Borro Benchmarks: The Collectability of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak

The Backstory

If a brand is lucky enough to have just one watch in their company regarded as an industry icon, they could be forgiven for waxing lyrical about its designer’s genius until the end of days. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak isn’t just an icon itself, but also an indelible and celebratory link to the iconic designer responsible for it – Gérald Charles Genta.

There was a time – almost half a century ago now – when Gérald Genta could do no wrong. He made his mark on watchmaking in a way that no single designer (not watchmaker) has ever managed before or since. Whenever his pen touched paper, a new classic was born.

So many modern watches reference Genta in their bold use of shapes – a risky practice he made almost essential.  Even the watch I am wearing today (a Laventure Marine) has nods to his very famous Patek Philippe Nautilus riddled throughout its case. Simply put, you can’t get away from Genta. And, to be quite honest, why would you want to?

Which Models to Watch

It isn’t that everything he touched turned to gold, it’s just that he found the holy grail twice in the Royal Oak and the Nautilus. There’s a reason why these two watches have weathered so many industry-wide ups and downs: They are eternally stylish. They are bold without being brash. The are timeless without being timeworn. They are luxurious without implying laziness. The Royal Oak in particular is the archetype of all sports watches in the way its form implies movement, despite its functions being as basic as they come.

It is this functional purity that makes Genta’s output so desirable. Simplicity and wearability were the hallmarks of the young designer – ideals he moved away from once he’d reached the top of the mountain and was able to really push the boat out with the Gérald Genta Grand Sonnerie, which was, for a time the most complicated wristwatch ever made, and of which only four pieces exist.

But it is the distilled minimalism of the original Audemars Piguet Royal Oak that makes it so collectible. If you want appreciation, go with a three-hander from the master.

Under the Hammer

Not all of the highest value Audemars Piguets ever sold at auction were designed by Genta, but the legendary designer’s output features heavily on more modern lists. Even today the complicated Offshores will outperform their humbler brethren, but the relative appreciation is much lower.

A-Series Royal Oaks from the early ‘70s are often expected to fetch ten times their original ticket price at auction (upwards of $30,000). If you’re lucky enough to get one of these watches (which were produced in limited series), then snap it up. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is a true piece of horological history and chances to own a such a thing won’t come around all that often.

About the Author:

Fell Jensen is a Swiss-trained watchmaker working as an industry analyst.