The Royal Oak from Audemars Piguet
There is one thing I should say before we start. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is one of my horological obsessions. But for the broader audience the question might be why the Royal Oak is important? And why does the Royal Oak still matter? Well, the story begins back in 1875 in a small Swiss village called La Brassus, where the two mates Jules Louis Audemars (age 23 at the time) and Edward Auguste Piguet (age 21) decided they were going to set up shop. Both men had an interest in complications (they built the first ever minute repeater in a wristwatch in 1892).
The Launch of the Royal Oak
The Royal Oak watch was designed by Gerald Genta in 1971 and was released to the public in 1972 at Baselworld. This was Reference 5402, which was in production from 1972 until the late 1970s (and produced in four series A-D). The ref. 5402 was available in steel and measured 39mm in diameter and just 7mm in thickness. The slate grey tapisserie dial featured the "AP" logo at six o’clock. The original cost was CHF 3,650, which back then was expensive for a steel watch. To add insult to injury, the Royal Oak launched at a time when the watch world was in turmoil. Sales were down – and many lost their jobs as a result of the rise of the electronic quartz watch. Incredibly, the Royal Oak was an instant success despite being oversized (for the time) as well as expensive.
It was the brand's first sports-luxury wristwatch made in steel (rumour has it that the cost of the development of the strap exceeded the watch itself). The octagonal bezel was inspired by the porthole of a naval ship. The name "Royal Oak" came from a tree in England within which King Charles II hid from Cromwell’s army in 1651 (since then several military vessels have been named after the tree).
A Lasting Design
To conclude, the Royal Oak is as exciting now as it was in 1972 – and that says a great deal about the design of the watch and the calibre of the manufacture. There are few designs in watchmaking that can boast of this longevity. The question is which example is the one to own? Many would agree that an early Royal Oak ref. 5402, say series A/B, would be the ultimate treasure to own. But as you can imagine, these can be pricey.
Many collectors now argue it has to be the Reference 15202, dubbed the “Jumbo”. It’s the modern-day tribute to the very first Royal Oak. It is ultra-thin, doesn't have a seconds hand. For me, the later Reference 15400, which measures 41mm, is a bit too large, and I am therefore inclined to say that an option which appeals to me at the moment is the steel Royal Oak Reference 15300. Bruun Rasmussen can present two examples of the ref. 15300 at the upcoming international auction in Copenhagen. It boasts a mechanical calibre 3120 with blue/grey dial and index and hands in white gold. The key is that it looks almost identical to the “Jumbo” at 39 mm, but ref. 15300 includes a central seconds hand and slight adjustment to the logo position. It’s a 2010 model with an estimate of DKK 80,000-100,000 (€ 11,000 – 13,500) – if you don’t grab it – I will!
Auction: Wednesday 28 February 5 pm at Bredgade 33 in Copenhagen
Preview: 22-26 February at the same address