It’s been a while, but it’s Three On Three time again. We’ve compared funky independent watches under $15,000, in-house, manually-wound dress watches under $20,000, and even some powerhouse chronographs from the biggest name manufactures around. But now it’s time to tackle one of the most popular categories of watches of the modern era: stainless steel luxury sport watches. Here we’ve got the watch that started it all, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, the modern interpretation from an old-school manufacture, the Vacheron Constantin Overseas, and a totally new budget-friendly addition to the category, the Piaget Polo S. Enjoy the video above, and read on for all the details.
The History Of The Stainless Steel, Integrated Bracelet, Luxury Sport Watch
The beginning of this story isn’t really all that long ago in the long timeline of horology. We can basically start in 1972 with the birth of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. At the time, Audemars Piguet was still making mostly small, complicated dress watches, and was having a hard time selling them. It’s hard to fathom today, but by the end of the 1960s, AP was truly teetering on the edge and needed a big idea to pull itself back from the brink. That idea was to create the first high-end, luxury sport watch entirely in stainless steel. This sounds matter-of-fact to us in 2017, but it was anything but at the time.
The resulting watch would be the Royal Oak, which (as Arthur will explain in further detail below) looked like nothing ever seen before when it was shown to the public in 1972. Designer Gerald Genta had cooked up a bold, geometric design with extremely intricate steel work, various finishes on the many components, an integrated bracelet that couldn’t be swapped for a strap, and, importantly, an astronomical price tag, even when compared with some gold watches of the era.
Genta would go on to design the next archetypical steel luxury sport watch too. In 1976, the Patek Philippe Nautilus was born. If the Royal Oak is all about hard lines, sharp bevels, and crisp geometry, the Nautilus is all about curves and soft power. It has a cushion-shaped dial, a flatter cushion-shaped bezel, and the central bracelet links are almost bubble-like in their round profiles. Those two little tabs or “ears” sticking out from the sides of the case add some personality and make it just wonky enough so as to not take itself too seriously.
Over the ensuing years, others would take Genta’s groundbreaking idea and make many successive luxury steel watches, many that also featured distinctive shapes and integrated bracelets. In particular, the other two that come to mind immediately – forming the Mount Rushmore of sorts for 1970s sport watch design – are the Vacheron Constantin 222 and the IWC Ingenieur SL. While the SL was designed Genta (though he did not design the original Ingenieur), the 222 has a different origin story, despite being wrongly attributed to Genta by many.
The Vacheron 222, in particular, is often lumped in with the Royal Oak and the Nautilus, but we now know that to be an oft-perpetuated inaccuracy (despite even Vacheron going with that story for years). It was actually Jorg Hysek who designed the 222 at the beginning of his career. The 222 wasn’t very commercially successful when it first launched, but the strange mix of curves and angles and relative rarity have made it a cult classic that’s highly collectable these days. It also served as the inspiration for the modern Overseas collection, which carries over much of the original look, but with some notable updates to the bracelet and bezel.
This brings us to a sort of funny moment in the story. At the time that all of this was happening, Piaget didn’t make steel watches at all. None. Zero. In 1957, the Piaget brothers who were running the family manufacture decided to make a statement – they would henceforth only make watches in precious metals. The original Polo – the loose inspiration for the Polo S – was an all gold bracelet watch that debuted in 1979 and became sort of the de facto representation of the late disco lifestyle. It had some of the same funky charm as watches like the Royal Oak, but in a much more louche, overtly-luxurious way. The “S” in Polo S actually stands for steel, and this is the first stainless steel watch Piaget has made since the family committed itself to precious metal watches some 60 years ago.
Now that we’re up to date, let’s get into the watches themselves. There’s an awful lot to talk about.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak (Ref. 15400)
By Arthur Touchot
One thing picking the Royal Oak does not make me is a man with original taste. And that is totally fine, because originality is not what I’m after when it comes to an all-purpose stainless steel luxury sport watch.
