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You’re looking at high horology’s “Helen of Troy.” Just as Helen launched a thousand ships, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” is the “face” that launched a thousand rivals and ascended to legendary status.
This is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” 15202ST, the one that carries the torch for the AP brand and embodies the most direct link to Gerald Genta’s 1972 original. Refreshed in 2012 on the occasion of the model’s 40th anniversary, the “Jumbo” was purified to more project even more precisely the exact look, feel, and aura of the designer’s original vision.
Consider the significance of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo.” While steel sports watches from Rolex, Omega, and many others were common in the market, they were priced closer to $300 dollars in the early 1970s… and the 1972 Royal Oak was a $3,000 dollar dream machine. For the first time, a watchmaker proposed that design audacity, finishing quality, and investment of manual labor could justify a precious metal price for a steel watch.
More than a psychological barrier between steel and gold, the very idea of the Royal Oak’s value was inextricably linked to the post-crisis future of luxury watches as a whole. Gerald Genta’s Audemars Piguet Royal Oak established that a watch’s market value was a function of craft investment, human effort, and artisanal merit.
Rote measures such as precious metal content, technology, or utilitarian function were irrelevant to the ultimate desirability and relevance of a timepiece. This wasn’t just the dawn of the modern luxury sports watch; it was the very foundation that underpinned of the post-Quartz re-invention of the luxury mechanical watch.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” is as much a forefather of Richard Mille and Grubel Forsey as any subsequent high-end steel sports watches. Confining an overview of the Jumbo’s influence to other models of its class simply understates the magnitude of its impact.
Each Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 15202ST features the same 39mm case size, exquisitely thin (8.1mm) profile, and delicate integrated bracelet of the 1972 iconoclast. Moreover, the case encloses the same AP cal 2121 (JLC 920 base) that powered the original. These elements may seem superficially similar to the mass-produced 41mm Royal Oak 15400 currently in the catalog, but the distinctions are such that the look, character, and feel on the wrist could not be more different.
A true Royal Oak “Jumbo” has no center seconds hand, a bracelet whose delicate links feel like gossamer vintage components on the wrist, and a dial that seems to fluctuate between gray and blue as the light shifts. The profile is low, the fit is sublime, and the movement is haut-de-gamme.
That last point bears emphasis. Each Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” must, by definition, incorporate the ultra-thin 2121 automatic movement developed by Jaeger-LeCoultre in 1967 on commission from AP, Patek Philippe, and Vacheron Constantin. It has powered sports and dress references from each great house, but JLC has never employed the caliber in its own timepieces.
Production of this extraordinary machine is constrained by the extreme challenge of assembling and regulating an automatic movement (with date!) that measures no more than 3.05mm from top to bottom. Less than half the thickness of a workaday Rolex 3135 automatic with date, the AP 2121 features extreme exotic measures to achieve its singular girth: single sided “hanging” mainspring barrel; circumferential winding mass riding on four jeweled rollers (the winding mass is sunken into the same plane as the winding system bridge!); a pallet fork bridge that actually sits above the recessed balance wheel. This type of watchmaking requires grand-complication assembly skills to properly execute.
More than a miracle of packaging, the AP cal. 2121 is finished to a standard worthy of Audemars Piguet’s high horology minute repeaters, perpetual calendars, métiers d’art skeleton models, and concept watches. Each bridge terminates in a hand-beveled edge exhibiting mirror polish; black polish with a single reflective angle is present in abundance.
Circular-grained golden wheels, violet jewels in polished sinks, screws with chamfered edges and slots, and surgically straight cotes de Geneve pack every square millimeter of the case back with visual intrigue. An engraved and skeletonized winding mass in 21-karat gold completes a case back that lives up to the legend.
This Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” 15202ST is complete with all Audemars Piguet factory boxes, manuals, documents of provenance, and an active AP factory warranty with an in-service date as of April ’15. Waiting lists for the “Jumbo” stretch over 12 months at the AP boutique. Considering a watch 42 years in the making, why wait any longer; see it at www.theWatchBox.com. Video and content by Tim Mosso