There’s no denying that the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak has a one-of-a-kind aura and history. It is without question one of the most sought-after luxury watches in the world. AP launched this stainless steel sports watch amid the quartz crisis in 1972. At the time, the idea of a steel luxury timepiece was novel; true luxury was strongly associated with precious metals – preferably gold.
But it wasn’t just the choice of metal that caused a stir; the overall design also caught the attention of the fashion and watch scenes. Up to that point, most timepieces were either round or square. The Royal Oak, on the other hand, featured an octagonal bezel, eight decorative screws, and an integrated steel link bracelet, all of which were new to the world of luxury watches. Fans quickly noticed the porthole look, a characteristic of all Royal Oak timepieces to this day. Famous designer Gérald Genta is the mastermind behind the extraordinary design. It’s hard to believe nowadays, but Genta claimed that designing the Royal Oak only took him a few minutes!
Rare and highly-coveted goods are notoriously expensive, and this is definitely the case with luxury watches. Most of you will likely be familiar with the global race for famous Rolex and Patek Philippe models. The Royal Oak is no exception. An unworn Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin with two hands (ref. 15202ST.OO.1240ST.01) is nearly impossible to find from authorized dealers today and will set you back more than $100,000 on the secondary market. This is almost four times the 2018 price! As of October 2021, you can call a three-hand ref. 15500ST.OO.1220ST.01 your own for around $65,000.
One of the reasons behind this price appreciation is the incredibly low interest rates we’re seeing at the moment, which have sent investors looking for alternative places to invest their money. Demand for popular luxury watches has driven prices to dizzying heights. While you could strike gold by investing in the right timepiece, there are no guarantees. We have seen a few bubbles burst over the past few years. If you like the look of the Royal Oak but aren’t ready to join the rat race, there are some far more affordable alternatives out there that look just as good on the wrist. Read on to discover our top five picks, most of which only cost a fraction of the price of a Royal Oak.
Maurice Lacroix Aikon: Attractive and Robust
A striking blue dial with the same petite tapisserie pattern we know and love from the Royal Oak, a distinctive bezel, and an integrated five-link stainless steel bracelet: Visually, the Maurice Lacroix Aikon ref. AI6008-SS002-430-2 has everything a Genta fan could ask for. At 42 mm, this watch is 1 mm larger than the Royal Oak ref. 15500ST.OO.1220ST.01. If that’s too large for your taste, the 39-mm version may be an attractive alternative. Unlike the Royal Oak, you can take the Aikon diving. It boasts water resistance to 200 m (20 bar, 656 ft), while the AP only offers 50 m (5 bar, 164 ft) for around 40 times the price.
The Aikon gets its power from the automatic caliber ML115, a modified version of the Sellita SW200-1. There’s no denying that this movement is both technically and visually inferior to AP’s in-house 4302 MT. The 38-hour power reserve of the former is also well below the 70-hour power reserve of the Royal Oak. Nevertheless, it is a quality Swiss caliber that will keep ticking for decades with proper upkeep.
The price of the Aikon makes it easy to forget such differences, however. Priced at less than $2,000, you’ll still have over $50,000 left to buy yourself a new car!
Tissot PRX: Genta Design for a Friendlier Budget
The traditional Swiss brand Tissot introduced the brand new PRX collection in spring 2021. The series pays homage to a historic Tissot model from 1978. The PRX Powermatic 80 ref. T137.407.11.041.00 is a beautiful tribute to the original 1970s Genta design. The PRX also has a textured blue dial, an angular case, and an integrated three-link stainless steel bracelet. However, the Tissot PRX’s round bezel lacks the corners and decorative screws of the Royal Oak. The 40-mm case looks good on most wrists, and the 100 m (10 bar, 328 ft) of water resistance easily outperforms the AP.
