NEW YORK — The Swiss are famous for their timepieces and among the top tier of luxury watchmakers is Audemars Piguet. Founded in 1875 in Le Bruassus, Switzerland, the family-owned company’s wristwatches are celebrated for their elegance and precision. A work of beauty inside and out, these watches are known for their intricate design with no detail overlooked. Each is driven by hundreds of well-engineered components. Their edges are carefully beveled, while their finished surfaces are highly polished and satin-brushed. Even the hexagonal screws that coordinate with octagonal bezels have become a trademark of sorts for the brand.
This attention to detail and fine workmanship has helped make Audemars Piguet a favorite for buyers, said Director of Watches & Fine Timepieces at Dallas-based Heritage Auctions, Jim Wolf. “It’s the quality and the exclusivity of the brand.”
Noting that some lesser makers outsource some of the components, all Audemars Piguet watches are completely made “in-house,” making them desirable and able to better hold their value, he added. “The factory is all-inclusive, they make the timepieces in the watch from start to finish.”
The company has produced many watch styles during the century and a half or so that it’s been in business. One of its most renowned is the Royal Oak collection, which debuted at the Swiss Watch Show in 1972. It’s generally thought to be the world’s first luxury sports watch, and its case design, boasting exposed screws, reportedly was inspired by early 20th-century diving helmets.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak collection has been issued in several different sizes, for both men and women, and ranges from large sporty watches to slimmer dress-style examples. Currently, young collectors and millennials are eager to acquire slimmer styles that date to a few decades ago. “The Royal Oak … back in the 80s and 90s gained a lot of attention and that is the one that is considered semi-vintage now and is getting a lot of traction, a lot of interest with young collectors and buyers,” Wolf said. Versions such as the Royal Oak Offshore collection, with popular models created for celebrity spokesmen such as Juan Pablo Montoya (2005) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (2011) were much larger — bigger and bulkier, typically about 44m in diameter. Vintage examples, by comparison, appeared in several sizes but all are smaller than the 2000s versions. A vintage midsize watch would be about 35mm, and what was called a Jumbo was about 38 mmm, Wolf said.
Among the desirable examples that has held its value is a well preserved and important circa-1989 Royal Oak Ref. 5402ST Jumbo watch in stainless steel, which made $38,000 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2023 at Heritage Auctions. This watch is “an excellent example of what is ‘hot’ right now in the AP collectors’ market,” Wolf said, adding that five to 10 years ago, the watch was probably worth around $12,000, but it has since roughly quadrupled its value on the secondary market.
Several Audemars Piguet watches on LiveAuctioneers’ price results database attained more than $200,000 in 2020 and 2021. These are certainly notable and worth considering, but should be seen more as exceptions, especially when buyers are looking at current market values. Wolf said a few of these watches were part of the brand’s Concept collection, designed to showcase its micro-engineering and technical prowess. An example is the Royal Oak Concept chronograph watch that hit $250,000 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2020 at Heritage Auctions. The circa-2019 self-winding watch in titanium was housed in a 44mm case and had white gold bands.
Skeletonized watches, designed to show the timepiece’s inner workings, have long been popular, as evidenced by a Royal Oak perpetual calendar skeleton watch from 1997 that took CHF 260,000 ($288,229) plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021 at Ineichen Zurich. This limited series — 25 pieces in all — featured an octagonal stainless steel case and a platinum bezel with a stainless steel-platinum bracelet.
Another high-flying example, and the top result for Audemars Piguet on LiveAuctioneers to date, is a circa-2017 watch that boasted white diamonds all over the dial, the face and the rose gold bracelet. It flew to $914,750 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021 at Bidhaus.
The watch market has changed significantly post-pandemic, Wolf said, and explained that results such as those for a steel and gold Royal Oak watch that earned $8,500 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2018 at Heritage Auctions show just how profound the changes are. “In just five years [since the auction], it has appreciated rapidly. I would expect it to sell in the $50K range if sold at auction in the current market,” Wolf said.
The current uptick in the market, especially for vintage models, reflects generational changes, Wolf said. “The men who are now collecting watches and buying watches are from a different generation. They are buying watches that are not necessarily sporty but can also be worn in more of a dress fashion,” he said.
A fitting example of this trend is a 1972 Royal Oak wristwatch that realized £85,000 ($103,240) plus the buyer’s premium in March 2022 at Lyon & Turnbull. The A-series model 5402ST in a stainless steel case with a signed dark blue tapisserie dial had belonged to the consignor’s father, who was an amateur pilot and bought it as his dress watch.
The classic styling and mechanical quality of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak line makes these watches the ultimate fashion statement, and the market stability the overall brand has established proves as much. “It’s a name [that] always has an audience if it’s priced right in the secondary market simply because of the history of the brand and the quality,” Wolf said.