The Royal Oak, with its masculine octagonal case, exposed screws and integrated bracelet is one of the most distinctive watches in the market today. It is imposing and recognizable, and in my opinion, one of the best statement watches money can buy.
The Royal Oak is not only famous for what it looks like, but also how it was introduced. First released in the ’70s, the original Ref. 5402 was a bold stainless steel watch designed by Gerald Genta that created shockwaves. It was designed as a luxury sports watch and the scandalous part was that it was priced accordingly- the same as an equivalent gold watch of its era.
People just could not accept that a pedestrian material such as steel could be priced so exorbitantly and consequently, it was not very popular. It was only after some time that the public saw this as something genuinely original and avant-garde. Today though, in line with the craze for stainless steel, the Royal Oak is an icon.
While to most, every Royal Oak looks the same, to those who know- the reference 15202 sits above and beyond the rest both in aesthetics and demand. While Audemars Piguet has made many variants of time-only Royal Oaks, the 15202 is the one that is most faithful to the original Ref. 5402 and as such, shares the ‘Jumbo’ nickname. Sized at 39mm and using the same JLC derived Cal. 2121 as the original, this is the Royal Oak for the purists. Two hands, 8.1mm, and a beautiful sapphire caseback with a decorated rotor- it sits with perfect proportionality on the wrist.
While the blue dial stainless steel 15202 introduced on the 40th anniversary of the Royal Oak in 2014 is the most known and popular, not many knew that the 15202 existed before too, in both stainless steel and yellow gold. This particular example is a first-generation 15202 in yellow gold with a white mini-tappiserie dial.
Yes, I know that the Royal Oak was always meant to be a stainless steel watch, but the sheer heft and presence of a gold Royal Oak really makes me love it. The first generation 15202’s are much rarer than its successors and one thing that I can confidently say I prefer is the movement. Despite being powered by the same Cal. 2121, the first-gen Royal Oaks featured a more intricate and artisanal gold winding rotor that spells out ‘AP’ in a very stylized way. While the newer models are nice too, they look much more machine-made.
With the recent rumors that the 15202 will be discontinued, this has fuelled a frenzy by collectors to acquire this historically important and beautiful reference.