We have long been fascinated with mid-size executions of iconic designs, notably the Nautilus and the Royal Oak. Having recently had the opportunity to visit the archives at Audemars Piguet in Le Brassus, we thought this was the perfect opportunity for an in-depth Collector's Guide on the most distinctive of the mid-size Royal Oak references - the 14790. Drawing on their extensive archival documents and pieces, we dive deep into the model, which seems to have recently been rediscovered by collectors at large.
The story of Audemars Piguet and the Royal Oak is one that is written into horological lore. The day before Baselworld, Gérald Genta was approached to sketch a design for a new watch that, one year later, would disrupt the norms on which the industry was built. In time, it gradually helped to build a resurgence within Swiss watchmaking, firmly establishing a newfound appreciation for steel.
The story goes that the first series of Genta’s designs, the Royal Oak and the Nautilus took a while to develop a following. Known as the “Jumbo” models, because of their oversized proportions, relative to the tastes of the time, they eventually grew to achieve commercial success, contrary to popular belief. Specifically, it took about three years for Audemars Piguet to sell the first 2,000 Royal Oaks. Considering their low production numbers at the time, this is rather impressive.
On the agenda
What came before? | Breaking down the generations | The “transitional” reference 14700 1991 | The first series 1992 - The dial - The hands - The case, bracelet and crown | The second series 1993-2000 - The dial and hands - The case, bracelet and crown | Third series 2000-2005 - The dial and hands - The case, bracelet and crown | The dial types - A rich variety - Understanding dial codes | The case metals | The movement | The full set | Towards collectability?
Three of the rarest executions of the mid-size Royal Oak 14790.
To complement their bold offering, both Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe decided to downsize their disruptive steel sports watches, in order to bring them to a wider audience. Shortly after the models were unveiled to the world, they both created mid-size collections, with a diameter ranging between 35mm and 37.5mm. As we touched upon in our previous Collector’s Guide, Patek Philippe introduced their Nautilus 3800 in 1981, with the model remaining fairly central to production for years after that. It was offered in a whole range of metals and dial configurations, presenting much greater breadth than the original design. In turn, it was probably their most commercially successful Nautilus for the next two decades.
Audemars Piguet shared an almost identical path, where it introduced a mid-size version of the Royal Oak shortly after the original, in an attempt to popularise the design. Rather than immediately settling on a single design, as Patek Philippe did, Audemars Piguet experimented with various references, featuring subtle design changes, before settling on the reference 14790. Measuring 36mm in diameter, it actually wears much larger than its dimensions would suggest, on account of the Royal Oak’s unique case design – it even wears larger than the Nautilus 3800, which measure 37.5mm across.
The two mid-sized versions of Genta's most memorable disruptive designs.
Though this was not the first mid-size Royal Oak, it does feel like the brand finally perfected the proportions and design elements of what a mid-size Royal Oak should be. As such, after being introduced in 1992, it remained in production for longer than any other mid-size reference and was offered in a much wider range of configurations than ever before – from Ferrari red or bright yellow dials to tantalum and steel cases. When it was discontinued over a decade later, this also marked the end of mid-size Royal Oaks for the manufacture.
In many ways, the reference 14790 feels like the truest execution of a mid-size Royal Oak, in both a design and commercial sense. As such, we thought we would put together a Collector’s Guide on the reference, built on our experience handling these pieces, while also drawing on the knowledge of others.
As such, we took this opportunity to visit the archives of the manufacture in the Vallée de Joux, to meet Raphael Balestra, Audemars Piguet's Museum Archivist. We had the chance to handle some pieces from the brand’s private collection, including some prototypes, while also digging a bit deeper into old retailer catalogues and archival documents. Outside of the brand, we also spoke to Ben Mahmoud Omar (otherwise known as @dualtime_official), a dealer who has been handling mid-size Royal Oaks for over a decade, uncovering pieces from Japan to Italy. Let’s dive in.
What came before?
Before we get to the core substance of the guide, we thought it might be worth briefly pausing on some of the iterations that came before, which show how Audemars Piguet evolved towards the design of the 14790. After the slow start of the 5402, it was realised that the market might prefer a smaller, easier to wear version of their new steel sports watch. The brand’s first attempt at downsizing the Royal Oak came in 1978 with the 4100 – released only six years after the original.
