The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is one of the most recognizable luxury watches on the planet – and it also happens to be quite good looking.
The introduction of additional complications to the Royal Oak is a more modern evolution of the product collection intended to ensure that the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak fits into as many product categories as possible for as many potential customers as possible. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph takes the most popular complication (in addition to the time) and marries it to one of the most successful watch designs of the 20th century. What it lacks in “purity” it makes up for in emotional appeal for consumers who both like the look of a chronograph with its extra sub-dials on the face and the look of extra pushers on the case. Audemars Piguet itself seems to implicitly understand this given that the movement inside the watch is nice, but hardly revolutionary.
At 41mm wide the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph is a hefty timepiece made from a lot of high-quality stainless steel. Recall that the “Jumbo” version (as it is often called) of the Royal Oak is just 39mm wide. The case has a relatively long 53mm lug-to-lug distance and the wearing size is visually increased due to the widely spaced lug structure. Water resistance is just 50m, which is more than enough for daily wear but I think 100m is a more competitive number if Audemars Piguet wants to push the “sporty” side of the Royal Oak more.
Then again, the entirety of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore collection is where the brand prefers to push more of its “sport” messaging. The irony of course is that the Royal Oak in the 1970s has a similar personality as the Royal Oak Offshore had when it debuted about 20 years later in the 1990s.
Comparisons to the Patek Philippe Nautilus and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak are extremely common and logical. Currently Patek Philippe charges a lot more money for the three-hand Nautilus than Audemars Piguet does for a similar model. I wouldn’t look to this price difference as a real indicator about value differences and in my opinion, this price difference is more about marketing and brand positioning.
This is also a good instance to say that if you are trying to decide between the two, the Audemars Piguet represents the superior value (which is a rare thing to say about the typically high-end pricing strategy of Audemars Piguet).
I personally prefer the sharper angles of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak’s case and bracelet. This is a matter of personal taste, and it is because I feel that the Royal Oak is a bit more edgy, masculine, and bold compared to the softer and more genteel lines of the Nautilus. Both watches are clear cousins and are each inspired by the world of boats. Audemars Piguet envisioned the Royal Oak to be the perfect sport watch to wear while on your sailing boat or yacht. Genta himself designed the iconic eight-sided bezel of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak after the design of some ship hull windows. From his home in Monte Carlo, it is not difficult to imagine Mr. Genta spending an awful lot of time gazing at some of the world’s most expensive and interesting ships to draw design inspiration from.
No doubt part of the appeal of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is in its comfortable and eye-pleasing wearing experience. The watch sits on the wrist securely thanks to its wide flat back and easy to articulate bracelet. The bracelet itself is a thing of beauty which has been produced in a series of ways over the years. My understanding is that more recently Audemars Piguet has combined hand and machine-finishing for the bracelet parts, whereas in the past it was mostly done by hand.
The newer Royal Oaks are a bit more “industrial” in their finishing than some of the older models, but the aesthetic is still very attractive. The core idea of the decoration is to combine the masculine look of brushed surfaces with as much light-catching polish in the form of mirror-polished bevels and angles. Gerald Genta knew implicitly that the allure of any jewelry item is in how its surfaces dance and play with the light – something the Royal Oak has always done nicely.
IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS
Little details help explain the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak’s wearing comfort. For example, when you size the bracelet you’ll see that the holes for the screw bars are larger than they need to be. This helps give the bracelet “play,” which makes it more comfortable on more wrist sizes and shapes. The butterfly-style deployant clasp is entirely simple, but produced from high quality pieces of machined metal. If anything, the amount of nicely machined and finished metal pieces help give the Royal Oak a satisfying, substantial feel when held.
One of the most interesting areas of discussion from a design perspective when it comes to the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is in how the octagonal bezel’s hexagonal screws have their “heads” all oriented in the right direction. Other brands have come under fire from some watch collectors who lament the fact that screw heads don’t always line up in an aesthetically pleasing, symmetrical manner. The way in which Audemars Piguet achieves this visual trick is with screw heads that aren’t really screws, but countersunk bolts with a hidden nut underneath.
In this sense all Audemars Piguet needs to do is insert the bolts so that the screw-style head is oriented in the correct direction, while the nut fastener on the bottom side is what keeps the bezel in place. Turn the case of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak over and you’ll see actual screws used to secure the caseback, whose screw heads follow a more “organic” orientation.
As a piece of men’s luxury jewelry that just happens to tell the time, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is among the best options out there. In a true “luxury maison” sense you are buying a piece of Audemars Piguet to wear on your wrist – and all the personality and history that comes with it. That is as opposed to a less recognizable watch design whose personality is dependent on the wearer. This goes back to the larger discussion I like to have from time to time of whether “you wear a watch or if a watch is wearing you.” The latter is more true for the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak in my opinion – and there is nothing wrong with that assuming you admire and appreciate the personality which Audemars Piguet has created for its extremely important Royal Oak product.