People pay ridiculous prices for watches associated with celebrities. The likes of Rolex Daytonas once owned by Paul Newman and Heuer Monacos worn by Steve McQueen fetch millions at auction. But Gérald Genta is a different type of celebrity: he gave the watch world many of its most iconic designs, but none more groundbreaking and influential than the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. Now, the designer's own Royal Oak is coming up for auction.
New and vintage Royal Oak watches cost crazy sums to begin with, but stratospheric auction prices occur when there's a story that makes a single example particularly compelling (among other factors, like its condition). We don't need to rehash the Royal Oak's whole story, suffice it to say that in 1972 its brazen concept and design created an entire new category in watches, that of the generalized "luxury sport watch," and it remains (in its various forms) one of the most sought-after, prestigious and imitated watches today. Unlike many other famous watches, the Royal Oak's designer is not only named but lionized.
Gérald Genta went on to give us a similar and similarly successful (to put it mildly) watch in the Patek Philippe Nautilus — among, reportedly, thousands of other watch designs that were less recognized. So, Genta's own watch, perhaps more than any other, represents the source of so much of what occupies modern watch consciousness today.
Now, Hodinkee reports that 50 years after its introduction, this Royal Oak will come up for auction at Sotheby's in 2022 along with a range of items from the Genta estate, including the likes of his original watch sketches. Dating from the late '70s, this reference 5402A is not one of the earliest models which collectors tend to value most, but its context makes it more than significant — and it further feels special and interesting because the exact configuration it represents was apparently never serially produced.
While Sotheby's puts its estimate at $300,000-$500,000, it's hard to imagine its sale price not climbing into the millions. How many millions is yet to be seen, but it probably has more intrinsic value than many other record-breaking watches. The sketches are part of the "Gérald Genta: Icon of Time" auction beginning in February, but the watch itself will be hit the block in May 2022 in Geneva.