Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo is thrilled to welcome you to The Geneva Sessions, Spring 2023, online auction, running from 10:00 AM CET, Thursday, March 9, to 4:00 PM CET, Thursday, March 16. Featuring more than 50 different high-end luxury wristwatches, the sale covers everything from F.P. Journe and Daniel Roth to Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe. It even includes the titanium-and-platinum Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph ref. 26331IP featured in this story.
– By Logan Baker
The Royal Oak has seen countless configurations over the past five-plus decades. Platinum perpetual calendars, ceramic chronographs, titanium tourbillons, one of everything in steel (of course) – you name it, the Royal Oak has been there and done it. However, right underneath our eyes, Audemars Piguet has been consistently experimenting with an unexpected way of combining multiple metals in a single watch: So long two-tone, and hello tone-on-tone.
What am I talking about? Well, for more than 30 years now, Audemars Piguet has used the Royal Oak as a platform to combine two different white metals in one watch. The result is very different from the old-school approach of merging a white/silver metal with a yellow one in a watch; a whole different ball game compared to your grandfather’s two-tone steel-and-yellow gold Rolex Datejust. It’s a genuine cliché at this point, which is what makes Audemars Piguet’s subtle approach so refreshing.
Audemars Piguet also makes sure to keep its two-metal, tone-on-tone Royal Oaks special. By our count, only 24 total tone-on-tone Royal Oak references have been released over the past 32 years, utilizing six different metal combinations in seven total material configurations.
It’s a fairly straightforward process to determine the exact combination of metals in a tone-on-tone Royal Oak, just as long as you know the watch’s exact reference number. The two letters that follow the five-digit number indicate the primary materials used in the case construction. In the realm of tone-on-tone Royal Oaks, you only need to worry about a total of seven different configurations.
-TT: Tantalum case and bracelet/Steel bezel and bracelet center links
-TS: Steel case/Tantalum bezel (no bracelet option)
-SC: Steel case and bracelet/White gold bezel and bracelet center links
-SP: Steel case and bracelet/Platinum bezel and bracelet center links
-TP: Tantalum case and bracelet/Platinum bezel and bracelet center links
-IS: Titanium case and bracelet/Steel bezel and bracelet center links
-IP: Titanium case and bracelet/Platinum bezel and bracelet center links
The combination of titanium and platinum in a Royal Oak is the most recent addition to this list, debuting as recently as 2017 in the Royal Oak Chronograph ref. 26331IP (which just so happens to be included in Phillips’ current Geneva Sessions, Spring 2023 online auction).
The pairing of titanium and platinum went on to capture a huge amount of attention with the 2019 introduction of the Royal Oak Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin, which ended up taking home the Aiguille d’Or at the annual Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG), as well as set the record (at the time) for the world’s thinnest automatic perpetual calendar wristwatch.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. To tell this story properly, we must travel back to 1990, when one Englishman was cementing his golfing legacy on the evergreen links of St. Andrews, Scotland.
Tantalum Meets Steel And Starts It All (-TT; -TS)
Does the name Nick Faldo mean anything to you? Unless you’re a fan of golf, it might not – but it absolutely should if you’re at all interested in the history of the Royal Oak.
Audemars Piguet released its initial two-metal, tone-on-tone Royal Oak in 1990 to commemorate Faldo’s successful championship defense of both The Masters and The Open Championship. Looking back at it today, the so-called “Royal Oak Championship” watch (ref. 56175TT) is a bit of an odd duck, with its slight 33mm diameter and quartz movement inside. But it’s the specific case materials that remain deeply compelling to this day – here, Audemars Piguet combined a tantalum case and bracelet with a steel bezel for the very first time.
Interestingly, the watchmaker was also apparently quite confident the Royal Oak Championship would sell. A limited release of 2,000 numbered pieces, Audemars Piguet published an advertisement soon after the watch was announced stating that “1,100 have already been spoken for by connoisseurs from around the world.”
It’s also worth noting that Audemars Piguet went full throttle with the tantalum and steel combination in this release. The watch was accompanied by a gift set that included a set of cufflinks, a belt buckle, a pill box, a Royal Oak pendant, and a bracelet, all crafted out of – you guessed it – a combination of steel and tantalum.
It wasn’t long before Audemars Piguet was prepared to explore the tantalum/steel realm once again. Two years later, the mid-size 36mm self-winding Royal Oak ref. 14790TT was released, featuring an identical tantalum case/steel bezel configuration as the 56175TT. Audemars Piguet frequently used the mid-size Royal Oak as a canvas for experimental designs, such as the Yves Klein blue dials, so it’s not a surprise to find a tone-on-tone example in the reference’s history. One interesting detail of the 14790TT is that it skipped over the typical textured Tapisserie dial pattern, opting instead for an attractive smooth grey design.
