The last decade or two has seen a trio of manufacturers rise above the rest: Patek Philippe, Rolex and Audemars Piguet. These are the key players in the primary and secondary markets. Blue-chip, rock-solid performers year after year. The foundational key to their success is their longevity, having been established respectively in 1839, 1907 and 1875. Each maker has its key models, and for Audemars Piguet, the Royal Oak has been its showstopper. Produced in a myriad of formats and finishes since its inception in the early 70’s, few designs are as well-loved, recognised, and collected. While we see case sizes come and go in popularity, indices drop in and out of favour, but the classics are always part of the conversation. In this story, we will cover 7 of our most consistent performers from the AP family. Quite incredible when you think the model is 50 years and counting.
First up, the ref. 25820SP. In 1982, exactly 10 years after its launch, the Royal Oak was presented with a perpetual calendar - not only a rare complication at the time, as very few brands were still producing such timepieces, but an audacious move that housed a delicate complication in a steel sports watch. Ever since, Audemars Piguet has been boldly pushing the boundaries with the perpetual calendar Royal Oak models, whether in terms of metals for the case or dial designs. This reference is a combination of steel with a platinum bezel and centre links, featuring a gorgeous blue textured dial nicknamed “Tuscan”. Boy, do we love this dial! This Royal Oak features a superb movement: calibre 2120/2800 which was born in 1977 making it at the time the world’s slimmest perpetual calendar movement with a thickness of only 3.95mm. Oh, it is also a limited edition of just 25 pieces - anything from AP in such a small production run can instantly be considered collectable, especially with this Tuscan dial. Interestingly this complicated, limited Royal Oak has been consistent in its desirability, well before the recent rise in interest.
Next, the fabled “Jumbo”, in rose gold. After AP discontinued the 5402 in 1990 and had its 14802 “Jubilee” piece in 1992, it decided to bring back the “Jumbo” with reference 15002ST. It was a very short-lived reference from 1996 to 1997 and was succeeded by the Royal Oak 15202ST around 1999. This Royal Oak 15202 was available in two dial colours, with both charcoal and white dials. The 15202 was also available in gold. The AP calibre 2121 is visible through the sapphire crystal on the backside, just like it was on the 1992 Jubilee version. The monobloc case remained steadfast, unlike with Patek’s Nautilus or the other Royal Oak references. Later discontinued in 2022, it made way for a new calibre with a “50” solid gold rotor. A watch that has always traded above retail, it is historic and stand out among purists, it’s a modern classic.
Up next, an incredible rose gold dial and case with perpetual calendar. The full rose gold case is already impressive beyond words, conveying a sense of warmth, gravitas, and refined opulence. The two-tone salmon dial is something else. The main surface presents a matte finish, with the subsidiary dials finished in a polished, almost sunburst design, granting movement and flair to the ensemble. The meticulous attention to detail found on Audemars Piguet perpetual calendar dials is astounding. Most notably, the present dial features a strongly tri-dimensional architecture, with recessed subsidiary dials. In fact, the month/leap year cycle dial features a double recess in order to put on two physically different planes the bissextile cycle and the month indication.
On the case back, the calibre features a gold-rimmed, hand-engraved, skeletonized rotor, whose curvy design might appear abstract at first glance, but in a matter of seconds one realises it in fact represents the number of years celebrated: 120, the same as the total number of pieces produced.
While the attention was mainly focused on the new CODE 11.59 collection at the SIHH 2019, Audemars Piguet had multiple other new watches to show in its Royal Oak range, including a new Royal Oak Selfwinding 41mm. Meet the reference 15500ST, replacing the 15400 and introducing several massive updates, including a newly positioned date and new movement. At 41mm it’s on the larger spectrum of Royal Oak, but there is no doubt the purists love it for its simplicity.
While we have covered the rose gold 15202, the steel variation, for some is a more wearable option. The most celebrated modern Royal Oak, and now discontinued. A 39mm steel sports elegant model with perfect proportions and genuinely outstanding wearability, it has the famed 2121 cal movement inside and to collectors this is huge. This should absolutely be in any serious collection.
The Royal Oak, particularly in precious metals, has transcended the more insular watch – to truly become a cultural icon. Often with openworked dials, legality can be an issue – not here. Super clear and truly a work of art, this Royal Oak reference 15305 was introduced at SIHH 2010. It features a slate grey openworked dial, pink gold applied hour-markers and Royal Oak hands with luminescent coating. The movement is based on AP’s in house Calibre 3120 movement, modified and skeletonized for this watch. The bracelet is in 18-carat pink gold with AP folding clasp. It has been a consistent performer over the last decade, and we don’t see any change.
There are some metals in watchmaking that are so incredibly difficult to work with, manufacturers tend to avoid them. One of these is tantalum. Incredibly hard, special tools are required to work with it. Journe made it popular, but in fact AP was using it well before, here in this 1988 two-tone model. The use of materials and the fact it is a 36mm case, this mid-size has and will always be a sure bet, bridging the gap between wrist sizes.
This Royal Oak is all about the dial! Talk about blues. Fascinated by the sky from a young age, the French painter Yves Klein spent much time developing the perfect shade of vibrant ultramarine blue because he believed it encapsulated the quality of space. This colour, patented under the name “International Klein Blue (IKB)”, became the central theme in Klein’s paintings. When you’ve had them all - this is where you end up.