Cool Stuff Under 20 Dollars –
Picture yourself in a big city and feeling an equally big need for a new watch. You’ve had some success, and you walk into an upscale retailer with the hopes of finding something rare and distinctive – a watch that conveys both style and an appreciation for high-end watchmaking. A gold Patek? Not exciting enough. An Omega Constellation? Too baroque, perhaps.
Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar reference 25654ST in steel. (Image: courtesy of A Collected Man)
Walking around the showroom and peering into the glittering cases, you pass much of the old guard until you see something different. While the shape of a Royal Oak is about as distinctive as they come, this one is special. The waffle tapisserie dial is gone, and in its place, you find a smooth silver-tone dial with four tiny sub-dials. It’s a perpetual calendar!
Pouring over the details as a salesperson unlocks the cabinet, you notice the blued hands on the subdials and note that, in true Royal Oak fashion, this QP is made of steel and comes on a matching bracelet. “It’s the latest from Audemars Piguet,” says the salesperson as their gloved hands pass you the watch, adding, “and it’s quite rare. Especially in steel.”
A steel Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar 25654ST on wrist. (Image: courtesy of A Collected Man)
You reach for your phone, hoping to take a wrist shot for the ‘gram, but your back pocket is empty. Checking your coat pocket you find only a pack of Camel Lights and a half-spent book of matches from the Westgate Las Vegas. The room starts to spin. Frantically, you check your breast pocket, discovering only a pen and a checkbook. Where is your phone? Why do you have checks?
Did I forget to mention that it’s 1985? Ronald Reagan is in for a second term, and Back to the Future is quickly becoming the hit film of the year.
As for the watch on your wrist, the salesperson is not wrong. It is the latest from AP, and it is rare. Incredibly so, actually. It’s a reference 25554 Royal Oak Quantieme Perpetual, and not only is it the earliest synthesis of the Royal Oak with Audemars Piguet’s lineage of creating beautiful and incredibly rare perpetual calendar wristwatches, but it’s also one of the only series-produced steel perpetual calendars on the market at the time.
To understand just how strange, and wonderful, and special these early Royal Oak QPs really are, we have to go back even further. So throw on your best orange puffer vest, hop in your DMC-12, and set the clock to 1948. You see, while deeply rooted in the strange and challenging time of the 1980s, the story of Audemars Piguet’s earliest Royal Oak Perpetual Calendars starts decades earlier as the brand ushered in the post-war era with a defined focus on calendar complications.
While I will attempt not to belabor this specific element within the greater history at hand, the earliest moments of Audemars Piguet’s perpetual calendars are quite special and are characterized by two defining factors: exceedingly limited production and the presence of a leap-year indication on the dial (or the lack thereof, more specifically). For clarity, much of the following information has been sourced from AP’s own book Audemars Piguet 20th Century Complicated Wristwatches and via kind support from Audemars Piguet’s in-house heritage team and a handful of knowledgeable collectors. Please see the acknowledgments at the end, to all, I am eternally grateful.
In 1948, Audemars Piguet created its first-ever perpetual calendar wristwatch, the hallowed reference 5516. That initial creation was not only a massive win for the brand’s ever-expanding watchmaking acumen, but a part of the production run also represented the first-ever perpetual calendar wristwatch with a leap-year indication on the dial. As you can imagine, these watches were entirely hand made and took an incredible amount of effort and time to produce. As such, despite a truly minuscule production of 12 units in total, the 5516 evolved over four versions, and all were created over a span of nine years.
A rare Audemars Piguet reference 5516 perpetual calendar wristwatch from the late ’50s featuring an early leap-year display. (Image: courtesy Audemars Piguet)
The first three 5516s were produced without a leap-year indication and actually looked quite a bit different from each other. The earliest on the record (below, right) informs many design elements found on the early Royal Oak QPs; with a four-register layout, moon-phase at six, the month indication at twelve, and a sub-dial at three for the date. Pay particular notice to the lack of a leap-year indication, as this is the genesis of the layout we will see nearly 40 years later for the Royal Oak.
