The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra Thin Ref 15202ST is the best luxury sports watch on the planet. Period. At least that’s what people are saying. Ok, not everybody is saying it but quite a few are. Any time a conversation about the Patek Philippe Ref 5711/1A or the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Ref 116500LN comes up, you can bet the Royal Oak is in the mix.
First though, let’s take a brief look at this model’s not so humble beginnings.
A (Very) Brief History of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
This is a story you’ve already read many times over. In the early 1970’s, the ‘Quartz Crisis’ brought the Swiss watch industry to the brink of destruction. Several big names went bankrupt. (Only to be resurrected later by iconoclasts like Jean-Claude Biver). Others came very close.
Among them was Audemars Piguet. The company needed a miracle, and they needed it fast. Enter famed watch designer Gérald Genta.
Commissioned by AP’s managing director Georges Golay, Genta designed a ground-breaking new watch. In a single night no less. Unveiled at the 1972 Baselworld fair, the Audermars Piguet Royal Oak 5402ST created an entire new category for itself: the luxury sports watch.
Made out of stainless steel, it cost more than many of AP’s 18k gold timepieces. In fact, for the cost of one Royal Oak, you could’ve bought around 10 steel Rolex Submariners. (Something we kind of wish we had done now).
The Royal Oak Jumbo featured a distinctive octagonal screwed bezel. Inspired by a ship’s porthole, it was unusual to say the least. Nowadays of course it’s considered iconic. The case was also large for the time at 39mm. Hence the “Jumbo” moniker.
Inside beat an ultra-thin automatic caliber developed in conjunction with Jaeger-LeCoultre. JLC called it the 920. AP called it the 2121. This same movement was later used by Patek Philippe in its own Gerald Genta designed steel sport watch, the Nautilus.
The Royal Oak Jumbo was also one of the first watches to feature an integrated bracelet. This means it attaches directly to the case, something we take for granted today. It was made by a Geneva manufacturer by the name of Gay Frères. Sporty and comfortable, the bracelets were known for their thinness and their ability to be stretched.
With all this going for it, it wasn’t long before the Royal Oak became a certified hit. Now, 46 years later, it’s still going strong. Here’s five reasons why:
Reason. 1: It Was First
As we learned above, the Royal Oak isn’t just a luxury sports watch. It was the first luxury sports watch. It created an entire category unto itself. Sure, Genta would design other, similar models – IWC Ingenieur anyone? – but there’s just something about being able to say you were first. To say you’re a leader, not a follower.
Let’s face it. Launching the Royal Oak Jumbo Ref 5402ST in 1972 was a ballsy move. It could have backfired badly. It could have sunk the company. But it didn’t. Instead, it paved the way for the resurgence of the luxury watch, emphasis on the luxury. It gave other brands the confidence to launch their own similar models. Would we have the Patek Nautilus, the Vacheron Offshore, etc. without the Royal Oak? Maybe. Maybe not.
To understand the enduring legacy of the Royal Oak, all you need do is look at the current Ref 15202ST. Even now, almost five decades after the original, the design remains unchanged. Sure, the bracelet is slightly different, the execution of the case more refined but overall it is exactly as Genta intended it. That’s what being first looks like.
Reason. 2: It’s Exceptionally Well Made
This becomes apparent as soon as you hold a Royal Oak in your hands. Before you even put it on your wrist you can see and feel the quality of the construction. The bracelet integrates into the case seamlessly. The AP folding clasp makes an immensely satisfying sound every time it clicks into place. Every facet of the octagonal bezel is flawlessly executed. The distinctive screws all perfectly aligned.
The real show though is on the back. Visible through the sapphire glass is the extra-thin, self-winding Manufacture Calibre 2121. Constructed from 247 parts, it beats at 2.75 Hz and offers a 40-hour power reserve when fully wound.
It’s beautifully finished without being too extravagant. The oscillating weight is hewn from 21-carat gold. The bridges show polished bevels, satinbrushed edges and Perlage on the recesses. It’s not a complicated movement but it sure is a pretty one.
Reason. 3: It’s Super Comfortable
The Royal Oak Ref 15202ST is very comfortable on the wrist. That’s because it measures a modest 39mm x 8.1mm thick. Large enough to be easy to read (and to be admired by others) but still slim enough to discretely slide under a cuff.
39mm is a bit on the small side for a sports watch but the Royal Oak is something of a hybrid. It’s not a dress watch either, although it does look dashing with a suit (which we’ll cover next).
Likewise, the integrated bracelet ensures it sits snugly against your wrist. Many collectors say it is the most comfortable integrated steel bracelet on the market. This is of course a matter of personal opinion, so I encourage you to try one on to decide for yourself.
Reason. 4: It Looks Great With Everything
The Royal Oak Ref 15202ST is a prime example of a product that doesn’t have to be fancy to turn heads. The brushed finishing on the case and the bracelet give it an almost utilitarian feel. Yet the contrasting polished facets on the bezel hint at a sense of sophistication.
What really puts it over the top though is the blue dial with “Petite Tapisserie” pattern. This takes a simple watch and turns it into something eye-catching. Completing the layout are white gold applied hour-markers and Royal Oak hands with luminescent coating. The date is shown through an aperture at 3 o’clock. The date-wheel is the same colour as the dial, which is a bigger deal than you might think.
The result is an understated yet elegant watch that looks great with everything. And we do mean everything. You can wear it with a suit to the office. Dress it up to go to a nice restaurant or bar. Or dress it down with your swim trunks for a day lazing by the pool. Keep in mind though that it’s not a dive watch. Water resistance is 50m. That means a bit of playful splashing is ok but no prolonged submersions please.
Reason. 5: It’s Still (Relatively) Obtainable
It’s no secret that luxury steel sports watches are red hot right now. The Patek Philippe Salons in the UK have closed the order books for the Nautilus Ref 5711/1A. You can’t even put your name down on the waitlist anymore. To be fair that list is almost a decade long. Likewise, when was the last time you saw a Rolex GMT-Master II Ref 126710BLRO Pepsi or a Rolex Deepsea Sea-Dweller Ref 126660 in an authorized dealer’s window?
The result? These sought-after models are fetching huge premiums on the secondary market. At the time of writing the Nautilus was hovering around GBP 43,000. (Its official retail price is GBP 22,820). That’s not to say the Royal Oak Ref. 15202ST isn’t in high demand too. It is. Prices have just remained much more sensible. At least for the time-being.
Official recommended retail in the UK is GBP 21,900. On the secondary market, a cursory search of Chrono24 would suggest they are changing hands for around GBP 27,000. A premium no doubt but not an outrageous one.
That said, our search only returned 59 results. That suggests there’s not exactly an abundance of models on the market. So, don’t expect prices to come down any time soon. If anything, they will likely continue in the opposite direction.
There are many other reasons why people say the Royal Oak Jumbo is the best luxury sports watch. If you can think of any, please add them in the comments below. If you disagree completely, that’s fine too. Let us know why.
Technical Specifications: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra Thin Ref 15202ST.1240ST.01
- Case: 39mm x 8.1mm thick – steel – glare-proofed sapphire crystal and caseback – waterproof to 50 metres.
- Dial: Blue with “Petite Tapisserie” pattern – centre hour and minute Royal Oak hands with luminescent coating – white gold applied hour markers – date.
- Movement: Manufacture Calibre 2121 – bidirectional self-winding – variable inertia blocks – 2.75Hz – 40-hour power reserve.
- Bracelet: Integrated stainless steel bracelet with AP folding clasp
- Price: GBP 21,900.
More info at www.audemarspiguet.com.
This article by TheWatchLounge has been sponsored by our partner WatchBox.