Editor’s Pick: The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph ref. 26300ST

When AP mixes everyone's favourite sports watch and the humble chronograph, you get incredible results, so let's see what makes the Royal Oak Chronograph ref. 26300ST such a great timepiece.
By Aaron Voyles

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is often heralded as one of the most iconic timepieces of all time, and that's certainly a fair assessment given its credentials. However, what makes it still so iconic to this day? Sure, its impact on AP is undoubtedly not to be glossed over, and I will discuss it, but I think AP's ability to keep the Royal Oak relevant for collectors has played a massive part in its continued success. Case in point is the AP Royal Oak Chronograph ref. 26300ST. 

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Blue ref. 26300ST


Quartz Crisis Saviour

Before we dive into the ref. 26300ST, let's examine where the Royal Oak's iconic status comes from. During the 1970s and 1980s, the Swiss watchmaking industry crumbled thanks to the recently released Japanese quartz movement flooding the market. More accurate, cheaper, and just plain trendier, the Swiss couldn't keep up, and the small European nation lost hundreds of watchmaking brands as a result.

Far from the economic powerhouse they are now, AP was not impervious to the market conditions. With their sales on the decline, they knew the quartz battle was lost, so they decided to play on a different court – one where quartz couldn't get them. They decided to create a whole new market category; the luxury stainless steel sports watch – the Royal Oak.

The Original Royal Oak ref. 5402 A-series


The Royal Oak Comes Along

Keen to essentially change the rules, AP approached watch designer Gerald Genta to create an "unprecedented steel watch". With about 18 hours until Baselworld 1971 kicked off and only some market research from Italy to go from, he cooked up quite the storm. 

Released in 1972, the original Royal Oak ref. 5402 burst onto the scene with its absurd avant-garde design. Featuring exposed screws on its strange octagonal bezel, an integrated steel bracelet and a massive 39mm case for the time – the Royal Oak seemed like nothing a brand with AP's gravitas would ever release. 

But, they did release it, and it did ok, sort of. Following the initial backlash, the Royal Oak began to slowly pick up some steam, and it finally started to generate much-needed revenue for the brand. Slowly securing AP's financial future, the Royal Oak enabled AP to outlast the Quartz Crisis while also giving us the market category with such industry stalwarts as the Patek Philippe Nautilus, Vacheron Constantin Overseas, Piaget Polo, Girard Perregaux Laureato, IWC Ingenieur and many, many more. 

Right to left: The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Openworked in Black Ceramic ref. 26585CE and the Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 5740/1G

Iconic for saving one of horology's most influential brands and enabling us to experience so many other legendary timepieces, the Royal Oak easily earns its place in the watchmaking hall of fame. But, I think it's what AP has done with the Royal Oak over its history that has kept it so relevant.


The Royal Oak Chronograph

Released 22 years after the first Royal Oak, the Royal Oak Chronograph ref. 25860 made its debut in 1998. Featuring the AP cal. 2385 movement – based on the Frederic Piguet cal. 1185, this original Royal Oak Chronograph was powered by the same movement as the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Chronograph and the Breguet Marine Chronograph, including many other timepieces. Merging an already iconic sports watch design with the practical function of the chronograph, the ref. 25860 became a legendary watch in AP's eyes. So much so, that for the Royal Oak's 30th anniversary, they named it one of the Royal Oak's most important complications, alongside the Perpetual Calendar Skeleton and Grande Complication. 

Following in the footsteps of that legendary reference, the ref. 26300ST that we have here has built upon its predecessor's foundations and paved the way for many more chronograph variants to make their mark on the industry. 



The Dial

While the Royal Oak's overall design is legendary and something we will discuss later, the ref. 26300ST's dial plays a significant role in its aesthetic identity. Available in a wide variety of colourways and configurations, the blue variant we have here is truly stunning. Featuring the Royal Oak's signature "Grande Tapisserie" in an attractive shade of electric blue, this dial is visually gripping. Providing further visual depth, the dial comes with bright orange accents in the form of an orange chronograph seconds hand, subdial hands and minute track. 

The dial is adorned with bright orange accents. Pictured here: the running seconds subdial at 6 o'clock
The 12-hour subdial at 9 o'clock
The 30-minute subdial at 3 o'clock

Furthermore, the dial also features a 12-hour subdial at 9 o'clock, a 30-minute subdial at 3 o'clock and a running seconds subdial at 6 o'clock that harbour dial-matching blue sunburst portions within silver peripheries that resemble owl eyes. Adding the final flourish of utility to this wonderful dial, the ref. 26300ST also features a date aperture between 4 and 5 o'clock that completes the Royal Oak Chronograph's dial's practical details. Amongst its stunning dial, the only element of the ref. 26300ST that has aged is its inverted luminous triangle found at 12 o'clock as AP has moved on to double luminous stick indices on their newer models. 


The Design

Powered by the same cal. 2385 that its predecessor, the ref. 25860, was powered by; it is a shame that the ref. 26300ST features a solid caseback that hides its legendary movement from view. Aside from that, I think the ref. 26300ST's design is sublime. Featuring all of the Royal Oak's signature design elements, it comes in the same stunning 39mm octagonal package that the original Royal Oak ref. 5402 popularised and iconic stainless steel integrated bracelet with AP's classic folding clasp. 


While still wonderfully reminiscent of the Royal Oak's heritage, the ref. 26300ST also embraces and contributes to the Royal Oaks progression with it carrying the same screw-locked pushers and crown that the ref. 25860 was fitted with. One design change that gives the ref. 26300ST a remarkably more modern aesthetic is its "Grande Tapisserie" dial when compared to the ref. 25860’s more quaint “Petite Tapisserie” dial. Compounding upon this is the ref. 26300ST case's 11mm thickness. With its additional heft, its overall design feels more robust and thereby modern and capable. 




An incredible expression of the prowess within watchmaking, the Royal Oak Chronograph ref. 26300ST remains a wonderfully iconic timepiece that took what was given to it and adapted it for a modern consumer elegantly and tastefully. While discontinued in 2014, it still lives on as a great watch and one that would easily make its way into most of our collections. I think anyone that says they wouldn't happily put a ref. 26300ST onto their wrist is either a liar or someone that needs converting because this is an incredible timepiece, and I'm jealous of those that get to say they own one of these beauties. 



Quick Take

An icon amongst watch collectors, the AP Royal Oak is a watch that requires no introduction. This Royal Oak Chronograph ref. 26300ST measures in at 39mm in diameter and features all of the design motifs that have contributed towards making the Royal Oak one of the most popular watches on Earth. With its finely finished integrated bracelet featuring the AP logo-style clasp design, this watch is as incredible throughout as its case and dial suggests. With its blue dial featuring the Royal Oak’s signature “Grande Tapisserie” pattern, this timepiece’s design is set apart thanks to its bicolour counters and orange Royal Oak hands and chapter ring which combine to give it a wonderfully unique and refreshing aesthetic.


The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph ref. 26300ST
Reference number: 26300ST.OO.1110ST.07
Case size: 39 mm
Thickness: 11 mm
Material: Stainless steel
Crystal: Sapphire
Water-resistance: 50m
Movement: Calibre 2385
Functions: Chronograph, hours, minutes, small seconds, date
Winding: Selfwinding
Frequency: 3 hz 21600 vph
Power reserve: 40h
Strap: Stainless steel bracelet with AP folding clasp

For further information, visit Audemars Piguet online.

This piece is available on Wristcheck.

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