Rolex Oyster steel models are hard to come by and trade well above their original retail price. For a little more money you can buy alternative models Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak Line. Is it worth it? We found out in this latest visit to the Watchtime archives.
The Rolex Daytona in steel has long been extremely rare. But the whirlwind of wanting something and not being able to get it has been spinning faster and faster lately. Retailers rarely maintain waiting lists for this highly desirable Rolex model, and resale values are nearly twice the retail price of a new watch ($13,150). So now the question is: instead of buying a pre-owned Rolex Chronograph for $25,900, why not spend a little more and treat yourself to a Royal Oak Chronograph Automatic for $26,300? Although it is not available everywhere, the additional cost is minimal.
Both watches have stainless steel cases and bracelets. The Royal Oak is available in two sizes – 38 mm and 41 mm – while the Daytona falls between them at 40 mm. Audemars Piguet wins the thickness battle here, standing just 11 mm tall, 1.5 mm thinner than the Rolex. The Royal Oak’s water resistance is only 50 meters, though – well below Rolex’s specs of 200 meters. And the scratch-resistant ceramic bezel also makes the Daytona an even tougher watch. The screw-down pushers on the Daytona also offer better durability. Only the royal oak crown is screwed-down, but that means its chronograph function is ready to use at a second’s notice.
With its integrated, gradually narrow bracelet, polished chamfers and screws set in brush-finished surfaces, and sporty accents like a tachymeter track, Audemars Piguet has a more elegant look than a Rolex. Elegance is emphasized by the Royal Oak “Grand Tapisserie” pattern on the dial. The interplay of circle and octagon shapes is a fine, characteristic royal oak feature. The counter rings and luminescent markers make the Rolex stand out, but it looks like a sport chronograph prototype.
Unfortunately, neither watch model has a transparent caseback so their mechanisms are not visible. Rolex is powered by the in-house caliber 4130 with a self-winding mechanism. It was first introduced in the year 2000 with advanced features like 28,800-vph rate for superior accuracy. A vertical clutch prevents the second hand from jumping at the start. An elegant column-wheel control ensures smooth-running pushers and the movement has a comfortably long power reserve of 72 hours. The balance bridge and proprietary blue parachrome hairspring are designed to be highly resistant to impacts and magnetic fields. With regulating screws on the balance, a chronometer certificate and the company’s own strict standards, each Rolex is created to run within ±2 seconds per day.
In this area, Royal Oak cannot compete. Caliber 2385 is based on the Frédéric Piguet Caliber 1185 from 1987, also used by Blancpain. With its frequency of 21,600 vph and a power reserve of just 40 hours, its advantage here is its thin construction. But it also had a column wheel on board as well as a vertical clutch, used here for the first time. The Triovis Fine Regulator does not allow the hairspring to breathe, but unlike the Daytona, it does have a date indication.
Is the difference worth the price? With Audemars Piguet, the extra cost is attributed to the complex finish of the case, bracelet and dial. Rolex is stronger and more accurate. Anyone looking to avoid paying more than list price should look to Royal Oak as a viable alternative.
While Rolex is renowned for its dive watches, the selection at Audemars Piguet is limited. Its only dive model, the Royal Oak Offshore Diver, is available in a variety of colors for a list price of $19,900. Rolex has three different models – the Submariner, Sea-Dweller and Deepsea – listed here from lowest to highest in both price and water resistance. Even the least expensive Submariner has a water resistance of 300 meters, equivalent to the AP Diver. With a date reference, the new Rolex Submariner date price introduced in 2020 is $9,150. Audemars Piguet is expensive, priced at $20,400, so it should theoretically offer more.
AP’s crystal caseback and beautiful in-house caliber 3120 are truly stunning. The movement has a 21,600-vph frequency and a 60-hour power reserve. Balance bridge increases rigidity and fine control by weights ensures good adjustment and free-spring hairspring. Also, the solid 22k gold, engraved oscillating weight and other decorative finishes make for an impressive image. The internal bezel and mechanism for the movement are fairly thick, however – the Diver in the sportier Royal Oak Offshore line measures 14.1mm tall.
The new Submariner Date has a diameter of 41 mm, slightly larger than the previous version’s 40-mm diameter. Again, the movement is hidden behind a solid case back. This dive watch is now powered by the in-house caliber 3235 which has a power reserve of 70 hours. The new movement has a more efficient shock absorber and a better mainspring than its predecessor, the Caliber 3135, which has a 48-hour power reserve. Rolex can handle the chronometer test and the exact same specifications as the Daytona.
The Submariner date clasp has a very practical finely graduated extension system. The length of the AP Diver’s rubber strap can be easily adjusted with a pin buckle, but the truly stunning Royal Oak metal bracelet is prefaced. The Diver has an unusually clever feature: instead of replacing its characteristic octagonal brushed finish bezel and polished hexagonal screws, Audemars Piguet adds an adjustable internal track to measure dive time. Rolex gets points for its cleanly ratcheting rotating dive bezel, whose quality is virtually unmatched.
Audemars Piguet has a beautiful movement and has the advantage of fine and detailed workmanship in its case. But the design should be the deciding factor as the Rolex is a more practical watch and is much less expensive.
In 2019, Audemars Piguet revised the iconic Royal Oak in its basic 41-mm variation. Along with a thinner bezel and the removal of the “automatic” label on the dial, the watch features a newly developed in-house movement. Caliber 4302 replaces the 3120. Measuring 32mm across, it’s fairly large in diameter and slightly thicker at 4.8mm. It offers space for a large mainspring and a generous 70-hour power reserve despite a modern rate of 28,800 vph.
The classic Rolex Datejust, measuring 41mm across, also uses the new in-house caliber 3235, which, like Audemars Piguet’s movement, has a 28,800-vph rate and a 70-hour power reserve. The new movement has replaced 3135. The Datejust 41 with an oyster bracelet in oystersteel costs $7,650. The Royal Oak has a list price of $20,400, twice as much as a Rolex, but is nearly impossible to find in boutiques. Even with the Jubilee bracelet and fluted white-gold bezel, the Rolex retails for $9,900.
In the three hand watch competition, this time Audemars Piguet is the most sought after watch. Its movement is more attractive and can be viewed through the transparent caseback. But the Datejust’s better availability helps keep its price in check – so even with more character and a more detailed case, the Royal Oak is the least competitive of the pair due to its higher price.
No other brand has ever produced such well-crafted, industrially constructed, preparation Looks like a Rolex. They are consistently solid, accurate and of impeccable quality. Still, it’s clear that Audemars Piguet is playing at a higher level here, with its brushed surfaces, detailed cases and bracelets, and even the fine finish of its own in-house movements. Also, the hype surrounding Rolex steel models drives up their prices. So, is AP’s high cost worth it? This is especially true when you look at chronographs and their minimal price difference. With dive watches and three-hand models, it depends more on personal taste. Give one a try – decide for yourself if it’s worth the extra cost to switch from Rolex to Royal Oak.