Watch collectors often squabble about who the best watchmaker is and what the best looking watch is – its only natural. While both of these questions are rather subjective in their nature, there is one watch from a particular brand that demands the respect of every watch enthusiast out there, whether they like it or not. That watch is none other than the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. Released in 1972, during the height of the Quartz Crisis, the Royal Oak was Audemars Piguet's Hail Mary attempt to save themselves from financial destitution.
With sales plummeting and brands falling to their knees, the writing was on the wall for Audemars Piguet, famed for their ultra-luxurious dress watches. Not content to go down fighting, however, AP executives enlisted the help of watch designer Gerald Genta to create a luxury steel sports watch, a first of its kind, in response to some market research AP had carried out in Italy. There was a slight problem; however, the launch of this watch was going ahead the next day.
Sparing no time, Genta designed the Royal Oak after finding inspiration from an antique divers helmet and completed the sketch by the following morning. The Royal Oak, characterized by its octagonal bezel, exposed screws, unusual integrated bracelet, and exposed rubber gasket wasn't the immediate sales hit AP had hoped for.
Costing about the price of ten Rolex Submariners, this stainless steel sports watch wasn't what the market needed at the time, or so it thought. Fast-forward just a few small years and the allure of the Royal Oak had begun to win over the masses. Eventually, the watch became a hit, and in the space of a few years, the luxury steel sports watch category, perhaps the most popular category of watches today was born. Fast-forwarding another 48 years to the present day, the Royal Oak is often regarded as one of the most iconic timepieces to exist.
The modern Royal Oak, the ref. 15500, was released in 2019 to replace the outgoing ref. 15400. Weighing in at a contemporary 41mm, the ref. 15500 balances Genta's famous design choices with everything a watch needs to be in today's day and age; sizeable yet elegant, thin yet robust, and above all else – extremely well made. Offered in 5 variants, here I have the pink gold variant mounted onto a black alligator leather strap held closed by a pink gold deployant clasp. The warm hue of the pink gold is ever so elegantly enhanced by the black Grande Tapisserie dial for which AP is famous for. While it enhances the metal, the dial is also successful in toning down the ref. 15500's footprint and maintaining its true luxury aesthetic.