What’s interesting about the watch’s popularity today is that you would have been brave to back this as the future of Audemars Piguet (and the inspiration for some of its competitors) when it was first presented to the public in Basel back in 1972. Nothing back then could have been more paradoxical than a luxurious sport watch – what a difference 40-odd years can make, right? The casual-chic segment is probably the hottest right now, and even Cartier is making a move on it with the chic-casual Drive.
Ironically, the once-unfathomably-expensive Royal Oak is now far from being the most expensive stainless steel sport watch in the market, with other watchmakers jumping on the bandwagon, seeing the potential, and making their own attempts to gain sway in this unique market segment. But enough about what the Royal Oak was – let’s look at what it is today.
Reference 15400 is the latest stainless steel Royal Oak, and it is one of the newest branches on a family tree as large as the collection’s namesake. This model was introduced in 2012 and it replaced the smaller ref. 15300, size being the chief distinction between the two, but one that has its importance (more on that later). There is, of course, also the ref. 15202, the so-called “Jumbo.” It retains the original 39mm diameter and an ultra-thin design, essentially acting as a reissue of the original 1972 Royal Oak. However, it comes at a price premium, is difficult to get your hands on, and is considered a more niche, collector-focused product. It’s great, don’t get us wrong (we love the new yellow gold version too), but it’s tough to really call it the mainline Royal Oak. That title goes to the ref. 15400.
So, for now, let’s dig a little deeper into Audemars Piguet’s current hero watch.
Let’s start with what is perhaps the least talked about but most recognizable feature of the Royal Oak – its dial. When I say least talked about, what I mean is that it is often referred to singularly as a grand tapisserie dial, as if those two words could inform the uninitiated, or put this pattern, which none of AP’s competitors use, in the grand context of modern high horology.
The grill-like tapisserie was actually created by Roland Tille, a renowned Genevois dial-maker, and it is achieved using an extremely old-school decoration technique called pantograph engine turning. What’s novel is the way Tille uses it to fill the dial. The straight-line cuts are very industrial compared to the type of decoration that can be achieved using the same tooling (and which is present in other models in the AP collection before and after the Royal Oak), but it is precisely this break with tradition that was welcomed by Gerald Genta when he picked it for the Royal Oak (prior to the ref. 15300, Royal Oaks featured a petite tapisserie dial, with finer lines and smaller squares). You can see how the pantograph works here.
The pattern has acted as the Royal Oak’s uniform from day one, including in the bigger, beefier, ref. 15400. The current production watch comes in four different colors – the original blue and brown of course, as well as a dark slate grey and a brilliant silver-toned dial, both of which are carried through from subsequent models in the same line. Much more meaningfully, the new dials come with a matching date disc, instead of the black on white date that was present throughout this model’s history, and which the Overseas and the Polo S have also chosen. These are less discreet, which I understand is their point, but I prefer the homogeneity and increased visual symmetry of the Royal Oak’s new dial.
The advantage of being first is that you do not need to find ways of creating distinction between yourself and your competitors.
The dial is actually painfully simple, and you can see in Gerald Genta’s sketches that he was not overly concerned with it during the initial stages of the Royal Oak’s design. The hour markers could have been cut from the same strip of gold used for the hour and minute hands. The display of the time is minimal. Arabic numerals aren’t necessary, not even for the minute track. And no special frame has been imagined for the date, which appears through a simple, recessed rectangular aperture. The Royal Oak demonstrates restraint and expresses the fundamentals of good time display in its rawest form.
Much less obvious is the generous sprinkling of gold that elevates the standing of the Royal Oak. The smallest parts to machine, including the 12 applied luminescent baton indexes, as well as the hour, minute, and seconds hands, are all made from white gold. It’s a subtle hint of luxury, but one that the human eye picks up on, especially against a darker dial.
Over the lifespan of the Royal Oak, Audemars Piguet has never relied on a pre-existing design (unlike others), except its own model from 1972. The advantage of being first is that you do not need to find ways of creating distinction between yourself and your competitors. If anything, the ref. 15400 is a return to the basics, not an evolution of Genta’s design (center seconds hand aside). After wandering around in previous Royal Oak models, trying to find its best position, the company’s logo is back in its original position at six o’clock. Also making its way back in the current standard model is the double hash mark at 12 o’clock, a further boon to vintage fans.
