Sunday Morning Showdown: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Extra-Thin Watch
In this Sunday morning column, two of our writers go head-to-head in an epic showdown for the ages. Strong opinions and hysterical hyperbole are welcome (so feel free to join in with the fun in the comments section below). And don’t forget to let us know which watches you’d like to see torn to shreds/effusively exalted next week. We’ll try and feature as many of our readers’ choices as we can. After last week saw Rob and Balazs barny over the Rolex Datejust, we have another classic for you: the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Extra-Thin…
Balazs is not afraid of a fight, that much is clear. This week he’s going toe-to-toe with the boss man, hoping to score a much-needed victory. Meanwhile, Bobsled Bobby has returned to his palace of self-admiration to congratulate himself on notching up another win (after a rough patch he’d rather put behind him). Last week, our managing editor secured victory with a solid 65% of the vote. Something tells me this week may see a similar kind of result… But which way, I wonder?
My love for the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Extra-Thin, or “Jumbo”, as it was called in earlier days, runs deep. I explained it in this article, where we put the Nautilus against the Royal Oak. To summarize, for me, it was love at first sight when it comes to the Royal Oak. That said, in today’s world, I feel that the watch is hyped a lot. When I was wearing my 15202 as a daily watch, nobody ever commented. Nobody cared. I paid about €7,000 for mine in 2008/9, and that was already considered a serious amount of money for a steel watch with two hands at the time.
I used to have the 15300 (also 39mm but with the caliber 3120) before, which was significantly thicker and cheaper. The 15202 is, in my opinion, the perfect Royal Oak. The design ratio is simply spot-on. Every other version (smaller or larger) Audemars Piguet produces does not make much sense to me. I used to have the 39mm Royal Oak Chronograph as well but got bored with it rather soon.
Let me tell you what I love and don’t love (or love less) about the Royal Oak “Extra-Thin”. For me, this watch is incredibly attractive because of two things. Firstly, the unmistakable Gerald Génta design. A luxury steel sports watch, with integrated bracelet and “industrial” look by showing the bolts in the octagonal bezel. Pretty wild for 1972, and I still think it looks pretty wild today compared to its direct competition. Secondly, the movement. I don’t think people who are on the hype of the 15202 realize how special this caliber 2120 movement actually is. They often seem to be merely in it for the words (AP, Royal Oak, and Gerald Génta, in any order you please).
But, the movement is actually very interesting and worthwhile. For me, it was the reason to sell my 15300 and go for this 15202. It is a movement designed by Jaeger-LeCoultre but only used by Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet. That’s right, Jaeger-LeCoultre did not use this movement (dubbed the caliber 920) itself. AP uses this movement as caliber 2120, Vacheron as 1120, and Patek as 28-255. It was used in those first Nautilus 3700 watches, till PP started using its own micro-rotor movement.
This movement was developed in 1967, years before AP started using it for the Royal Oak. It measures just 2.45mm tall and has the (Patek patented) free-sprung Gyromax balance. The rotor doesn’t use ball bearings like most other automatic movements but rather travels on a beryllium rail. It keeps the watch thin and offers stability. Caliber 2120 is being produced in-house by Audemars Piguet and is hand-finished (the caliber 3120 is not). I even want to take it one step further, I think it is the most beautiful time-only movement on the market today.
Now, as for the things I don’t love so much. That list is shorter, but they are important to me. As you know, the dial design changed over the years. With the AP logo at 6 o’clock, then to noon and back to 6 o’clock again. What I like about the current Royal Oak Extra-Thin is that it has a smaller Clous-de-Paris pattern on the dial than before (2012).
The AP logo at 12 or 6 o’clock is not super important to me, but the printing on the dial is something that I prefer on the previous version. Also, the bracelet was a bit thinner on the previous version of the 15202, which I enjoyed tremendously. But, the small details that I previously enjoyed more on the previous version, or even the former bracelet, surely wouldn’t be dealbreakers for me.
Here we go again. For some reason, I feel like the local villain at Fratello, who often gets the task to “hate” on iconic pieces in these Sunday Morning Showdown articles. Now you need to understand, dear reader, that you don’t need to take our reasonings so literally. What I mean is that just because I “hate” the Jumbo, in this case, does not mean that I truly loathe it. It is rather the task for any writer that’s taking part in any week’s Sunday Morning Showdown to take the part of the lover or the villain and exaggerate a bit. Having said that, it wasn’t that difficult for me to gather my thoughts for today’s article. And, in this case, it turns out I actually do hate it just a little bit more than anyone else on the team… So here goes…
If you read these SMS pieces you might have realized that I usually start my reasoning by saying that I actually love the model line or the brand. How can you hate a thing if you have such feelings for the brand? Let alone the very model line this watch is coming from? Call it professional skepticism. As watch journalists, we are trained to be ultra-picky. So do I hate AP? No. Do I hate the Royal Oak line entirely? No way. But do I have bone to pick with the Royal Oak Extra-Thin, specifically? You bet I do.
