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A tale of three Royal Oaks: the Audemars Piguet challenge

By on 11 May 2012 in Watches

A tale of three Royal Oaks: the Audemars Piguet challenge
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We’re going to do something different today, folks. Instead of us providing our ever-irreverent opinions about another watch or brand, we wanted to give you the opportunity to provide us with some direction. Ready, kids? Then we’ll begin…

You see, both your editors plan to acquire Audemars Piguet timepieces in the next 12 months or so. We’ve long been admirers of the brand, lovers even, and the classic octagonal design so perfectly penned the first time round by the recently departed Gerald Genta. Little Six even owned an early 80s Royal Oak for a short while before trading it in. Yes, we still spank him for that mistake.

Today, both Six and Fool are genuinely torn about which of the AP models on offer deserves their hard-earned cash (read: credit) and reserved space in their watch boxes. After much chin-stroking and argument, three models were selected from within the AP stable: the Dual Time, or 26120ST; the 15300ST and 15202ST.

A while back we wrote about our lust for the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Dual Time (26120ST), a complication timepiece that somehow side-stepped looking, well, complicated. This takes some doing given the intricacy of the AP bracelet and subtle finishing. We duly added the Dual Time to our want list, despite the EUR10,000 price tag on the secondary market, and moved on.

Fast forward a few months and one of our readers, El Guapo, decided he would indulge in a blue dial AP 15300ST, which go for around EUR7,000 second-hand. He was even kind enough to fill out our Prodigal Questionnaire on his acquisition. Mostly at gunpoint.

The gun flashing was forgiven shortly thereafter over drinks at Bob Bob Ricard’s, when the Fool and I had some time to more closely examine El Guapo’s AP. It turned out the blue dial was a real stunner and utterly discreet – not something one immediately sees in photos. The Fool decided there and then he had to have an AP, while Six had to admit that this was the only real alternative to the Dual Time within the AP stable.

But we’re no strangers to surfing the net for more than a little watch porn, and boy did we find it with Robert-Jan Broer’s review of the 15300ST, and subsequent move to the 15202ST, on watch blog Fratellowatches.

RJ is the reason you’re looking at so many tasty pics to your right, and what his pics and posts bridged to was the purists’ pick: the 15202ST. The latter is lighter than the 15300ST, with a less robust bracelet/clasp, but it commands a serious premium (a minimum of EUR3,000) given it comes with the venerated AP Calibre 2121 movement.

So, while the 15300ST enjoys better construction and a little dial “movement”, courtesy of a seconds hand, the cognescenti all point toward the 15202ST. Is it any wonder we’re confused as hell? All this fuss over a movement and increased rarity?! Well, yes. A pic of the movement is also shown, so you can see what all the noise is about.

The three APs span a price spectrum of EUR7,000 – EUR13,000; a watch with a complication vs. two that have none at all. And between the latter, only a seconds hand marks the most obvious visual differentiator. Like many things in watch land this is largely about subtleties that no-one but us geeks care about.

When all is said and done, what we really want to know is this: which one would you point us toward, and why?

Article

A tale of three Royal Oaks: the Audemars Piguet challenge

There comes a time in every collector’s life where s/he needs to enter the hallowed doors of Audemars Piguet. But which Royal Oak to choose? We need your help…

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Author

Straight-Six had a proper job as a journalist for Dow Jones before lowering himself gently into the warm, forgiving waters of The Guide. He’s our resident fanatic: he relished detailing his BMW M3 for two full days at a time before crashing it at Eau Rouge in the wet; he spends insane amounts on his home-cinema system and has thrown tens of thousands of euros at vintage Rolex sports watches. The little fool simply does not understand the concept of restraint or the meaning of excess. He also – following a legendary "heavy" lunch – once nibbled (yes, like little dogs do) a dear lady friend of ours.

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  • http://www.truetaichii.com Stephan Berwick

    Dual Time – my favorite of the more classic ROs. I consider it the most unique of your choices, with bonus of a really useful complication, executed very nicely.

    • http://www.TheProdigalGuide.com Straight-Six

      My first love was indeed the Dual Time. It remains such an attractive proposition and I personally find the dial design and execution to be superb, considering how much is in there…

  • Breguet Fan

    Out of these three my favourite is the 15300ST as the option without the seconds hand looks too simple for my taste. I like the dual time, however the sub-dial configuration looks out of balance to my untrained eye. Instead of the dual time, I would pick the RO chrono. It is also within your budget, although admittedly near the upper limit.