The slogan chosen for the launch of the Royal Oak was “body of steel, heart of gold,” and that hasn’t changed a bit in more than 40 years, even if the movement itself has. Over time, AP has transitioned slowly from the caliber 2121 to the rugged in-house caliber 3120. The 2121 was AP’s version of the Jaeger-LeCoultre ebauché caliber 920 – at the time the slimmest automatic movement with date available – and the caliber 3120 was developed specifically to takes its place. The first Royal Oak was made in a series of 1,000 and was part of a plan to diversify AP’s catalog, while the current model is (to some extent) the base of the catalog itself, and it requires a scalable movement produced internally to succeed.
Caliber 3120 is the reason the Royal Oak has gained some weight, but it is still one of the most refined automatic movements. In fact, out of its case the caliber 3120 could quite easily be mistaken for a dress watch movement – and through a sapphire caseback it is a sight which no other sport watch offers. The dominating feature remains the massive 21k gold oscillating weight. It is crafted from a single piece of gold and engraved with the family crests of the company’s two founding families. It is slightly unusual because it forms a 110-degree arc instead of the more common 180-degree arc, letting you see more of the caliber behind. It is thicker than most, with its mass and center of gravity positioned away from the pivot in order to wind the mainspring more efficiently. Up to 60 hours of power reserve is guaranteed, which is (much) more than you need from a watch that is being offered as the perfect everyday watch.
Efficiency is this caliber’s main concern. It finds a way to pack a very large balance wheel – which sits underneath a beautifully shaped bridge – and an even larger barrel into a compact, structurally sound, and well-decorated movement.
The Case And Bracelet
It is almost always the case that the design of a bracelet is secondary to the design of a watch, because most watches come with a standard strap connection system. That certainly isn’t the case for the Royal Oak. Audemars Piguet was the first brand to experiment with a bracelet that would fully integrate into its case, and for that to work, both parts had to be imagined at the same time – their interdependence becomes clear when seeing the Royal Oak on a leather strap. And it was a transformative move by Audemars Piguet, a manufacture that had never dealt with stainless steel, to do this for the first time in the non-precious metal.
For many reasons – it’s the first plane the eye meets when looking at the watch, it has a unique shape, and it is inspired by an unlikely source – it is the Royal Oak’s case and its wild octagonal shape that is usually mentioned first. And while all of the above are fine ways to start the conversation, they cruelly miss its point. The Royal Oak is Audemars Piguet’s first waterproof sport watch, meaning it had to have a completely watertight case. That was the brief given to Genta before the designer first put pen to paper, and that is why the bezel is secured by exposed gold screws – eight at the front, and eight at the back. They seal a rubber ring around the movement of the watch.
So, while it is true and much more charming to think that a diver’s scaphandre inspired Genta’s design, it is important to consider functionality. Nothing else about the case seeks to be unnecessarily complex. However, every surface is finished with traditional high-end finishing techniques, and the combination of brushed and polished surfaces carries right though from the polished edge of the bezel and elegantly brushed case to the Royal Oak’s complex bracelet.
The design of the bracelet is rooted in paradox. It is simultaneously rigid and pliable, masculine and elegant, casual and luxurious. The trouble with trying to be everything at once is finding the right balance, of course. Here, the shape and the natural weight of the links give the bracelet solidity, the brushed finish is a telling sign of the modernization of AP’s production line, but the taper of the bracelet and subtle polishing on the sides are reminders of the company’s traditional roots.
The design of the bracelet is rooted in paradox. It is simultaneously rigid and pliable, masculine and elegant, casual and luxurious.
The manufacturing of one bracelet is incredibly taxing, and in fact the first prototypes had to be made in gold since the company’s exposure to working with stainless steel had been nil. The Royal Oak’s bracelet is composed of more than 20 links and double that amount in studs held together by invisible pins – the sides of the bracelet are polished smooth – and so closely interlocked they look as though they were laser cut from a single sheet of steel. In fact, it takes roughly six hours to machine, polish, hand-finish, and assemble the different parts into a bracelet, and what you get for that effort (thankfully), is one of the most finely-tuned steel bracelets on the market. No popular sports bracelet requires more man hours to make and it shows.
