In case you missed it, the Royal Oak is having a big year. Audemars Piguet’s most recognizable and coveted model is celebrating its golden jubilee and 2022 will be a year-long love fest to the watch, which debuted in 1972.
In addition to the company’s fanfare around its recent 50th-anniversary releases, Phillips will also be rolling out the red carpet for AP’s crown jewel. On May 6, at Hôtel La Réserve in Geneva, the auction house will hold a sale of 88 Royal Oak references ranging from unique high complications to ultra-rare historical pieces and even one model which was thought to be owned by the late designer Karl Lagerfeld.
Phillips has revealed eight of the models in the sale, all of which have estimates in the six-figure range. The one serious collectors will want to outbid each other on, however, is the Ref. 5402ST made in 1972. Not only is it from the year of the Royal Oak’s birth, but it also happens to be one of just four models first shown to press, retailers and the public at that year’s Basel watch fair to herald its debut. Further solidifying its importance, it bears the marking A2, signifying it was the second Royal Oak to ever come out of the manufacture. Oh, but there’s more: It has never been worn and is therefore impeccably preserved and comes with a full set of accessories. The estimate is CHF 200,000-CHF 400,000 (approximately $212,433-$424,851 at current exchange), but it will likely hammer in at a much higher price than its top estimate.
There are also two unique grande complication timepieces, both with top estimates of over $500,000. Each boasts serious horological heft with three of the most difficult complications in the field combined into one watch: a minute repeater, perpetual calendar and a split-seconds chronograph. The Ref. 25865ST is a steel version with a blue tapisserie dial (CHF 250,000-CHF 500,000 or $265,422-$530,795), while the Ref. 25990BC comes decked case-to-clasp in diamonds set in white gold and light-blue mother-of-pearl subdials for the collector who wants to make doubly sure someone notices their wrist (CHF 250,000-CHF 500,000 or $265,422-$530,795).
Other pieces include a trio of platinum-case offerings for those that prefer the top-of-the-line metal including the Ref. 25636PT Openwork Perpetual Calendar of which only 41 pieces made (estimate CHF 200,00-CHF 400,000 or $212,328-$424,694); a Ref. 14802PT Jubilee in platinum of which only 20 were made for the company’s 20th anniversary (CHF 250,000-CHF 500,000 or $265,422-$530,795); a Ref. 25829TP Openwork Perpetual Calendar in platinum and tantalum of which just 16 were produced (CHF 120,000-CHF 240,000 or $127,408-$254,816).
While the exact number in the series for each of the models above was not yet revealed (i.e. 1 of 41 on the 25636PT or 10 of 20 on the 14802PT), those that are always looking for number one can try their hand at taking home the stainless-steel Ref. 25831ST Tourbillon, which was made in 1997 for the company’s 25th anniversary, features the first tourbillon in the Royal Oak collection and is number 1 of 25 (CHF 120,000-CHF 240,000 or $127,392-$254,793).
And finally, while blacked-out versions of the Royal Oak have certainly been hot, the Ref. 5402ST black PVD-coated “A Series” on offer (CHF 100,000-CHF 200,000 or $106,160-$212,321) comes with dubious provenance. According to a statement, it has “most probably been worn by an icon: Karl Lagerfeld [the late and celebrated designer of Chanel].” However, there is no certainty that it was owned or even worn by the designer. While he was known to be spotted in black PVD Royal Oak models, specifically a Ref. 5402, Phillips says that due to the watch’s place of delivery and the fact that it was purchased in Italy in early 1974, where Lagerfeld was living at the time, it is believed to have been purchased by the designer. It does have some considerable wear, meaning he also could have worn it. But the designer was also known to gift watches to friends—in fact, he was known to frequently give lavish gifts of all kinds to close colleagues, collaborators and friends alike—so it is unknown whether this specific watch actually was part of his personal vault.
Given that similar-looking black ceramic model, first released in 2021 and updated for 2022—the Royal Oak 34mm Selfwinding Black Ceramic—now goes for double its 2022 retail price of $48,900, you might as well opt for the brand-new version…if you can get your hands on one. Royal Oaks have become so scarce and desired that the company’s CEO François-Henri Bennahmias said he would allot a “big chunk” of new models for new clients so that they could finally have a stab at ownership of a Royal Oak at a press conference earlier this year. However, he added that prospective newcomers would need to first “develop a relationship” with its boutique managers and salespeople before being considered.
For ultra-deep and impatient pockets, however, the auction block may be the best bet.