As is to be expected, this 35mm watch took many of its design cues from the 5402. Produced over quite an extended period of time, it also led to a stream of other mid-sized designs in various guises, running on a raft of different movements, including both automatic and quartz. Though these earlier pieces have certainly caught the attention of collectors in recent times, this hasn’t been to the same extent as with the 14790, which some feel marks the point at which Audemars Piguet masters the mid-size.
An early Royal Oak advertisement, from 1977, showing the ref. 5402 in the centre and the early ref. 4100 to the left. Courtesy of 41 Watch.
The gradual changes are partially cosmetic – from the size of the case to shape of the bezel and size of the crown – but also more practical. For example, Balestra confirms that while the 4100 had a case in three parts, a new two-part case is used for the 14790, which offers greater isolation from outside elements. For a deeper look at some of the other mid-size references produced by Audemars Piguet, we would recommend these articles by 41 Watch and Watch Brothers London.
Breaking down the generations
While this model may have been produced in fairly limited numbers when compared to other luxury steel sports watches, it is still possible to divide the known examples into three distinct series, which feature overarching characteristics which set them apart. In total, Omar estimates that anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 examples of the ref. 14790 were produced during its lifespan. It is believed that annual production was gradually scaled up over time.
The evolution between different versions of the model, over the course of more than a decade, clearly marks the transition of Audemars Piguet from a traditional manufacture to a more modern one, apparent in the choice aesthetic details or the production methods used. More than ever before, the brand experimented with a wide range of designs, across different metals and dial combinations. Looking at their own archives, Balestra confirms that, “there were more than forty different configurations available, across a range of case metals and dial types. There were ten different types of dials available in the steel model alone.”
The dials of all three generations, transitioning from vintage to modern.
It should be noted that Audemars Piguet are renowned for slowly integrating and phasing in updates to their references – such as the type of clasp or crown – such that there can be some overlap between the different series. This can make it more delicate to accurately place a single model, however broad rules still exist, such that you handle a specific watch and figure out whether all the elements are coherent and could plausibly belong together.
The “transitional” reference 14700
Before we jump into the three series of the 14790, we thought we might take a brief moment to highlight its predecessor, the 14700. This reference is interesting because it displays the latest step in Audemars Piguet’s journey of experimenting with a mid-size design, before settling on the 14790 as the one they would produce for over a decade, in a wide range of configurations. There are also a striking number of similarities between a 14700 and a first series 14790, such that looking at the former helps us to understand what original features we should expect to find on a first series 14790.
The transitional 14700, with its thinner bezel, oversized "AP" at 12 o'clock and classic "Audemars Piguet" signature.
The 14700 is believed to only have been produced for one year, in 1991. Often referred to as a “transitional reference”, this 36mm Royal Oak still retains the vintage-style, smaller Audemars Piguet signature on the dial and an unsigned crown, features of the earliest Royal Oak watches. Though the case is almost identical in diameter to its successor, the 14700 features a thinner bezel and larger dial, such that the watch wears slightly larger on the wrist than the 14790. The size of the “AP” at 12 o’clock is also more significant.
Two Audemars Piguet Royal Oak adverts - one with a pair of 14700 Royal Oaks and the other showing an early, first series 14790, courtesy of @AdPatina.
However, many of the elements of this transitional reference are carried over into the first series of the 14790. It almost feels like Audemars Piguet is experimenting with different elements, especially case proportions and dial design, before they settle on what they feel is the optimal execution of a mid-size Royal Oak. More specifically, the first series retains the same vintage-style Audemars Piguet signature and font, while also carrying over the same unsigned crown and style of clasp. This preceding reference can be used as a groundwork for what we should be looking for in the very first 14790 models which left the manufacture. This allows us to clearly illustrate the lineage of certain characteristics which are carried over and others which are altered.
The First series
Released in 1992, the first models began leaving the manufacture the very same year. The first is the rarest of all three series, believed to have been in production for a brief one-year period. It is worth pointing out that examples may actually come paperwork dated later than this, as it was not uncommon for retailers to have these in stock for a little while. Further to this, we are also aware of second series examples being produced as early as February 1993, confirming the first series was quickly phased out.
This series displays a range of features – from the vintage-style Audemars Piguet font to the unsigned crown and Gay Frères signed bracelet – which are reminiscent of the initial Royal Oak, the reference 5402. In a way, the first series is the most faithful mid-size rendition of the original, managing to repurpose the proportions within a smaller package, while at the same time keeping the vintage charm of the first pieces.