There’s a confidence about Audemars Piguet’s design. The shape and build of ref. 15400 isn’t in any way significantly different from the watch that was sketched 40 years ago, except that it has a center seconds hand and is bigger – but only by the slimmest of margins (2mm in diameter). The Royal Oak’s new size is a shy jump forward in comparison to the leap made by most watches over that period of time. While the purists regret it, and I understand their nostalgia, as it merely reflects what has been going on all over Switzerland. So it’s a justifiable size, and as a man with slightly bigger wrists, you won’t find me complaining about it. I’ve spent a lot of time with different iterations of the Royal Oak, to the point that its wearability no longer surprises me like it did the first time, but I’m still amazed by how adaptable it is. It’s unapologetically simple, rugged, and casual.
The impact of the Royal Oak may not have been felt right away in the Vallée de Joux, but if you ask residents today, they will tell you there is an era before Royal Oak and an era after Royal Oak. Before, Audemars Piguet was a quiet little watch company, with an annual production of approximately 6,000 watches, all of them made in precious metals.
After, it was a revitalized manufacture, a trendsetter, and the owner of the hottest timekeeper around, the likes of which countless others have attempted to create. Current production estimates range between 25,000 and 30,000 watches per year, the bulk of which are related in some way to the original Royal Oak. This is a watch that many, many other enthusiasts have on their wrist, and I don’t see why that’s a bad thing at all.
So, at the risk of being called unoriginal, I’ll take a watch from one of the most important watch lines of the modern era, one that combines real history with versatile style and quality watchmaking. I’ll be the first to concede that certain models in that line have better proportions, but surely if you’re focusing on the fact Audemars Piguet has made better examples of this watch in the past, then you’ve already given the nod to the ref. 15400.
The Vacheron Constantin Overseas
By Jack Forster
The history of the Overseas goes all the way back to, believe it or not, 1975, when Vacheron briefly produced a watch known as the reference 2215 or 42001 (the numbering system changed during production), which had an integrated stainless steel bracelet and a sort of squared-off cushion case. However, the best known ancestor to the Overseas was the 222, which launched in 1977 and which was available in three variations at launch.
The bracelet on the 222 was more directly integrated into the case than in 2215/42001, with elongated hexagonal middle links fitting into matching recesses in the top and bottom of the case. The movement was the ultra-thin Vacheron caliber 1121. Today’s Overseas Self-Winding is equipped with a movement introduced at the same time as the watch: caliber 5100. It debuted at the 2016 SIHH as part of an entirely revamped line of Overseas watches, which included a time-only model, an ultra-thin self-winding model, as well as an ultra-thin perpetual calendar (and later a worldtimer was added too). One of the key features of the new line is the bracelet and strap system, which allows the owner to easily and quickly swap out the bracelet for one of the two provided straps (leather or rubber) without using tools. The system works very well and it’s very secure; the only gotcha is that you can’t use non-OEM straps (although with an integrated bracelet watch I don’t think the usual considerations about aftermarket straps really apply anyway).
I’m a big fan of the new Overseas models, and the first impression you get is of something made to a very high quality standard, with beautifully done brushed and polished finishing. The bracelet is a big part of the attraction – the links echo the Maltese Cross motif of which Vacheron is so fond, but it doesn’t strike me as forced or obvious in the case of the new Overseas models. While some vintage 222 enthusiasts might wish for the inset gold Maltese Cross you find on the 222’s case instead, I don’t miss it in the Overseas. More on the bracelet shortly, but in brief, it’s very supple and the construction gives it a sinuous solidity that’s really sensuously satisfying. In fact, that’s very much the first impression of the Overseas Self-Winding: it feels amazing.
