Almost 10 years ago, I wrote a comparison between the Royal Oak 15202 ‘Jumbo’ and the ‘then’ standard Royal Oak Date, with reference 15300. Both 39mm Royal Oak watches but with a huge difference: the movement. In 2012, this reference 15300 was succeeded by the 41mm reference 15400 and last month Audemars Piguet introduced its successor: The Royal Oak 15500. This watch is also in 41mm, but Audemars Piguet made some changes to the dial and, more importantly perhaps, installed a new in-house manufactured movement. Time for a new comparison between the Royal Oak Date reference 15500 and the iconic reference 15202 Extra-Thin or ‘Jumbo’.
Royal Oak Background
I am not going to lie, there’s only one Royal Oak that gets to me, which is the reference 15202 or one of its predecessors. In the comparison I made with the 15300 10 years ago, the difference in price made up for going for the 15300 at first, but not much later I found myself trading up the 15300 for the 15202 anyway. I couldn’t resist the urge to get this grail, with its caliber 2121 movement and very thin case and bracelet. No regrets, as it wears more comfortable and I found the design of the Jumbo spot-on. Where the 15300 and later 15400 made concessions regarding the thickness and diameter of the case, those perfect looking design ratios of the 15202 were gone.
The history of the current (introduced in 2012) reference 15202 goes back to 1972. We’ve echoed this story a lot of times here on Fratello, but let’s do a small recap. In 1972, Audemars Piguet introduces something out of the ordinary: a stainless steel luxury sports watch with an integrated steel bracelet. The Royal Oak with reference 5402 is born. The designer of this watch is Gérald Genta, who started his own design company in 1969 after being on the payroll of (amongst others) Omega and responsible for some of their Constellation models for example. The steel Royal Oak has an octagonal bezel that has been inspired by the ports of the battleship HMS Royal Oak. The price of the Royal Oak is high, very high. For the price of this new Royal Oak, you could also buy 10 Rolex Submariner watches. Inside is a caliber 2121 movement, based on the Jaeger-LeCoultre caliber 920 movement that has been designed by Jaeger-LeCoultre, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe. A few years later, Patek Philippe also uses this movement in their first Nautilus 3700/1A models. Vacheron Constantin does the same, with their ‘222’ model (the predecessor of the Overseas), designed by Hysek but definitely sharing some design similarities with the Royal Oak and Nautilus.
The first reference of the Royal Oak, the 5402, is very sought-after today. Especially their A-series. Later on, the design of the dial of the 5402 changes a bit and the AP logo moved from 6 o’clock to 12 o’clock. Then, there was a Jubilee edition in 1992, the reference 14802 (Gerard wrote about it here). Only 1000 pieces were made, including some in white gold. Interesting about the 14802 is definitely the dial, not only did it have a smaller ‘Clous de Paris’ than the later 15202, but it was also available in salmon. Much like the dial on the white gold 15202 that was introduced last month in Geneva. The tone of the new dial is a bit different from the salmon dial from the 1990s, it is a bit more ‘pink gold-ish’ than proper salmon. The Royal Oak reference 15202 is today’s version of that original reference 5402 from 1972.
Below, the new Royal Oak 15202 in white gold with ‘Salmon’ dial and the original Royal Oak 14802 ‘Jubilee’ from 1982 with Salmon dial (image credits: WayneNG/Orange Dial)
Different Royal Oak Versions
During all those years, Audemars Piguet introduced numerous versions of the Royal Oak. At some point, most Royal Oak watches measured 36mm and you’d find editions with all sorts of complications, but also models with quartz movements. The Royal Oak Chronograph was 39mm at first, then increased to 41mm only to come down to 38mm this year. That said, the ‘Jumbo’ or ‘Extra-Thin’ 15202 (and predecessors) were always 39mm. I think the background of the ‘Jumbo’ has been repeated many times, but the Royal Oak reference 15500 that I would like to hold up against the famous 15202 also has an interesting history.
Reference 15300 (39mm)
As written above, after the Royal Oak 5402, a number of variations were created. Mainly in 36mm, but at some point Audemars Piguet decided to come with a Royal Oak Date in 39mm as well. And a seconds hand. This was in 2005 and Audemars Piguet also introduced their in-house caliber 3120 movement for this reference 15300. The ‘Jumbo’ already had reference 15202 at the time. You could say that the Royal Oak 15300 was the successor of the 36mm reference 14790. That reference 14790 model used Audemars Piguet caliber 2125 movement. This movement was not developed in-house but based on Jaeger-LeCoultre’s caliber 889/2. For your information, the caliber 2121 movement that was (and is) being used in the Royal Oak 15202 ‘Extra-Thin’ was originally a Jaeger-LeCoultre caliber 920. However, further development and its production are entirely in the hands of Audemars Piguet for years.