    • http://www.TheProdigalGuide.com Straight-Six

      When it comes to Audemars Piguet, it’s always near or just beyond the outer reaches of our budget!

      But always worth it, we’d counter-argue. :)

    • http://www.TheProdigalGuide.com Straight-Six

      Didn’t mention it in the post, but came close to pulling the trigger on a white face RO Chrono a couple of years back.

      Incredible value second-hand, but arguably a little less “elegant” and versatile than the others mentioned here…?

  • Minn P

    After getting a second hand white dial 15300 3 years ago I’ve been really loving the look and feel of the AP RO but there’s always one thing which bothers me about this watch. The bracelet is so uncomfortable for a watch of this price I wonder how RJ can describe it as one of the more comfortable bracelet he’d worn in his original post. I’ve not tried the other 2 so not sure how the they’ll compare but if I were to discount the comfort and price factor then I’d choose the dual time for the interesting complication. Plus the prices for Jumbo is reaching ridiculous level coinciding with the 40th anniversary you’d be better off waiting for the hype to die down.

    • http://www.fratellowatches.com/ RJ @ Fratellowatches

      Hello,

      I just want to respond to “The bracelet is so uncomfortable for a watch of this price I wonder how RJ can describe it as one of the more comfortable bracelet he’d worn in his original post.”.

      I’ve noticed that it depends on the size of your wrist, whether you can describe this bracelet the most comfortable one or as an uncomfortable one ;) Both the bracelets of my 15202 and 26300 (and let’s include the 15300 I traded a while ago) are very comfortable, despite having no half links or micro-adjustment available (like on Rolex clasps). I don’t wear my APs too tight I have to admit.

      The comfortable part is in the way the bracelet folds around my wrist, all the way from the top of my wrist (at the lugs of the watch) to the clasp. Fits like a glove. The bracelets are a bit stiff as the links are polished, brushed and screwed to each other in a way that it all barely fits. But it does perfectly.

      Well, you have to try them yourselves of course. Note that the bracelet of the 15202 (I am not sure about the recently introduced 15202 with the AP logo at 6 o’clock, as this one has a different bracelet) is very thin and feels ‘vintage’ in every way where the bracelet of the 15300 and 26300 are a bit thicker, feel more up to date (less flimsy) but are a bit stiffer than the one on the 15202.

      Anyway, good luck making a choice! The Dual Time was on my list as well when I was going for an additional AP to join my 15202 Jumbo. In the end, I bought the 26300 instead with the ‘Newman’ dial lay-out. The Dual Time is still very nice though, but I thought the a-symmetrical lay-out of the dial would bother me too much when the honeymoon weeks were over.

      RJ

      • Minn P

        Hi RJ,
        I agree that it depends on individual wrists size so your mileage may vary. I may also be wearing it on the tight side as I’ve always thought that if I wear it too loose then I might wear out the bracelet due to the movements between links resulting in the flimsy bracelet feeling your get when wearing vintage bracelets.

        Good luck to Straight-Six with the choice anyway as you can’t really go wrong with a AP RO. Looking forward to a full write up when you finally get one!

  • El Guapo

    What can I say? The 15300ST (Although it’s being phased out in favour of the new, slightly bigger, 154, n’est ce pas?)

    It’s the right size and I do find the bracelet comfortable. I’ve not handled the Jumbo and while that one really appeals to the purist in me, from what I read (mostly in Fratello) it seems it’s…well, flimsier than my 153 which is built like a tank.

    And by the way, after seeing these pictures I’d like to apologise for the ones accompanying my questionnaire…yeesh.

    As ever, my offer to lend it to you lot for Talking Hands still stands. As well as the requisite bottle of whatever it’ll take to make sure I get the thing back after you’re done.

    • http://www.TheProdigalGuide.com Straight-Six

      The bracelet on my early 80s AP RO draped itself over the wrist beautifully. However, I would have limited myself to delicate activities with such a bracelet…

      Then again, all three of the options above are not exactly for active living. More like tasteful schmoozing…:)

    • http://www.TheProdigalGuide.com Straight-Six

      And yes, we will take you up on a TH on your piece! You’ll have to fight us, or get us blind drunk, to get it back…

      You’ve been warned.