Two examples of Audemars Piguet’s earliest perpetual calendars, both evolutions of the 5516. (Images: courtesy of Audemars Piguet)
The next version of the 5516 (above, left) offers an entirely different layout, with the moon-phase at twelve and the date aligned to the periphery with a centrally mounted date hand. This second take of the brand’s perpetual calendar wristwatch also lacked a leap-year display and made use of a more ornate case and lug design. Two such examples are known to have been produced, with the first delivered to Gubelin in 1950 and the second sold to Patek Philippe in New York sometime during 1962.
Production and sales dates for such rare and time-consuming watches can vary greatly, with some not leaving for retail until years after they began production. Looking to 1955, Audemars Piguet evolved the 5516 slightly to offer the first-ever leap-year display on a wristwatch. According to AP’s exhaustive records, nine such models were made in two distinct series, with all examples remaining within the purview of the 5516 reference.
The first of the leap-year-equipped 5516s, of which just three yellow-gold examples are known, used a combined display in the sub-dial at six o’clock to show both the 48 months of the leap year cycle along with a distinct blued hand that indicated the active year in the four-year progression (shown above, over black background).
We also see the moon-phase at twelve, and the continued use of a peripheral date display. Sales of these three models would begin in 1959. While certainly a complicated way of showing the leap year, this was the first time it had been done by any brand in series production, and you don’t have to look all that closely to see these later 5516s as something of an aesthetic and philosophical foundation upon which AP has built much of its modern success.
The final iteration of Audemars Piguet’s earliest perpetual calendar, the 5516. (Image: courtesy of Audemars Piguet)
For the last of the four 5516 iterations, we know of six recorded consecutive serial examples with production starting in 1957 and sales taking place from 1963-1969. For these examples (shown above), the moon-phase is back at six, and the leap-year indication is in something of a transitionary phase. At least a single example offered a more refined combination month/leap-year sub-dial, but before long, the combined sub-dial for the 48 month and leap-year displays were separated into a 12-month sub-dial at three, and a leap-year dial at twelve. This would be a considerable evolution and certainly one that saw the 5516 step further away from its pocketwatch roots, on the path to becoming a more capable and legible wristwatch design.
A More Complicated Royal Oak
By now I am sure that many of you know the origin story of the Royal Oak. Designed by Gérald Genta as Audemars Piguet’s first luxury sports watch, it was also initially only offered in steel. Introduced to the world at Baselworld in 1972, the Royal Oak reference 5402ST was a huge gamble for the small Swiss firm – a luxury steel sports watch with a complicated bracelet, a very thin case, and the general refinement of a luxury dress watch.
A reference 5402ST, the Genta-designed genesis of the Royal Oak.
Surprisingly, especially given the modern context and extreme popularity of the Royal Oak today, it was no overnight hit. Upon release, the 5402ST was seen as large (it measures 39mm wide) and very expensive for a steel sports watch. For those asking, “Just how expensive is ‘very expensive’?” Well, in an interview from 2009, Genta himself remarked, “The priceless sports watch is a new concept that we invented together with Audemars Piguet. When the Royal Oak was released, it was sold for 3,750 Swiss Francs, retail price. At the time, the most expensive steel watch cost 850 Swiss Francs! That was something utterly inconceivable.”
Thankfully, Audemars Piguet knew it was on to something good and continued to support its oddball Royal Oak, which would slowly gain popularity over the next few years. As Genta highlighted in the above quote, the Royal Oak would soon define an entire subset of high-end steel sports watches. Other brands, including Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin, took note and developed their own competition, with Patek Philippe even going so far as to hire Genta to design their Nautilus.
