In the mid-1990’s, when my love for mechanical watches really took off, I bought as many magazines and watch books I could possibly find as information on the internet was rather difficult to find and not so common as it is now. In a couple of these generic watch books, giving the reader an overview of different watch brands and their models, I always had a couple of favorite brands I’d like to read about. One of them was Audemars Piguet. Not only their octagonal Royal Oak models that I seem to have been appreciating from the first moment on (which is not a common thing to do) but I also studied their round and vintage models with complications with great interest. Although I’d like to think that I can’t be influenced by marketing campaigns and testimonials, it was actually the testimonial of Bruno Rubinksi in one of the late 1990’s Audemars Piguet catalogs that made me want a Royal Oak ‘Jumbo’ (you can read more about it here). It would take another 10 years before I bought (and was able to) this Royal Oak ‘Jumbo’ reference 15202 I longed for.
Our friends at Hodinkee and Bexsonn have been giving quite some attention to vintage Audemars Piguet and I have always read it with great pleasure. To me, it seems that – especially back in the day – Audemars Piguet was targeting the same audience as the other big two (Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin) with their small and clean round watches with complications. Today at Audemars Piguet, the complications and the wish to come up with new and enhanced complications and solutions is still very clear, but the packaging is a bit different than it is from those other two big names. Even though you could say that the Royal Oak is similar to Patek’s Nautilus and Vacheron’s Overseas, their Royal Oak Offshore Concept and Laptimer references can’t be matched to any of these other brands’ watches. Although I have great respect for Audemars Piguet’s inventions and their craftsmanship in general, I have personally more interest in the more ‘toned down’ 39mm Royal Oak models than the bulky and loud Royal Oak Offshore collection and Concept timepieces.
Some times I do wish that Audemars Piguet could find a way to use those vintage models for their current collections. Although there is a Millenary and Jules Audemars collection (including models with complications), they are still relatively ‘loud’ to the classic watches they manufactured in the past.
In Geneva, I had the opportunity to speak with Audemars Piguet’s historian Michael Friedman. After a career at renown auction houses like Christie’s and Antiquorum, Michael Friedman started as a historian at Audemars Piguet in 2013 after being in touch with them already for a long time. Traveling all over the globe (including to Le Brassus, where Audemars Piguet has their head quarters) but his home town is New York City.
In most cases when you ask the CEO of a watch brand about his favorite watches from the collection, he will always come up with models that have just been introduced. I thought this might be different when I ask a historian. So, here they are, the Top 3 most favorite Audemars Piguet references by Michael Friedman.
1. Audemars Piguet reference 5516
Truth to be told that this reference 5116 didn’t ring a bell at first when Michael Friedman mentioned this as his pick. However, a quick vertical lookup in my brain told me that this Perpetual Calendar was covered by a couple of websites. But to be honest, I did miss the auction of Christie’s in December where a gold 5516 fetched $545,000 USD. The above 5516 is from the Marcus Margulies collection, covered here on Bexsonn. The Audemars Piguet ref. 5516 is simply a stunning watch with its beautiful dial and Valjoux 13”’VZSSQ based movement.
Audemars Piguet started making perpetual calendar wristwatches from 1950 onwards. From what I understood from Michael Friedman, Audemars Piguet only started using reference numbers in 1951. So those first perpetual calendar wristwatches didn’t come with a specific number. Audemars Piguet has a terrific write-up on their website about these ref 5516 perpetual calendar watches with leap year indication. I can imagine why this is one of Michael Friedman’s favorite Audemars Piguet watches of all time.
2. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 5402 A-Series
The story of the Royal Oak has been told many times, even here on Fratello Watches (click here) so let’s not repeat what we have written already on this iconic sports watch. This A-series Royal Oak is just amazing was another pick by Michael Friedman. Actually, it is his watch you see here. This 5402A is in a beautiful condition and shows some patina on the dial. Actually, I didn’t see it that clear when I held the watch in my hands in Geneva, but on the macro shots that photographer Bert Buijsrogge took, it is clearly visible. It adds character to the watch!
Now, you can’t go wrong with any of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” or “Extra-Thin” references (5402, 14802, 15002, 15202) with its beautiful caliber 2121 movement. But this 5402 A-series is just a dream of a watch, not only for Michael Friedman. This Royal Oak reference paved the way for all other Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore models. Nothing beats the original though.
3. Audemars Piguet reference 5528
Reference 5528 is an 18 carat gold minute repeater wrist watch manufactured in 1951 by Audemars Piguet. This 38mm watch is considered to be ‘oversized’, compared to the other references from that period. There were only three reference 5528 watches produced, and as written here by Michael Friedman, they are not all three identical. This was quite common, to have minor changes within the same reference.
Anyway, this 5528 uses a movement that was already developed and manufactured in the late 19th century and used in different watches before it ended up in this 1951 Audemars Piguet. This movement is signed “Audemars Piguet, Genève, no. 8712” and produced in 1885. The first life of this movement started in 1889 when it was sold as a pendent watch. It returned to the Audemars Piguet workshops again in 1904. In March 1921, Audemars Piguet re-used the movement in an Art Deco case. At some point it founds its way back to Audemars Piguet again and was then used in this 1951 reference 5528. Audemars Piguet produced only 47 of such small minute repeating movements between 1882 and 1900. In 2014 this reference 5528 was professionally restored to be auctioned at Christies in May 2015. It fetched a whopping $651,051.- USD. I told Bert this after making the photos in Geneva, to prevent him from getting nervous.