found that the gold in the watch gave it more of a dress watch feel. The bracelet wraps nicely around the wrist and is held securely in place by the deployant clasp. Legibility is also great, with the gold hands and markers contrasting nicely against the grey tapissiere dial, The date window is a good size too and I’m glad AP didn’t see the need to add a Cyclops lens, which would have spoiled the design for me (take note Rolex!).
Lastly, I feel as though I should mention the gold in the Royal Oak, as to my surprise, I grew to quite like it by the end of my time with it. I think the main reason is that most of the visible gold on the watch is brush finished, which allows the lustre to come through, but not be overly glitzy. The gold centre links are a good size too and don’t overbear the watch in the way I find something like a steel and gold oyster bracelet does. Given the choice, I would still pick an all steel Royal Oak, but after wearing the 14790 for a week, I wouldn’t be as opposed to owning one as I was before the review. Nice work AP!
Overall, I really enjoyed my time this pre-owned Royal Oak, I’ve always admired the design of the watch and wearing one for a week has only solidified my high opinion of it. For me, it’s probably the perfect smart/casual watch and it really does look great in any occasion. The level of finishing on the watch is outstanding and whilst there are lower priced time and date watches available, I don’t think any of them come close to feeling as special as the AP does on the wrist. If you’re looking to add a versatile timepiece with a legendary design to your collection and you’re a fan of mixed metal watches, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Royal Oak 14790.