This was a very special season in Swiss watchmaking and was undoubtedly one that helped to insulate companies like Audemars Piguet from the full impact of the looming quartz crisis. In an industry that doesn’t usually see rapid change working out in their favor, the Royal Oak started as a slow burn, but the effects of this new design and concept are still being felt today. Modern examples, both from Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe, remain some of the most desirable, hard-to-buy, and readily copied watches on sale today.
With the growing success of the Royal Oak design, Audemars Piguet would eventually elaborate on its once steel-only model with precious metals, additional dial versions, and, later on, additional complications – including perpetual calendars.
Before we get to the 1980s and the specific star of our show, there is one more development to add into our history, which is the 1978 introduction of the 2120/2800 perpetual calendar movement. Now that you have a quick refresher on the history of the Royal Oak, it’s important to understand that the original model was powered by the caliber 2120.
Dial side of the 2120/2800 automatic perpetual calendar movement from Audemars Piguet. (Image: courtesy of Audemars Piguet)
Based on the Jaeger-LeCoultre 920 (which were provided as ebauches in kit-form and required modification and extensive hand-finishing), the very thin 2120 not only helped the 5402 Royal Oak maintain its svelte 7mm case profile, but it was also used in rival models from both Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe. For the purposes of this story, and in keeping with the format thus far, the 2120 is just the genesis for where we are headed.
By 1978, very few brands were making series-produced perpetual calendar wristwatches. When you look at the entire production of QPs from Audemars Piguet from 1948 to 1977, you’re only talking about 12 watches (I think you know the ones) and the newly launched 5548 (which the brand would go on to produce for some 14 years). With Audemars Piguet eyeing a return to perpetual calendar glory, it took the very successful JLC-based 2120 and designed a fitting perpetual calendar module (which was then manufactured by Dubois Dépraz).
Caseback side of the 2120/2800 automatic perpetual calendar movement from Audemars Piguet. (Image: courtesy of Audemars Piguet)
While many companies would have pivoted towards the increasing (and threatening) popularity of quartz technology, then Managing Director of Audemars Piguet George Golay had a different idea. Just as when he helped to introduce the Royal Oak in 1972, Golay was looking to make a big bet. Enter the 2120/2800, the world’s thinnest automatic perpetual calendar movement.
While only 3.95mm thick, the svelte 38-jewel 2120/2800 would usher in an era of rapid expansion and production for the historically small firm. One more thing – the original 2120/2800 shared an odd connection to the brand’s earliest perpetual calendars: the absence of a leap-year display. It is here that we find our true scope, the birth and early years of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar and, more specifically, those most seminal references that lacked a leap-year indication.
What Goes Around Comes Back Around (Aka The 5554)
As I mentioned above, for early Audemars Piguet perpetual calendar watches (be they the earliest 5516s or the early Royal Oak QPs), the flavor here is a considerable rarity and the characteristic lack of a leap-year indication.
Audemars Piguet’s Perpetual Calendar reference 5548. Dated to 1981, just before the brand would put the same movement in a Royal Oak. (Image via Sotheby’s)
The 2120/2800 first saw duty in the 5548 (shown above), which hit the market in 1978 and quickly became a hugely successful model for the Audemars Piguet. Based on the success of the 5548-25548, the Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar was officially announced in 1984 as the reference 5554 (and later, 25554) and – you guessed it – the reference was quite limited in production and lacked a leap-year display. For clarity moving forward, it’s important to note that between 1984 and 1985, Audemars Piguet moved to a five-digit reference number format, with all four-digit models getting a “2” prefix. Thus the 25548 and the 25554.
An early 5554-25554 in steel with a “grey opaline” dial. (Image: courtesy of Audemars Piguet)
Like the 5402, the 5554-25554 is 39mm wide, 7.5mm thick, and, aside from the dial, looks like any other Royal Oak. In speaking with some contacts at Audemars Piguet, I learned of the considerable technical challenge of maintaining the water resistance of such a thin case, while also integrating the additional case-side correctors required for the much more complicated perpetual calendar movement. As we’ll discover in the coming reference highlights, this was a challenge that required continual development and led to small differences from one reference to another, even for some that were produced in parallel.
