To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the original Royal Oak in 2012, Audemars Piguet pulled all the stops to make sure that the RO was properly celebrated. This included the launch of two completely new sizes for the time-only models: the Royal Oak ref. 15400 (41mm) and ref. 15450 (37mm).
2012 was also the year that Audemars Piguet introduced the current Royal Oak “Jumbo” ref. 15202. This reference was quickly targeted by collectors as being THE Royal Oak model to own as it is the closest watch you can get to an original 1972 RO ref. 5402. The watch retained the 39mm case size, the dial featured the AP logo at 6 o’clock with the ‘petite tapisserie’ pattern, and the same caliber 2121, found in the original RO, was powering the watch and was now visible for owners to admire thanks to a display caseback.
Needless to say that the watch became hot instantly — and still is after 9 years of production. With 2022 being the 50th anniversary of the Royal Oak, pay close attention to what Audemars Piguet has in store as the expectations are high.
What the other two case sizes introduced in 2012 did for the Royal Oak line — apart from alleviating the demand for the 15202 — was creating a wide selection of daily-wearers for collectors to choose from, especially catering to various wrist sizes. Let’s remember that from 2005 until 2012, many people were buying the Royal Oak ref. 15300 (39mm case size) as the daily-wear RO. This model was replaced to make way for the two new ref. 15400 and ref. 15450. The ref. 15400 was subsequently replaced with the ref. 15500 a few years later.
The Royal Oak Ref. 15500
The Royal Oak ref. 15500 was launched in 2019 to replace the previous ref. 15400. The case size was kept at 41mm but the watch came with a new movement, the caliber 4302, found also in the time-only Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 launched in the same year.
The new caliber improved on Caliber 3120 used in the ref. 15400 by making the watch beat at 4Hz with an updated power reserve of 70 hours.
The new movement meant that the dial had to be updated and cleaned up to differentiate itself from its predecessor. The date window at 3 o’clock is now much closer to the bezel, the hour markers have had their length reduced but are now thicker, the ‘Automatic’ inscription has been removed, and the minute track is now printed on a ring on the outer edge of the “Grande Tapisserie” dial. All these changes have the visual effect of making the dial cleaner and larger. A welcomed update to the basic Royal Oak, and a great way to mark a transition between an old model and a new one.
On the wrist, the watch wears large and that feeling is further reinforced by the space available on the dial. Some might say that such a generous dial creates a visual imbalance but I think it just draws you more into the “Grande Tapisserie” pattern and you can find yourself staring at it for long periods of time depending on how the light hits the dial.
The new Caliber 4302 actually makes the watch thicker than the older generation. At 10.4mm thick for the case, and with a full steel bracelet, you get a lot of metal on the wrist which might feel a bit heavy for people with smaller sized wrists. I certainly felt that way when I first strapped the watch on my wrist, but that sensation rapidly left because of one simple thing: it’s a Royal Oak, and it’s damn good!
Not to sound like a fanboy but the Royal Oak design is just unique and there isn’t anything else in the watch industry that comes close to it. The perfect combination of brushed and polished surfaces, sharp angular edges, all united by a bracelet that shines like no other, make the Royal Oak something that you constantly want to look at.
You might say that I felt that way because I only had the watch for a week to review, but consider that I also have a Royal Oak of my own and I can tell you that the feeling you get when you first lay eyes on the watch never goes away.
While I did feel that the watch could be heavy at times, especially for my small wrist, a simple way to address that is to change the bracelet to one of Audemars Piguet’s rubber or leather straps. On top of removing some of the weight, it has the added benefit of giving more options should you want to go in the pool with it or attend a formal dinner.
As the basic Royal Oak, it is a strong offering which retains the iconic design that made the model famous, all the while offering updates — both internally and externally — which ushers the ref. 15500 into the modern era of Audemars Piguet.