On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Royal Oak, Audemars Piguet unveiled the new generation of the 39mm Extra-Flat Royal Oak “Jumbo” (ref. 16202), featuring the Manufacture's new ultra-thin automatic movement, the Caliber 7121.
The collection includes four models in steel, platinum, rose gold and 18-karat yellow gold, materials that have played a fundamental role in transforming the Royal Oak into an iconic collection.
1972, The birth of the first Royal Oak 5402ST
Exactly 50 years ago, in 1972 the Royal Oak was presented in Basel, immediately causing a great sensation. Real 'game changer'it must be said, the AP watch was received with many reservations: it was a different watch from the aesthetic standards of the time and finally, it was the most expensive stainless steel watch of any gold model in the catalog of Audemars Piguet.
Called "Jumbo" due to its generously sized case for that time (39mm), the Royal Oak immediately presented itself with the characteristics it has maintained over the years: monobloc case of maritime inspiration, octagonal bezel secured with polished hex screws, bracelet integrated into the case with minimal and defined lines, dial with tapisserie pattern.
But the Royal Oak 5402ST was also mechanically revolutionary, housing the extra slim Caliber 2121, (Jaeger-LeCoultre cal. 920) which is the world's thinnest self-winding mechanical movement with central rotor and date display.
From the 14802 to the 15202
The 5402ST disappeared from the catalog for about ten years until it was relaunched in 1992, from references 14802ST (on the occasion of the 20th anniversary) e 15002ST. While the 14802ST added a transparent caseback, and later a slightly thicker case, the reference 15002ST has remained fairly close to the original design and proportions of the reference. 5402ST.
The reference 15202 was introduced in 2000, replacing the previous references. This watch once again featured a transparent caseback, however, its dial featured the so-called Grande Tapisserie. In 2012, the 15202 was updated, mainly bringing back the smaller Petite Tapisserie motif like on the original 5402ST.
Il Royal Oak Jumbo ref. 15202ST, descendant of the original 1972 model and was released in 2012 to mark the icon's 40th anniversary and reintroduced the Petite Tapisserie pattern as on the original 5402ST. The watch is powered by the in-house ultra-thin self-winding caliber 2121 derived from Jaeger-LeCoultre's legendary JLC920 movement.
The new Royal Oak 16202
But let's get to the novelty presented on the occasion of the 50th birthday of the Royal Oak, or the new reference 16202.
To tell the truth, there are four references: the ref. 16202ST.OO.1240ST.01in steel, on a steel bracelet, with a special blue anniversary dial; the ref. 16202OR.OO.1240OR.01in pink gold on a pink gold bracelet, with a “smoky gray” dial; the ref. 16202BA.OO.1240BA.01in yellow gold on a yellow gold bracelet, with a smoked gold dial; and the ref. 16202PT.OO.1240PT.01 in Platinum on a platinum bracelet, with a smoky green dial.
Let's now examine what the new features introduced and how does this new 16202ST differ from the now legendary 15202ST.
If for many it was considered a practically perfect watch in terms of ergonomics, aesthetics and mechanics, Audemars Piguet has made some small improvements that bring it closer to perfection.
We start from new movement, 7121 caliber which marks the debut of the new “Jumbo” 16202 reference slightly thicker of the previous Caliber 2121, (3,2mm vs 3,05mm) was designed by AP engineers to fit the Royal Oak case internally, without altering the 8,1mm thickness and aesthetics.
In terms of performance, the new Caliber 7121 also has a higher frequency (28,800 vph) which guarantees better accuracy and a power reserve increased to 55 hours (40 hours in the previous caliber). Another aspect that the new owners of the Royal Oak 16202 will be happy with is the introduction, finally, of the shot quick date display.
It took five years of development to make the new Caliber 7121, which, thanks to its new structure, is equipped with more energy than its predecessor. The wider barrel and therefore a larger spring, gives more energy to the entire movement. It is also equipped with an oscillating weight mounted on ball bearings, which uses two inverters, developed in-house to ensure bidirectional winding.
Its balance wheel is equipped with inertial blocks that have been inserted directly into it to avoid unnecessary friction. Additionally, Caliber 7121 features a patented extra-flat, energy-efficient date setting mechanism.
The finishes are in keeping with the watchmaking tradition, Caliber 7121 is decorated with motifs such as “Côtes de Genève”, “traits tirés” and circular grain which can be admired through the sapphire crystal caseback.
The steel case and bracelet, finished by hand with satin finish and polished bevels, are embellished with the iconic dial with Petite Tapisserie pattern of the clock and the hue Blue Nuit, Nuage 50 ("Night blue, cloud 50").
Il Bleu Nuit dial, Nuage 50 was originally developed by the Geneva dial manufacturer Stern Freres. The blue hue was achieved by immersing each quadrant in a galvanic bath. A thin layer of paint mixed with a few black drops (No. 50) was then applied to the dial to protect it. The term “nuage” refers to the cloud effect that creates the drop of black color when it enters the protective liquid paint. Today, the Bleu Nuit, Nuage 50 shade is obtained in-house through PVD (Physical Vapor Deposition) to ensure a more homogeneous color throughout the collection.
Similar to the 1972 Royal Oak, this new “Jumbo” model has kept the original indexes and baignoire or “tub” hands, which allow the luminescent material to be poured for optimal readability. The dial also kept the AP monogram applied in polished gold at 6 o'clock, as well as the wording “AUDEMARS PIGUET AUTOMATIC” printed at 12 o'clock.
The "SWISS MADE" indication, which replaced "SWISS" around the mid-80s, remains positioned at 6 o'clock, with the words SWISS and MADE on both sides of the index to balance the dial.
However, unlike the 5402ST, the sapphire crystal caseback reveals the new extra-flat movement and the oscillating weight made for the anniversary.
The rotor is decorated with the “50 years” logo, but will only be present on watches produced this year. As of 2023, the rotor of all Royal Oak will no longer feature the “50 Years” logo.
What can I say, Audemars Piguet could not have performed the conservative restyling of the legendary Royal Oak differently. How to improve what is apparently perfect and appreciated by everyone, all over the world? Simple: innovating, in the wake of tradition and Audemars has masterfully succeeded.
What still doesn't make it perfect? The power reserve of 55 hours is not exactly in line with the standards achieved by other watch brands and the water resistance of 50 meters is still low, considering that those who wear a Royal Oak love to have it on their wrist in all circumstances.
The selling price of the steel version ref. 16202ST.OO.1240ST.01 is equal to EUR 32,400.