An early 25654ST (C-series, Mark 1 dial) showing the layout common to all pre-leap-year Royal Oak Perpetual Calendars. (Image: courtesy of A Collected Man)
The so-called “small lettering” of a Mark 1 dial from a steel 25654ST. (Image: courtesy of A Collected Man)
Back to the original 5554-25554 at hand, at twelve, we find the month indicator; at three, the date; at six, the combined running seconds and moon-phase; at nine, the day indication. The Royal Oak’s distinctive octagonal silhouette is maintained by a single crown on the right case flank, and the 5554-25554 came on a metal-matched integrated bracelet (also a defining design element for the Royal Oak). This general format would hold for nine official years of production and nearly 1,600 produced examples before the move to the leap-year-equipped 2120/2802 would shake up the model range in 1993 (though, as appears to be common for AP, there was an overlap in production between both specifications).
Before we dig in, keep in mind that all of the following references use exactly the same movement and, as you’ll see, many were produced and sold in a very overlapping fashion. Even by 1983, AP was still a small company, and these were incredibly complex watches to manufacture. Additionally, rarity varies, but even the most common references are rare by the measure of almost any limited edition made today, and it’s worth noting that of the total ten references, six of them amount to only 11 pieces and four of those are unique pieces.
Additionally, these models pre-date the considerable increase in the popularity of the Royal Oak over the past five to ten years. Add to that the fact that AP reportedly limited global distribution of the 25554 and its brethren, and you get a range in terms of reported annual availability. Thus, if you take auction listings as gospel (I would recommend that you do not), you will see 2120/2800 model Royal Oak listings that are attributed to production dates well into the mid-to-late ’90s.
An early 25554BA in yellow gold with a white dial. (image via Sotheby’s)
While the available data is not perfect, we do know that Audemars Piguet launched the updated (and leap-year-equipped) 2120/2802 in 1993 but that the replacement was gradual. That said, given the leap-year indication, it’s generally not too hard to tell the earlier 2120/2800 models from the later generations. As a final note before getting to the specific references, as you’ll see in the later auction listings, these early Royal Oak QPs all fall within C and D-series case numbers. While just about anything is possible, this record is supported by the collectors I spoke with, by past auctions, and by Audemars Piguet directly.
Having covered the 5554-25554 above, let’s see how the other nine references stack up.
25624 (1 piece)
Also launched in 1984, this is a one-of-one yellow-gold example with a matching gold dial and a bezel with diamonds in its beveled edge.
25636 (264 pieces)
This is an insanely cool skeleton dial reference (with display caseback) that started production in 1983 but didn’t hit the public realm until closer to 1986. Growing on the format of the 25554 and the 25654, the 25636 was offered in several versions, including two-tone. All told, AP counted 126 in yellow gold, 52 in steel, 49 in two-tone, 34 in platinum, and just three in pink gold.
A rare platinum 25636PT Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar. (Image: courtesy of A Collected Man)
A rare platinum 25636PT Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar. (Image: courtesy of A Collected Man)
The caseback of a platinum 25635PT example showing the skeletonized finish of the 2120/2800 movement. (Image: courtesy of A Collected Man)
25652 (1 piece)
Not unlike the 25624, the 25652 was essentially a unique yellow-gold 25636 with a diamond-rimmed bezel.
5654-25654 (800 pieces)
The four-digit reference should clue you in that this is also a very early example from the run. Produced in parallel with the 5554-25554, the 5645-25654 is the most common reference within the pre-leap-year 2120/2800 Royal Oak Perpetual Calendars. Between 1982 and 1993, AP would create some 800 examples of the 25654, including 422 in yellow gold, 272 in steel, 72 in two-tone, 33 in platinum, and one in white gold. Understandably, these are the most commonly found references and can easily be mistaken for a 5554-25554, as the difference is quite subtle: It’s the case thickness.