      • El Guapo

        Ahem. I’ve been out with you two before. “Lash” Of The Titans it was not.

  • Jéan Hadzi

    After much consideration and a few drinks of Stranahan’s fine Colorado whiskey I thought about the question at hand; 15202ST or 15300ST? I found the only appropriate answers resides in the following question: Why can’t it be both?
    Seriously, why can’t it be both? Both watches truly have discerning character in in there own right.
    The 15202STsays, “I am ready for the weekend.”
    Whereas the 1530ST says, “I am ready for the boardroom.”
    Truly a face for either pace… Though, I realize that having just about 20k in just two watches sounds like high fashion insanity these two pieces are about history and understatement.
    So I say why not get both and be 100% happy. And if you find yourself wearing one more than the other trade th less-worn AP and get something different. Perhaps something from the Rolex Sub line for Six and something with Italian heritage for fool strapped with navel history. Ciao fellows! Enjoy!

    • http://www.TheProdigalGuide.com Straight-Six

      A Prodigal response if we ever read one!

      Like your style. Need your wallet.

  • Westerby

    Gentlemen,

    To take you up on the challenge, I actually decided to brave today’s foul weather and visit the Audemars Piquet boutique at Place de la Fusterie. I did manage to take a good look at the dual time and 15300ST, but alas, they didn’t have the 15202ST available.

    Anyway, my 5 cents: Both watches are truly, really, absolutely magnificent. The layout of the dial in the Dual Time is really well done, but I still have to admit a slight preference for the simple, sophisticated and clean look of the 15300ST. I particularly like the blue dial version.

    As for the 15202ST, as I said, I have yet to have to opportunity see one in the flesh. But I will leave you with this thought. The truly fascinating thing about the Royal Oak is that its one of the few watches that offers the perfect compromise between sophistication and ruggedness. My problem with the 15202ST would be this: Doesn’t the ultra thin version ever so slightly tilt the balance towards the more refined and delicate side? But obviously, I will have to make another stop by the Place de la Fusteri to make my mind up on that one…

    • http://www.TheProdigalGuide.com Straight-Six

      That’s the way to do it: see and feel for yourself.

      You highlight a serious problem here: they are all utterly desirable. Degrees of difference only…

      • Jean

        Thanks Six! Sorry for tragically late response but (as you know) the pied piper of demanding clients is a cruel mistress and has kept me from checking in. Glad you liked my response! I am very much looking forward to your next installment of “Talking Hands”! Recently I found a jolly good deal bought my first Rolex and ended up with a 1978 Rolex Submariner 5513 recently serviced by Rolex and it looks like it rolled straight of the line and time traveled to my wrist from 1978! Could not be happier! I would love to see a Talking hands on this reference! So much witty banter could follow supplemented with a fine Islay Scotch to lubricate the assured flinging of bond references back and forth. Selling my other pieces to get this one never felt so good! All the best! Cheers!

  • Stephen Almond

    They aren’t hexagonal. They’re octagonal…

    • El Guapo

      Indeed.

      Surely Six knows that and was referring to the hexagonal screws…right?

      Of course.

      • http://www.TheProdigalGuide.com Straight-Six

        Absolutely!

        (rushed to laptop to correct error, swearing profusely…)

        Good catch.

  • http://asordidboon.com Chris I

    15202ST

    If you are a person who can afford one of these watches you don’t sweat the seconds. AP watches are for big picture guys.

    I never really had a thing for the Royal Oak – don’t know why.

    • http://www.TheProdigalGuide.com Straight-Six

      Just taken a closer look at the dial of the 15202ST and am not sure I actually care for the Arabic numerals round the dial’s outer edge.

      When compared to utter cleanliness of 15300ST, this may be a smudge on the 15202….

      Did I just say that?!

      • http://www.fratellowatches.com/ RJ @ Fratellowatches

        If being held next to a 5402ST reference or the new 15202, you might be right… On the other hand, some of the participants of the Genta cremation..euh.. BBQ.. actually loved the Arabic numerals on the 15202.

        http://www.fratellowatches.com/gerald-genta-bbq/

        RJ

      • El Guapo

        I’m with the BBQ crowd, I actually like that detail of the 15202 as well.
        And one of each is certainly the Prodigal solution. Note to self…

        re: the 15400 (comment below), it’s certainly newer (and bigger)…but better?!

