You either like them or you don’t, Gérald Genta’s master pieces from the 1970s. Genta designed Omega watches for years (i.e. Constellation and Seamaster models) before he started his own company in 1969. Although designing watches was mostly a job that people did who were on the payroll of a watch manufacturer, it was an immediate success.
As we all know, Gérald Genta is the genius behind the Royal Oak watch (1972) from Audemars Piguet and the Patek Philippe Nautilus watch (1976). Both brands have a long history in watch making and both companies are considered ‘high-end’ watch brands. Genta also designed the Ingenieur SL 1832 watch for IWC in the late 1970s, but the design of that particular watch has changed over the years. There is no current Ingenieur model that looks very similar to the original Ingenieur SL watch and therefore out of scope for this article.
Before the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus, these manufactures did not create sports watches. Their catalog included slim gold dress watches, with or without complications. I don’t know if that period in time (1970s) forced Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe to change that strategy or whether their customers just asked them for a stainless steel sports watch built with the craftsmanship and quality they were used to.
The Royal Oak and Nautilus have evolved over the last decades, like the Royal Oak Off-Shore series, Royal Oaks with all kind of mechanical complications and the Nautilus chronograph or Nautilus moon phase. The pure versions of the Royal Oak and Nautilus were always there though – in stainless steel – just like the initial models of the 1970s. Patek Philippe also introduced the Aquanaut, a more up-to-date version of the Nautilus, but purists seemed to have ignored that model.
This article covers the most pure Royal Oak and Nautilus references, the ref.15202ST (the reference in this article was produced until 2012) and the ref.5711/1A, the Jumbo and the Jumbo. Both in stainless steel with a stainless steel bracelet, just as Gérald Genta wanted them to be. Before these titans meet each other, let’s briefly introduce them one by one.
About 40 years ago, 3000 Swiss Francs would buy you a very decent gold dress watch. Therefor, journalists and those involved in the watch industry were in shock to see Audemars Piguet introducing a stainless steel sports watch for that amount of money during the Basel watch exhibition of 1972.
This stainless steel Royal Oak ref.5402ST nodded to the portholes of the HMS Royal Oak vessels (three in total) that had an octagonal shape. Of course, these British ships were named after the sacred tree that hid King Charles II of England and protected him from his pursuers – the so-called roundheads – in 1651.
Besides the odd octagonal shape and the use of stainless steel, the watch was considered to be very flat. Especially for an automatic wrist watch. Inside, Audemars Piguet used their caliber AP2121, derrived from the caliber 920 of Jaeger-LeCoultre. This is the movement that Audemars Piguet still uses today for their Royal Oak ‘Jumbo’ and produce it in-house. Other brands, like Vacheron Constantin, also uses this movement for some of their watches.
Through-out the years, Audemars Piguet used four references for this ‘original’ Royal Oak, namely ref.5402ST, ref.14802ST, ref.15002ST and the current ref.15202ST. I use the term ‘original’, as Audemars Piguet introduced a large number of variations on the Royal Oak during the 1980s, 1990s and still does. In 1993, Audemars Piguet developed and introduced a more sporty update under the sub name ‘Offshore’. However, I believe that’s a different story.
Nowadays often confused with the Royal Oak Date ref.15400ST (which is a bit larger with its 41mm diameter and has the second hand), the ‘Jumbo’ or ‘Ultra-Thin’ ref.15202ST is the Royal Oak discussed here. This 39mm diameter watch has a 8mm thick case and measures 49mm from lug to lug. Although measured a bit differently from the Patek Philippe Nautilus, one could say the Royal Oak is a tad bit smaller according to its specifications.
Patek Philippe introduced the Nautilus in 1976, only 4 years after Audemars Piguet’s succesful introduction of the Royal Oak during the watchfair in Basel, Switzerland. The correct reference of the first Nautilus is ref. 3700/1. This 42.8mm x 41.8mm watch was huge for that time (hence the ‘Jumbo’), where even a diameter of 36mm was above standard for Patek Philippe. In the early years, the Nautilus used caliber 28-255 C, based on Jaeger-LeCoultre’s caliber 920. This same movement was used in the first Royal Oak and Vacheron Constantin ‘222’, designed by Hysek.