Designing a dial for a steel luxury sport watch is a bit of a tricky proposition, because while on the one hand there’s a need for a certain level of elegance to be respected, on the other hand you can’t go too simple without losing some of the touch of instrumentality a sport/elegant watch should have. Vacheron strikes a good balance in the new Overseas collection in general and in the Overseas Self-Winding, in particular. Legibility is excellent (as it should be in what’s obviously intended to be a daily-wear watch) with plenty of Luminova, and there aren’t any unnecessary flourishes. A watch like this is really all about using the overall design, and specific design elements, to create a unified visual whole, so keeping things on the restrained side is definitely the way to go.
Previous Overseas models have had more elaborate dials – a v-shaped pattern was used on many post-2006 models, for instance, but the new collection hews to simplicity and clarity, which I think suits the Overseas just fine. It’s interesting to note, however, that of the three watches we’re looking at here, the Vacheron has the simplest dial – it’s much less complex than the very striking tapisserie engine-turned dial of the Royal Oak, for example, and also less complex than the horizontal pattern on the Piaget Polo S, for that matter.
Designing a dial for a steel luxury sports watch is a bit of a tricky proposition, because while on the one hand there’s a need for a certain level of elegance to be respected, on the other hand you can’t go too simple without losing some of the touch of instrumentality a sport/elegant watch should have.
The dial’s really relieved from starkness by a careful use of varying shades of blue – the rehaut carrying the seconds track, for instance, is a slightly lighter shade – and the texture created by the raised hour track and applied markers gives some depth to what might otherwise be a too-bland face. The quality of the hands and dial furniture is excellent, and, like the dial overall, the hands give the impression of being there to do their job in a dignified, but unobtrusive, fashion.
As we’ve mentioned, the movement in the Overseas Self-Winding was launched at the same time as the new collection, and, in many respects, it’s an absolutely classic example of a high-grade, basically Genevois-style self-winding movement; currently, it’s only being used by Vacheron in the Overseas Self-Winding models. The proportions are straight out of a mid-20th century playbook: 30.6mm in diameter (13 1/4 lignes) and 4.5mm thick. It’s designed for reliability and good accuracy in daily use, with a 60-hour power reserve and a balance beating at 28,000 vph; the movement carries the Geneva Seal as well (of course, the Geneva Seal, since the 2012 revisions to the standard, applies now to the entire watch, not just the movement). The oscillating mass is in solid 22k gold.
Looked at in the context of the other movements we’re looking at in this edition of Three On Three – the AP caliber 3120 and the Piaget caliber 1110P – caliber 5100 has some very attractive points. It’s probably the movement most in proportion to the watch it powers; both the 1110P and the 3120 are smaller, at 25.60mm for the 1110P and 26.60mm for the caliber 3120. Caliber 5100 doesn’t quite have the visual zing of the AP 3120, which has an extremely attractive bridge layout and a more obviously fine level of finish, and it doesn’t offer the economy of the caliber 1110P (which makes no pretensions to fineness per se) but it does offer excellent finish throughout, and its quietly handsome good looks are a great match for the watch overall.
The Case And Bracelet
The bracelet and case of the Overseas Self-Winding are beautifully well integrated. Finish is first class all the way through. The design doesn’t have the aggressive angularity of the Royal Oak, but I think there’s more than enough sharpness in how the case flanks and configuration of the bezel are handled to give the watch definition and clarity without the effect starting to seem exaggerated. Both the bezel and the bracelet links echo Vacheron’s Maltese Cross motif, but I don’t think that aspect of the watch is overdone; yes, the general forms are there, but so much modified that they read as essentially abstract geometric forms, not symbols.
If that were the end of the story, we’d already have a pretty convincing value proposition, but the Overseas Self-Winding has a neat party trick that sets it apart from both the Royal Oak and the Polo S: the quick-change system that lets you swap out the bracelet for one of the two included straps is simple, secure, and lets you change the look and feel of the watch basically instantly. Again, the downside is that you can’t use a non-Vacheron (or for that matter, non-Overseas) strap, but given the fact that changing the bracelet for a strap for the Polo S is probably not a DYI job, and that it’s definitely not one for the Royal Oak, you’ve got a much more versatile watch with the Overseas than with the other two.
