“Welcome back to an original aBlogtoWatch feature, My First Grail Watch.” Well, no, that’s not entirely right. This is not another chapter in our Grail Watch series of articles, but then again, it could be. Late last year, upon visiting the highly exclusive London watch retailer Marcus in a quest to interview them for our Where To Buy Watches series, I had the extremely rare opportunity to encounter a highly elusive piece that has for long been reigning at the top of my “watch bucket list”: the blancpain calibre 1315 Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication.
The pure variations of this Royal Oak and Nautilus were always there though — in stainless steel — just like the initial models of the 1970s. Before these titans meet each other, let us briefly introduce them one by one.About 40 years ago, 3000 Swiss Francs would buy you a very good gold dress watch. Therefor, journalists and people involved in the watch sector were in shock to watch blancpain calibre 1315 introducing a stainless steel sports watch for this sum of money throughout the Basel watch exhibition of 1972.
This stainless steel Royal Oak ref.5402ST nodded to the portholes of the HMS Royal Oak vessels (three in total) which had an octagonal shape. Of course, these British boats were named after the sacred tree that hid King Charles II of England and shielded him from his pursuers — that the so called roundheads — in 1651. Aside from the odd octagonal shape and using stainless steel, the opinion has been regarded as very flat. Indoors, Audemars Piguet used their quality AP2121, derrived in the caliber 920 of Jaeger-LeCoultre. Here is the movement that Audemars Piguet still uses now for their Royal Oak ‘Jumbo’ and produce it in-house. Other manufacturers, such as Vacheron Constantin, also uses this movement for some of the watches.Through-out the years, Audemars Piguet utilized four references for this ‘first’ Royal Oak, specifically ref.5402ST, ref.14802ST, ref.15002ST along with the current ref.15202ST. I use the term ‘first’, as Audemars Piguet introduced a significant number of variations on the Royal Oak throughout the 1980s, 1990s and still does. Back in 1993, Audemars Piguet introduced and developed a more sporty update under the sub name ‘Offshore’. This 39mm diameter watch has a 8mm thick case and steps 49mm from lug to lug. Although measured a bit differently from the Patek Philippe Nautilus, an individual could say the Royal Oak is a tad bit smaller based on its own specifications.
Grand and Complicated it is, in every sense of these words. The massive movement (Caliber 2885) is 31.60 millimeter wide and 8.55 millimeter thick, and it needs all that space to comprise a total of 648 parts. As any grand complication, beyond indications for the hours, minutes, and seconds, it offers a chiming mechanism (a minute repeater with two gongs, in this instance), an astronomical mechanism (here, a perpetual calendar with the date, day, month, phase of the moon, and leap year indications), as well as a stopwatch function (which, in this case, is a 30-minute chronograph with split-seconds or “rattrapante” complication).
Complexity on its own, while certainly mind-boggling, is not what makes most grand complication watches special. Instead, it is the combination of complexity with excessive attention to detail and level of refinement – and, as we will see, when it comes to this AP, there’s another element. That other element is interesting because the grand complication, as previously described, is traditionally accepted to be the most complicated movement design – with ultra-modern complications and new ways for displaying the time notwithstanding. As such, we have seen numerous – easily a dozen or more – major manufactures try themselves to creat a watch with the exact same list of complications that we mentioned above.
Where the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication stands out the most is that it offers a blend of this extremely high level of complexity and refinement with a sporty looking case – replacing the round and more conservatively styled cases of most of its alternatives with the bold (and perhaps a bit “loud”) case of the Royal Oak Offshore. And while we should not let the rugged looks fool us – a watch with such delicate a movement is not to be used for swimming or climbing a mountain – it nevertheless makes for an interesting and more unique aesthetic.
The 18-carat pink gold case is 44 millimeters wide and 15.70 thick – it is big, but nothing outrageous when compared to the average size of other Royal Oak Offshore models. Where there is a more noticeable difference, however, is water resistance: a mere 20 meters is noted. Now, while we have said that the movement is extremely delicate and how that prevents the watch to be used in any rocky situation, a rating of 2 bars really is, nevertheless, low – but there’s good reason for that. While there presently are numerous ways of waterproofing a crown and the two chronograph pushers, sealing the minute repeater’s slider on the left side of the case as well as the push-piece in the center of the crown is considerably more difficult.
Anyhow, the moment one gets up close to the Royal Oak Offshore’s most complicated iteration, the faintest idea of bringing it anywhere near a drop of water disappears. Virtually every mechanical movement that is more complicated than the average time-only caliber will have multiple layers: automatic winding and chronograph mechanisms are almost always located at the bottom (i.e. case-back side) of the movement, with the time-keeping mechanism with the mainspring barrel, going train and escapement being in the center, while the minute repeater and perpetual date segments are predominantly found on the dial side.