The third and final Royal Oak to use tantalum and steel together came two decades after the release of the original 14790TT. Audemars Piguet went back to the combination’s sporting roots when it came out with the Royal Oak Chronograph ref. 26325TS in collaboration with global football/soccer superstar Lionel Messi, in 2012. A total of 500 examples of this watch were produced, but it’s worth noting that the ref. 26325TS flipped the format of the metals compared to the older 14790TT and 56175TT models, using tantalum as the bezel material and steel for the case.
Tips For Collecting Tantalum And Steel Royal Oaks
- It was the first tone-on-tone case metal configuration used in a Royal Oak.
- It’s not uncommon to find examples of the Royal Oak Championship at auction or elsewhere on the market but finding a complete set with the entire tantalum-and-steel gift assortment is close to impossible.
- It’s the only tone-on-tone Royal Oak metal combination to come in two separate configurations: a tantalum case and bracelet with a steel bezel, and a steel case (no bracelet) with a tantalum bezel.
- Tantalum has the darkest natural shade of any white metal used by Audemars Piguet in a Royal Oak.
Notable Phillips Auction Results For Tantalum And Steel Royal Oaks
- Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo sold an example of the ref. 56175TT for CHF 37,800 during last May's Royal Oak 50th Anniversary thematic sale in Geneva. (check full set?)
The Forgotten Quartz-Powered Steel And White Gold Royal Oaks (-SC)
The next tone-on-tone configuration was a relative blip in the history of the Royal Oak. In 1990, shortly after Nick Faldo was being honored with his limited-edition release, Audemars Piguet released the Royal Oak ref. 66319SC, with a 24.5mm stainless steel case and an 18k white gold bezel with diamond setting. You could select your favorite dial from a total of three colors (white, blue, and green), but you had unfortunately no choice but to accept the quartz movement inside.
Audemars Piguet repeated the combination two years later with the ref. 66344SC (with diamond-set bezel) and ref. 66466SC (without diamond-set bezel), which were practically identical to the 66319SC series, save for the addition of a blue mother-of-pearl dial and diamond hour markers. All three references were offered in serial production.
Tips For Collecting Steel And White Gold Royal Oaks
- The watches were marketed toward women.
- Production was never limited to a specific number.
- The white dial ref. 66319SC uses leaf hands instead of the Royal Oak’s traditional batons.
Steel And Platinum? You’re Now Entering The World Of The Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar (-SP)
If you’re a big fan of early Royal Oak Perpetual Calendars (and, I mean, who isn’t), then the case configuration of steel and platinum is likely one you’re already familiar with. Audemars Piguet introduced the first Royal Oak QP in 1984, following it up in 1986 with the first skeletonized version, the ref. 25636.
The ref. 25636 remained in production for about 13 years, with a total of 312 known examples in all sorts of case metals, such as steel, yellow gold, pink gold, platinum, pink gold, and platinum (!), and finally, platinum and steel. Exactly 25 examples of the ref. 25636 in steel and platinum were produced, beginning in 1993.
If the world of tone-on-tone Royal Oaks wasn’t cool enough, Audemars Piguet upped the level significantly in 1993 with the steel-and-platinum ref. 25686SP, which featured a rare Tuscan dial! Absolute insanity. It was highly limited in production and comes from the same pre-leap year generation for the Royal Oak QP as the 25636.
The second generation of the Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar began in the late 1990s with the addition of a leap-year indictor (no previous Royal Oak QP featured a leap year display). The ref. 25820SP was one of the first examples produced by AP in this generation, starting in 1996. A total of 25 examples of this reference were produced in steel and platinum.
The ref. 25829SP is the openworked variation of the 25820SP. It was produced in much smaller numbers than solid dial version, with only 25 pieces created in steel and platinum during its lifetime – actually, make that 26. In an unusual twist, a nearly identical unique piece was produced for a top client almost a decade after the original 25829SP series; it’s numbered 1/1.
As the Royal Oak began to surge in popularity in the mid-2000s, Audemars Piguet addressed the increase in demand with the introduction of the ref. 25930SP into serial production in 2002, with an openworked dial and diamond-set bezel.
Unfortunately, the steel and platinum generation seems to have reached its conclusion only a few years later. The most recent examples produced by Audemars Piguet were surprisingly not perpetual calendars like their precursors. They were a pair of limited-edition Royal Oak Chronographs made for the Dubai market. The ref. 25983SP was a run of 25 pieces from 2002, and the ref. 26103SP was released in a batch of 50 watches in 2005.
Tips For Collecting Steel And Platinum Royal Oaks
- It’s (almost) all about perpetual calendars.
- It doesn’t get any cooler than a steel-and-platinum Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar with a skeletonized or Tuscan dial.
- Royal Oak Perpetual Calendars in steel and platinum have almost unilaterally reached the six-figure mark.
