In the second installment of our freshly minted Versus Series we jump from the modest luxury of Rolex and Omega, and tackle two brands known for their challenging designs. These are brands that, through their creative use of angles and materials, are far more likely to divide opinion as we look at the investment value of Ulysse Nardin vs. Audemars Piguet.
Gerald Genta Gamble
We know from Audemars Piguet’s well-documented history that their Gerald Genta gamble almost fifty years ago paid off, and sired the Royal Oak staple that has gone on to become one of the most iconic sports watches in the industry.
The majority of their current output emulates this design, despite the somewhat anomalous fact that their best selling pieces couldn’t be stylistically further from the avant-garde forms we associate with the brand today.
The Investment Value of Ulysse Nardin – The Freak
While AP has the Royal Oak, the Freak plays a significant role in the investment value of Ulysse Nardin. This is a piece that has come to define the brand’s modern era. It often seems as if Ulysse Nardin’s history is forgotten, due, perhaps, to their radical embracing of modern materials.
Despite the brand’s willingness to dabble with silicium, they aren’t some Johnny-come-lately flash Harry, and this is likely to increase the investment value of Ulysse Nardin.
UN has been in continuous production since 1846, and was very well known for producing ultra-complicated mechanical watches during the difficult decade of the 1980s. They even entered the Guinness Book of Records in 1989 for creating the world’s most functional watch (the Astrolabium Galileo Galilei had 21 distinct functions to its name).
With brands able to boast modern and classic stalwarts, over a century of continuous production, and the ability to manufacture their own movements (Audemars Piguet owns 78% of Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi), there’s little to split the two.
One cute fact is that AP has been family owned since its foundation, while Ulysse Nardin was bought by the Kering Group in 2014. However, this isn’t often the kind of thing that buyers consider to be anything but a nice story (although ownership stability and in-house manufacturing both point to a solid foundation that should reassure any potential purchaser of an item that will need to be serviced one day).
What it comes down to is perhaps the question of which of these two undeniable trailblazers struck gold with their brand-defining piece, while the other hit a vein of tin.
The Subjectivity of Silicium
That may be a harsh assessment of the Freak and its continuing legacy, but the truth is the Freak is a watch that lives or dies on your opinion of silicium (or silicon as we say in the States). New materials are awesome – I’m actually a huge fan of revolutionary technologies – but they kind of miss the mark when it comes to striking a chord with the masses.
Luxury watchmaking is an unnecessary art form. It is a testament to man’s mastery of material. Technology is interesting; silicon boasts excellent tribological properties; increased accuracy is a neat selling point, but none of those things makes your soul soar.
The first image used in this article is a frosted gold Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. It is a design classic, an in-house masterpiece, and hand finished so painstakingly it makes me want to crush every other watch I’ve ever owned just to impress it enough to spend a week on my wrist. But given that it’s priced around $50,000, it’s used to turning heads…
It’s madness. It’s an obsession. But that’s what makes it so much fun.
About the Author:
Fell Jensen is a Swiss-trained watchmaker working as an industry analyst.