The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is such an icon that all integrated sports watches stand in its shadow. And yes, I’m daring to include Patek Philippe’s Nautilus in this. The Royal Oak debuted in 1972 and has remained the gold standard of sports watches for 50 years. It’s carried the Caliber 2121 from day one, a Jaeger-LeCoultre ébauche used by Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin as well. These three brands form the “Holy Trinity” of luxury Swiss watchmakers. The new Royal Oak 16202 doesn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of design, but the new in-house automatic is comparable to Ferrari introducing a new engine. It’s a big deal.
Side-by-side, the outgoing Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin 15202 is nigh identical to the new 16202 save for a few very subtle changes. The case remains classically proportioned at 39mm in diameter with a thickness of just 8.1mm. Bevels on the front and back are slightly bigger, while the case back is a touch more integrated with the body. Very subtle, folks. The bracelet hasn’t changed, either – brushed and polished by hand, integrated and secured via a double folding clasp.The dial has the same Petite Tapisserie pattern with no seconds hand and a date window at 3 o’clock. That window has moved closer to the right by a small fraction of a millimeter. No, you won’t notice.The AP logo is again positioned above 6 o’clock and the applied indices and hands have Super-LumiNova. Of course, eight screws still adorn the octagonal bezel and there are sapphire crystals front and back. Water-resistance is again rated at 50 meters.
Before we get to the movement, there’s four new 16202 models separated by metals and dial colors. The first is stainless steel (ref. 16202ST.OO.1240ST.01) with white gold accents and classic blue (Bleu Nuit, Nuage 50) dial, then there’s pink gold (ref. 16202OR.OO.1240OR.01) with a smoked grey dial, yellow gold (ref. 16202BA.OO.1240BA.01) with a smoked yellow gold-tone dial and Platinum 950 (ref. 16202PT.OO.1240PT.01) with a smoked green dial. The major change is what powers the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin watch – the all-new, in-house Caliber 7121 automatic. This one is an AP movement through-and-through, developed and manufactured by the company. What’s changed? The beat has increased from 2.75Hz to 4Hz for better overall precision, the power reserve has increased from 40 to 55 hours, the bidirectional rotor now uses ball bearings for less wear, dimensions have increased slightly from 28mm to 29.6mm in diameter and it’s 0.15mm thicker (without changing the case dimensions), the balance wheel has inertia blocks placed within it to reduce friction and there’s a patented extra-thin low-energy date-setting mechanism (quick-set date). Seen from the exhibition case back, the open-worked rotor has a special “50 YEARS” logo that will only be present on 2022 models, so this is a special year for collectors. The rotor also matches the case metal. Hand finishing includes flawless Côtes de Genève, circular graining and polished bevels.
After 50 years, it’s good to see such an iconic piece remain aesthetically true to the original (and many subsequent models). The old Caliber 2121 was certainly getting long in the tooth, so the new Caliber 7121 brings the model up to date in all the right ways.