How much you actually use this feature will depend on your personal tastes and habits, but it’s so easy – it only takes a few seconds – that you’ll probably end up doing it more often than you might think. Interestingly (although unsurprisingly, in retrospect) the watch becomes a very different animal on a strap, which says something about the versatility of the case design. It works great with a jacket on the leather strap as a more diffident partner than when it’s on a bracelet, and on the leather strap it’s a really comfortable, very easy-going weekend watch – just the thing to wear on a crisp fall afternoon for raking the leaves (you can always pop on a G-Shock when it’s time to clean the gutters).
The Vacheron Overseas Self-Winding, in this iteration, really steps out into the light from under the shadow of the Royal Oak, with its own specific identity and feel. It’s not as instantly iconic as the RO and it doesn’t have a price advantage over the Polo S, certainly, but it has more of the very likeable combination of wearability and clean lines that the 222 had, than any other version of the Overseas so far and more than just about any other integrated bracelet steel watch I can think of. It represents a real alternative to the Royal Oak.
The basics – a beautifully finished integrated case and bracelet wristwatch with a lot more versatility than you ordinarily get with such a watch – is there in spades.
One last interesting point of comparison for the Overseas Self-Winding is the Overseas Ultra-Thin, which shares a lot of basic design cues with the Self-Winding; so much so that at a casual glance you might easily mistake one for the other. The Self-Winding is steel, while the Ultra-Thin, however, is white gold and significantly thinner, at 7.5mm x 40mm vs. 11mm x 41mm for the Self-Winding; as well, the Ultra-Thin has no date window.
This is obviously not a comparison-shopping exercise – the two watches are separated by a price difference of several tens of thousands of dollars and, in the hand and on the wrist, it’s really clear you’re dealing with two different animals. At the same time, though, looking at each in the context of the other does clarify just how hard the law of diminishing returns bites when it comes to watchmaking, because the Overseas Self-Winding delivers a lot of what the Ultra-Thin does. The actual gulf separating the two is enormous in a couple of ways – the Ultra-Thin is white gold for one thing; for another, the Ultra-Thin uses the Vacheron caliber 1120/AP caliber 2120, which is to this day the thinnest full-rotor automatic movement in the world and a wonderful piece of work.
However, the basics – a beautifully finished integrated case and bracelet wristwatch with a lot more versatility than you ordinarily get with such a watch – is there in spades, in both models. At $55,700, the Ultra-Thin is much less accessible, but the Self-Winding delivers a great deal of what the Ultra-Thin offers, while also being distinct enough in look and feel to be very appealing in its own right. Sure, it’s a little more niche than the Royal Oak but I think that’s actually part of the attraction.
The Piaget Polo S
By Stephen Pulvirent
The Piaget Polo S was one of the more controversial releases of 2016 amongst the watch-loving community. The moment it was unveiled in July, there were shouts of “Nautilus copy!” and “It looks just like an Aquanaut!” from every would-be expert around. And, you know what? I don’t entirely blame them. If you were to take a quick look at the watch, with its cushion-shaped ribbed blue dial, flat, brushed steel bezel, and steel link bracelet, it bears more than a passing resemblance to Gerald Genta’s classic.
But to end the discussion of the Polo S there would be a huge mistake.
On its own, the Polo S is an interesting watch that represents a huge move from Piaget in the direction of a new market and a new profile of customers. It brings the stainless steel luxury sport watch into the sub-$10,000 price category in a meaningful way. On the wrist it’s an enjoyable watch to wear and one that offers its own look and feel, distinct from anything else.
With Jack set to receive the Overseas and Arthur with the Royal Oak squarely on his wrist, I had a few reservations about what was about to make its way onto my wrist.
But sometimes a good watch surprises you.
When I first unpacked the same watch sent to us, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I’d seen the Polo S briefly in the metal at the watch’s launch event, but it had been months since I’d seen more than hands-on photos and the terrible press renderings that are rampant in watchmaking (that’s a story for another time). With Jack set to receive the Overseas and Arthur with the Royal Oak squarely on his wrist, I had a few reservations about what was about to make its way onto my wrist.
