: The Royal Oak Chronograph at 50
Text & Photos Sean Li

It could be argued that one of the most overused words in the watch industry is “icon”. The dictionary tells us that it’s something that is a “representative symbol or as worthy of veneration”. With that definition in mind, we could say that it considerably narrows down the field of timepieces that are truly deserving of being considered truly iconic. Few will disagree though that Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak collection is more than worthy.

The fact that it has remained so relevant over the 50 years since its introduction in 1972 is incredible. There are many objects around us that have long lineages as well, but they tend to see considerable technical and aesthetical changes through the decades. The Royal Oak remains identifiable in an instant, and has only ever received very subtle changes throughout that time; the basic formula remains the same.


For its golden jubilee, Audemars Piguet have turned 2022 into a veritable celebration of the Royal Oak as a collection, and are refreshing numerous models throughout the year, all with the artful restraint though that we’ve already seen. The changes are rather subtle from the outside, concentrating on improving the ergonomics with case backs that are better integrated into the case construction and enlarged bevels to give a more slender appearance on the wrist. The bracelet links have been made thinner as well. If it looks somewhat familiar already, it’s because these changes were already presented in the existing gold models, and are now being applied on the stainless steel and titanium watches. The dial elements also receive some updates, although it would take a very keen eye to spot them in passing, with a revised logo treatment, a harmonisation of the proportions of the hour markers and hands across all the models and their different case sizes, and a more consistent application of the minute track across various models. In addition, many models also receive updated calibres.


On this occasion, we focus on the evolution of the Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph reference 26240ST with the 41mm case, and a direct comparison with its predecessor, the reference 26333ST. The changes mentioned above are certainly evolutive, but they amount to quite a different presence for the watch which is not readily perceptible without having them side by side.

The most noticeable visual difference is on the dial, with the subdials in the new reference no longer in a contrasting silver, and the overall dial color also being very slightly different, the “bleu nuit,  nuage 50” being a deeper shade of blue. The subdials are also more symmetrically positioned, with the running seconds subdial at 6 o’clock now being the same diameter as the chronograph minutes and hours. The calibre 4401 in the 50th anniversary model is notably larger, at 32mm diameter vs 26.2mm in the previous calibre 2385, which enables the date window to be placed closer to the bezel; it also leads to the chronograph pushers being more widely spaced apart. With the new logo, the overall visual effect is of a larger watch in the new reference, even though the case diameter is identical.

Still comparing the two calibres, the 4401 adds a flyback function to the chronograph, and a very significant improvement in the power reserve, now at 70 hours instead of 40 hours. The reference 26240 also gets a sapphire display back, where we can not only see the new calibre, but also the special winding rotor made for the 50th anniversary of the collection, which will only be available this year. Whilst these technical improvements and the sapphire display back are certainly welcome, there is a trade-off, as the reference 26240 is a noticeable 1.4mm thicker at 12.4mm. It may not sound like much on paper, but it’s almost 13% thicker as a result, and it’s quite noticeable on the wrist. Interestingly, when worn, the 26240 feels larger and heavier, although the scale says otherwise, as the weight difference between the two with identically sized bracelets is a negligeable 10g, the 26240 actually being the lighter one at 171g. This is in large part due to the thinner links on the 26240, but that has also changed the overall balance of the watch as more of the total weight is now concentrated within the watch head and not balanced throughout the watch and its bracelet.

It would be easy to consider the new reference as a simple update to the Royal Oak Chronograph, but it would not be doing justice to the multitude of details that have been addressed by Audemars Piguet’s design team and watchmakers, leading to perceptible differences when worn on the wrist. Both are stellar examples of the Royal Oak collection though, and perfectly embody how it has remained so relevant and truly iconic throughout the past five decades. Rest assured that the maison will continue to celebrate the 50th anniversary through the rest of this year, adding even more timepieces to the collection, which we look forward to discovering soon.