The way the first series was made also speaks to a more traditional approach to manufacturing, which Audemars Piguet gradually modernised throughout the lifespan of the reference. One such example is the way the bracelet is manufactured, with the links featuring a more complicated to produce, but ultimately more long-standing design, than later series.
Though Audemars Piguet does not share its production figures, examples of the first series are especially difficult to come by. Omar, who has been dealing in mid-size Royal Oaks for a decade, has only handled two himself. He estimates that less than 500 were produced in steel, with production figures remaining in the three-digit range across all metals.
The flat Audemars Piguet signature is the most distinctive feature of the first series. Reminiscent of vintage pieces from the manufacture, it is more discrete than later executions of the brand’s signature, which are noticeably bolder in design. Later in this article, we will look at how this name is applied on the dial, alongside the rest of the dial making process.
Another key indicator of a first series dial is the smaller tapisserie pattern, referred to as the “Petite Tapisserie”. This more subtle dial texture has proven to be favoured by many collectors over the larger style, which will appear later on in the reference. Overall, the first series dial was only offered in a narrow range of colours depending on the metal of the case. In steel, only the original blueish grey and white dials are known. Very much like the original reference 5402, the darker dial is known to vary slightly in colour between examples, with some being closer to black and others displaying more tones of blue.
In gold, you can find white, grey and gold dials, with the last one creating a satisfyingly monochromatic appearance. Two-tone examples in steel and yellow gold are known to only house the grey and gold dials. The only other dial variation in the first series which we’re aware of is the slate grey one which appears within the rare tantalum and rose two-tone case.
One of the catalogues which Audemars Piguet sent to retailers, seen here within the manufacture's archives.
When we visited the archives at Audemars Piguet, we had the opportunity to handle the catalogues which Audemars Piguet sent out to retailers, detailing their different models and dial configurations. One such catalogue, from 1991, shows that the preceding reference 14700 was offered with a range of diamond-set dials for their yellow gold and two-tone steel and yellow gold models. Though we are unaware if these were ever offered for the first series 14790, there’s reason to believe there may be some diamond-set dials out there.
Applied to the dial you will also find long baton hour markers filled with lume. As a general rule of thumb, the tone of the lume should broadly match the hands, though this is not a guarantee as the dial and hands can age at a different pace. You will also find an applied “AP” logo at 12 o’clock, with a thin strip of lume filling the gap between the two letters. These are important to note, not only as they are carried over from the 14700 but also as they shift later in the production run.
The first series 14790 was always produced with what are known as “thin” hands. The minute and hour hands on the first series are the exact same thickness, corresponding to the thickness of the applied lume-filled indexes. Later on, Audemars Piguet “thick” hands, introduced at some point throughout the second and series and used for the whole of the third series. These thicker hands were also used as service parts, hence why they can be found on some earlier examples.
The thinner, elegant hands of a first series in steel.
The easiest way to spot the difference is to check whether the lume on the hour and minute hands is the same thickness as that found on the applied indexes. You can also check the base of the minute hands, as with the thick hands have the lume begins further away from the centre pivot, whereas it much closer on the thin hands. Again, this is another feature which allows us to draw parallels between the first series 14790 and the ref. 5402, where the original hands also displayed a slim, subtle profile.
The other variation that we’ve observed in the first series hands is a difference in the seconds hand counterweight. The earliest examples seem to full straight seconds hands, while later models can be found with one that flares out, almost in a pyramid shape. This seconds hand with a pyramid counterweight is used from the second series onwards as part of normal production. On the first series, this could be a sign of Audemars Piguet slowly integrating updated components or it could also be a sign of a second’s hand that has be replaced in a service, though no one knows for certain.
The case, bracelet and crown
The first major difference that should be noticed when inspecting the case of any first series is that of the unsigned crown. As we will see further down, the later models have the “AP” initials signed on the crown, while the first series should be clear and unmarked.
Details of a first series 14790, coming directly from the original owner.
A small detail about the bracelet of first series models that is not immediately obvious, is the screws that keep the removeable links in place. When removing a link from any Royal Oak bracelet, there is a screw that needs to be taken out to release the link. The difference between the first series and later ones is that for the former you will find two screws located on either side of the link. Both need to be unscrewed, from a central portion of the link they’re fixed into, in order to release the link.
This is something that can be seen across other manufacturers, as it was considered more resistant to bending and general wear over time. In the later series, these two screws are replaced by a single one that is easier, quicker and cheaper to produce. This just goes to show how the 14790 was a truly transitional model from vintage production techniques to modern ones.
