5402BA Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
If a watch collector hears the numbers 5402, they start thinking of early Royal Oaks. And then, like a meth addict seeking the pure stuff, they start looking to see if it’s a numbered A-series or latter B/C/D. They’ll even itch uncontrollably if you leave them wondering long enough. But it’s often forgotten that the world’s first luxury steel sports watch wasn’t released just in steel. From 1977 until 1980, the steel collector’s darling got its BA on. It’s often forgotten because it’s not common. Fewer than 1000 examples were ever made in gold, that’s half of the 2000 examples of steel A-series out there, and they trade hands even less frequently.
If an alien came to Earth and asked you to explain to him why this watch was significant, you’d have a very difficult task. This is a watch that is famous for being the first luxury steel sports watch. It caused a sensation after being worn by Gianni Agnelli. And then, AP took the watch that was famous for costing as much as a gold watch in steel and made it gold. And it cost more. What, if anything, is one to make of such an, ahem, clusterfuck? I don’t know what the significance or legacy of a gold 5402 is. But I do believe it to be one of the best looking gold cases ever. Despite never being intended to be such, there’s a theatre about it. It’s a watch that shouldn’t be presented in a wooden box, but emerge from behind lush velvet curtains on a bed of dry ice while Gustav Holst’s The Planets plays.
To some, a precious metal Royal Oak is sacrilege. We call these people pedants and rightly mock them. Variety exists in watches because our tastes are not uniform, and that’s a beautiful thing. There are now Royal Oak Concept Series, Offshores, Black Panthers, and even the god-awful thing that goes by 15514BC. In many ways, we are looking at AP becoming the Royal Oak company. Compared to such vigorous bastardization of the breed, these original gold 5402s look utterly sensible. Classic, even. David Bowie wrote Space Oddity. He also wrote an abomination called The Laughing Gnome. We ask too much of the greats, not every track can be truly inspired. But we should savor those that are.
This example is numbered 424, somewhat early. Its case is exceptional, truly sharp. The grey dial has aged but not oxidized. Its date wheel has aged into a dull yellow which accents the whole affair beautifully. It comes with its original box from a well-regarded Swiss retailer.
Find this 5402BA here from Herschmann for 233000 USD.