SOLD – AP Royal Oak Jumbo 5402ST With ‘Tropical’ Dial
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The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak ‘Jumbo’, reference 5402ST ‘C Series’ from the late 1970s. Featuring its original tapisserie dial with AP logo above the 6 o’clock position (sometimes referred to as “AP down dial”) that also featured in the earlier A and B series. Furthermore, the dial has changed colour due to the tropical patina that has developed and now features a brown hue. In addition to this, the hands are also original with the luminous degraded from the minute hand. The case and bracelet remain unpolished and it is the choice of the next owner whether they prefer to keep it this way or have it refurbished. The demand & appreciation for these iconic original models is ever increasing, with the prices following suit and showing no signs of slowing down.
Audemars Piguet History
Founded by childhood friends Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet in 1875, Audemars Piguet began life as Audemars Piguet & Cie and has been family-owned since its inception. Both talented watchmakers, AP quickly rose through the ranks of watchmaking brands and became quite a highly respected brand. In 1892 they created the world’s first minute-repeated movement for a wristwatch, truly putting themselves on the map. From there, they continued to develop their watchmaking renown with various complications such as Grande Complication timepieces, novel finishing techniques and introducing things like openworking and so on.
One of the truly great Swiss watchmakers, AP has since climbed to the top of their game and exists as one of the three “Holy Trinity” brands alongside Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin, whereby their work is seen as truly exceptional and deserving of its own category. Of all the innovations AP has introduced over the years, few are as important as the Royal Oak. While new complications are undoubtedly interesting, the Royal Oak was a calculated decision that single-handedly saved AP from financial ruin and created the luxury sports watch market that we have today.
The Quartz Crisis Hits
As mentioned, the Royal Oak was introduced to save AP from financial ruin. The threat to AP’s finances was an industry-wide problem; the introduction of the Quartz movement in 1969 and its subsequent proliferation over the 70s and 80s called the Quartz Crisis. With Swiss watchmaking on its knees, manufacturers had to adapt quickly. Quartz movements were more accurate, cheaper and far trendier than their mechanical counterparts. With the ongoing technological onslaught, brands without quartz watches simply couldn’t compete with the Japanese market entrants and fell victim to bankruptcy and general obsolescence.
With their sales taking a beating as the end of the mechanical timepiece drew ever closer, AP knew they had to do something significant. In the same innovative spirit that got AP to where they were at the time, their idea wasn’t to compete with quartz watches; it was to create an entirely new market that they could dominate. This market, you ask? Only one of the largest markets around today: the luxury steel sports watch market.
Genta and the Royal Oak’s Design
With some Italian market research indicating potential demand for a new luxury steel sports watch, AP’s executives approached watch designer Gerald Genta at 4 pm on the day before Baselworld in 1971 to create an “unprecedented steel watch” for them. With just a night to step up to the task, Genta did exactly as AP asked and created the timepiece that would go down as AP’s saviour, the Royal Oak ref. 5402ST – the very same reference as the watch we have here.
Released the following year in 1972 as technological constraints proved the case’s design was tricky to manufacture, the Royal Oak ref. 5402ST’s avant-garde design stunned customers. Featuring exposed screws, an exposed rubber gasket beneath its bezel, a stainless steel integrated bracelet and a massive 39mm stainless steel case – the Royal Oak ref. 5402ST seemed like an uncharacteristically left-field release for a somewhat refined and conservative brand like AP. Inspired by the industrial look of a diver’s helmet, the Royal Oak’s aesthetic was visually bold, and unlike anything AP had ever released before.
One of the most iconic aspects of the Royal Oak is its Petite Tapisserie dial. Featuring a hobnail ‘Clous de Paris’ guilloché pattern, the Tapisserie pattern dial has become synonymous with AP’s design language. Originally a greyish hue of blue, the Royal Oak ref. 5402ST’s dial was completely atypical of what was generally offered at the time. Today, the Royal Oak is the watch that ushered in mass appreciation for blue dials. Occurring sporadically under rare conditions, these greyish-blue dials will develop a patina and take on a new rich brown colour.
The example we have here has one of those very “Tropical” dials, so named as the conditions required for the brown colour to develop are humidity, heat and intense sunlight, i.e. the conditions of tropical climates. Rare beyond belief, not only do these dials require very exact conditions, but they also require a precise mixture of paint, as third-party manufacturers would have used different mixtures of paint and so on, not all dials (even under identical conditions) will develop this tropical patina.
Famed for its wonderful dimensions, iconic design and gorgeous AP cal. 2121 movement, AP have replicated the ref. 5402ST and brought out a modern version, the Royal Oak ref. 15202ST. Featuring the original 39mm case size, iconic Petite Tapisserie dial and signature integrated bracelet, the ref. 15202 acts as the ref. 5402’s modern counterpart. While this might seem trivial, it is a testament to just how iconic the ref. 5402ST is that AP has essentially brought it back with a modern reference.
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