The two types of screws holding the 14790 together - the pair from a first series bracelet and the single screw from a later, second series one.
The next thing to focus on with these models is the clasp. All of the first series will bear a “hollow” style clasp, where either side of the clasp resembles a ladder. They should also all bear a similar series of stamps. On a cross bar on the inner part of the clasp, there should be a stamp that reads “S6”. This, we assume, is the type of steel used, which is a tool grade steel.
The classic Gay Frères signature found on the earliest clasps.
Then on the larger, outer part there should be a “Swiss Made” stamp, opposite a “Steel Inox” one and in between these two should be a Gay Frères logo. This should be the old style, which has the bust of a ram between the G and the F, all inside an oval. For those who are unaware, Gay Frères is perhaps the most fabled bracelet maker of the 20th century, having made some of the bracelets for the original Royal Oak and Nautilus, as well as more classic bracelets which have accompanied some of the most sought-after Patek Philippe references.
To find their traditional logo on a first series 14790 clasp is a special thing indeed. The final part of the clasp to note is the spring-loaded lock on the outside, in the form of a steel rectangle with “AP” engraved on it. You will see that this is slightly smaller and more rectangular on the first series than on later ones.
The Second Series
1993 - 2000
The next series of the 14790 appears from 1993. Because this series is produced until around 2000, some collectors like to try and distinguish between early and late second series. This type of categorisation, though it should act as a guiding principle rather than as exact rules, is possible due to Audemars Piguet phasing in different types of changes throughout.
A yellow gold second series.
This second series is perhaps the most recognisable version of the reference, partly due to the greater number of them produced. It is also where we see the greatest diversity in terms of case metals and dial colours, as Audemars Piguet really starts to experiment with the reference and try to cater to as many tastes as possible. From using rose gold and platinum for their cases, to introducing an electric blue dial, the second series sees a great deal of variance – and therefore, excitement.
The dial and hands
The main distinguishing factor between the first and second series is the introduction of a modern “Audemars Piguet” font on the dial. With the enlarged, capitalised A and P and a far more stylised typeface overall, the use of this signals to many collectors the start of modernity at Audemars Piguet. The “Automatic” signature at 6 o’clock also adopts a slightly more modern aesthetic, which is more obvious when looking at the first “A”. On the first series, this has a flat top – exactly like on the ref. 5402 – whereas on the second series, this changes to a more contemporary font. While this logo and font begins to modernise, we still see the same small tapisserie that is found on the first series. You should also expect the same long, applied hour markers throughout the second series.
The second series demonstrates a great variety of dial colours, from the more traditional blue to the more unusual light grey or an electric blue, which has come to gain the Yves Klein nickname from collectors. We also find some diamond-set dials on some of their yellow gold examples. There are even rumours of salmon dials having been produced by Audemars Piguet for a few of their clients. We will touch on the unusual and varied dial configurations found in the second series later on in this article.
Getting up close with the rich blue of an Yves Klein.
Some of the earlier versions of the second series appear to have the thinner style of hands, carried over from the first series. Later on, it would appear that there is a shift to a thicker style of minute and hour hand. As stated earlier on, the difference is most easily observed when comparing the hands to the indexes, as well as when the base of the hands is studied; the thicker hands having longer bases, meaning the lume starts further away from the pivot. However, we haven’t been able to observe any that have the straight seconds hand counterweight. They all seem to come with the counterweight that flares out in a pyramid shape, which is used from here on out.
The new type face used across the second series.
The case, bracelet and crown
Even in the early second series models, we see a shift from the ladder style of clasp we looked at before, to an updated version, where one of the blades is filled in. As with the first series, this clasp should also bear the Gay Frères signature – however, instead of the older style seen before, these clasps feature a more modern logo, which consists of the “GF” letter in an oval shape.
Two of the components that were updated around the time of the second series.
The crown in the second series is not quite as constant. In fact, it is one of the key areas that distinguishes early and late second series. Supposedly, the early models should all have the unsigned crowns that we find on the first series, while those that were made from the late 1990s into 2000 with have the “AP” logo stamped on them. Advertisements from the period show second series examples with both the unsigned and the signed crowns, providing adding reassurance that the second series came fitted with both these styles.
An advertisement showing an early second series 14790, with an unsigned crown, courtesy of 41 Watch.
Many of the features that the manufacture added to the reference during the second series are found within the third series, demonstrating yet again how Audemars Piguet integrated changes to its design gradually, instead of bringing in completely redesigned models every few years.