        • Dennis Lim

          Hi El Gaupo,

          The word “better” deserves some clarification.
          The points below are purely my opinion and should be taken with a massive pinch of salt.

          1. I doubt AP will make a poorer quality watch with 15400, compared to 15300

          2. I’ve read somewhere that the larger size helps make the 15400 looks more proportional than 15300 – because overall, it doesn’t look so “thick”

          3. From a design point of view, have double baton hour markers at 12 o’clock (15400) is visually better than having the AP logo (15300)

          4. Personally, 15300 have always been a little too small for me, while the ROO are just too much. So i believe the new 15400 would be the best mid-point i can get. Bigger than RO, still smaller than ROO.

          In conclusion, it is either 15202 for the purist or 15400 for those who simply wants a best-bang-for-their-buck RO.

  • Dennis Lim

    What are you guys not considering the 15400ST? Isn’t it a newer and better watch?

    Personally, i am going for 15400ST with a black dial. I get it with 15202, but i don’t see why anyone would consider 15300 right now.

    Finally, i am not a fan of the Dual Time, so if i must only pick from the 3 choices, it would be 15202. If 15400 can be added to the mix, then it would be the clear winner based on value, looks and built (of course, i have not see or touch it, but based on online reviews so far, it seems like a solid watch)

  • Till

    It all depends if and how much of a purist you are. If you are a purist, I fell you should be a real purist. In this case the 15202 is only a poor substitute for an original from the 70s. The movement is the same, yes. But the tapestry dial and position of the AP logo and markers were all nicer in the ORIGINAL. Not to mention that the original also had no transparent case-back but a wonderful monocoque chassis. Which also means the original fully capitalizes on the thin movement which the 15202 does not. All this is given away in the 15202 for more bling on the rear without any technical advancement. Besides, while you pay the price of a watch with an in-house movement the 2121 is still a JLC design.

    The 15300 is preferable in my eyes. It is a completely independent in-house design by AP. It has a much higher power reserve, an important atout in daily life, and you can actually track its accuracy because it has such a mundane feature as a second hand. Add a bracelet that is more rugged and won’t wear out so fast. Finally, all these objective improvements cost you less than the lackluster remake that doesn’t even touch the original.

    Frankly, if you’re a purist the 15202 shouldn’t even be an option. Just decide if you want to be a vintage purist or a modern purist. Vintage goes hunting for an old model, modern buys a 15300. Or the newer model that is closer to the original with small tapestry dial.

    Personally, I bought the 15300 and don’t regret it one bit. It’s VERY accurate and all the gremlins have now been worked out.

    If memory serves the Dual Time movement is also a JLC-base and is also available in a VC Overseas, where I find it to be the nicer choice.

    • http://www.fratellowatches.com/ RJ @ Fratellowatches

      Till,

      The 15202 is still a monocoque case, the only thing that really changed is the dial and the clasp of the bracelet (the latter in a good way). Which is a matter of preference (like the differences between a 3700 and 5711 from PP).

      Another aspect you seem to ‘forget’ is that the dimensions of the 15202 are exactly the same as the original 5402 (original 1970s Royal Oak). The dimensions of the 15300 was the thing that bothered me most when I had it. The bezel is a bit too wide, the watch is a bit too thick and the movement is a bit too small for the case in my opinion and compared to the 15202 ‘Jumbo’.

      I had the 15300 and traded it for a 15202 for above reasons. I reckon it is valid for you to say you prefer a 15300 over a 15202 as you obviously have one, which is definitely a nice watch. However, I would be a more subtle when it comes to the 15202. It is far from a poor substitute and I find it hard to believe that you really think that, as you went for the 15300 which really is a ‘substitute’ of the original (not a poor one).

      The movement of the 15300 is indeed in-house, but what kind of quality assurance is that? It has been there since 2005 and the JLC 920 has been there since 1967. Both movements are really nice, have Gyromax balances and are constructed in a nice way. I would prefer the flat AP 2121 though, as the construction of the movement is a bit more complex and special due to the rotor-rails instead of the ball-ring system for the rotor.