An early C-series 25654BA with a matching gold dial. (Image: courtesy of A Collected Man)
Remember how I mentioned that water resistance in a thin, sporty, and very complicated watch is a huge technical task? Well, if you have such a watch today, you can thank these early Royal Oaks for the water-resistance you likely take for granted.
Producing the original 5554-25554 with 20 meters of water resistance proved to be a considerable task (one that almost no other company was even attempting at the time), and when embarking on the increased production of the 25654, Audemars Piguet increased the case thickness by 0.75mm (from 7.5 to 8.25mm). In the Rolex world, or perhaps for a watch produced in greater numbers, this change would have warranted some sort of nickname, but here, you just get a slightly thicker and more robust version of an already very thin watch.
The side profile of a reference 25654, which grew slightly thicker than the 25554 to ensure proper water resistance. Note how the corrector pushers for the movement are set alongside the gasket between the case and bezel. (Image: courtesy of A Collected Man)
Like the 5554-25554, the 25654 was offered in several dial variants, and I received anecdotal information that would suggest, given the considerable asking price, Audemars Piguet likely was open to requests. As such, there are an impressive range of possible iterations, from the smooth silver (which AP calls “Opaline Grey”) to gold, black (very rare), salmon, and even blue tapisserie, mother-of-pearl, pink and red with diamond markers, and more.
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25659 (4 pieces)
This reference was made with three pieces in yellow gold and one in platinum, and all four examples featured a skeleton dial and a full treatment of pavé diamonds for the case, bezel, and even the bracelet.
25686 (233 pieces)
The fourth-most-produced iteration is another core model that expanded options from the 25554 and 25654 with production starting in 1987 and sales beginning in 1989. With 233 pieces spanning 85 in steel, 70 in yellow gold, 43 in two-tone, 26 in platinum, and nine in pink gold, the 25686 is essentially a new run of 25654s but with a display caseback and an even wider range of dial offerings (in a manner similar to that of the 25654 mentioned above).
25687 (3 pieces)
With just one example created in yellow gold and a pair in platinum, these gem-set versions had metal-matched dials and diamonds set in the face of the bezel (vs. previous diamond-set versions that had diamonds in the bezel edge).
25688 (1 piece)
The first of two final flashy platinum examples, the 25688 was characterized by an ice-blue dial and a full pavé treatment of baguette diamonds. Hen’s teeth, unicorns – and stuff like this.
25694 (1 piece)
Another unique piece in platinum, the 25694 was made in 1988 and sold in 1990. Rocking a skeletonized dial with rich blue accents, the 25964 was finished with a gem-set bezel of alternating diamonds and sapphires.
For the small community of collectors that obsess over these early RO QPs, there are two main variants of the dial, Mark 1 and Mark 2. The difference is easy to spot, with the earlier Mark 1 dials using a smaller font for “Audemars Piguet” on the dial and later Mark 2 dials using a conventionally capitalized and larger font for the nameplate. You can find an example of both below:
The somewhat more uniform font design of a Mark 1 dial found on a 25654BA. (Image: courtesy of A Collected Man)
According to my research, although not verified by any official record beyond that of collectors and auction listings, Mark 1 dials are generally confined to the early C-Series models but can be found in early D-Series as well. One other note for those wanting the most granular of details: Early Royal Oak QPs used a fold-over clasp with a small safety while later examples (D-Series) were fitted with a push-button clasp release.
An example of a Mark 2 dial. Notice the more defined use of sizing for “A” and “P” in the nameplate. (Image under license via Jeroen Vink)
Aside from being Royal Oak Perpetual Calendars (aka insanely cool), why is this early and sometimes forgotten range of watches worth such exploration? Well, in short, defiance. With a design brief and movement set firmly in the early ’80s, AP was yet again taking a considerable risk during a challenging time for the entire concept of a high-end mechanical watch.