The two earliest styles of clasps, sat next to each other, which broadly correspond with the first and second series.
2000 - 2005
Last but not least. The final series of the 14790 is where we see the biggest change in appearance to the dial, which takes on a distinctively more modern appearance. There is no confusing this for a vintage piece. We also see the introduction of more colourful dial choices, from the Ferrari red to a vibrant yellow, seen on a small handful of pieces.
The third and final series of the reference was produced from around 2000 to 2005. According to Balestra from the Audemars Piguet archives, 2005 is the last year that the reference appears in the catalogues which were sent by the watchmaker to retailers wishing to place their orders. A catalogue for clients in Spain, from 2005-2006, also shows the reference. That being said, as previously mentioned, some of these watches could linger with retailers for a certain period of time prior to selling. In fact, we’re aware of examples which were sold as late as 2007.
A range of third series models.
When we had the opportunity to visit the manufacture, we were given the opportunity to see the “prototype” for the third series 14790. Cased without a movement, and therefore surprisingly light, this watch was assembled in 1999, as a way to test the new dial design and was subsequently used to display and sell the watch, which is why it now sits within the Audemars Piguet collection.
The dial and hands
The instant indicator that a 14790 is from the third series is the dial configuration. The long hour markers are replaced by shorter ones, with the tapisserie being blown up in proportion. The Audemars Piguet signature sits within a smaller cartouche, rather than being printed directly onto the tapisserie pattern, as was the case for the earlier examples. Some examples even feature a small window around the date indicator. The hands are the same as we see throughout most of the second series, though the lume now adopts a distinctively greener appearance.
The enlarged tapisserie.
Despite being produced for shorter amount of time, this dial configuration appears much more commonly than that found in the second series, suggesting that the manufacture ramped up its production numbers towards the end of reference’s lifespan. By virtue of the fact that it is the least faithful to the original design of the Royal Oak and that it has a distinctively modern feel, it has also been globally overlooked by collectors, despite the continually growing interest in the reference.
The case, bracelet and crown
There are early third series models that still bear the clasp of later second series, where one blade is filled in and the other is in the original ladder style. More commonly, however, you will find the stretched AP logo clasps.
The stretched AP logo clasp.
Bar the few early models that we’ve seen with the older style, this was exclusively used for the third series. Should you find this clasp on an earlier watch from the first or second series, it is safe to assume that this is a later replacement part, added during service. Alongside the crown, this one of the more commonly replaced components. The rest of this series is a culmination of the additions that we see building up over the second series.
The Dial Types
After going over what to expect from each series, we want to go into a bit more detail on specific aspects of the reference which we believe are worth diving into. There might be a few surprises here, for those who aren’t overly familiar with the reference. Did you know that Audemars Piguet made a bright yellow dial for the 14790? From the initial retail prices to the confusing world of reference numbers and dial colours, we hope to offer a few useful elements for collectors. Let’s start with the dials.
The 14790 displays a wide range of dial types and colours, perhaps more than any other Royal Oak reference out there. In this section, we wanted to outline some of these unusual dials, while at the same offering some guidance with how to ensure these are original to the watch that they come in. In the book Le Cadran by Dr. Helmut Crott, it is confirmed that dials for the Royal Oak 14790 were produced by Stern Création, the famed manufacturer of dials, which also made dials for the original Nautilus 3700 and Royal Oak 5402, among others.
Crott features a prototype third series 14790 dial with short indexes, which bears the hallmark of the Stern Création on the caseback, as well as additional markings indicating that the base metal used is gold. On top of the tapisserie pattern, which is created using traditional machinery, the different colours are added through a galvanic bath.
A Rich Variety
Three of the more creative dial choices.
The more distinctive colours that have appeared in the reference include the Yves Klein blue, the Ferrari red and the bright yellow. Most of these names have been bestowed by collectors, with the vibrant blue having earned its nickname due to its resemblance to the deep blue hue first mixed by the French artist, Yves Klein. This is found in both stainless steel and yellow gold examples, from the second series. The Yves Klein colour was also used in other Royal Oaks which Audemars Piguet produced during this period, from the Day Date to the Dual Time.
The hard-to-miss Ferrari red dial, with one example having previously been sold at Phillips in May 2017.