Tissot equips the PRX with the Powermatic caliber from ETA. This movement boasts an anti-magnetic Nivachron hairspring and an 80-hour power reserve – a whopping 10 hours more than the Royal Oak. Both Tissot and ETA are part of the Swatch Group, ensuring the watch manufacturer has easy access to quality calibers. The Tissot PRX is straightforward to buy and accessible to almost any budget. Expect to see prices around $750 on Chrono24.
Michel Herbelin Cap Camarat: The French Royal Oak
French luxury watch manufacturer Michel Herbelin has enjoyed success on the watch scene for over 70 years. The Cap Camarat collection emulates the beloved style that made the Royal Oak so famous. The ref. 1645/B15 with a blue dial makes an excellent alternative to the Royal Oak ref. 15500ST.OO.1220ST.01. The watch measures 40.5 mm across, comes on a three-link integrated bracelet, and has six decorative screws on its round bezel. The sunburst dial is stunning but does without the obligatory petite tapisserie finish. Instead, you’ll find horizontal stripes across the dark blue dial.
Similar to the Maurice Lacroix Aikon, the Sellita caliber SW200-1 ticks away inside the Cap Camarat. Michel Herbelin doesn’t give the caliber its own name, as the manufacturer doesn’t add any finishing other than branding on the rotor. This timepiece does, however, feature a sapphire crystal case back. You can buy the Michel Herbelin Cap Camarat for just under $1,000.
Girard-Perregaux Laureato: Exclusivity at a Fair Price
The Girard-Perregaux Laureato is by far the most expensive watch on this list of potential Audemars Piguet Royal Oak alternatives. The Swiss manufacturer first presented this model back in 1975. When it comes to craftsmanship, technology, and exclusivity, the Laureato is certainly on par with the Royal Oak. However, this watch has one clear advantage over the AP: Its price of around $11,600 is neither inflated nor speculative. It’s quite literally a watch worth its price.
With the Laureato, Girard-Perregaux offers a 42-mm stainless steel watch, which (like every timepiece in this article) has a blue dial. The dial boasts a Clous de Paris finish similar to the Royal Oak’s petite tapisserie pattern. The octagonal bezel is striking, and the obligatory integrated stainless steel bracelet features two links.
You can catch a glimpse of the in-house caliber GP01800-0008 through the sapphire crystal case back. The movement is comprised of 191 individual components and has a “ball-borne” that only winds the spring in one direction. The timepiece boasts a mid-range power reserve of 54 hours, but the overall package is finely finished with a high degree of exclusivity.
Chopard Alpine Eagle: The Newest From Chopard St. Moritz
Swiss luxury watch manufacturer Chopard presented the Alpine Eagle in 2019. Its design inspiration goes back to the Chopard St. Moritz, which first debuted in 1980. Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, now co-president of Chopard, is the mastermind behind the basic concept. A particularly interesting variant is the 41-mm ref. 298600-3001. Both the case and bracelet of this watch are reminiscent of Genta’s famous design. Chopard crafts the watch from a new proprietary stainless steel alloy called Lucent Steel A223. The blue dial on the Alpine Eagle differs from the others on this list as it’s galvanized, giving it an incomparable finish. Chopard is also the only manufacturer in this line-up to use Roman numerals, which you can find at 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock.
The in-house caliber 01.01-C powers the Alpine Eagle. This chronometer-certified movement offers a power reserve of some 60 hours and sits within a case with water resistance to 100 m (10 bar, 328 ft). For just over $11,000, you can call this exclusive Royal Oak alternative your own.
I hope this list has proven that you don’t have to be independently wealthy or refinance your mortgage to get your hands on the coveted “Oak design.” The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is hugely exclusive. While people will certainly envy you if you manage to buy one, is it really sensible at current prices? Only time will tell. The fact remains that for current Royal Oak prices, you could buy yourself a highly complicated luxury timepiece that’s immediately available from other renowned Swiss manufacturers like Jaeger-LeCoultre, Blancpain, or Ulysse Nardin.