This is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Ref 15300ST. A watch that some – myself included – consider to be the best of the modern Royal Oaks. It’s not to everyone’s tastes though of course. AP made some subtle design choices with this one that ruffled a few feathers. And by subtle, I mean buried in the minutiae. To the casual observer it looks like any other Royal Oak. But that’s all part of the fun of being an avid watch lover. Diving into the details that no one else sees (or cares about, for that matter!). So, is the Ref 15300ST the best modern Royal Oak? Only one way to find out. Keep reading.

A (Very) Brief History Of The AP Royal Oak

In the watch industry, the term ‘iconic’ seems to get thrown about quite a bit. Often with questionable merit. But if there is one watch fitting of this title, it’s the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. This is the watch that resurrected the industry. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of the Quartz Crisis. Ok, that’s a touch dramatic. And may overplay the role of the Royal Oak in watch making history. But it is, without doubt, an iconic watch.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Ref 15300ST

IN THE SHOP: Check out this Audermars Piguet Royal Oak Ref 15300ST available for sale now.

Today, the luxury steel sports watch dominates the watch market. They are practical, versatile and desirable. From the sub-$1k Tissot PRX80 up to the Patek Philippe Nautilus (which trades at about 4 – 5 times above retail). And one watch gets the credit for starting it all. You guessed it, the Royal Oak.

In the early 1970s, the Swiss watch industry was in the grips of the quartz revolution. With many brand executives finding themselves with their backs against the wall. At least one chose to come out (or go out) swinging. AP’s managing director Georges Golay. He commissioned a gentleman by the name of Gerald Genta to design a ground-breaking new watch. And that’s exactly what he did.

The First Royal Oak

In creating the Audermars Piguet Royal Oak 5402ST, Genta pioneered a new category. That of the luxury sports watch. Made out of stainless steel, it cost more than many of AP’s 18k gold timepieces. A defining feature was its distinctive octagonal screwed bezel. Inspired by a ship’s porthole, it was unusual to say the least. Nowadays of course it’s considered “the blueprint”. The case was also large for the time at 39mm. Hence the “Jumbo” moniker.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Jumbo
An original, Series A Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Jumbo Ref 5402ST

The Royal Oak Jumbo was also one of the first watches to feature an integrated bracelet. This means it attaches straight to the case, something we take for granted today. The bracelet was the work of a Geneva manufacturer by the name of Gay Frères. Sporty and comfortable, watch lovers praised its thinness and stretchability.

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 the Nautilus. Its own version of a Gerald Genta designed steel sport watch. And it wasn’t long before other brands joined the steel sports watch party too. Think Vacheron Constantin’s 222. Or Girard-Perregaux’s Laureato.

The Enduring Legacy

Today, the Ref 5402ST lives on through the Ref 15202ST. A watch that collectors like to say is now made from unobtanium. An inside joke referencing the fact that these watches are nigh on impossible to buy at retail. That leaves the secondary market. Where you can expect to pay north of US$100,000 (affiliate link) for the privilege.

The bad news is that prices are only set to go up. (Unless you own one already, in which case, it’s great news!) Earlier this year AP CEO François-Henry Bennahmias revealed the Ref 15202ST is going the way of the dodo in 2022. A new precious metal version taking its place. Much to the chagrin of purists.

AP Royal Oak Jumbo Ref 15202ST
An example of the AP Royal Oak “Jumbo” Ref 15202ST – Credit orangedial via RolexForums.

There is another option though. It’s not a direct descendant of the original Ref 5402ST. Not in the sense that the Ref 15202ST is. But it is very much a derivative model. A watch you could think of as the “modern” Royal Oak. I am of course referring to the Ref 15300ST.

The Audemars Piguet Ref 15300ST

At first glance the Ref 15300ST looks a lot like the Ref 15202ST. Like a lot. But these are not the same watch. And while the variations are subtle, they do make a world of difference. Think of the Ref 15202ST as the legacy version that pays direct homage to the original. Whereas the Ref 15300ST is more of a modern interpretation. It follows many of the same design principles, but it’s not as constrained by them.

Case & Bracelet

At 39mm the case size of the Ref 15300ST is the same as its stablemate (as well as the original Ref 5402ST). It wears a bit smaller on the wrist though due to a subtle re-working of the case proportions by AP. The case is also thicker at 9.4mm. Which is still very slim but seems chunky compared to the 8.1mm case of the Ref 15202ST. This is actually a good thing though, as many feel it gives the Ref 15300ST a more robust and sportier feel on the wrist. Yet it is still very wearable and practical for daily use.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Ref 15300ST

IN THE SHOP: Check out this Audermars Piguet Royal Oak Ref 15300ST available for sale now.

The extra case thickness isn’t only for show though. It’s needed to house the AP Calibre 3120. A self-winding, low-beat movement (3Hz or 21,600 vph) that delivers a 60-hour power reserve. It also introduces a quick-set date function as well as a central seconds hand. Two features that are lacking on Ref 15202ST models from the same period. The Ref 15300ST has a sapphire case back so you get a nice view of the decorated movement. Including the 22K gold rotor decorated with the family crests of Audemars and Piguet.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Ref 15300ST

IN THE SHOP: Check out this Audermars Piguet Royal Oak Ref 15300ST available for sale now.

