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If you are on a quest for the “cheapest” Audemars Piguet watch, it’s best to accept one truism right up front: that the cheapest AP is still going to be, for most, a major investment. When it comes to the most desirable Audemars Piguet watches, you can expect to lay out no less than five figures even for a pre-owned model, and new models are so highly in demand that even their already pricey MSRPs will prove to be a frustrating mirage for many prospective buyers, as those watches will regularly be marked up even higher on the secondary market. Nevertheless, in keeping with our previous guides covering Rolex and Patek Philippe, and in the spirit of every Audemars Piguet owner/collector needing to start somewhere, here are three entry-level options from three AP collections, with some details on what makes each one distinctive. (Whether those distinctions are enough to move you to buy one will be up to you and, perhaps, your financial advisor.)
Audemars Piguet began making watches in 1875, when founders Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet first registered the brand in Switzerland’s Vallée de Joux. Now headquartered in the town of Le Brassus, it remains one of the very few privately owned firms in the watchmaking industry, still in the hands of the Audemars family. Renamed Audemars Piguet & Cie in 1881, the company primarily manufactured movements for other firms in its earliest days, including Tiffany and Co., but later gained renown for milestones like the world’s first-minute repeater movement for wristwatches in 1892 and the first jumping-hour watch in 1921. Audemars Piguet also gave the world the first self-winding tourbillon wristwatch in 1986, which was also the first series-produced wristwatch with a tourbillon and also the first use to use ultra-light titanium in the construction of a tourbillon cage. Without a doubt, however, Audemars Piguet is best known for one watch, the Royal Oak, designed by the legendary Gérald Genta and released in 1972 as the first true luxury sports watch, and at the time the most expensive watch ever released in a steel case.
While it was not an instant success, the Royal Oak, whose origin story I cover in much more detail here, is now the undisputed flagship of Audemars Piguet’s modern collection — and it is still, by just about any standard, quite expensive. So what would the most “entry-level” AP Royal Oak run you if you’re buying new? Obviously, a prospective buyer choosing from the extensive Royal Oak series would need to narrow the focus: no extra high complications, as in the very popular Royal Oak Chronograph family, just your basic three-hand time display; no precious metals or exotic materials, like the many gold, platinum, and ceramic versions of the Royal Oak; and preferably a smaller case diameter, as less metal equals lower cost.
If you’re willing to compromise on one of the historically most desirable elements of the Royal Oak — its Swiss-made, ultra-thin, automatic movement — as well as to settle for a fairly diminutive size, there’s an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Quartz model at 33mm in stainless steel that is priced at a relatively accessible (with AP, it’s all “relatively”) $17,300. If you’re a purist who wants that mechanical movement, however, and you have a few grand more burning a hole in your wallet, the piece you’d likely be shooting for is the Ref. 77350ST.OO.1261ST.01, the Royal Oak Selfwinding in stainless steel case, just slightly larger than the quartz models at 34mm and listed on Audemars Piguet’s website at $25,300. It’s an understated size, to be sure — though not drastically smaller than the classic original model, at 39mm — but the Royal Oak’s signature details shine through nonetheless: the octagonal bezel with visible screws that was famously inspired by an old-fashioned diver’s helmet; the waffled “Grand Tapisserie” textured dial, here in silver-tone, with applied baton indexes and 3 o’clock date window; and the recognizable, flowing link bracelet that integrates smoothly into the case and sports a meticulously executed combination of brushed and polished finishes. The case is a very slim 8.8mm high, in keeping with the Royal Oak aesthetic, and carries inside it the automatic Audemars Piguet Caliber 5800, with a solid gold AP-inscribed rotor and a 50-hour power reserve. The movement is based on the Vaucher VMF 3002, as opposed to the fully in-house movement inside the 39mm Royal Oak, Caliber 2121; some enthusiasts might consider this detail another concession in the service of a more entry-level price point.
