Midsized executions of the so-called holy trinity are just today becoming as collected as their jumbo counterparts. Call it a return to classic proportion or just common sense, these slightly more modest cases wear more discreetly and often require a little closer study of history to understand. But this 4332BA is not any midsized Royal Oak, it’s one of the most nuanced. In terms of the usual criteria collector’s value, it has it all: rarity, detail, and historic significance. But it takes a little study to understand just why.
Produced for only five years in gold, the ref. 4332/14332 (AP moved from a four-digit to a five-digit reference system between 1984 and 1985, this watch is from 1984 and predates the switch but the two references are the same watch) is a niche midsized Royal Oak that first brought water resistance to the midsized case. One has to be very familiar with the Royal Oak family tree to even be aware of its existence. The first ever midsized Royal Oak was the ref. 4100, 35.5mm and released in 1978, six years after the first ever ref. 5402 Royal Oak. Before the longest running and most well-known midsized ref. 14790 took over, two major mechanical transitional references came and went in the 14486 and this earlier 4332/14332. Just two years after introduction of the 4100, AP updated the midsized case here with a very slightly more masculine proportion of 36.5mm, leading some to call this the ‘Mini Jumbo’. It has also gone by ‘Rare Oak’ as the yellow gold was only produced in vanishingly small numbers. Fewer than 300 examples were ever made, with 298 total documented sales.
This reference was also the first time that a screwdown crown had been fitted to the midsized, truly completing this Royal Oak case. In celebration of that addition, the crown on this reference is quite a bit chunkier than its predecessor, larger in both diameter and length. In this generation the crowns were still unsigned (this is one of those rare occasions where signed crowns are often service replacements and not vice versa). It is interesting to note that the following reference, the 14886, went back to the small crown, making this design something of a standout in detail. One could call it the ‘big crown’ midsized Royal Oak, but that’s a bit verbose and a bit too close to Rolex-speak.
But, of course, that’s just the start of the details. Its dial sports both the desirable petite tapisserie in anthracite and vintage flat ‘AUDEMARS PIGUET’ signature, hallmarks of early Royal Oak production. Not only that, but the patina on this dial has warmed its grey slightly (not quite tropical but 10% there), with some of its yellow gold indices showing a slight bit of gorgeous purple oxidation. This BA also sports an attractively warmed date disc that blends with the yellow gold indices and equally warm tritium. The automatic calibre 2125 is derived from Jaeger-LeCoultre's 889. This example is from 1984 and includes an Extract of Archive. It’s a Royal Oak reference that has been lauded by collectors paying close attention for years, but few have come to the market in the last decade to satisfy that attention, there simply aren’t many around.