At this year’s SIHH, Audemars Piguet released a number of impressive pieces including the Diamond Outrage, Frosted Gold Royal Oak, the black ceramic Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar, and some updates to the Offshore. But the watch that seemed to have the most people excited was the re-issue of the classic Royal Oak Extra-Thin “Jumbo” in yellow gold. The last time we saw this watch in gold was in rose gold back in 2012, when it was released alongside the steel ref. 15202. This year AP decided to bring back the classic solid yellow gold Jumbo with equally cool blue and yellow gold dials, all with the automatic caliber 2121 movement inside. This is modern-vintage AP at its best.
So why is this “new” release relevant and why do we care? Because it is one of the most iconic watches of all time (and I mean iconic) and it has been five years since there has been a new release using the same case as the original 1972 reference 5402 Royal Oak, 25 years since we have seen a yellow gold version of the Jumbo, and 40 years since we have seen a yellow gold Jumbo with the AP logo at six o’clock. Yeah, this is major.
A Quick History Lesson
The Royal Oak was designed by the not-yet-famous watch designer Gerald Genta in 1971 and was released to the public in 1972 at Baselworld. The Royal Oak was groundbreaking for Audemars Piguet at the time, as it was the brand’s first sports-luxury wristwatch and the design itself was quite avant garde. The name “Royal Oak” came from a historical tree in England where King Charles II hid from Cromwell’s army in 1651. That tree ended up saving King Charles’s life and became a historic political English symbol. The name was applied to no fewer than four British naval ships between 1769 and 1914, which is where the wristwatch comes into play. The octagonal bezel was inspired by the porthole of a naval ship, hence the name Royal Oak. Additionally, Audemars Piguet liked the name because of its “royal prestige and longevity.”
The debut reference 5402 was in production from 1972 until the late 1970s (the exact final date is unknown) and was produced in four series, A-D, each with slight small changes to the clasp and/or technological advancements to the movement. The 5402 was first available in steel and measured 39mm in diameter and 7mm thick. The slate grey tapisserie dial featured the “AP” logo at six o’clock. The original cost was 3,650 CHF, which back then was crazy expensive for a steel watch. The 5402 was powered by the AP caliber 2121 which was actually produced by Jaeger-LeCoultre (JLC calls it the caliber 920 movement). This movement was also used by Vacheron Constantin in the Overseas and the no-date version, the 2120, was used by Patek Philippe in the original Nautilus. The design rights were sold by JLC to AP in the early 2000s and the caliber 2121 is now exclusively produced in-house by AP. It was and still is the thinnest full-rotor self-winding movement in the world. The first yellow gold 5402BA was released in 1977 and ended production around the early 1980s (there is no hard cut-off date for this model either). It soon became a cult classic and is still highly collectible today.
The Reference 14802 and the 15202
In between the late 1970s and today, Audemars Piguet has produced several versions of the Royal Oak and the Royal Oak Offshore, but none that were ever as thin or simple as the original 5402. That was until 1992, when AP released the reference 14802 with sapphire crystal caseback in a limited series of 1,000 pieces total, for the Jumbo ref. 5402’s 20th anniversary. There were 700 in steel (with blue or pink tapisserie dial), 280 in yellow gold (with ardoise, gilt, white, or ivory tapisserie dials), and 20 in platinum (with dark blue or Tuscany blue tapisserie dials, the former with diamond indexes). The 1992 anniversary ref. 14802 was sold all the way up until the year 2000. Then, 12 years later in 2012 for the Royal Oak’s 40th anniversary, the 15202 was released in steel and rose gold, with the same ultra-thin case proportions (39mm in diameter x 7mm thick), same caliber 2121 movement, and AP logo back at six o’clock. This is not to be confused with the AP Royal Oak reference 15400 that was also released in 2012. The 15400 measures 41mm in diameter, is slightly thicker, and uses AP’s caliber 3120 movement with a center seconds hand. It was naturally a huge hit and became highly sought after. Which brings us to today.
The New Royal Oak Extra-Thin ‘Jumbo’ In Yellow Gold
So, we have finally arrived at the the new Royal Oak Extra-Thin reference 15202 in yellow gold. So what is different about this watch from the 15202 released in 2012? Not much, which is exactly why I like it.
The most striking difference is the fact that this is a yellow gold 15202 and not steel or rose gold as seen five years ago. The case measures the traditional (and comfortable) 39mm that we all know and love. The thickness of the case is, you guessed it, 7mm. This allows for easy wearing, and I still firmly believe this could make a great everyday watch.
The bracelet is the same multi-link construction that was originally made by Gay Frères back in 1972, except it’s now slightly heavier and therefore sturdier. It is still beautifully crafted, with incredibly detailed beveling and finishing on each little link, and much like my favorite Rolex bracelets (Oyster and President), it fits like a dream.
The biggest news with this watch though is the combination of the yellow gold case with the gold and blue tapisserie dials. These dials are unique to the Royal Oak, and if you don’t know how they are made, you should watch this. It’s crazy. While the yellow gold dial has been seen before, there has never been a yellow gold Jumbo with a blue dial. Additionally, this is the first time since the original 5402BA that a yellow gold Jumbo has hit the market with the AP logo at six o’clock. And how does it look? Beautiful.
Each color offers something a little different. With the gold dial you get an all-gold look that pretty tough to argue with. It somehow makes the watch feel a little more understated (however counter-intuitive that might sound). The blue, even though it’s never been done before like this, feels more classic though. There’s something very old-school about it. Both colors have had the date wheels matched to the dials, so unlike with the vintage models you don’t have a white date disc standing out against the otherwise uniform field of color.
On the wrist, this watch wears very well. Some may argue it is too big for me, but I think that it fits perfectly. The lugs don’t hang over my wrist and the slim case fits well under a sweater sleeve. The brushed gold feels cold on your skin at first but quickly warms up. The bracelet wraps closely around your wrist and feels secure – which is always a plus because I would imagine dropping this watch would result in tears.
There is a reason that this watch is still in AP’s wheelhouse: it fits almost anyone and makes everyone look 10x cooler than before (sorry, but it does). Now, I know that watches aren’t always about the cool factor, but the Royal Oak is just that, cool. It makes you feel cool, it makes you look cool, and it certainly gives you that extra boost of wrist confidence (you know what I’m talking about). But the cool factor doesn’t come just from how it looks, but also from wearing a piece of design history itself.
To sum it all up, the Jumbo hasn’t changed much. But that’s ok! It’s actually better than ok. To me it is so refreshing to see a manufacture like AP continue to produce this watch over and over again, without feeling the need to change things for the sake of change. It proves to me that AP has recognized that it should never mess with a good thing and that classic, clean shapes always prevail. And although that may seem frivolous (these are watches after all), I find comfort in that kind of consistency.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” ref. 15202 in yellow gold is available with either a blue or yellow gold dial, with both models priced the same at $55,400. It is not a limited edition, but production will be rather limited each year. For more information, visit Audemars Piguet online.