For those whose watch tastes run a bit bigger and bolder, Audemars Piguet started offering the Royal Oak Offshore in 1993. The Offshore was a bigger and brassier version of the Royal Oak, and proved to be the perfect line extension for an era in which large, ultra-masculine timepieces, like the Panerai Luminor and IWC Big Pilot, were coming into vogue. Whereas the original Royal Oak “Jumbo” was notable for its thinness and its classical three-hand dial, the Offshore projected an aggressively sporty spirit, with a 42-mm case, an even more in-your-face tapisserie textured dial, and, for the first time ever in a Royal Oak watch, a chronograph movement. (The main Royal Oak collection does include chronograph models today.) Hollywood heavyweight Arnold Schwarzenegger helped popularize the Offshore by wearing it in 1999’s End of Days, and even worked with AP on subsequent special editions of the watch. The Offshore has since grown into its own distinct family, its emphasis tilted slightly more toward sport than luxury.
Seeking out an affordable, entry-level option in the Royal Oak Offshore family is arguably even more of a quixotic quest than finding a similar watch in the main Royal Oak lineup. Offshores are uniformly large, mostly 42mm to 43mm, except for a handful of clearly lady-targeted 37mm models with jewel-set cases that elevate their price points well into the “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” category. In keeping with the model’s original intent, the majority of them are also chronographs, and let’s not even get into the elite level of high complication and corresponding stratospheric sticker prices found in the Royal Oak Concept series. Exceptions to some but not all of those caveats can be found in the Royal Oak Offshore Diver sub-family of non-chronograph three-handed luxury dive watches. Pictured is the Ref. 15720ST.OO.A052CA.01 with khaki green dial and strap. The cases are 42mm in stainless steel and integrated not into metal bracelets but into sleek, sporty rubber straps suited for underwater submergence. The cases are water-resistant to 300 meters and the “Mega Tapisserie” dials host a pair of wide luminous hands, blocky luminous indexes, and a date display under a magnifying lens. Notable from a design standpoint is the inner rotating dive scale bezel that occupies the flange, operable through an extra screw-down crown at 10 o’clock, which enables the watch to retain the stationary, octagonal bezel that epitomizes the Royal Oak collection. The movement inside is the in-house, self-winding Caliber AP 4308, endowed with a 60-hour power reserve. The price? $30,200 as per AP’s website, which represents the ground floor for entry to the Offshore collection. A Selfwinding Chronograph in steel has an MSRP of $42,200.
In 2019, Audemars Piguet made an attempt to diversify its Royal Oak-dominated collection with a new series called Code 11.59, which features its own distinctive design and complex calibers. Taking its name from the minute before midnight, an allusion to the anticipation of a new day, the Code 11.59 collection channels some of the most successful design innovations from the maison’s past, namely the octagonal shape of the emblematic Royal Oak bezel, used on the Code 11.59 models instead for the case middle, while the bezel and caseback are rounded. Another defining aesthetic feature of the family, which ranges from three-hand timekeepers to high complications are the cases’ open-design lugs, their upper segments welded to the round bezel while the lower segments lean into the caseback. Like the Royal Oak, the Code 11:59 series is a far-ranging collection with a variety of complications, colorways, and case materials. In early 2023, Audemars Piguet released the first Code 11.59 models cased entirely in steel, including the features Ref. 15210ST.OO.A056KB.01 with dark green dial.
The time-and-date-only watch has a 41mm case in the Code 11.59 style and a re-engineered dial with a new embossed pattern created specifically for the collection, a ripple-effect wave texture made up of concentric circles that radiate from the dial’s center; the embossed pattern’s depth is enhanced via a PVD process, which also creates the illusion of a “smoked” effect. The Arabic numerals, elongated and made of gold, replace the indexes on previous Code 11.59 models and feature luminous coating to pop against the dark background. The bezel is wider and more smoothly beveled, with a more detailed seconds scale than on previous models. The movement inside, behind a sapphire caseback, is the AP Caliber 4302, made in-house and boasting an impressive 70-hour power reserve. Audemars Piguet lists the model at $25,300, comparable with the Royal Oak Selfwinding listed above but perhaps more desirable to some thanks to its manufacture movement and larger size. To be sure, solving the dilemma of “Which AP do I buy with my 25 grand?” is a burden that many of us would gladly shoulder.
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