The defining feature of a Royal Oak though is its integrated bracelet. And here, the Ref 15300ST does not disappoint. Again, it feels more substantial than the comparable Ref 15202ST. Like the case it shows a mixture of satin and brushed finishes. Giving it an attractive utilitarian look with almost a touch of rawness to it. This is the kind of watch you can wear to a black-tie event or lounging by the pool. The bracelet closes with a double push button, double folding clasp. Although some purists will tell you that the fliplock-style clasp on the Ref 5402ST is better. Either way, I wouldn’t call it a deal-breaker.

The Dial

The other subtle differences on the Ref 15300ST are on the dial. I already covered off the central seconds hand and the quick-set date. Another modification – albeit of an aesthetic nature only – is the placement of the AP logo at 12 o’clock. This seems like a subtle change, and it is. But there is also a special significance to it.

You see, on most versions of the original Ref 5402ST, the AP logo is smaller and sits above 6 o’clock. On the final batch though, the D series, AP moved the logo to 12 o’clock. See the image below from Phillips. It’s estimated less than 1,000 models of the D-serial Ref 5402ST went into production. Making them very collectible.

Audemars Piguet Ref 5402ST D-Serial
A rare Audemars Piguet Ref 5402ST D-Serial. Credit: Phillips.

There’s also some versions of the Ref 15202ST with the AP logo at 12 o’clock. Most people won’t know this subtle detail, of course. And it may not even matter to you as a buyer. But I do think it’s a nice tie-in with the original. And, if nothing else, it makes it easier to identify a Ref 15300ST. But you do sacrifice the double baton markers at 12 o’clock. Although AP kept a thin strip of luminous material in there. The applied baton hour-markers and Royal Oak hands are white gold. And filled with luminescent material.

Price & Availability

In production from 2005 to 2012, the Ref 15300ST has been out of circulation for some time now. Your only option then is the secondary market. This reference has seen a lot of appreciation in the last 12 – 18 months or so. And now a good quality Ref 15300ST will cost you upwards of US$56,000. Which is a lot of money but is still half of what you would pay for a similar Ref 15202ST.

Our retail partner WatchBox currently has this Ref 15300ST available for sale. (Affiliate link.) Or, if you’re in the market for a specific version you can also email me, and I will hunt it down for you.

Is The Ref 15300ST The Best Modern Royal Oak?

To clarify, when I say modern Royal Oak I am referring to the Ref 15XXX series. Which in my mind does not include the Ref 15202ST. Rather it’s the Ref 15300ST (2005 – 2012), the Ref 15400ST (2012 – 2019) and the current Ref 15500ST (2019 – ).

Let’s start by looking at the Ref 15400ST (affiliate link), which was the replacement for the Ref 15300ST. For some, this is a bit of an awkward watch from AP. At 41mm, it’s 2mm bigger than its predecessor, and also thicker at 9.8mm. But it uses the same Calibre 3120, which resulted in two issues. One the movement looks small inside the larger case. And two, as a consequence, the date window on the dial side is closer to the center. AP filled in the gap with a small stub but some purists still take issue with it. On the flip side, the double baton markers return at 12 o’clock. The AP logo is smaller. And the date wheel matches the color of the dial.

The current Ref 15500ST (affiliate link) is where things get even more interesting. There are several subtle differences design wise. An obvious one though is the removal of the word ‘automatic’ from the dial. A bold move for AP and one that has split opinion. The other big difference is the introduction of Caliber 4302. An in-house movement that offers a noticeable upgrade on the earlier 3120. There’s no doubt this is technically the superior watch. And it is available at the retail price of US$19,900. In theory at least. The reality is a bit different. Which is why the Ref 15500ST is already trading at close to US$50,000 on the secondary market.

At 41mm though the 15400ST and 15500ST lose that connection with the original Ref 5402ST. Yes, the size is more modern. And maybe even more attractive to some. But they sacrifice a little bit of the Royal Oak identity. Which is why, for me, the Ref 15300ST remains the best of the modern Royal Oaks. You may or may not agree. Either way I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 Technical Specifications: Audermars Piguet Royal Oak Ref 15300ST

  • Case: 39 mm x 9.4mm – 316L stainless steel – see-through caseback – scratch resistant sapphire crystal on both side – waterproof to 50 metres.
  • Dial: blue, black or white with grand tapisserie pattern – luminous baton markers and hands in white gold – running seconds – date via an aperture at 3 o’clock.
  • Movement: AP Calibre 3120 – in-house – self-winding – 60-hour power reserve – 22k gold rotor.
  • Price: ~USD 55,000 – USD 60,000 depending on condition.

Tom Mulraney
Tom Mulraney
Founder & Editor
Tom likes to write about luxury watches. So much so, that he created The Watch Lounge just so he would have an outlet for his passion. Together with his team, he is dedicated to bringing you original, entertaining (and maybe even a little educational) luxury watch and lifestyle content.

1 thought on “Is The Audemars Piguet Ref 15300ST The Best Modern Royal Oak?”

  1. James Hansen says:

    Why didn’t you comment on reference 15450ST? It’s 37mm but probably wears like 39mm given the case is less rounded off than 15300ST but it’s also thicker than 5402ST, right?

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