The early 1970s was a time of great change within the watch industry, where the concept of a luxury watch in steel was a truly revolutionary idea. Royal Oak ‘A-series’ watches from the early 1970s are highly-sought by collectors, owing to their rarity and unique place in the brand’s history. The reference 5402 Royal Oak is often referred to as ‘Jumbo’, on account of its relatively imposing size for the period.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak debuted in 1972, as the most expensive steel watch ever made. The Royal Oak was not only unprecedented in its design, but also in its initial pricing to consumers. Once the Royal Oak was released, the retail price for the watch was 3,750 Swiss Francs, more than four times the cost of any other steel watch of the period. As a result of the watches’ groundbreaking design, the very first ‘A-series’ examples were limited to just 1000 pieces, initially getting off to a slow start. It would be two years before another 1000 ‘A-series’ Royal Oak examples would see the light of day, completing an exceptionally limited series of 2000 ever produced.
On the eve of Basel’s 1971 fair, Gerald Genta was tasked with the creation of an “unprecedented steel watch" – his night's work, today considered one of the masterpieces of his career. Audemars Piguet managing director of the time, Georges Golay, contacted Mr. Genta with a view to designing a totally new, steel, waterproof sports watch – understanding that the waterproof technology would require innovative strategy. Gerald Genta’s inspiration for the iconic Royal Oak architecture was to replicate that of the scaphander diving helmet, on the watch case, complete with eight screws and the joint visible on the cases’ exterior. As Mr. Genta recounts “I was given the ‘green light’ straight away to begin work on the prototype. I completed the prototype myself within a year. In 1970, I designed the watch. And it took one more year before industrial production, which finally came about in 1972”. Prototypes for the Royal Oak are said to have been initially manufactured from white gold, as the softer material was easier to sculpt and manipulate the varying degree of angular, brushed and polished surfaces.
This steel, Royal Oak A-series watch is the perfect balance between utilitarian function and elegant design. The case and bracelet are excellently finished, with angular, beveled and polished edges. The polished screws, bezel and case edges fantastically-contrast with the brushed surface of the case and bracelet. At 39mm in diameter, and only 7mm thick, this A-series Royal Oak case is a beautiful twist of perspectives and size. The outer-case back correctly displays the unique serial number (A11XX), with matching last 3-digits on the inner case-back. This A-series example also correctly displays the serial number above the ‘Audemars Piguet’ signature on the inner case-back.
This A-Series is distinguished by the placement of the ‘AP’ logo above 6 o’clock, compared to later examples typically bearing the ‘AP’ logo at 12 o’clock. While this dial is an early service-replacement, the configuration retains the classic A-series appearance. The weaving pattern of the ‘tapisserie’ pattern dial, forming the square and lozenge motif, alters the deep grey coloration of the dial as it reflects light from different angles. The dial further features a date aperture at 3 o’clock and luminous white gold hands and hour-markers.
The A-series Royal Oak is powered by the ultra-thin AP caliber 2121, derived from Jaeger-LeCoultre’s legendary ultra-thin JLC 920 calibre movement. The caliber 2121 was based on the caliber 2120, an initial project of Jaeger LeCoultre in 1967, funded and contributed by Audemars Piguet, and famous for its adoption by Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin. The ultra-thin automatic 2121 calibre features 36 working jewels, Gyromax balance and four ruby wheels to support the full-diameter rotor, which runs on a beryllium rail for stability. The AP calibre 2121 remains the thinnest full-rotor self-winding movement in the world, considered by many as one of the most stunningly refined and technically impressive wrist-watch movements ever made. Importantly, its movement serial number is within the range of its late, A-series designation.
The watch comes fully-equipped with its original A-series bracelet and clasp (end-links stamped AXX, clasp signed ‘Audemars Piguet’).
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