To his credit, RJ perfectly dissected the watch. He talked about the dial pattern and the placement and change of the logo. He even praised the movement a bit. Fair enough. I’ve seen the exact watch RJ is basing his takeaways upon (he was kind enough to loan me his Jumbo for a while so I was able to get some firsthand experience with it). I can attest that the movement is very nice and the dial analysis is sound. But does that mean I can forgive this watch its original sin? No, it does not…
If we look at the facts there’s nothing to hate about this timepieces. It is coming from a respected and legendary Haute Horlogerie brand. The history is well documented and the designer is a gentleman whose body of works is so immense that people outside of the watch industry — who could not care less about timepieces — know his name and his portfolio. The Royal Oak Extra-Thin is destined to be a cornerstone of this crazy world. The quality is second to none, the design still works close-to-50 years after it originally came to the market. And the demand is through the roof.
And yet here, when it comes to the Royal Oak Extra-Thin it all feels a bit…half-baked. The case is 39mm. While many people regard 39mm as the “perfect size” and fawn over the original models in that size, here it feels underwhelming. AP went to the trouble of modernizing the dial, so why did the brand ignore the case? The result became a halfhearted remake when it could have been a full-blooded rockstar. So when I look at the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Extra-Thin I don’t necessarily see a bad watch; rather, I see just about as many missed opportunities as someone could cram into a 39mm space on my wrist.
And there’s more. I’m endlessly annoyed by the one-trick-pony effect. It is clear that when people think of AP they think of the Royal Oak. I’m not here to decide whether that is a good or bad thing for you. Let us know what you think in the comments below. The fact remains that the most sought after watches from the Swiss brand are pretty much all based on that one steel watch that Genta allegedly designed in one night.
“Well, I don’t care about other models, I only wear this watch!” I hear you say. And you know what? You’re right. Just because you don’t like the politics of a brand, you can still rock one of their models. Fair enough. Still, I think this is one part where AP lacks a bit of foresight. And please, let’s not even start talking about Code 11:59…
Lastly, let’s talk stop and look at the brand as a whole. The hype is real and well around AP, which to me is also a factor when I make a decision on a watch. I don’t like what I see in this instance. It’s not so much that I dislike the brand, per se, but I really don’t like what hovers around it. Certain people won’t buy a Rolex because of the “average Rolex wearer” and what they stand for. Now, what do you have to say about the average AP wearer? So all in all, while there’s nothing wrong with the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Extra-Thin, and if you dig it please, by all means, go for it, it is not a watch that is high on my wish list. At all.
Robert-Jan: Balazs, I totally agree with you on the brand part. In fact, I didn’t go into this direction as I only wanted to discuss the watch. For the average customer, who doesn’t have to deal with brand representatives, very specifically the brand’s CEO in this case, it just doesn’t apply. It is only noise. I buy my BMW cars because I love them, but perhaps the brand’s CEO is a douche. I don’t know and don’t care.
Balazs: True dat. However, I feel that the brand image is a big part of a lot of potential buyer’s decision-making process when it comes to AP. Perhaps this is not the case with Seiko or Omega for that matter. I might be wrong here. So let’s see what our readers need to say about this. Share your thoughts in the comments below guys.
Robert-Jan: Because I am in the watch industry, those things DO matter to me (and you). But purely looking at the watch, this specific Royal Oak 15202 Extra-Thin or “Jumbo” (I prefer “Jumbo”), I can’t really criticize it. I just love this watch. But, I did sell mine last year. The watch I wanted so badly since the late 1990s. And why? Because of that reason: I work in the watch industry and I have to deal with the people behind the brands. And I’d rather spend my money on brands that I like (and some of them say even “Thank You” when I transfer my money). Oftentimes, brands are made by the people that work for them. That, in my book, should be rewarded.
It is completely irrational perhaps, but that’s how it works for me. But solely looking at the Royal Oak Extra-Thin, it is an awesome watch. The fact that “the average AP wearer” is perhaps not in my Facebook friends list plays no role for me. The average BMW driver might also be a douche who doesn’t know he has indicators close to his steering wheel. That doesn’t hold me back from enjoying driving these cars. It might sound unfriendly, but I don’t give a crap about the association that people have with certain brands because of its clientele. Perhaps, when I was twenty-something, I would be more vulnerable for those reasons, but I am over 40 and stopped to give a crap about “image” a long time ago.
Balazs: I hear you and what you say makes total sense. As I said above I can’t really hate the watch or what it stands for. Certain features are not to my liking (I prefer the vintage Royal Oak Jumbo) still I understand the brand and what it stands for. Maybe it’s the clout chasing, maybe the over-hyped band awareness maybe all of this paired up with some, to me, bad design decisions (looking at you dial) but it’s just not speaking to me. But I guess our readers will have help us settle this debate.
Robert-Jan: Exactly. So what does the Fratelli think about this one? Whose side are you on, and, most importantly, why?