Sure, the Royal Oak had eventually started to pay off, but quartz was undermining the entire Swiss watch industry, and if a simple digital watch could be seen as interesting, avant-garde, and even stylish, what does a small brand like AP do? Basically, go big or go home.
Looking at the success of the aforementioned – and very traditional – 5548-25548, the company took a gamble and squeezed that movement into the Royal Oak – and then doubled down by producing its new QP in steel. Today, steel watches from the likes of Audemars Piguet (or indeed, any of the brand’s peers) are hugely popular and often impossible to buy at retail.
A two-tone steel and gold 25654SA (Image: courtesy of Audemars Piguet).
Back in 1981, Patek Philippe had discontinued the long-standing and never-in-steel 3448, offering instead the 3450 which was also never made in steel but did (say it with me now) feature a leap-year indicator.
You could say that Audemars Piguet got lucky when the original 5402 Royal Oak didn’t sink the brand in 1972, but I’d argue it must have been downright clairvoyant to look beyond the quartz crisis, staff up, and make not only a great old school perpetual calendar (again, that’s the 5548-25548), but then take its movement and put it into an even more risky (and challenging) platform like the Royal Oak.
Then, in producing some 458 examples in steel, while also being one of the only brands to make such a watch for the better part of the decade, you can see the risk. These watches, especially those in steel, are highly collectible today, and they absolutely foreshadowed the current market popularity of steel sports watches from high-end brands, to say little of just how beloved the Royal Oak has become all on its own.
Actually, let’s go there (we’ve already come this far). Today, the modern expression of the early 2120/2800 Royal Oak QP is the reference 26574. Originally launched in 2015, the 26574 Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar is 41mm wide, 9.5mm thick, and has 20 meters of water resistance. Along with its new size, the 26574 has an updated movement, the 5134.
A collection of modern 26574 Royal Oak Perpetual Calendars.
Still based on the 2120 I’ve mentioned previously, the 5134 holds the same four sub-dial layout but adds another element from the earliest years of AP’s perpetual calendar development: a peripheral date display with a centrally mounted date hand. Not unlike the will they/won’t they of the leap-year indication, this is an interesting connection back to the second, third, and fourth phases of the reference 5516.
Underrespected Or Over-hyped?
While similar in many respects, the scene surrounding the 25554 and its siblings is vastly different from that surrounding the modern 26574. In the ’80s and ’90s, the heat surrounding the Royal Oak was in its earliest stages, and the watch scene as a whole was not characterized by waitlists, flipping middlemen, and massive secondary market premiums.
Today, the Royal Oak enjoys demand that vastly outpaces its production, and almost regardless of spec or complication, these are not watches you can just waltz into a boutique and buy.
Clipping via © Europa Star
Back in 1993, a gold 25645BA carried an impressive list price of 261,000 French francs. Convert that to USD at the time, and interested parties were looking at a price tag of around $45,000 – in 1993. Want that with inflation? How’s $80,700 sound? For some context, the list price of a 16610 Rolex Submariner Date in 1996 was $3,350 or about $5,500 in today’s dollars. To complete the picture, the current list price for a modern 26574 is $63,000 for steel, $95,700 for gold, and $166,800 for platinum.
For another point of pricing data, look at the clipping from a 1998 issue of Europa Star (right) that proclaims the Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar to be “…Still The Most Expensive Steel Watch In The World” while quoting a list price of 23,600 Swiss francs. Adjusted for currency in March of 1998 and then for inflation to 2020, and we get a rather appealing $25,194. While the quoted figure feels a big bit lower than I would expect given the delta between steel and gold examples at retail, the headline does highlight just how AP had positioned the Royal Oak QP back in the day – and how it was seen by those covering the industry in the late ’90s.
Finally, I took some time to dig through auction results with the hopes of getting an idea of how pricing has changed over time for these often overlooked Royal Oaks. While the following is not a complete picture, I think it does help to illustrate the way that Royal Oak Perpetual Calendars have been valued over the past decade and highlights the pricing difference between steel and yellow-gold examples. I mostly attempted to stick to the more common 25654 references and have adjusted currency for USD on the date of the sale (these numbers are not adjusted for inflation to 2020).
