Royal Oak Ref. 5402 | steel
It’s been 47 years since the creation of the original Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and this now classic piece, is more popular than ever. First unveiled by Audemars Piguet in 1972 and designed by Gerald Genta - who incidentally designed the Patek Philippe Nautilus amongst others - the Royal Oak Ref. 5402 has become a cultural icon due to its distinctive features and role as a pioneer for high-end luxury sports watches.
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 within 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.
Creation of the Royal Oak
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”.
Intriguingly, 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.
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 was two years before another 1000 ‘A-series’ Royal Oak examples saw the light of day, completing a very limited series of 2000 ever produced.
A late A-series example
This steel, Royal Oak A-series watch is the perfect balance between utilitarian function and elegant design. The case and bracelet are excellently finished, though show signs of having previously been polished, particularly on the angular, beveled and polished edges. The polished screws, bezel and case edges contrast with the brushed surface of the case and bracelet. At 39mm in diameter, and only 7mm thick, the Royal Oak case is a beautiful twist of perspectives and size. The outer-case back correctly displays the unique serial number (A15XX), with matching last 3-digits on the inner case-back. The watch comes fully-equipped with its original A-series bracelet (end-links stamped 'AP') and a later service replacement clasp (signed 'AP’).
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. 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 has developed an attractive patina, displaying hues of copper and gold in certain lights, adding texture and warmth to the overall watch. The dial further features a date aperture at 3 o’clock (with correct date disc) and luminous white gold hands and hour markers. The luminous material in the hands displays a greenish tone, though the handset itself remains in the correct style for the period. The placement of the ‘Audemars Piguet’ lettering is consistent with that of an A-series dial, within the range of its unique designation – the first ‘A’ of ‘Audemars' also slightly larger than the second ‘A’, within the spacing inside the letter itself.
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.
ProvenanceThe present example was originally sold in circa 1974, evidenced by the accompanying letter from Audemars Piguet to the original owner, a former Swiss Ambassador.
This A-Series 5402 Royal Oak comes with a complete servicing history, including documentation from famous Swiss retailer Gübelin (dated 84’, 88’ and 94’) and German retailer Wempe, from 2006. It was recently serviced in 2017 in Le Brassus by Audemars Piguet.
Viewings can be arranged in Central London by appointment only.
|Model:||Royal Oak A-series Ref. 5402|
|Movement:||mechanical automatic AP Caliber 2121|
|Functions:||date, hours, minutes|
|Features:||unrestored ‘tapisserie’ pattern dial|
|Case:||39 mm stainless steel|
|Bracelet:||stainless steel AP-stamped A-series bracelet|
|Box & papers:||non-A-Series box, letter to the original owner from Audemars Piguet (dated 1974), complete servicing history|
Further to this, the crown has been replaced with an appropriate, unsigned service crown - in 2017. The handset is the correct style, though the greenish tone of the luminous material suggests this was changed by AP, earlier in the life of the watch. It is guaranteed for authenticity and comes with a two-year warranty from A Collected Man.
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