      Both are great watches and you can’t go wrong with either of them, but the 15202 does come close to the original (or perhaps is the original, as it is still the ‘Jumbo’ since 40 years). The 15300 has a more modern look and feel, where the 15202 feels a bit vintage. Just what you prefer. I bought the 15202 and added a 26300 later on, to have at least a modern look & feel AP as well (and I missed the white dial of my 15300).

      The new 15202 might do the trick as well, although except for the dial with small ‘Clous de Paris’ the watch received some more updates concerning bracelet (double clasp) and the case got a bit thicker. However, I think there will be big price difference in the ‘going-price’ for the former 15202 and the new 15202 in the first few months (at least).

      RJ

      • Till

        Dear RJ,

        must stick with my point that I find the old 15202 is a poor substitute, the new one a much better one, for the reasons you and I stated.

        As you’ll surely agree much of the appeal of owning a high-end watch is in the prestige. One factor that gives high-end watches and brands their prestige is that they are able to make their own movements. It’s like a cook cooking from scratch instead of using pre-packaged components. AP has proven (also with their Renaud-Papi arm) that they are capable of doing that. The know-how counts. As do details like a much higher power reserve, a balance bridge and a second hand that only allows to see if the movement is accurate – lacking a timing machine. Moreover, when I buy a high-end watch, I want the entire watch (or as close as possible) to be from that brand. I actually believe that vertical integration is one of the very best distinguishing characteristics between the very good and the excellent. For that reason, when I want a JLC movement, I choose a JLC watch. This way I get an excellent movement from a very vertically integrated brand at a very good price. The only exception I’d be inclined to make is the VC Vintage 1955 with the ultra-flat JLC movement, simply because nothing else beats it.

        As for the 15202 still being monocoque, are you certain of that? I would love to stand corrected but everything I’ve read and seen so far says it isn’t. Besides, the point could be made that given the crystal case-back it features, it cannot be a real monocoque anyway.

        I would love to have the flatness of the 15202 but the added meat on the bones of the AP3120, superior power reserve and central seconds is well worth the height difference in my eyes. The proportions are still very good if not the same as the original. These are among the reasons why I wouldn’t call the 15300 a substitute. It is the “new Royal Oak”. A modern version. The 15202 is a re-make and not a very exciting one. The new 15202 is a very exciting remake.

        If it were up to me I’d have a vintage 5402 from the year I’m born (72) and my current 15303. Lacking the opportunity to find a good vintage one, I’d gladly take the new 202. However, pecuniary realities prevent me from doing so. Sadly! :)

        BTW, love your blog. Keep up the good work!

        Till

        • http://www.fratellowatches.com/ RJ @ Fratellowatches

          Hi Till,

          Let’s agree to disagree :) I think the new 15202 is then even a worse substitute than the former 15202. There is more to a watch then a dial imho.

          About the monocoque case: There is no doubt that the 15202, 14802 and 15002 are monocoque cases as well. Everything leaves the watch via the crystal as the caseback is part of the watch case and cannot be detached. The fact that the case has a sapphire back side doesn’t matter, it can’t be detached. Same goes for the 15300 and 26300. I am not sure about the previous 25860.

          About the JLC movement. Yes, it is JLC but developed with PP and VC and AP is the only one who still uses it (in license). JLC has never used this movement, PP did in the beginning of the NAutilus (but switched to their own movement in 1979) and VC also switched later on in their 222/Overseas.

          You are a real manufacture purist. Everything must be in-house. That’s fine of course. I look at things differently I guess. Just try the new 15202 (or former 15202) some time, try to borrow one for a week or so. Let’s talk again then and let me know what you think. You know where to find me :)

          RJ

          • http://www.fratellowatches.com/ RJ @ Fratellowatches

            Monocoque: Everything leaves the watch through the front crystal (I forgot to put the word ‘front’ in there). The watchmaker unscrews the bezel via the back side. Takes off the bezel, takes off the front crystal, removes the dial, detaches the crown and out goes the movement. What’s left is a monocoque case. I am sure there is a video or explanatory picture on the net somewhere.

          • Till

            Hi Rj, thanks for the kind reply. I’d love to get my hands on a 15202 again, old or new.