The bright red and yellow have only ever appeared on the third series in stainless steel cases, with only a small handful of examples having come to market. Both these colours were also used in other Royal Oak models, with a yellow dial perpetual calendar and red dial Royal Oak Offshore also known to exist. Within the third series, we also find an unusual military dial, which features a smooth black dial with lume-filled Arabic numerals and unusual sword hands. This style of dial and hands is also found within the Millenary collection of the time. Quite different to what one would expect to see on a Royal Oak, these so-called military dials have been rather polarising among collectors.
The rare grey tapisserie dial.
Another unusual colour is a light grey, which has been known to appear on small tapisserie dials from steel models within the second series. A subtle change from the more predictable colours found within this configuration, the monochromatic appearance of this design is rather appealing. Further, it is also believed to be rather rare, much more so than the Yves Klein dial, which people often think of as the most distinctive colour offered in the traditional petite tapisserie format. Indeed, Omar has only handled three examples during the decade in which he has been dealing with mid-size Royal Oak watches.
The slate dial on a tantalum and steel two-tone model.
Another rare dial is the smooth grey one, which only appears on models featuring a tantalum case, usually in a two-tone combination with steel or rose gold. This is usually a dark grey colour, though we also had the opportunity to see one example with a light grey dial. Diamond-set dials are also known to appear within precious metal cases, such as a smooth blue dial with diamond indexes which appeared within a platinum 14790, we have the opportunity to handle a while back.
An example of a salmon dial from Omar.
Within the world of watchmaking, there are few things that get collectors as excited as salmon dials. A small handful of these, with a small tapisserie pattern, have known to appear within a 14790, though their originality has been called into question. What is certain is that Audemars Piguet never delivered a new 14790 with a salmon dial, which Balestra was able to confirm for us by checking the brand’s archives.
Some have speculated that since the 14800 – a reference similar to the 14790 but on a leather strap – was delivered with a salmon dial, some collectors or dealers may have fitted these dials onto a 14790. However, this also doesn’t seem plausible, as Balestra confirms that the 14800 dials, despite being similar in size, should not fit into a 14790. Further, too many examples have come up from original owners of the watch for us to believe that these were indeed swapped over from another watch.
The most plausible theory is that following Audemars Piguet’s introduction of the 14802 with a salmon dial in 1992 – the first ever salmon dial to feature in a Royal Oak – a few privileged clients were given the opportunity to order a salmon dial for the 14790 which they already owned. Though there is no way to know for certain, Balestra does confirm that Audemars Piguet did give clients and retailers the option to order individual dials during this time period. Omar also had the opportunity to handle a salmon 14790, which came from the original owner of the piece, who confirmed that he had ordered the salmon dial separately, and who also still had the original dark dial the watch was first sold with. Though there is no way of knowing for certain, this is likely the most plausible explanation for these unusual and desirable pieces.
A black 14790 dial that has turned "tropical".
The last variation worth pausing are the tropical examples which have come up. Funnily enough, though we very rarely see tropical dial Nautilus watches, these are much more common within the Royal Oak family. These tropical dials are born with a completely different colour and vary in colour, usually towards brown, as the elements affect the dial over time. This type of discolouration can range from quite harsh damage to a much more appealing, uniform brown colouration.
Understanding Dial codes
Let us take a moment to pause on a rather important elements when it comes to dials on the 14790. Every Royal Oak 14790 has a rather lengthy serial number, which might will be structured in the following way: “14790ST.OO.0789ST.XX”. This might appear on the original paperwork or be provided by an Extract from the Archives. The important thing to note are the last two digits, which indicate the type of dial which was originally fitted to the watch. With concerns of swapped or replaced dials, these two digits are extremely valuable when trying to assess whether the configuration of a certain piece is original – especially for the more unusual dials outlined above, when the rarity commands a premium.
A breakdown of the reference number.
These dial codes changed based on specific serial number ranges. On any 14790, on the caseback, you will also find the watch’s serial number which starts with a letter, followed by 5 digits (e.g. D83462). This serial number is used to place a specific watch within the entirety of Audemars Piguet’s production.
The 002 number on the case back of a platinum 14790 we've handled - with the D serial number displayed below that.
The 14790 was produced over the span of the D and E series, with a small number of F series watches also produced towards the end. As mentioned, the dial codes changed based on the different series, hence why it was important to point it out here. It is also worth noting that the first, second and third series coincide with pretty specific serial number ranges, which are outlined in the table below.
