Hands-on Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph 38mm – Small is Big News

Unisex sizes gain traction as a 38mm version of an icon prepares to conquer men and women wrists alike.
calendar | ic_dehaze_black_24px By Rebecca Doulton | ic_query_builder_black_24px 5 minute read |
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph 38mm ref. 26315

Although the launch of Code 11.59 and the consequent deluge of reactions pretty much eclipsed other novelties of the brand during the SIHH 2019, Audemars Piguet had some treats up its sleeve, including this 38mm Royal Oak Chronograph. Still the same watch as the existing 41mm Royal Oak Chronograph but 3mm smaller, still powered by the same automatic chronograph movement, the new 38mm Royal Oak Chronograph is out to conquer men and women’s wrists alike. Three versions, one in rose gold and two in stainless steel, were presented at the SIHH 2019 – and judging by the positive reactions so far, this size might well become a regular member of the Royal Oak Chronograph family. 

Designed by Gérald Genta in 1972, the Royal Oak paved the way for the rise of the luxury sports watch genre. A 39mm stainless steel watch for men costing as much or more than a gold dress watch, the Royal Oak featured a commanding octagonal bezel, exposed hexagonal screws, a guilloché “tapisserie dial”, an integrated steel bracelet and a radical industrial edge. The rest is history. When the 39mm Royal Oak took on board a chronograph complication in 1998, it was fitted with a base Frédéric Piguet automatic column-wheel chronograph movement with date. As fashions change, so do watch sizes, and the original 39mm Royal Oak Chronograph was replaced with the 41mm model in 2012. In fact, the 41mm version was the only RO Chronograph in the line-up, until the 38mm made its debut this year – alongside the new 3-hand Selfwinding model, reference 15500ST.

Smaller sizes are big today

Three millimetres are a universe in the world of watchmaking and make a huge difference in how a watch sits on the wrist. For men with smaller wrist sizes and for women who would love to wear an iconic sports watch that doesn’t look like a flying disc on their wrists, 38mm is a winning size. The renaissance of vintage-styled and sized watches – coupled with a general demand for smaller watch sizes – has provoked a response from almost all the top Maisons: Vacheron Constantin Patrimony 36mm and Historiques American 1921, Breitling Navitimer 38mm, Patek Philippe Calatrava 37.5mm, Oris Diver 36mm, etc…

The new 38mm case features the contrasting matte satin-brushed surfaces and polished areas that are a distinctive trait of the RO case. Subtle details like the polished chronograph pushers housed in hexagonal-shaped and brushed pusher guards, and the polished bevel of the bezel, go a long way in establishing the luxury nature of this watch. Although the case size has been reduced by 3mm, the thickness of 11mm remains the same as the 41mm model. On the wrist, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph 38mm certainly comes across as more compact, but admittedly, it also feels a little chunkier – even though the total height is 11mm on both models, we have here a different diameter/height ratio.

New dial combinations

The 18k pink gold model comes with a silver-toned dial decorated with the iconic “Grande Tapisserie” (aka waffle or chequerboard) pattern and with pink gold-coloured sub-dials and matching chapter ring. The chronograph counters and the small seconds are snailed, and the markings and hands are black. The applied baton hour markers and fit are made from pink gold or white gold, depending on the case material, and treated with a generous amount of luminescent material.

The two stainless steel models offer even greater contrast with a model with blue counters and a silver-toned dial and a second model with a ruthenium-coloured dial and rhodium-toned counters – a grey on grey effect. Although there was a lot of praise for the steel model with silver and blue accents, I love the warmer pink gold with golden sub-dials, and the elegant matte brushed finish on the case and bracelet that steers the watch light years from anything remotely shiny or blingy.

Calibre 2385

The movement found in the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph 38mm is the same one used in the Royal Oak Chronograph 41mm, a modified Frédérique Piguet 1185 ébauche that has been the backbone of this chronograph for years. A high-end automatic column-wheel chronograph movement first produced by Frédéric Piguet in 1988 and used throughout the industry, the beauty of this base calibre is its lean profile of just 5.5mm. Although the caseback is sealed, the rotor is crafted in 18k gold. The movement oscillates at 21,600vph/3Hz and offers a power supply of 42 hours. The big question is: will AP be equipping its Royal Oak Chronographs with its spanking new in-house 4400 chronograph calibre, which made its debut in the Code 11.59 collection? If so, when?

Thoughts

I agree with Audemars Piguet’s positioning of this 38mm model as a watch that “will appeal to both men and women”. After all, not all men are built like Arnold Schwarzenegger and not all women dream of diamonds, flowers and hearts – which is why a 38mm ROC will appeal to men with smaller wrist sizes and to women who appreciate the presence of a true luxury sports icon on their wrist. As a faithful devotee of the Royal Oak, it’s only a matter of time before my lottery ticket wins or I strike oil in the neighbourhood, so please put my name down for a 38mm pink gold Royal Oak Chronograph.

To better understand our point, here are some shots of the watch worn on a man’s wrist (rather small, at approx 17.5mm) and on a woman’s wrist.

Price

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph 38mm in stainless steel retails for EUR 24,200 and the rose gold version for EUR 53,500. All three models are boutique exclusive. For more information, please visit www.audemarspiguet.com.

3 responses

  1. One correction. Yes, the 1185 caliber was developed by Frederic Piguet during the period when it was joined at the hip with Blancpain. Jacques Piguet controlled both. For nearly a decade Piguet has been fully merged into Blancpain. And all the old movements have been thoroughly updated. Thus, this AP watch uses a Blancpain movement.

  2. Nice enough, albeit everything looks a bit cramped on the dial. However, given the gazillions of different versions of the RO, isn’t it time AP put a bit of effort into developing a micro-adjust bracelet? I’d love to get a Royal Oak, but I cannot get on without micro-adjust and so seem condemned to an oak-less life.

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