The Royal Oak is one of the few watches that actually deserves the term Icon. Hell, it essentially created the stainless steel luxury sports watch category, which now dominates the watch enthusiast landscape. However, because of this, the Royal Oak is everywhere. From the pages of GQ to every other post on your Instagram feed, it is one of the “it” watches of the current era, and look, I get it, it’s a classic for a reason, but why not switch it up a bit. I’d suggest that if you’re going to pay a premium for an iconic watch, why not choose a rare and interesting version of said icon. The watch we have here is one such watch. This is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Extra-Thin Limited Edition for Italy, reference 15128ST.
When the original Audemars Piguet Royal Oak was released in 1972, it was totally original. The angular, technical-looking stainless steel watch was a sculpture you could wear. Its price rivaled most precious metal watches from the era, and though it was a bit misunderstood initially, the Gerald Genta designed timepiece eventually solidified itself as a wristwatch legend. It’s now one of the most sought-after watch models on earth and commands a huge premium on the second-hand market. However, the most popular version of the Royal Oak is the simple time and date standard production model. The watch we have here is much more special than that. This is the reference 15128ST. It’s a very rare stainless steel Royal Oak released in the late 1990s that seldom comes up for sale, and when it does, it’s usually at auction. The watch is one of just 50 examples made as an Italian tribute piece, and interestingly, it comes with not one but two unique dials.
The case shape and dimensions of this watch should be very familiar to Royal Oak fans. You’ve got the distinct integrated bracelet and octagonal case with a sharp contrast between the brushed and polished surfaces, and because it’s a “Jumbo” Extra-Thin model, its proportions are very similar to the first Royal Oak measuring 39mm in diameter by 8mm thick. It’s a classic and elegant design that pairs well with everything from formal black-tie wear to a swimsuit.
However, where this watch differs is the dial — or dials, I should say. This Italian special edition comes with a green dial that’s a light olive green with a strong military vibe and a blue dial that is reminiscent of Dodger blue. These colors are both very attractive, but they also stick out to me as uncommon shades for watch dials. If this watch were produced today, I think both colors would be a shade or two darker, making the watch appear more serious and stoic. But as it stands, the current shades are a bit more toolish and casual, with the green calling to be worn in the field and the blue in begging to go on aquatic endeavors, just not deep ones, as this watch is only water-resistant to 50m.
You’ll also notice that the layout of the dial is very different from a standard Royal Oak. It’s sort of like a hybrid between Military style dialed Royal Oaks and the standard production model but with a minute track thrown around the border for good measure. Between the two, I definitely prefer the blue but having the option to switch it to green—though not on the fly—is an awesome bonus feature that you almost never see.
Some other interesting details on this reference are the “AP” shaped clasp on the bracelet and the display caseback. This is one of the earlier Royal Oaks to have a display caseback, and while the finishing is still at a high level, it is more subtle than what I’m used to seeing on more modern Royal Oaks. For me, this is a charming detail. The simple rotor with “Anniversaire Royal Oak Italie” and the clean but not flashy finishing serves as a snapshot of the brand’s ideology and finishing style at that time, and it’s is one of the most appealing things about this watch. Details like the finishing, “AP” clasp, and the unique dial design set this watch apart from the standard Royal Oak aesthetic that has persisted for 50 years. This watch is still very much a Royal Oak, but it’s got a totally different personality than a standard production model, which greatly increases its attractiveness.
Inside this special edition timepiece is a pretty special movement, the caliber 2121. This in-house movement is an ultra-thin automatic movement that measures just 3.05mm thick. At the time of its introduction in 1967, it was the thinnest full rotor movement ever made. It’s also the same caliber that was used in the original Royal Oak and many versions after it. It’s a simple but reliable movement that allows the Royal Oak to have its svelte dress watch proportions while also being durable enough for it to be considered a sports watch.
Versus The Competition
If the designs of Gerald Genta speak to you, then you’ll probably like the Patek Philippe Nautilus. This 5711 was famously discontinued this past year, and while it’s not even close to as rare as this Italian Royal Oak, it is a legend in the sports watch world and is undoubtedly a future classic. This is a pretty popular watch, and you will pay a premium for it, but with it no longer being in production, the second-hand market is the only game in town. The value of this icon might only go up from here, so now might be the best time to get one.
However, if you aren’t a fan of the ubiquity of the 5711 and feel drawn towards something more unique, you should check another rare Royal Oak. This Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph reference 25960BC is a solid white gold watch with a gorgeous salmon dial. This reference is more commonly found with a white dial making the salmon variant highly desirable. Rare, beautiful, and white gold, this gives the Italian Royal Oak a run for its money.
This is a very distinct Royal Oak that really stands out when compared to most of the other models in the line. It’s also one of the rarest variants of the Royal Oak ever produced. This is a crown jewel timepiece for anyone who considers themselves a serious AP or Royal Oak collector, and while it’s not well known now, the popularity of the Royal Oak ensures that won’t be the case forever.
Right now, in the watch world, the most popular and sought-after watches are also some of the most mundane. The waitlists and high secondary market prices for standard edition watches that are still being made seem to be more fueled by hype than logic. However, watches like this that are rare in design and in production numbers will always be collectible. This is objectively rare and special, and it always will be regardless of the state of the watch market.