In the image above, you see the dial side of the movement, with wheels of different ratios, cams, levers, and pinions being crammed extremely closely to each other – with much of the seemingly excess space being there simply to give room for the sliding and rotating actions of these components to happen. Thanks to the “smoked sapphire dial,” a number of components located here are visible through the dial, providing an arguably more beautiful backdrop than just about any solid dial one can think of.
Some of the minute repeater’s parts can be seen below the sapphire dial as well, while its two gongs are seen on the case back side. The gongs have been placed on the same horizontal plane, as opposed to the more usual vertical alignment – this might be important as far as vertical space requirements are concerned, although the volume and audibility of the chiming action is still not excessively loud (given the size of the gongs and tiny hammers, there are some simple physical restrictions which limit the strength of the sound they create).
As far as more ordinary functions go, this beast of a movement runs at 2.75 Hertz or 19,800 beats per hour, matched by 45 hours of power reserve. While traditionally not “required” for a grand complication, the 2885 caliber features automatic winding – yet another space-consuming feature that somehow found its way into the movement.
Although I am not generally for or against automatic winding, in this particular instance, I genuinely feel it should have been omitted – perhaps the only legitimate criticism I can think of when it comes to this wonderful caliber. The large, satin finished rotor looks like it has more in common with top-of-the-line architecture than watchmaking – the strong, angular design with the well-balanced curves here and there remind me of a bridge or a fancy new theater, for whatever reason – but should it not meet the buyer’s expectations, Audemars Piguet offers a customization service where the rotor can be uniquely decorated upon the customer’s request.
Often mentioned in one sentence, the original Nautilus and the Royal Oak are very distinct watches when you wear them. I had the chance to have them both for a little while and share my findings with you. Both have a severe price tag, folks nowadays are giving the same response when they listen to that the current list price as they did in the 1970s. Both record costs are approx 22.000 Euro. As the most typical factor for non-watch aficionados is to inquire about cost of the watch you are wearing when they hear you’re a fan of high-end watches, virtually all of them couldn’t believe their ears. So the first ‘1972 effect’ of the high cost of a stainless steel watch is still there.Having that stated, you may be used to discounts on record prices of watches. Even though you can expect to get a bit of discount on the Royal Oak 15202, the Nautilus is very near retail and sometimes even over list. A waiting list at the authorized trader goes for the two models, as they’ve both low production numbers.When wearing the watches or looking at the watch side by side, as pictured above, you will soon draw the conclusion that although both are designed by the exact same individual, these watches are absolutely distinct from one another. Although the specifications told one other wise, the blancpain chronograph Royal Oak feels and reveals a bit bigger than the Nautilus. Even though the Patek Philippe Nautilus includes a more overall polished look, the satinized components are completed with the out most precision and attention. The looks of this Audemars Piguet Royal Oak are a little more ‘hard core’ with its own white gold 8 hexagonal bolts in the octagonal bezel, but nevertheless as superb finished as the Patek Philippe Nautilus. Just different. It is up to one’s flavor which seem is to be favored.
Luckily, it is not all teary-eyed past-reviving that is happening at this anniversary — kudos to AP for that. Accordingly, together with the re-edition Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Chronograph, we see the Introduction of the new Royal Oak Offshore Tourbillon Chronograph, namely Ref. 26421ST and 26421OR, that have a completely new design in two different case materials.Based on two before blancpain jour nuit watch Royal Oak Offshore Tourbillon Chronograph watches, especially the Ref. 26388PO (see our hands-on with it here) and 26288OR, those new Royal Oak Offshore Tourbillon Chronograph watches come in stainless steel and 18k rose gold respectively, and feature a brand new case design which has a thinner bezel and hence a more spacious dial. Even so, the identifying Royal Oak Offshore design traits are all undamaged. The 45mm instance is still angular, the bezel remains octagonal, and there’s no lost those vulnerable hexagonal screws on the bezel. Completing the look are black ceramic pushers to your chronograph and a screw-down crown. Water resistance can also be 100m. On the dial, an individual can observe the exposed movement and the tourbillon in 9 o’clock. Opposite the tourbillon in 3 o’clock is the 30-minute counter for the chronograph. Also clearly visible are the two mainspring barrels. The skeletonized bridges extend from each of the eight screws in a way that’s rather unique and ties the style of this case, dial, and movement together in a way few watches manage to achieve that.