            Our monocoque definition is different then. Everything leaves the watch through the front (top) crystal is not how I understand it. Monocoque means single hull. That means for me that the part that receives the movement is an uninterrupted, single piece of metal, e.g. Seiko Marinemaster 300 (link if allowed: http://jiehong.org/blog/2010/07/02/seiko-marine-master-300/), like a cook pot with a lid on it. If the bottom of the hull is a separate piece (crystal) that brings the parts count from one (mono) up to two. I’d call these cases pseudo-monocoque. That’s what the original steel back APRO was. Of course, the price one pays is to not see the movement.

            As for being an in-house purist, yes to a degree. I have watches with ETA movements (Oris and Breitling) that are doing a beautiful job. No snobbery there. But then again, these two brands don’t pride themselves on horological prowess and they aren’t in the same price range as an AP. As I said, I’d consider an Overseas with the JLC-derived dual time movement and I’d also consider the fantastic VC 1955 with the JLC movement. Never mind the “outhouse” movement. The watch is to die for. :)

            What I do admit to is being a bit of a price/value purist rather than a “historically correct” freak.

            Cheers,

            Till

  • Pascal

    15202 by all means.

    I have to be in agreement with RJ (again – he will understand :-))

    The Royal Oak is a design icon by Genta that will stay forever. At the time it was a major break from the conventions, an utterly unconventional an approach of the watch in a very distinctive style, 5 years after the “quartz crisis”. At that time, no one at AP believed that the watch would ecounter success.
    It did because it is a very fragile balance between a lot of elements already discussed in lenghts in the previous posts.

    This balance is for me only present on the 15202 (and in the “new 15202″ as well). It is pure, strong yet delicate. A treat. All the rest is, well, iteration.

    And, yes, JLC has provided or designed movements for some of the best watches from the most renowned names. Just as Lemania did (and still does…). This is part of the watchmaking history and legacy. The 2120/2120 is truly beatiful and it doesn’t bother me at all to find it in this RO.

    Just my 2 cents…

  • Andrew

    Gotta be the 15202—that movement is just too pretty. The skeletonized rotor on the 2121 is without equal. One the one hand, it’s nice to have the sweep second hand (on the 15300) if for no other reason than easy reassurance that the movement is in fact doing its job. But the purity of the clean dial with only the minute and hour hands has its own appeal. Frankly, the dual time model is nice but not even close to the others in my book—something about the pure Genta sports watch appeal is gone when one adds further complications.

  • Till

    Small correction. In the reply to RJ I meant that the original APRO was a REAL monocoque, not a pseudo like the ones with the glass back. Knowing that this is abysmally below the level of the prodigal guide, as a fan of true mono-coques I can recommend the Citizen BN0000-04H. Another link to some good non-commercial pictures: http://www.forum-mdp.com/t10627-citizen-bn0000-04h-300m-diver. It’s a no-BS, fully DIN-conform diver that keeps excellent time and it’s about the cheapest true mono-coque that I know of. I own one and it’s a blast. Even has an in-house movement. ;)

  • Nick Shahani

    Usually your first instinct is the best…if the dual time won your heart, then the decision is obvious. It also happens to be the one I would choose of the options you mentioned.

    Congrats….this will probably be one of the most rewarding purchases you will ever make.

  • Westlake

    I own and love 15300’s big brother – the 15400st. Understated, elegant, and that bracelet – just awesome! While the 26120st has the superb Caliber 2329/2846 and is a fine addition to any collection, I prefer the size, simplicity and symmetrics of the 154 dial.

    Short answer: no wrong answers with any of these 3 great timepieces.

    • muttley

      get the 15305ST instead……..i love mine. equally great with a suit or casual with a pair of jeans on the weekend.

  • Michael

    I’ll stick with The Original, simply because of the movement and the overall look and feel. I have owned
    a white dialed 15300, and now a charcoal 15202. The look and feel is difficult to explain. For Till, please try it in the flesh and you will find out what I mean. It’s just more Royal Oak, it’s that simple.

  • disqus_RprzBBgyby

    It’s got to be either the 1520 or the dual time. The 1520 beautifully simple in every respect and there is not much more to say. If you want something more modern then the dual time has a very well balanced set of complications and suits the overall style. I would be very torn if I was lucky enough to have to choose.

    That said the lust one is the Extra Thin 15202. Definitely the most perfect of all the Royal Oaks.