Anyway, the 2005 introduced Royal Oak 15300 had in-house caliber 3120. I had one myself, purchased it in 2008 if I am not mistaken. The version with a silvery white dial. A beautiful watch, with a beautifully done bracelet with double folding clasp. The caliber 3120 movement could be admired via the caseback’s sapphire crystal. I loved the gold rotor with the weapons in relief. At the time I was aware that the caliber 2121 was a more interesting movement due to its thinness (which is partly achieved because the winding system doesn’t use ball bearings). Also, an important difference was that the 15202 has a monobloc case, where the 15300 had a caseback that could be taken off. With the 15202, everything needs to go out via the front crystal. This was basically the concept of the watch design in the first place like it was with the original Nautilus (3700). The later Nautilus models (including the current 5711) don’t have a monobloc case anymore.
Reference 15400 (41mm)
In 2009, I traded up my 15300 for a pre-owned 15202 from 2006. The thin movement, monobloc case and the fact that it was the ‘Jumbo’ had (and still has) a lot of attraction for me. I could immediately notice the difference between the modern Royal Oak 15300 and 15202. The bracelet was much thicker on the 15300, and the case as well. It still wasn’t a thick watch, but the dimensions of the watch just weren’t perfect anymore, like they are on the 15202. The watch was a bit too thick for its 39mm diameter, at least in my opinion. Then, in 2012, when the 15202 also received its ‘massive’ update (an even smaller “Petite Tapisserie” pattern on the dial and the AP logo moved from 12 to 6 o’clock, where it originally started with the 5402 A-Series), Audemars Piguet also introduced the successor of the 15300: the Royal Oak 15400. This was a larger version of the 15300, with a 41mm case. The caliber 3120 movement was still in there, but there were some changes noticeable on the dial. The dial of the 15300 was not always made in-house, but this changed with the 15400 (and new 15202). These dials were (and are) being made in-house by Audemars Piguet, using a turning machine to create the beautiful tapisserie pattern. In short, what changed between the 15300 and 15400 besides the size, were the font on the dial and the lay-out of the dial. Instead of a relatively large AP logo at 12 o’clock, the 15400 had double sticks at 12 o’clock with a small AP logo below. The writing of ‘Audemars Piguet’ increased in size though. The location of the printed ‘Swiss Made’ also moved to a more prominent location (above the minute markers). The 15400 was just bolder than the 39mm 15300, and not only because of the 2mm extra for the case diameter, but also because of the dial. Later on, gold and bi-colour models were added to the 15400 family.
Reference 15500 (41mm)
Now, 7 years later, Audemars Piguet decided it was time for an update. Or upgrade. The difference is not so big as it was when the 15300 was updated to the larger 15400. The case size of the 15500 is still 41mm, but upon closer inspection, you will notice quite a few details that changed. Also, the case has become thicker, with just 0.6mm to a total of 10.4mm. Probably the biggest change is inside, instead of the Audemars Piguet caliber 3120, the 15500 now uses the new in-house developed and manufactured caliber 4302 movement. This movement is also being used for their new CODE 11:59 three-hand model, for example. The new movement also ticks at a speed of 28,800vph instead of the previous 21,600vph for the 3120 movement. An eagle-eye might notice the smoother sweep of the seconds hand on the dial, of course. What also changed with this movement is the power reserve, it is now 70 hours instead of the previous 60 hours.
On the dial, you will find a number of changes. For the better, in my humble opinion. First of all, there printed ‘Automatic’ has been removed from the dial. It makes it a bit cleaner in my opinion, and there’s not really a need to indicate to the wearer it is an automatic movement. He or she knows. You will also find that the date window has a new position on the dial. It is still at 3 o’clock but moved towards the rehaut. And talking about the rehaut, there you’ll now find a minute track. The hour markers are fatter on the new dial as well, as well as the hands. The counter-weight of the seconds hand also received a new shape. The dial design has been adjusted to the 41mm case size, I would say.
Royal Oak 15500 vs 15202
This article is not to compare the 15300, 15400 and 15500 though, it is meant to see what the differences are between the ‘standard’ Royal Oak Date (reference 15500) and the Royal Oak ‘Extra-Thin’, or Jumbo, with reference 15202.
For many purists, there’s only one Royal Oak. The ‘Jumbo’ and probably preferably the reference 5402ST. A-series, if possible. But the reality is, that this model evolved – in small steps, admitted – to the 15202 that was (re)introduced in 2012. Many different Royal Oak watches have been created, from models based on the 39mm ‘Jumbo’ with Perpetual Calendars to bold Royal Oak Offshore models since 1993. And in all honesty, I have been a sucker for the ‘original’ as well. I traded my 15300ST in order to get the 15202 (pre-2012 model). A costly operation, but I have to admit that I enjoy this watch very much and I respect many of its typical elements such as the extra-thin movement (3.05mm) and case (8mm). Oh, and the fact that it doesn’t have a second’s hand. I could even have done without a date aperture, but that wasn’t on Genta’s todo list in 1972.