Impressive design aside, I would still prefer a clear and undisturbed view of the chronograph mechanism exposed on the case back. The number of parts, all finished to extremely high standards, speak for themselves – although we have seen some super-low-production independents try and strive for bevelled and polished edges even on the inner edges and spokes of some of the wheels, that is not present here.
Nevertheless, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication offers what appears to the eye as an endless sea of beautifully finished components: every cam, bridge, slot and other part that one can think of features hand bevelled and polished sides, leaving no rough edges anywhere to be seen – in line with what one would expect from a watch that takes six months to manufacture and costs more than most all run-of-the-mill Ferraris you can buy.
These watches are powered by the in-house hand-wound Caliber 2947, which is an open-worked version of this Caliber 2933 found at the Royal Oak Offshore Tourbillon Chronograph Ref. This particular movement features 338 parts, an incorporated chronograph movement that has a column wheel mechanism, a beat speed of 3Hz, and a power reserve of a whopping 237 hours. Royal Oak Offshore fanatics are definitely eager to understand the costs, and we will update the article once we are able to confirm. For people who enjoy some bling in their watches and also a larger case size, the manufacturer has an additional a 41mm limited edition option, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Frosted Gold 41mm watch, into the line.The “frosted gold” used in the making of this case and the bracelet is ready employing a brand new technique by Italian jeweler, Carolina Bucci. The alloy is frosted after the elements are shaped but before meeting, much like other cosmetic techniques. For those of you that are interested, Audemars Piguet includes a short video that shows a couple of fleeting seconds of the process underway here — notice that this isn’t done with a wise, old watchmaker behind a desk but by a efficient machine.
A dual folding clasp has been utilized for the Nautilus and one clasp for its Royal Oak. To each his own, but we do have a little favor for the AP signature at the grip of the Royal Oak. A very nice detail. See for yourself.One remark we must make is that these bracelets feel so thin, it is almost like wearing a classic and fragile watch. Not per se a bad thing, but know about this. (Note: The Royal Oak bracelet has obtained an upgrade in 2012, leading to a stronger feeling and appearing bracelet). This article appeared first on 2011, but has been one of the most read publications on Fratello Watches ever since. We decided to re-publish it again, even though the Royal Oak 15202 in this guide is the preceding model (earlier 2012). The 2012 update received a dial which is more close to the original benchmark 5402 from 1972, with its smaller Clous de Paris pattern but also as a result of AP emblem being re-located to 6 o’clock. The new bracelet feels much less flimsy (even though the older bracelet has never failed on me personally). Maybe, but this is a personal observation, I find the brand new bracelet is a bit too thick for the ultra-thin watch.
On a personal note, the original 1972 Royal Oak 5402 “Jumbo” is my favorite Royal Oak designs, and as far as I am concerned, in many ways, the Offshore – and many of its different versions – have made for a completely new model, a new watch. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication, while for obvious reasons incomparable to the sleek and understated looks of the original 5402, reminds me of what I felt looking at the 5402 and, more importantly, it brings the Royal Oak into the 21st century – while remaining completely mechanical, in fact, while offering the pinnacle of what can be achieved with a set of brass wheels and gears.
I love the blancpain fifty fathoms 38mm Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication for the simple fact that it meshes rugged, modern aesthetics with not just a selfishly complicated, but beautifully executed movement – even if behind its deceivingly balanced, steroid-infused appearance there lies a delicate machine that will barely stand a splash from the tap. Seeing this watch in the metal and having it on the wrist for a fraction of the time I wish I had it, was a rare and much appreciated opportunity – thanks again to Alex at Marcus for his kind help with making this happen. The price of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication is around $740,000. audemarspiguet.com
You either like them or you do not, Gérald Genta’s master pieces from the 1970s. Genta made Omega watches for years (i.e. Constellation and Seamaster models) before he started his own company in 1969. While designing watches was mostly a job that people did that were on the payroll of a watch manufacturer, it was an immediate success.As we all know, Gérald Genta is the genius behind the Royal Oak watch (1972) from Audemars Piguet along with the Patek Philippe Nautilus watch (1976). Both brands have a long history in watch making and both companies are considered ‘high-end’ watch manufacturers. Genta also made the Ingenieur SL 1832 watch for IWC in the late 1970s, but the design of that particular watch has transformed over recent years. There is no existing Ingenieur model that looks quite much like the first Ingenieur SL watch and so out of scope for this article.Before that the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus, those leaves didn’t produce sports watches. I really don’t know if that stage in time (1970s) forced Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe to alter that approach or if their customers just asked them to get a stainless steel sports watch built with the workmanship and quality they had been used to.