Comparative Review: AP Royal Oak Ref 15400ST vs Ref 15300ST
In 1972, Audemars Piguet introduced a stainless steel wristwatch destined to be an instant classic. Designed by the legendary Gerald Genta, the Royal Oak would almost single-handedly rescue Audemars Piguet from insolvency during the difficult years of the Quartz revolution, and play a large part in establishing AP as one of the leading watchmakers today… but you already know this story.
What you may not know is how the new Royal Oak, reference 15400ST, compares against the old Royal Oak, reference 15300ST. Well, if you’ve been following this blog (and I know you’re out there, that guy who keeps stealing images without my permission), you’d have guessed that Tourbullion almost always approves of older stuff, including cheese and fine vinegar. I’m not going to lie; the 15300 is clearly the superior watch here, but hold on! I actually have a proper thought process this time, and I urge you to read on till the end of this article. Please.
So without further BS, let’s get reeeeeeeeady to rumbleeeeeeeeee!
Size: Let’s see here… the case size of the 15400 stands at a colossal 41mm, while the 15300 is a teeny 39mm small. Being 41mm does not automatically make the 15400 a monster. But the additional 2mm, while not looking much with both models side by side, could mean the difference between looking elegant or maladroit on the wrong (or is it right?) wrist. The safe choice here is the 15300 – which has always looked larger than 39mm anyway – unless you’ve always aspired to own a U-Boat or (gulp) …a Royal Oak Offshore.
Winner: Ref 15300ST by virtue of the fact that the Royal Oak was always meant to be a gentleman’s watch, wearable and concealable under a shirt sleeve, and not with T-shirts, berms and pink trucker hats.
Movement: Both use the most awesome automatic watch movement in the world, the AP Calibre 3120. But the the ones you find in the 15400 are certainly a lot newer than the movements fitted in the 15300, which should all be requiring long and pricey servicings by now.
Winner: Ref 15400ST by virtue of there being no such thing as a movement that gets better with age.
Aesthetics: Both watches look very similar. It’s already been established that the extra 2mm of the 15400 does not constitute a large difference visually, so it’s largely down to dial design. The 15300 has a large ‘AP’ logo in place of the 12 o’clock marker, and a plate bearing ‘Audemars Piguet’ glued on under it. The 15400 goes for hour-marker uniformity by swapping the letters ‘AP’ at the 12 o’clock position to a ‘bar-styled’ marker, with a much-reduced AP logo and the AP name plate under it. The bar-styled hour markers are now elongated, extending well across the dial like the crosshairs of a target sight. I don’t know why they bothered, but AP also added a stumpy little hour marker at the 3 o’clock position, just beside the date window of the 15400. Oh right, it’s for people who need to know what time it is between 2 o’clock and 4 o’clock!
Winner: Tie. You might be expecting me to say that the 15400 looks cluttered and busier than its predecessor, but I guess the extra 2mm frees up additional space for the new stuff. I personally don’t like the length of the hour markers on the 15400, but it’s a matter of preference.
‘Value’: I’ve long stopped pretending that such luxury watches represent good value for the money you’re paying, but let’s just compare retail prices for the sake of argument. When the 15300 first went on sale in 2004, it retailed at S$18000. The 15400 retails at $21800 today. You might ask if the ‘improvements’ made to the 15400 are worth the additional price AP is asking. But wait, we have to factor in a 24% rise in inflation from 2004 till now, making the 15300 cost about S$22500 in 2013 dollars. But if you invented a time machine and brought the 15400 back to the year 2004, it would mean… I’ve no idea what I’m talking about at all.
Winner: Ref 15300ST, by virtue of the fact that it is closer to becoming a vintage piece and thus standing a better chance of being auctioned off at Antiquorum or Christie’s.
Bracelet: Not normally a decisive factor in getting a watch, this deserves a mention due to the difference between the 15300 and 15400 versions. The bracelet itself is still pretty much the same design penned by Gerald Genta over 40 years ago, but AP has made a big change to the deployant clasp for the 15400. Both still use a push-button lock system, but the AP-shaped ‘bridge’, a neat feature on the 15300, has now been replaced by a bland and generic looking one with ‘Audemars Piguet’ stamped on it.
The new clasp will probably be better functionally and less likely to trap shirt-sleeves or stray arm-hairs unlike the AP-shaped bridge of the ref 15300ST. But somehow you just get the feeling that the attention to detail and exquisite craftsmanship that so characterised the previous model is considerably lessened in the ref 15400ST.
Winner: People with hairy arms.
Conclusion: And there you have it, the older watch wins by a margin of 3-1, proving once again that the more they try to tweak a classic design the less satisfactory it invariably becomes.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Ref 15400ST.OO.1220ST.02, in-house AP automatic movement calibre 3120. 41mm stainless steel, 60 hours power reserve, 50m water resistance, see-through sapphire case-back. Recommended retail price S$21,800.00.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Ref 15300ST.OO.1220ST.01, in-house AP automatic movement calibre 3120. 39mm stainless steel, 60 hours power reserve, 50m water resistance. Recommended retail price, S$18,200.00 (no longer in production).
Special thanks to Mr. Eric Koh for letting the author molest his Royal Oak.