Audemars Piguet Royal Oak: 1972 vs 2012
The iconic model Royal Oak, designed by Gerald Genta, introduced in the market in 1972 at the Basel Fair celebrated its 40th Birthday just 2 years ago with the reintroduction of the “original” Jumbo.
Although it has not changed dramatically over years, a few differences have slipped into the latest version known as reference 15202ST.OO.1240ST.01. With our help, you will never get confused anymore between the two versions. Remarkable through its finishes, who elevated the Royal Oak to being an icon, the case remains quite the same to the exception of the crown: the original one had no engravings. Introducing slight differences, the metal bracelet is associated with a double folding clasp in the 15202ST. The novelty back in 1972 was that Audemars Piguet used steel and treated it as gold. In order to obtain the same level of finishes, steel needs very special care and requires more time spent on each timepiece especially due to the hardness of steel. Blessed with satin finish, lapidated, brushed, sandblasted, polished and circular graining, the Jumbo made it to be sold at the daring price of 3’650 CHF which was higher than the Rolex Best-seller in gold at the same period of time.
Those who would have invested that amount at the time shall not be disappointed just over 40 years later.
Coming to the dial, the artistic director applied the same codes than those of the original version of 1972. The “Audemars Piguet” signature is above the centre, underlined by the mention “Automatic”, the “AP” logo is applied just above the index at 6 o’clock and it is stamped “Swiss made” instead of “Swiss”. The tapisserie pattern, set up between Genta and SternCreations, was preserved intact, nowadays produced in Audemars Piguet’s workshops using the same know-how. Indeed, the engine-turning is embellishing the Royal Oak dials since the beginning and only a few models of the Royal Oak collection were taken away from this tradition. Everyone will notice the black background for the date. The least obvious of these differences is probably the base for this work-of-art. While it was originally engine-turned on an alloy based on bronze, brass is the new material used. The use of the alloy based on bronze combined with the surface treatment used in 1972 resulted in dials beautifully aging to take a nice tropical coloration. What today adds value to the watch was considered as a quality issue at the time and was soon solved by the technical team.
Today, only a few lucky owners can pride themselves of having a very original Jumbo in their collection and a happy few own also the hardly ever seen original box also designed by Genta.
The thinnest automatic movement with full rotor in the world, calibre 2120 was introduced in 1967 and the date version (calibre 2121), raising the thickness from 2.45 mm to 3.05 mm, introduced in 1970 with a first series of 1000 movements and the second series that was dedicated to the Royal Oak. Here again, the changes are minor as the movement has always proved to be quite reliable and from an aesthetical and horological point of view, an all-time favourite for collectors. While the movement was beating in the strictest intimacy in the first version, the latest version allows to admire the mechanism through a glazed sapphire caseback.
The rotor used in 1972 was more sober with an insert of 21-carat gold and Côtes de Genève finishes. In 2012, AP made the choice to introduce a 22-carat oscillating weight adorned with the tapisserie pattern that was originally used on their first automatic wristwatches. With this changes, the desire to have its rotor custom-decorated appeared as the most natural.
There is always more to say about this fascinating watch, most probably one of the best achievements ever of Mr Gerald Genta. I personally never had the opportunity to meet him in person as unfortunately, he left this world while I was working on the Royal Oak book celebrating the 40th Anniversary. Luckily, he left his version of “Royal Oak II” with his friend Martin Wehrli, a design that was unfortunately not approved by the management. He will remain an inspiration for many of us long after another 40 years is over.