- Platinum bezels are almost always mirror polished, a sharp contrast to the brushed bezel finish typically found on the Royal Oak.
Notable Phillips Auction Results For Steel And Platinum Royal Oaks
- Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo sold number 16 of 25 of the ref. 25636SP for CHF 378,000 during last May's Royal Oak 50th Anniversary thematic sale in Geneva.
- Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo sold number 16 of 25 of the ref. 25686SP for CHF 189,000 during The Geneva Watch Auction: XIII in May 2021.
- Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo sold an example of the ref. 25820SP for CHF 201,600 during last May's Royal Oak 50th Anniversary thematic sale in Geneva.
- Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo sold number 1 of 25 of the standard ref. 25829SP series for CHF 403,200 during The Geneva Watch Auction: XIV
- Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo sold the unique-piece ref. 25829SP for CHF 289,800 during last May's Royal Oak 50th Anniversary thematic sale in Geneva.
Tantalum And Platinum Is A Casemaker’s Nightmare (-TP)
Remember the second-generation Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar we talked about in the previous section? Well, Audemars Piguet produced a platinum-and-tantalum hybrid of the ref. 25820/25829, too. These are two of the most difficult metals to work on in all of watchmaking, resulting in very small and limited production numbers.
One of the most interesting things about this configuration is how the cases were physically numbered. Audemars Piguet produced a batch of 25 tantalum cases and numbered them from one to 25. Those cases were then split between the openworked ref. 25829TP and the ref. 25820TP with a solid dial – but the truly absurd thing here is that the case numbers weren’t concurrently separated from one another by reference. So it’s entirely possible to have a watch that is numbered “25 out of 16” pieces – we should know. Weird, right?
Only one other Royal Oak has been produced in platinum and tantalum thus far, and you might be surprised to learn it’s another Lionel Messi collaboration. Released at the same time as the steel and tantalum model mentioned earlier, the Royal Oak Chronograph ref. 26325TP had a much smaller production run, compared to its steel-bezel sibling, of only 100 pieces.
Tips For Collecting Tantalum And Platinum Royal Oaks
- Audemars Piguet is incredible at watchmaking; their approach to case numbering could use some extra practice, though.
- No examples of the Lionel Messi tantalum-and-platinum Royal Oak Chronograph have appeared at any major auction house.
Notable Phillips Auction Results For Tantalum And Platinum Royal Oaks
- Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo sold number 25 out of 16 pieces of the ref. 25829TP for CHF 768,100 during last May's Royal Oak 50th Anniversary thematic sale in Geneva.
Titanium And Steel Are Apparently Only Good For Yacht Racing And Grand Complications – Who Knew? (-IS)
Golf and football/soccer aren’t the only sports to receive a special tone-on-tone Royal Oak.
Audemars Piguet released the colorful Royal Oak Chronograph City of Sails, Be Happy, Limited Edition ref. 25860IS in 1999 to commemorate the first-ever Swiss yacht-racing team to compete during the America’s Cup Challenger Selection Series. The team, Fast 2000, and their boat, “Be Happy,” finished sixth out of the 11 total challengers, during the 1999-2000 Louis Vuitton Cup in Auckland, New Zealand. Three hundred examples of the first City of Sails watch were produced, featuring a titanium case and bracelet and a steel bezel. However, the overall monotone exterior is contrasted significantly by the highlighter blue and yellow colors found on the dial.
Audemars Piguet also created a nearly identical City of Sails Limited Edition that same year for members of the Be Happy crew. The only difference was a special engraving on the caseback, reading “Royal Oak City of Sails Limited Edition Crew Watch,” and the presentation box that the watch was delivered in, which contained a piece of the Be Happy’s sail that was used during that year’s Louis Vuitton Cup.
The final steel-and-titanium Royal Oak is an unexpected evolution for the relatively utilitarian combination of metals. It’s the Royal Oak Grand Complication ref. 26065IS, introduced in 2009. The watch is – believe it or not – still listed on Audemars Piguet’s website, indicating it might technically still be in production. I tend to think of precious metals when it comes to grand complication watches like this, so it’s rather interesting for Audemars Piguet to market one of its most complicated and elaborate creations of all time in a pair of cost-effective materials
Tips For Collecting Titanium And Steel Royal Oaks
- The first Royal Oak in titanium and steel kickstarted Audemars Piguet’s relationship with the world of yacht racing. Numerous limited-edition watches would follow, particularly in partnership with the Swiss team, Alinghi.
- Titanium and steel are so similar in color that it can be rather difficult to determine where one metal starts and another ends on these watches.
- The titanium-and-steel Royal Oak Grand Complication has to be the ultimate high-low wristwatch, right?
