To mark the 50th anniversary of the iconic Royal Oak in 2022, Audemars Piguet released a Royal Oak Tourbillon Extra-Thin RD#3 with a violet dial and 37-mm diameter – a novel size for this model. Like other leading brands in the industry, Audemars Piguet seems to be shifting its focus to smaller sizes in the range of 36 to 39 mm. But how does a 37-mm Royal Oak actually feel on the wrist? I’ve been the proud owner of a ref. 15450ST.OO.1256ST.01 since 2020. In this article, I’ll share my experience of what it’s like to wear this famous timepiece, including the model’s pros and cons.
The Nitty-Gritty: Specs
As mentioned, I acquired my “pre-owned” Royal Oak in 2020; however, AP has been producing this particular reference since 2015. I purchased the watch from a reputable dealer in Germany, which meant the watch came with a guarantee and certificate of authenticity, but I was also careful to select a watch that came with its original box and papers, mostly to preserve its resale value should I ever change my mind. The papers revealed that the watch was first sold in Italy in 2016. Unfortunately, it wasn’t delivered in the famed glossy green wooden box, but rather a cardboard box with a display window.
The ref. 15450ST.OO.1256ST.01 is a stainless steel watch measuring 37 mm across and 9.8 mm high. This makes it slightly thicker than the Ultra Thin models, which stand just 8.1 mm tall. The case is water-resistant to 50 m (164 ft) thanks to its screw-down crown. A highlight of any Royal Oak model is, of course, its “Grande Tapisserie” dial, which happens to be white on my watch. The applied indices and hands are made of white gold and feature a luminous coating. Inside the case, you’ll find the beautiful and proven automatic caliber 3120, which equips the watch with a stop seconds, date display at 3 o’clock, and power reserve of 60 hours. The real highlight of this caliber, however, is its 22-karat gold rotor featuring hand-engraved finishes. The caliber can be viewed at work through the sapphire crystal case back. In addition to its characteristic hexagonal bezel, the Royal Oak also attained icon status thanks to its integrated stainless steel bracelet with a folding clasp.
What I Like About the Royal Oak 37
When I had the opportunity to purchase this Royal Oak in 2020, I barely hesitated at all. After selling a few watches from my collection, I took the plunge. One factor influencing my decision was definitely the prestige associated with the Royal Oak line. If you ask a group of watch lovers, most will only have good things to say about the brand from Le Brassus, Switzerland. The Royal Oak is simply a timeless icon. From its striking, 1970s Genta design to its desirability in the watch world and presence in pop culture, the model undoubtedly has wide-reaching appeal. The watch has also become the archetypal example of several beloved watch characteristics, including the integrated metal bracelet.
Don’t judge me too harshly, but part of what I love about this watch is its legendary status and unmistakable presence. It has literally served as the template or muse for countless watches from other manufacturers. Every time I slip the watch on my wrist, I look forward to glancing down at the iconic features that have made this one of the most popular watch models in the world. Wearing a Royal Oak gives me a certain amount of pride, and that only adds to the watch’s charm. You know (or at least convince yourself) that you’re wearing a very special, historically-significant timepiece on your wrist.
Of course, this is also linked to the model’s overall desirability and value retention. While the investment potential wasn’t really a deciding factor for me, I did think that the watch would most likely hold its value over time. The fact that the formerly less popular 37-mm model has since performed so well has been a pleasant surprise.
Another thing that really appeals to me about this timepiece is its quintessential timeless design. Until a few years ago, the 37-mm Royal Oak was considered the women’s version of the model. However, this has since changed, as trends gradually move toward more compact watches across the board. Personally, I think the proportions of this watch make it the ideal unisex watch. Due to its case shape and bracelet design, the 37-mm Royal Oak has a solid appearance. Thus, even in 37 mm, the watch doesn’t look too small by any means – I’d call it an understated stylistic choice. The watch feels plenty robust with its defined corners and edges, and it certainly has a sporty character. That said, the finer details, including the bracelet, polished bezel, and transparent case back, offer the model ample amounts of beauty and elegance. For me, this combination makes the watch very versatile and suitable for any occasion. Seeing my Royal Oak reflect the natural sunlight is something truly unique, especially on the dial and bracelet.
Another pro is the level of finishing on the Royal Oak. If I had to define myself as a watch collector, I’d say I lean toward the aesthetic side of things over technology. If I compare the Royal Oak to my Datejust, for example, I repeatedly have to ask myself how the manufacturer managed to finish the bracelet contours so perfectly. The same goes for the seamless transition between the polished and brushed bezel surfaces; not to mention each individual honeycomb on the “Grande Tapisserie” dial. Most of these properties also have a practical function. For instance, the bracelet is more comfortable than any other I’ve ever worn, and the beveled case – in the spirit of form follows function – sits perfectly flat on the wrist.
What I Dislike About the Royal Oak 37
So, now to the things I dislike about the Royal Oak. What I initially listed as a pro of this model, its popularity, is also starting to become a con.
The Royal Oak is almost too present in the watch world, particularly in pop culture and on social media. The model is so celebrated that it’s almost becoming overdone. It’s not like you see a Royal Oak on every other wrist on the street – that’s guaranteed never to happen with AP’s limited production numbers – but I still feel like the watch world is saturated with talk of the model. This gives the watch a level of superficiality that I think is undeserved, given its stunning design and technical brilliance. The hype around the watch can also lead to people taking it less seriously. Conversations with other watch enthusiasts typically end with, “This is a Royal Oak.” It rarely sparks any talk of the model’s history, design, features, etc. – everything there is to say about the Royal Oak has already been said ad nauseam.
Another thing that’s starting to bother me is the fact that all the hype and intense appreciation has made me follow the watch’s market value much more closely than I normally would. I feel like I’m treating the watch more like an investment piece as a result, which I don’t really like. I’ve caught myself on several occasions wondering whether I should wear the watch to this or that event – after all, every extra scratch could reduce its value. All the interest has made me much more aware of the investment potential of this model, which doesn’t exactly align with my identification as a romantic among watch enthusiasts!
While we’re talking finances, I have to mention the costs associated with this watch – it is not cheap to maintain. One thing to note, for example, is that the 37-mm version comes on a relatively short bracelet. With a wrist circumference of 17 cm, it was too tight for me. I therefore had to purchase an extra link from an Audemars Piguet boutique, which set me back some 300 euros (approx. $320). I later had to switch out another link due to a nasty scratch. Speaking of scratches, I wouldn’t say that this watch is any more susceptible to scratches than the stainless steel Datejust, for example, but scratches are certainly more difficult and expensive to repair. Not every watchmaker has the specialized equipment or know-how to deal with the unique finishes on the bezel or bracelet. To handle a serious scratch, you either have to replace the whole link or send it to Audemars Piguet to have it restored at the source. Also worth noting is that service costs can run in the range of $2,000-3,000, depending on what you’re having done.
Is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 37 mm worth buying? I think the Royal Oak is one of the most aesthetically-pleasing watches on the market. It’s a true industry leader and has inspired numerous models from other brands, both in terms of design and marketing tactics. But it also lives up to its reputation on the wrist. Few watches are as comfortable to wear or as beautiful as the Royal Oak. Pros aside, you need to be aware that you’re going to pay a premium to get the Royal Oak name, both during the initial purchase and any subsequent servicing. Plus, not everyone would be keen to wear such a cult watch.