So, what do we know at this stage? The last two digits of the reference number indicate the type of dial which the watch was delivered with. We also know that this dial code can be different, based on whether the watch is a D Serial or an E Serial (with insufficient information on the few F Serial pieces made to draw a conclusion). To add a further touch of complexity, these dial codes also change based on the specific metal of a watch. So, you need to be aware of the both the serial number and metal of your specific watch to determine whether a dial code is accurate.
Balestra talking us through some of the finer details.
For example, within the D Serial, an Yves Klein 14790 in steel should have a “08” colour code, whereas an Yves Klein 14790 in yellow gold should have a “06” colour code. For the E Serial, the steel Yves Klein should now have a “05” code.
Of course, this is not an exact science, but rather something we were able to determine using Audemars Piguet catalogues sent to retailers, original paperwork from various examples and experience with handling these pieces. The table below outlines what dial codes you should expect within the D and E Serial, with some having been confirmed through first-hand inspection, while others were deduced.
Failing this, the Extract from the Archives can still be useful, but it is not always the most precise. A standard Extract from the Archives confirms the authenticity of a watch, in its present form, whereas a more comprehensive check and analysis of the watch in Switzerland, will determine the originality of your watch.
As such, it is not unknown for Audemars Piguet to just confirm a watch in its current configuration, rather than checking the initial configuration it was delivered in. There are also the occasional mistakes, where Audemars Piguet interchangeably uses the same codes between D and E Serials – for example, using the “05” code for both D and E Serial Yves Klein dials on extracts. As with all these things, it is not an exact science and a dose of pragmatism is needed.
Two Yves Klein dials, including one which has faded over time to a lighter, washed out shade.
The Case Metals
As we have discussed so far, the 14790 was delivered in a wide range of metals. For clarity, we thought we should just list them here one more time, so you and go into a bit more detail on each one.
Some of the precious metal 14790 Royal Oaks out there - rose gold, yellow gold and platinum.
As far as we’re aware, the full list of metal types that the 14790 came in over its entire production was: stainless steel (ST), yellow gold (BA), rose gold (OR), platinum (PT), yellow gold and stainless steel two-tone (SA), tantalum and stainless steel two-tone (TT) and tantalum and rose gold two-tone (TR). Each of these metals came with their own metal codes, which we’ve outlined in parenthesis. This should also be detailed on any original paperwork or documents provided from the archives, as part of the long reference number – for example 14790BA refers to a yellow gold example.
A tantalum and steel 14790 next to a tantalum and yellow gold QP.
One of the more interesting metals that Audemars Piguet used for this reference is tantalum. Not a metal often found within watches, it is rather difficult to machine and expensive to source. As Balestra put it, “at the time, tantalum was already relatively expensive. Nowadays, it has gotten even worse. Not only is it used within the medical field as it was before, but it is also used in aerospace and mobile phone. So, of course, the price has skyrocketed.”
The metal is also notoriously hard to work. According to Balestra, the machines that were used to shape tantalum needed replacing much more often, making the watches which integrated this unusual material all the more expensive to produce. Tantalum was integrated into a range of Audemars Piguet’s watches from the period, always in a two-tone configuration with another metal. Within the 14790 family, we find it mixed with rose gold and stainless steel, both of which are rather uncommon.
The subtle, but unmistakeable, hue of this 14790 in tantalum and steel.
It should also be noted that examples which are entirely made out of rose gold are also exceedingly, with very few appearing on the open market. To date, less than five have appeared on the open market. One should be careful to not confuse the 14790OR with the 15097OR, otherwise known as the Nick Faldo. This reference, limited to 325 pieces in rose gold, adopts the exact same case design as the 14790, but bears a different serial number and unusual dial with smooth outer section and short index markers.
The caseback on any Royal Oak 14790 features two types of serial numbers – the one composed of a letter and five digits and another in the “No. XXX” format. Though we are unable to decipher the numbering logic of the latter, which is does not appear to be chronological, it is most likely related to the number of cases made in a specific metal. As such, it tends to be much lower on rarer metals, such as platinum or tantalum and steel.
The platinum 14790 with No.002 on the caseback.
This reference has been fitted with three separate calibres during its production run. However, all three appear to have been based on the same ébauche – the Jaeger-LeCoultre 889, a popular base movement for multiple manufacturers during the ‘90s and ‘00s. Not only did Audemars Piguet use it, but so did IWC and Vacheron Constantin. It should be noted as well that Audemars Piguet owned 40% of Jaeger-LeCoultre up until the mid-2000s, when it was sold to the Richemont Group.