June 1999 – 25686 (platinum, ice-blue dial): ~$31,300 at Christies
September 2000 – 25654 (yellow gold): ~ $12,777 at Christies
October 2001 – 25654 (yellow gold): ~ $12,250 at Christies
November 2005 – 25636 (steel, skeleton): ~ $24,960 at Christies
May 2006 – 25654 (steel, blue tap dial): ~ $21,900 at Christies
November 2007 – 25653 (steel): ~ $24,300 at Sotheby’s
June 2010 – 25636 (steel/platinum, skeleton): $32,500 at Christies
November 2011 – 25654 (yellow gold): ~ $35,400 Christies
December 2011 – 25636 (steel, skeleton): $31,250 at Christies
June 2012 – 25654 (steel/platinum): $20,000 at Christies
December 2013 – 25654 (yellow gold): $20,000 at Sotheby’s
May 2015 – 25654 (steel, steel dial): ~ $25,400 at Christies
June 2015 – 25654 (yellow gold): $18,750 at Sotheby’s
May 2016 – 25654 (yellow gold): ~ $25,500 at Christies
May 2016 – 25654 (steel, blue dial): ~ $35,300 at Christies
October 2016 – 25654 (steel, blue dial): $42,500 at Christies
March 2017 – 25636 (steel, skeleton): $72,500 at Christies
December 2017 – 25654 (platinum and pink gold): $37,500 at Sotheby’s
November 2017 – 25654 (yellow gold, gold dial): ~ $40,000 at Sotheby’s
November 2018 – 25654 (steel): $37,500 at Christies
April 2019 – 25654 (steel and yellow gold, white dial): $18,750 at Sotheby’s
May 2019 – 25554 (yellow gold, white dial): ~ $32,100 at Sotheby’s
June 2019 – 25654 (yellow gold): $43,750 at Christies
June 2019 – 25636 (yellow gold, skeleton): $93,750 at Sotheby’s
July 2020 -25654 (steel, blue dial): ~ $110,300 at Christies
While not pure or even easily contextualized data, I think we can see that, in the past couple of years, the values have spiked (not uncommon) and that, comparatively, those who wanted a precious metal Royal Oak QP ten (or more) years ago could have expected to get something of a deal (when compared to today’s values, with more than a couple trading for well under $20,000).
Despite its longstanding history in watchmaking, the Royal Oak has come to define Audemars Piguet’s modern context. What started as a daring up-market take on a sports watch would eventually evolve to include the Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar, a synthesis of old school AP calendar watchmaking and the brand’s then avant-garde octagonal sports watch.
While not often remembered, and for some time arguably undervalued, with the steady climb in popularity for the Royal Oak, more and more attention has been applied to the brand’s earlier experiments with the form. With a functional connection that goes back to Audemars Piguet’s earliest QPs, the Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar helped AP to zig whenever others zagged. These watches helped AP survive the quartz crisis and helped to translate the Royal Oak into a true presence in haute horlogerie. While only part of the brand’s path to its modern-day success, the 5554 and its 2120/2800-powered siblings undoubtedly raised Audemars Piguet’s profile throughout the ’80s and ’90s and laid the groundwork for the Royal Oak’s recent and unparalleled rise in both enthusiast and pop culture mindshares.
For your help, patience, and general availability over the past couple of months, I would like to thank Michael Friedman, Raphaël Balestra, Sébastian Vivas, and the entire team at Audemars Piguet, Paul Lerner at Optimist Consulting, Robert and the team at A Collected Man, Teddy of Watches2.8, Jeroen Vink, and Geoff Isringhausen Jr. I could not have put this all together without your help and I greatly appreciate each and every text, email, image, and tidbit of advice.
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