Notable Phillips Auction Results For Titanium And Steel Royal Oaks
- Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo has sold two examples of the ref. 25860IS in the past, including a result of CHF 88,200 during last May's Royal Oak 50th Anniversary thematic sale in Geneva.
Titanium And Platinum, Only The Best Of The Best (-IP)
The early 2010s were light on tone-on-tone Royal Oaks, but that all changed in 2017 when Audemars Piguet simultaneously released three different Royal Oaks, all featuring the collection’s first use of a titanium case and bracelet with a platinum bezel. It kicked off a whole new era for the tone-on-tone Royal Oak, placing the use of twin metals in a single watch at the center of the brand’s identity as it prepared to enter the 2020s.
The Royal Oak Chronograph ref. 26331IP was released in a 500-piece run to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the chronograph-equipped sub-family. It was originally introduced alongside a new generation for the Royal Oak Chronograph, updated with larger chronograph totalizers, a reduced small seconds display, a streamlined date aperture, and thicker, faceted hour markers. The dial is a lovely combination of grey with dark blue sub-dials, and the use of the polished platinum bezel really frames the design nicely.
Alongside the ref. 26331IP, Audemars Piguet introduced the titanium-and-platinum Royal Oak Tourbillon Extra-Thin ref. 26510IP in a run of 50 pieces, and the Royal Oak ref. 67651IP, a 300-piece limited edition that came in the same material configuration but with a much smaller 33mm diameter, a diamond-set bezel, and a quartz movement inside.
If those three releases didn’t solidify titanium and platinum as the future, then the ref. 15202IP certainly did the job. Introduced in 2018, the 15202IP elevated the most traditional Royal Oak option in Audemars Piguet’s catalog to a whole new level. It represented the first time Audemars Piguet used the tone-on-tone format in its flagship Royal Oak “Jumbo” reference line. But forget about titanium and platinum for a moment – just look at that dial. It’s not just any old blue-dial Royal Oak, it features a brilliant dégradé effect that causes the blue hue to gradually fade to black around the dial’s periphery. The texture of the Petite Tapisserie pattern just adds to the overall aesthetic drama. Only 250 pieces were made, and you can be sure that they were gone in the blink of an eye.
Finally, the tone-on-tone Royal Oak that is arguably the most influential and significant for Audemars Piguet in this entire story is also the most recent one to be released. It’s the last member of the prestigious tone-on-tone, twin-metal Royal Oak club (for now).
The Royal Oak Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin ref. 26586IP was introduced as a production watch in 2019, one year after Audemars Piguet wowed the entire watch industry with the RD#2, a concept watch that at the time was the world’s thinnest automatic perpetual calendar – ever.
The eventual production piece didn’t disappoint. It maintained an identical case height (6.3mm!) and diameter (41mm), while bringing in a matte blue dial (with no Tapisserie pattern!), plus the now-classic combination of a titanium case and bracelet with a platinum bezel. The fact that Audemars Piguet chose to use a tone-on-tone case design for the release of one of its most important and impressive watches of the 21st century should speak volumes to how they consider dual-metal, monotone cases.
Tips For Collecting Titanium And Platinum Royal Oaks
- What did I tell you? Perpetual calendars and tone-on-tone cases are a surefire success. All we need now is a skeletonized Royal Oak Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin.
- The 15202IP looks just as good as ever, five years after its release. My advice: If you can find one and have the means, buy it.
- It’s been four years since we saw the last use of titanium and platinum in a Royal Oak. Has the combination already been quietly retired, or is the best still yet to come?
Notable Phillips Auction Results For Titanium And Platinum Royal Oaks
- A full-set example of the ref. 26331IP is available to be bid on right now in our Geneva Sessions, Spring 2023 online auction (Estimate: CHF 30,000 - 60,000).
- Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo sold an example of the ref. 15202IP for CHF 277,200 during last May's Royal Oak 50th Anniversary thematic sale in Geneva.
- Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo sold an example of the Royal Oak Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin for USD $239,400 during last December’s New York Watch Auction: Seven.
About Phillips In Association With Bacs & Russo
The team of specialists at PHILLIPS Watches is dedicated to an uncompromised approach to quality, transparency, and client service. Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo holds the world record for the most successful watch auction, with its Geneva Watch Auction: XIV having realized $74.5 million in 2021. Over the course of 2021 and 2022, the company sold 100% of the watches offered, a first in the industry, resulting in the highest annual total in history across all the auction houses at $227 million.
About Logan Baker
Logan has spent the past decade reporting on every aspect of the watch business. He joined Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo at the start of 2023 as the department's Senior Editorial Manager. He splits his time between New York and Geneva.
The Royal Oak As a Test Bed for New Materials
A Guide: The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore
Let’s Face It: Royal Oaks with Special Dials
H/T Cara Barrett for first documenting the single-tone, two-metal trend on Hodinkee in August 2018.