Feature: Alternatives To The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
We’ve all been there, looking at the world’s first luxury sports watch, Audemars Piguet’s game-changing Royal Oak, thinking, “I wish.” For the lucky few who get to own one, they can enjoy the defining work of one of watchmaking’s most influential designers—but not everyone can be so fortunate. But it’s not game over just yet because we’ve got a selection of watches that just might scratch that itch without costing anywhere near as much.
JeanRichard Terrascope 60500-11-701-FK6A
We’ve featured JeanRichard a handful of times now, and that’s for a very good reason. It only takes a few moments of holding the brand’s Terrascope to know that it’s something special, and some proper time spent with it reveals why.
Like the Audemars Piguet, you get an irregular case shape that melds an angular, aggressive form with elegant details like the white dial and polished markers. It’s not as focussed as a classic Submariner, which was designed for a purpose and lacks frills; it’s a bit more flamboyant and showy, just like the Royal Oak was designed to be.
It’s the appearance that catches the eye and the detailing that holds attention, because, again like the Royal Oak, the Terrascope applies consideration to the finer elements in a wholly unexpected way. The markers, for example, are bead-blasted in the middle and polished on the outer edges, the minute and hour hands sporting a sharp crease right down the middle. It’s an impressive level of refinement for the few thousand JeanRichard asks for this watch.
The brand hasn’t been around that long, but it’s already listening to its customer base to improve further; the collection has started to introduce manufacturer movements and even a 39mm version of this 44mm Terrascope for those who want something with a bit less presence.
Zenith Defy Classic 95.9000.670/78.R782
If your memory of watchmaker Zenith goes back far enough, the name ‘Defy’ might give you cause to shudder—but I urge you to keep watching anyway, because although the name may be back, we’re not seeing history repeat itself.
In not too dissimilar a fashion as Audemars Piguet did in 1972 with the Royal Oak, Zenith’s Defy has stood as the brand’s statement for the future, it’s bold, eye-catching strike against tradition … or at least, it was supposed to be. The previous Defy was considered by many, many people to be less a rebellious statement and more an act of wanton vandalism—but now Zenith has, under new leadership, had another go.
We’ve seen the shape in the concept Defy pieces already, but that doesn’t make the angular form and spidery open dial—laid out like the Zenith star logo—any less striking. If the El Primero represents all that was good about the past, the Defy asks questions about what might be good in the future.
A view into the silicon escapement that moderates the in-house Elite calibre 670 carries the forward-thinking theme through the watch, and fine details like the skeletonised date wheel and slate grey bridges underpin the ethos further. It’s something that combines the best of the Royal Oak and watches like Richard Mille’s RM005 but at a price substantially less—£5,400 to be exact.
But one of the best bits about the watch—and a demonstration of the thought that’s gone into it—is probably something most people would never notice. Open up the clasp and you’ll see the Zenith star logo once again, with a matching recess cut from the opposite side so it meshes together nicely when it’s shut.
IWC Ingenieur IW326403
If you’re pining after a Royal Oak, then a watch whose lineage can be traced to the very same designer has surely got to be a contender. That designer, Gérald Genta, may be most famous for penning both the Royal Oak and Patek Philippe’s Nautilus; less well known is his reinvention of IWC’s ailing Ingenieur as the Ingenieur SL, giving it a good dose of that Genta grandiosity.
The lineage is clear in the Ingenieur today through the bolted bezel, integrated strap and open, spacious dial, only you won’t have to shell out tens of thousands for this particular Genta timepiece because it can be yours for £6,250. Alright, so it’s no budget buster, but compared to the Audemars Piguet it’s quite the proposition. If that’s still not cutting it, there are more affordable Ingenieur models available, too.
This one is worth looking at in a bit more detail, however, because it pinches a bit of inspiration from the Mercedes Formula 1 team IWC have been sponsoring for the last few years. Formula 1 is all about lightness, with every single component ridded of excess weight, right down to the last screw. The calibre 35720 may not have been fettled to that extreme, but the case gets an upgrade to exotic titanium—although given that Lewis Hamilton and Valteri Bottas’ IWCs are just printed onto their gloves, I don’t think the team considered it quite light enough.
Roger Dubuis La Monagasque RDDBMG0001
The last suggestion is a bit of a wildcard from a watchmaker relatively new to the scene called Roger Dubuis. You may know Roger Dubuis for some really quite outlandish timepieces—and they do make those—however this watch, the ‘La Monagasque’, is a bit more reserved, and for someone on the hunt for a Royal Oak alternative, a very worthy challenger.
The inflated square motif favoured by Roger Dubuis features here in a more restrained form as the perimeter shape of the case, offering just enough eccentricity to seat it alongside the equally quirky Royal Oak. Given that Audemars Piguet has a good 120 years on Roger Dubuis—the Royal Oak was already twenty-three by the time Roger Dubuis arrived on the scene—it seems that the La Monagasque has little to offer, but bear with me.
Even less known than the Roger Dubuis brand itself is the level of quality it has committed itself to. This is a Geneva Seal brand, that is to say it makes its movements to a level that has been independently verified as world-class in its execution, sitting it alongside watchmakers like the legendary Vacheron Constantin.
But Roger Dubuis hasn’t just put all its effort into the back end of the La Monagasque—that’s what people from the Principality of Monaco call themselves by the way—the front got plenty of love as well. Given the watch’s name, it may come as no surprise that the design is based on a roulette wheel, but the results are far less garish than might be imagined.
The dial is split into multiple surfaces, like a roulette wheel, delineated with a variety of finishes and bright, polished edges, like a roulette wheel, numbers segmented around the outside, like a roulette wheel. But it’s the fusion of the red, green and black colour palette of said roulette wheel that impresses most, hidden within the iridescence of the finish, only revealing itself fully under the bright Mediterranean sun.
Okay, so the retail price of over £12,000 deflates the optimism for this watch a little bit, even if it is reasonable for the workmanship on offer, but it’s not over just yet—resale can be a little unfair on niche, independent brands, but that means one of these can be yours for half the price of an entry-level Royal Oak.
The appeal of watchmaking is all about discovery. The more that’s explored, the more that’s found, and this selection of timepieces demonstrates just how deep the rabbit hole goes. So, if you’ve set your heart on a Royal Oak but it just isn’t to be, it’s not a dead end—it’s a journey that’s just beginning.
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