The Nautilus was somewhat the enfant terrible of Patek Philippe, as it was so different from their other time pieces. It seemed that since the introduction, this watch had (and still has) its own following. Patek Philippe made a few deviations of the original model, smaller in size, and the ‘Jumbo’ was even discontinued in 1990. Meanwhile, the Nautilus – and especially the ‘Jumbo’ models – had turned into a cult object and even the 42mm 1998 Nautilus ref. 3710/1 with power reserve couldn’t still the followers’ hunger for the original Jumbo.
In 2006, 30 years after the initial introduction of the Nautilus ‘Jumbo’, Patek Philippe introduced the 5711/1A. A worthy successor of the original ‘Jumbo’ with its 43mm and hour, minute and seconds hand only dial. The movement inside is Patek’s caliber 324 SC, their own manufacture movement.
To make it easier for ourselves, we just use Royal Oak when discussing the ref.15202ST ‘Jumbo’ and Nautilus when discussing the ref.5711/1A ‘Jumbo’ during the rest of this article.
Often mentioned in one sentence, the original Nautilus and the Royal Oak are very different watches when you wear them. I had the opportunity to have them both for a while and share my findings with you. Both have a serious price tag, people today are giving the same reaction when they hear the current list price as they did in the 1970s. Both list prices are approx 22.000 Euro. As the most common thing for non-watch aficionados is to ask about price of the watch you are wearing when they hear you are a fan of high-end watches, almost all of them could not believe their ears. So the original ‘1972 effect’ of the high price of a stainless steel watch is still there.
Having that said, you might be used to discounts on list prices of watches. Even though you can expect to receive a bit of discount on the Royal Oak 15202, the Nautilus is very close to retail and sometimes even over list. A waiting list at the authorized dealer goes for both models, as they have both low production numbers.
When wearing the watches or looking at the watch side by side, as pictured above, you will quickly draw the conclusion that although both are designed by the same fellow, these watches are quite different from each other. Although the specifications told you other wise, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak feels and shows a bit bigger than the Nautilus. The Patek Philippe Nautilus is a bit wider though, due to its ‘ears’ on each side.
The lunette on both watches is just stunning. Although the Patek Philippe Nautilus has a more overall polished look, the satinized parts are finished with the out most precision and care. The looks of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak are a bit more ‘hard core’ with its white gold 8 hexagonal bolts in the octagonal bezel, but nevertheless as superb finished as the Patek Philippe Nautilus. Just different. It is up to one’s taste which look is to be preferred.
Because the lugs of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak are a bit longer and positioned under an angle to follow the form of the wrist, this watch wears a bit bigger and is not suitable for people with a very small wrist as it will stick out a bit. The Patek Philippe Nautilus, although measured a bit bigger, has shorter lugs on each sides making it a fit for every type of wrist.
With respect to the height of the watch, there isn’t much difference. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak measures 8 mm in height and the Patek Philippe Nautilus measures 8.6mm in height.
Also in terms of specifications, there isn’t much to argue about. The Royal Oak’s caliber 2121 movement is only 3.05mm in height and the Patek Philippe Nautilus’s caliber 324SC movement is 3.3mm in height. Only a very small difference, although the technique behind this non-complicated movement does differ. The caliber 2121 uses a rail to host the 21 carat gold skeletonized rotor of the movement instead of the more usual ball bearing system that Patek’s caliber 324 SC uses.
Both movements have been finished with the same dedication and signs of craftsmanship, both movements use the Gyromax balance system and both movements are well respected amongst watch makers and collectors. Due to the skeletonized rotor and the rail system of the rotor we are bound to say that if we had to make a decision at all, we’d prefer AP’s movement. However, there is no real preference so we’d say it is a break even here.
We do would like to note that this movement is where the Royal Oak ‘Jumbo’ stands out from his younger brother, the ref.15400ST with its in-house AP caliber 3120. The construction of the 2121 caliber is more expensive to produce and enables the ‘Jumbo’ to have a flatter case (no second hand as well).
The dial of the Patek Philippe Nautilus is a real piece of art. The colors are mesmerizing when the angle of the light changes on the dial with its horizontal embossed bars. It might change from dark blue to green and it looks if the center part of the dial is more bright than the rest of it. There is also a white dial version of the 5711/1A, introduced a few years ago.
The dial of the Royal Oak was available in three flavors, but the new (2012) reference only comes in blue. The one we have is the charcoal dial, which is the darkest variant of the three old variations. Then there is the white dial and the blue dial. The charcoal dial is being mistaken for either a black or dark blue dial some times, where the actual blue dial is deep blue. Although it is hard to capture the color of the charcoal dial, it is not as dynamic as the Patek Philippe Nautilus dial.