But sometimes a good watch surprises you.
The Polo S’s dial is a source of contention. There’s no way around it: it looks like the dial of Patek Philippe’s Nautilus. It has that slightly square cushion shape, the horizontal blue ribbing, and even the hands and date window recall the ref. 7018 ladies’ Nautilus to a T. Like I said, there’s no getting around the similarities.
For some, this is the end of the road with the Polo S. They cannot see past this and have no interest in doing so. That’s fine. I understand and I don’t blame those folks. However, for a lot of people, the Nautilus is either out of their price range or just isn’t interesting. And for those people, the Polo S offers not just a compelling alternative, but rather a watch worthy all on its own.
From first glance, you notice just how vibrant and bright the blue of this dial is. It’s not a greyish blue or a soft blue – it’s blue. The horizontal ribbing amplifies the effect, allowing the dial to change color with just a tiny movement of the wrist. You can see in the images here that it can look almost like it’s glowing at some angles and a deep navy at other angles. There are white and grey dial versions available as well, but the blue is really the one to go for. The texture is only interrupted for the minutes track around the edge, the Piaget signature at 12 o’clock, and the “Automatic” down at six o’clock above the date window.
Now about that date window. I happen to like asymmetrical date windows. My very first vintage watch was a Universal Genève Polerouter, which has something similar to this at three o’clock. Down at six, the asymmetrical effect is played down a bit, since it’s still symmetrical left/right. The pop of white does disrupt the field of blue, but it’s important to remember that this is a play at the mainstream consumer from Piaget and watches with dates outsell those without by a hefty margin.
The hands and markers are both very balanced and nicely executed. The lume is bright and the watch ends up being easy to read both in broad daylight and at night. The “P” counterweight on the seconds hand feels a little cheesy to me, like Piaget wanted to get one more little bit of branding in there when they probably should have just left it well enough alone. It’s not a big deal though and it doesn’t detract from the overall design.
Probably the most exciting thing about the Polo S is that instead of sticking an existing manufacture caliber inside or just buying in low-cost movements from somewhere else, Piaget chose to launch a brand new in-house movement in the model. The caliber 1110P is an automatic movement that displays the hours, minutes, seconds, and date. It’s just 4mm thick and beats at a frequency of 28,800 vph, running in 27 jewels. The power reserve is about 50 hours and it has a stop-seconds mechanism so you can set it precisely to the second.
Considering this watch is half the price of those bearing the higher-end movements, I think the 1110P presents great value in the Polo S overall.
According to Piaget, the 1110P is an evolution of the caliber 800P and is meant to be the next-generation time and date automatic movement for the manufacture. The 800P runs at a slower rate (21,600 vph), has fewer jewels (25), and has a longer power reserve of 85 hours. The finishing on the 1110P is much more refined, with circular Cotes de Genève, circular-graining on the mainplate, small but crisp bevels on the bridges, blued screws, and a slate grey rotor.
However, if you look at the architecture of the movement – most notably the placement and shape of the bridges and wheels – you’ll notice that the 1110P bears a striking resemblance to the Cartier caliber 1904-PS MC. In fact, they look almost identical. The only real difference is that the 1904-PS MC has a small seconds display, while the 1110P has center seconds. This really isn’t all that surprising, either. Both brands are part of the Richemont portfolio, and Richemont does share R&D resources and know-how across its brands to greater and lesser degrees.
Ultimately, the 1110P is a totally capable automatic movement with nice finishing and all the necessary technology for powering a watch like this. It fits the overall package. That said, it is missing some of the fancy bells and whistles that you’ll find in the Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin calibers. No antimagnetic properties, no Geneva Seal, no ceramic ball bearings, etc. Considering this watch is half the price of those bearing the higher-end movements, I think the 1110P presents great value in the Polo S overall.