The three calibres houses in the 14790 are the 2125, 2225 and 2325. The earliest models hold the 2125, with the majority of them being equipped with the 2225. Only a few of the latest models came with the 2325 installed. These automatic date and time movements were also used in other Royal Oak references that were in production at the time.
We’re going to mainly focus on the 2225 movement here, as this is the one most commonly found in the reference. Measuring 26.6mm across and 3.25mm thick, it was equipped with a bidirectional self-winding rotor made from 21k gold. Running at 4 Hz (28,800 VpH), it gave 40 hours of power reserve and carried 36 jewels. When you look at this compared to its successor, the 2325, the differences are as follows: it carries 32 jewels with a unidirectional self-winding rotor, only powering the movement when it’s moving in a clockwise direction when looking from the dial side. It also goes down to a 38-hour power reserve – not a huge difference, but one wonders why this updated movement seemed to have a smaller reserve than the one it’s replacing.
What is good to know is that the 889 is still being produced, even if it is now the 889/2. This means that the spare parts for any 14790 movement are still readily available from the right sources.
The Full Set
Establishing what a full set 14790 looks like is rather tricky, due to the long lifespan of the reference. The earliest of examples – from the first series and for the first portion of the second series – should come with a green leather octagonal box, with the watch sat on a small, round green cushion. This leather box should have “AP” stamped in the centre of the lid, with the ever-recognisable octagonal screws around the bezel. There were a few versions of these, with subtle design changes along the way.
The green leather box, with early paperwork signed by hand.
The Certificate of Origin on the first series and the earlier second series was a small booklet, with all the details, including the reference number and date of sale, being filled in by hand at the point of sale. Some of the watches are also accompanied by a small instruction manual for the movement housed within them – such as the calibre 2125 for the first series – as well as other accompanying documents.
As we get closer to 2000, later examples from the second series and the third series feature larger wooden boxes in different styles. The style of the Certificate of Origin is also modernised on these, with the full serial number now being printed, rather than written by hand, as on the earliest examples.
The more modern wooden box, with the corresponding paperwork where the entire serial number is printed, including the dial code.
That being said, there can always be some explainable variance in the box and papers which accompany certain examples. This is partly because retailers are renowned for using old paperwork and boxes interchangeably with newer ones, such that watches could very well have been delivered with older or newer paperwork. We have found this across other reference as well, including the Nautilus 3800.
The reference 14790 stands out as potentially the most interesting mid-size Royal Oak out there. Offered in a range of dial configurations and metals, it represents Audemars Piguet adapting their Royal Oak design to suit a wider range of tastes. At the same time, it clearly marks the manufacture stepping into modernity, as the vintage characteristics of the earlier pieces give way to clearly more contemporary design.
While the original Royal Oak ref. 5402 has become exponentially more popular in recent years, its mid-size relative was often overlooked by collectors, on account of its smaller proportions and perceived lesser significance, compared to the original. For a long time, few had actually had the opportunity, or indeed willingness, to try on the mid-sized reference, long dismissed as too small. Fortunately, things have changed. More recently, partly due to the growing appeal for all things Royal Oak, the 14790 has started to regain prominence, seen by many as the more accomplished rendition of a mid-size Royal Oak.
A first series 14790 from the archives at Audemars Piguet.
On historical grounds, it stands out as the reference that Audemars Piguet truly committed to, offering it in a wide range of colours and metals, over more than twelve years. Others have also begun to convert to the proportions, with collectors turning to more modestly sized pieces generally or realising that it wears similar to long-appreciated vintage watches, such as the Daytona. A few of the rarer executions of the design – such as the first series or the Yves Klein – have especially been targeted by collectors, for the unusual and attractive characteristics which they present. As time progresses, one thing is certain. Whilst the scale of the 14790 may be smaller, the interest in the reference is certainly getting bigger and bigger.
We hope that this guide has proven useful to those interested in the reference, whether this focus is recent or long-standing. Of course, we freely admit that this is by no means a complete and exhaustive work. As such, should you have any information which you feel might help us enhance this guide, please do reach out via email@example.com. With any new information we receive, we will endeavour to update this guide, so that it may be used for future reference.
We would like to thank the Audemars Piguet Museum and Archives, in particular Raphael Balestra and Mark Schmidt, for opening their doors to us and sharing their rich collection of pieces and information. We would also like to thank Ben Mahmoud Omar for generously sharing some of the information he has accumulated over the last decade. Finally, we would like to thank some of the private collectors who have shared some of the pieces which were the foundation of the research and photography for this guide.