The Royal Oak has the engine-turned ‘clous de Paris’ pattern on the dial, also called a tapisserie dial. Former references of the Royal Oak has a smaller pattern, which is considered to be nicer than the current one by many. However, this is the only remark we can give about this dial. The current reference 15202 (newer than the one reviewed in this comparison) has a dial that is made in-house. Since a few years, Audemars Piguet has its own dial manufacturing department. You can admire the manufacturing process in this video.
We’ve also taken a good look at the Patek Philippe Nautilus dial and there is only one comment we have there as well. The date window is located a bit too far to the right, which makes the dial slightly out of balance. However, we are talking high-end watches here with a design that has proven itself over 30 years now. So these comments are very marginally.
Although the hands on the Patek Philippe Nautilus are bit wider than those on the Royal Oak, they are in the same style. The Patek Philippe Nautilus is – of course – featuring a second hand as well.
As previously stated, the looks of these watches are relatively different from each other. The Nautilus has a more smooth and refined look where as the Royal Oak is a bit more tough looking. The same goes for the bracelet of these iconic timepieces. Bracelets of this quality and finish are rare on sports watches and perhaps a bit thinner than most other bracelets.
The industrial look on the Royal Oak is liked by many and the comfort of it is much appreciated as well. Patek Philippe has created a bracelet that looks more ‘soft’ and rounded. Quality wise, we don’t want to argue here. Both are scratch magnets, due to the satin finish and polished elements on the bracelet links. Some people tend to think that a different kind of stainless steel is being used (in comparison to other brand’s sports watches) because they scratch so easily, but this is only due to the finish.
A double folding clasp has been used for the Nautilus and a single clasp for the Royal Oak. To each his own, but we do have a small favor for the AP signature in the clasp of the Royal Oak. A very nice detail. See for yourself.
One comment we have to make is that these bracelets feel so thin, it is almost like wearing a vintage and fragile watch. Not per se a bad thing, but be aware of this. (Note: The Royal Oak bracelet has received an upgrade in 2012, resulting in a more solid feeling and looking bracelet).
This article appeared first on 2011, but has been one of the most read publications on Fratello Watches ever since. We decided to re-publish it again, even though the Royal Oak 15202 in this article is the previous model (before 2012).
The 2012 update received a dial that is more close to the original reference 5402 from 1972, with its smaller Clous de Paris pattern but also due to the AP logo being re-located to 6 o’clock. Besides the dial, changes were made to the bracelet. The new bracelet feels less flimsy (although the old bracelet has never failed on me personally). Perhaps, but that is a personal observation, I find the new bracelet is a bit too thick for the ultra-thin watch.
However, this verdict is based on the previous 15202 reference and 5711/1A. In the meanwhile, the Royal Oak 15202 has seen a few steep price increases. The watch was around 14K Euro list when this article originally appeared while is now 22.5K Euro. The market price of the AP Royal Oak therefore also increased quite a bit. The difference between list and the market price has become very little. Prices of pre-owned AP Royal Oak 15202 (the model discussed in this article) went up to around 17.000 Euro. The price of the Patek Philippe Nautilus is 22.700 Euro and the market price is still over list. Ranging between 23K and 28K. The white dial version of the Patek Philippe Nautilus is somewhat cheaper and easier to find, but expect to pay list or more as well.
So, what’s the verdict after a period of wearing and comparing them? The Patek Philippe Nautilus is surely the more sought-after watch of the two, hence the waiting list and asking prices that are over list price. The Royal Oak will give you at least as much bang for the buck as the Nautilus does, but one can’t rule out emotion of course.
Personally, I think the Nautilus was a bit too small for my wrists whereas the Royal Oak felt perfect. This was mainly due to the fact that the Royal Oak feels more ‘integrated’ with its bracelet. The best thing you can do is to try each of them yourself, if you can find a dealer who has them on stock of course. However, there is probably always a watch aficionado nearby who has at least of them so you should be able to try one at a watch GTG or fair.
The question really is, which one do you favor? Or do you absolutely dislike these Genta designs in general? Like we wrote in the first sentence of this article, you either love them or hate them.
Ever since he was a young child, Robert-Jan was drawn to watches, even though it were digital Casio and quartz Swatch models at the time. In the mid-1990s, his interest increased when he started to read about mechanical watches in... read more