The Case And Bracelet
As with all of the watches here, the Polo S is largely about the case and bracelet. Despite the funky shapes of the dial and bezel, this watch wears essentially like your standard round ticker. The steel case is 42mm across, making it the largest of the watches we have here. However, at 9.4mm thick, it’s also the thinnest (by a huge margin when compared to the 11mm-thick Overseas). It’s waterproof to 100m and is polished throughout. The only real deviation from the high polish finish is the horizonatal brushing on the bezel’s top surface. This is a hallmark of the luxury steel sports watch genre, using finishing to give the bezel some added geometry, and it works pretty well here.
At 42mm, the Polo S is larger than watches I usually go for. I wish it were closer to 40mm, but, again thinking about this being a mainstream-targeted watch, I totally get why Piaget went with a slightly larger size. And, to be honest, the watch definitely wears small for 42mm on the wrist. Because it’s so thin, it sits nice and low too, which helps in this department for sure.
My real complaint about the case has to do with something else entirely: how it’s made. Both the Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet cases are finely machined, with crisp angles, varied finishes, and precise lines. The Piaget Polo S case, by comparison, looks a little soft. The edges aren’t clearly defined and the overall geometry is just lacking a little. Stamping out cases is a much less expensive way to make them (versus milling them individually with CNC machines). While I understand why that was done here, the final result just isn’t nearly as compelling.
The bracelet on this watch also presents an interesting conundrum. It’s not actually an integrated bracelet at all. Instead, it’s a nice link bracelet with well-fitted end links that are meant to make it look and wear like the truly integrated bracelets of watches like the Royal Oak and Overseas. Again, since this is a much more mass-targeted watch, the ability to use a standard strap on the Polo S or to easily put the bracelet back on is nice.
Technicalities aside, the bracelet is pretty nice. It’s a little shiny for my taste, but the links fall comfortably on the wrist and because of the way they’re sized the bracelet can be fitted nicely to many size wrists. The thing you’ll notice immediately when comparing this bracelet to those of the Overseas and Royal Oak is that it can sit totally flat and doesn’t sort of stand up on its own when you set the watch down on a table. That’s neither good nor bad – this is just a different beast entirely.
Overall, the Polo S surprised me. From all the chatter I’d heard before actually spending time with the watch, I was expecting something underwhelming and that felt like a pale imitation of a genre of watches I love (and that’s coming from someone who, generally, thinks Piaget is a massively underrated watchmaker). What I found in the end is a watch that presents great value, offers a style usually reserved for big spenders to a new audience, and makes a strong case for taking it on its own merits instead of drawing too many comparisons.
One important lesson to learn from the Polo S is that watches exist neither in isolation nor on a completely flat, even playing field. It would be a mistake to ignore the fact that the Polo S clearly owes a great debt to some other well-known watches. It would be an equally egregious mistake to compare the Polo S and the Patek Philippe Nautilus side-by-side as if they were really alternatives to one another. Likewise, I found the Polo S a valuable counterpoint to both the Overseas and the Royal Oak, even if it didn’t seem to match up entirely to either one.
The Polo S is the watch for the person who might admire Gerald Genta’s creations but would rather not spend the better part of a BMW 3 Series on a watch. It’s also a great watch for the budding collector who wants a way into the luxury, stainless steel sport watch category but without going all-in. I do want to note however that this still is very much a true luxury sport watch. From the movement to the fit and finish overall, this is a cut above most of what you’ll find at this price point and it’s a refreshing take on what a modern Piaget can be.
Appendix: Where’s The Nautilus?
By now you’re probably asking one question: What the heck happened to the Patek Philippe Nautilus? Not a bad question at all either. When we began putting the idea for this story together it was September 2016 (alright, we got a little sidetracked along the way), and we were expecting to see a whole new collection of Nautilus watches for the model’s 40th anniversary. We thought it would be silly to include a watch on its way out in this review – instead choosing to go with watches we expect will be available for some time.
Well, in October we did get some new Nautiluses, but not the ones we were expecting. The main collection is remaining unchanged, and the 40th anniversary was celebrated with a pair of diamond-studded limited editions. Well, so much for thinking ahead.
Video/Photos: Will Holloway