It’s not every day that an icon of watchmaking celebrates an anniversary, so it’s no surprise that we’re seeing all the stops being pulled out for the 50th anniversary of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. The Gerald Genta-designed classic has been one of the most desirable and coveted luxury watches in the market for quite some time, and one that can be incredibly difficult to acquire without paying big premiums on the secondary market. Last year the brand announced that the classic steel Royal Oak reference 15202 was being discontinued after a 22-year production run, though it was clear as day that the Royal Oak would return in some sort of new-and-improved form.
For the first semester of the anniversary, as Audemars Piguet frames it, the brand dropped cover on a slew of new releases this past week, including the 15202’s successor — the 16202. You’re probably looking at this watch and thinking “doesn’t it look just like the old one”? You’re right, mostly. The case dimensions haven’t changed at all; the 16202 is still 8.1mm thick, and 39mm in diameter. The dial, hands, case, and bracelet, also remain unchanged — as Audemars Piguet stuck with the old adage of not fixing something that isn’t broken. That said, there’s a fair bit more going on under the hood.
First and foremost, the beloved AP caliber 2121 — a movement that has been in the Royal Oak since 1972 — is finally seeing a successor known as the caliber 7121. While the 2121 is a much-loved mechanical movement, it’s been due for an update for a while. As technology in watchmaking has advanced, the 2121’s specifications were starting to fall behind what’s on offer from its competitors. First off, the new caliber 7121 arrives with an increased running frequency of 28,800 vibrations per hour, or 4hz. This running frequency is far more common now than it would have been in decades past, and helps improve overall movement accuracy.
Alongside this, the caliber 7121’s power reserve has been raised to 55 hours, compared to the 40 hours of its predecessor. Power reserve figures have been steadily increasing across the board these days, so once again this was a fairly expected change required to help the Royal Oak catch up to the market. In addition, as we dive deeper into movement construction, the 7121 is now fitted with a full balance bridge rather than a balance cock, and added shock protection. The Royal Oak has never really been viewed as a dainty or delicate watch, but these watches are being worn more day-to-day than ever, and being able to take use and abuse is always a good thing. Last but not least, the movement gains a quick-set date function, which is the most practical element that the Royal Oak has been lacking since day one.
Given its icon status, the steel 16202 will grab everyone’s attention first, however three other references have been presented to fill out this initial assortment. The 16202 will be offered in rose gold, yellow gold, and platinum, each with their own distinct dial colour. The sunburst smoked green dial of the platinum reference — an option offered in the last year of the outgoing 15202 — makes a reappearance as the only reference available with a flat dial, devoid of the brand’s trademark petite tapisserie pattern.
In terms of “real newness”, the hero of the 16202 release is hands-down the new yellow gold reference. You’re looking at a yellow gold case and bracelet, and is fitted with a smoked yellow gold dial (complete with petite tapisserie pattern). This thing is an absolute stunner, a statement piece, yet one that still holds onto that timeless essence of Royal Oak.
Considering this is only the first phase of the Royal Oak’s 50th anniversary announcements of 2022, you would have thought the release of the 16202 would have been it. Instead, the brand also unveiled a slew of additional references, including a new 37mm Royal Oak with an updated movement, and updated references of its Royal Oak Chronographs and Flying Tourbillons without technical changes.
Alongside updating their icons, the last home run of the pack comes in the form of two new skeletonized references. First, the Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin Openworked 16204 arrives as a skeletonized version of the 16202. What better way to show off the brand’s latest movement than to strip away its dial and dedicate many man-hours to the elaborate gutting of its mainplate and bridges? Considering how much demand there’s been for the Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel Openworked in the past, it’s safe to say these won’t be sitting around in display cases waiting for buyers.
Finally, we come to the most complex piece in this set of launches: the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Flying Tourbillon Openworked. An evolution of the flying tourbillon caliber first launched in the Code 11:59 series, AP has given the movement a similar treatment to other openworked references, with very architectural and structured three-dimensional open bridge construction from stem to stern. Busy as it may be, the elegant monochromatic interpretation forgoes any gold or brass accents in the caliber aside from the handful of screws on its balance wheel, leading to a different vibe than its non-tourbillon counterparts. Considering this is how hard Audemars Piguet came out swinging in what they’ve dubbed “the first semester” of 50th anniversary releases, we’re quite eager to see what comes next.