But where Audemars Piguet seems to aim at purists with the 15202 (so much, they don’t even bother to mention new variations (gold, platinum & titanium etc.) in their annual SIHH video presentations), the 15500 is targeting a larger audience. I can understand that, to be honest, as the 15500 should be their new bread & butter piece. If you can speak of a bread & butter piece for a manufacture like Audemars Piguet. Their total production is around 40.000 watches, of which most are Royal Oak variations. The 15202 is most probably the Royal Oak model with one of the lowest production numbers, aside from some of the grand complication models perhaps. At some point, in 2010 or 2011, the rumour was that only a dozen or so 15202 watches in steel were produced every year. Although that number seems incredibly low to me, the fact is that you really need to wait for quite a long time when you order a 15202 today from your authorized Audemars Piguet dealer.
Caliber 2121 and 4302
Although the new in-house caliber 4302 is an interesting step, offering 70 hours of power reserve, a larger diameter (so it also looks nicer via the sapphire caseback of the 15500) and a higher ticking number, it is significantly thicker than the 3.05mm caliber 2121. That caliber 2121 was designed by Jaeger-LeCoultre, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet and is 50 years old, but still considered to be one of the nicest time-only automatic movements around. Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin are the only manufactures that still use this movement for their extra/ultra-thin watches. Besides that, the caliber 2121 is a hand-finished movement. The caliber 3120 was not hand-finished in the same degree as the caliber 2121 movement, but the caliber 4302 movement is also done by hand according to Audemars Piguet. Apparently, the difference between these two is that the caliber 2121 is a bit more complicated to manufacture and assemble than their caliber 4302 movement.
The Royal Oak 15202 comes with a “Petite Tapisserie” blue dial these days (prior to 2012, it was available with a blue, white and charcoal dial), unless you choose for one of the precious metal versions that are available with a gold, salmon (more of pink gold as I wrote above), blue, sunburst blue or even a green dial (The Hour Glass edition).
With the Royal Oak 15500, you have a bit more freedom of choice (for the steel model), as there are a blue, slate grey and black dial available. The 15400 also had a white dial in the gamma, but not (yet) for the 15500. White dials are still underrated or underappreciated it seems. The Royal Oak 15500 is also available in gold, namely 18-carat pink gold. There’s a version with leather strap and one with a full gold bracelet. Both come with a black dial with the famous “Grande Tapisserie” pattern. Below, the blue dial of the Royal Oak 15500.
For me, the size, (lighter) weight and thickness of the Royal Oak 15202 always won from the Royal Oak 15300 I used to have. The Royal Oak 15400 and Royal Oak 15500 with their 41mm cases made the Royal Oak (Date) version more balanced in my opinion. With a thickness of 10.4mm of the Royal Oak 15500, the difference with the 8.1mm thin Royal Oak 15202 has become bigger. Although 2.3mm doesn’t seem to be much, have a look at the image below, showing the new Royal Oak 15500 and the white gold Royal Oak 15202 (which is actually 8mm). Here, you will also see the difference in the thickness of the bezel.
With an 18cm wrist, I have no issues with the 41mm x 10.4mm case of the Royal Oak 15500, but I certainly also can handle the smaller 39mm x 8.1mm case of the Royal Oak 15202. It is a matter of preference at the end, where I have slight favour for the 39mm Royal Oak ‘Jumbo’.
Taking a look at the watches side by side (and for this, we took the new Royal Oak 15500 and the white gold 15202 ), you can clearly see that the case, dial (and its tapisserie pattern), hands, crown, bezel and bolts are substantially larger. The same applies to the beautifully designed and finished Royal Oak bracelets of these two watches.
No Good Or Bad
There’s a price difference of €5.600,= between the Royal Oak 15500 and the 15202, but I have the feeling that this isn’t decisive for someone who is considering one of these two references. One who is after the Royal Oak 15202 ‘Jumbo’ will probably not decide for the reference 15500 because of the lower price tag. A reason for the difference in price might be the manufacturing process of the caliber 2121 movement, which seems to be a bit more complicated.
The watch industry can’t make a living of purists only, unlike what many of us would like to believe. By offering some variation, aimed at a larger target audience, there is something for everyone. That’s how I see these two different references. The person who’s really deep into watches will probably go for the Royal Oak 15202 for all of the reasons stated in this article. The guy (or girl) who simply loves watches, and happens to like the octagonal design of the Royal Oak might be drawn to the reference 15500. It is bigger, has a modern designed and developed in-house movement that comes with more power reserve, a quick-set date and a higher beat. Oh, and let’s not forget that the Royal Oak 15500 has a seconds hand as well. Some people need some visible action on the dial. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 15500 is simply bolder than the Royal Oak 15202, in almost every aspect, perhaps that is the biggest difference.
For those who: don’t mind fiddling with the crown to set the date (or just don’t care about a correct date, like myself), love the serenity of just an hour and minute hand, prefer the “Petite Tapisserie” and simply prefer a smaller and thinner watch, there’s the 15202.
The retail price of the Royal Oak 15500 is €19.700,= (including VAT) and the Royal Oak 15202ST has a price tag of €25.300,= (including VAT).
More information can be found on the Audemars Piguet website.