Today, we’ll get straight to the point and speak frankly and honestly. Frank, Founder and Managing Director of MONOCHROME, whom I’ve known for more than seven years now, is probably one of the most upfront and straightforward people I’ve ever met: Frank is a man who says what he thinks. And today we’ll talk about one of his most beloved watches, one that he’s owned for years and that I’ve always wanted to feature in our ‘Collector’s Series’, his handsome Audemars Piguet Royal Oak ‘Jumbo’ 5402ST. And because this watch is such an icon, it doesn’t really need an introduction anymore. Instead, we’ll be looking at what really matters, the collecting side of things, the market, the fuzz around the watch…
Today the ‘Collector’s Series’ goes wild and I’m happy to have Frank on board for this new instalment. Fasten your seatbelts and let’s get to it!
Brice Goulard – No need to present this model anymore… It is a true icon. So let’s talk about your own watch, Frank. I know you’ve had it for a while now. What’s the story behind it?
Frank Geelen – We have to go back to my early days of collecting and running MONOCHROME. Online at forums, I had seen the occasional Royal Oak and I liked it, however, it was simply far out of reach, budget-wise. But I also had no idea of what it would be on the wrist and most retailers of high-end watches were simply not very welcoming. It felt like there was a balloting committee to decide whether they would allow you to come in, to try on the watch, or even to be worth a second look from the salesperson. Most images of the Royal Oak were the official PR shots and that didn’t really show the watch in its natural habitat, i.e. the wrist. Fast forward a few years…
A friend of mine, Robert-Jan from Fratello, owned a ref. 15300 and although I kind of liked the watch (from a distance), there was always something that just didn’t do it for me. I handled the watch on several occasions, tried it briefly on my wrist. Of course, I had read a lot about the Royal Oak, or at least quite a bit, as information was not as ‘available’ as it is today on the world wide web! So I knew about the model’s history, how it was designed (on a napkin during Baselworld, they say) and I had seen quite a few photos of Royal Oaks. I guess like many, I wondered why it was so incredibly expensive. And how it would look on my wrist. Somehow I could not really connect to the 15300. When RJ sold the 15300, he bought a 15202ST and in 2011 I got to borrow his watch for a few days.
This was a pre-2012 reference 15202ST and I have to admit, the spark was still not there. It was too angular, too ‘rough’, and although I ‘kind of’ liked it, it certainly was no head over heels or anything close to the motivation that is required to drop 15k on the table (or around 12k for a pre-owned one, at that time).
The following year, in January 2012, Audemars Piguet introduced a revamped version of the ref. 15202ST during the SIHH in Geneva. I tried it on my wrist for a photoshoot and I fell for it. Head over heels! And immediately I understood what made me like the new version so much more than the previous version. The markers were thinner and longer, the clous de Paris (hobnail) dial featured a much finer pattern, called petit tapisserie. This softened up the watch’s design and I loved it.
I wanted one, but I know the price was much more than what I could afford. So upon my return, immediately after the 2012 SIHH, I started searching for an old 5402ST, as that one also featured the long and thin hour markers and a petit tapisserie that was even finer than on the latest 15202ST. I soon found one that A) matched my budget, B) looked good and C) the dealers seemed trustworthy. So that was it, I spent more than I had ever spent on a watch before, and a few days later I received my Royal Oak. It was a D series, it was in very good condition, with the correct bracelet and clasp, original crown and well, it all looked very good. I was over the moon with my new watch!
What do you love so much about the Royal Oak, especially this vintage 5402ST version?
The design is so balanced, so perfect, and displays an admirable middle ground between masculine lines and shapes, and some softer shapes. The case and bracelet are, of course, quite masculine and also quite shiny. Although my old 5402ST is not that shiny anymore and the sharp edges have softened up over the years.
But still, the case and bracelet of the Royal Oak are very masculine, sharp, almost edgy. But the petit tapisserie of the 5402, which is even more “petit” than the tapisserie on the current 15202, looks very good and somehow softens the looks of the watch. A different dial, and there have been quite a few over the course of several decades, is very determinative for the Royal Oak’s looks, in my humble opinion. The sleek and long applied hour markers match the design perfectly. It’s harmonious, balanced, masculine yet not too “hard” or angular.
And at least as important, I love the thinness of this watch! The bracelet is thinner than later versions, the case too. Because of this thinness, it just feels so good on the wrist.
How does that compare to the modern equivalent, the 15202ST?
When my son was born I wore the 5402 not as much as before. Those little hands try to grab anything and the old 5402 is thin and all of a sudden it started to feel fragile on my wrist. So I started saving pennies for a new 15202ST as it was introduced in 2012. The dial is different, the case and bracelet are thicker, the clasp is easier to open and close, but they managed to grasp the essence of the old 5402ST in the new 15202ST.
Although I was highly surprised when, in 2012, I found out that the dial was blue because, so I was told by Octavio Garcia, the designer, the original also had a blue dial. Now maybe I’m colour-blind, but I can’t see blue in the dial of my 5402ST. The blue looks good, no it looks great, so no worries, I am enjoying the various tones of blue a lot. The best thing is that the 15202ST does not feel fragile, so I’m wearing it a lot and I’m not scared that my son will grab it and accidentally break something.
It feels like a modern version of the 5402, although in terms of modernity, I could have imagined a few ‘modern’ features. A fine-adjustment in the clasp to make the bracelet a bit longer or shorter, for instance, would have been appreciated hugely! Or a quick release system like on Vacheron’s Overseas is something I also really like, as I would love to be able to wear my 15202ST on a rubber band too. Anyways, I’m still very pleased with the watch and I wear, and enjoy, it a lot.
A-Series, B-Series, C-Series, D-Series… At the risk of shocking some collectors, is it necessary to only focus on the earliest models? Aren’t the later 5402ST, such as yours, as rewarding?
You know my opinion on this. I think it’s BS. Hence the reason why we hardly cover the next record-setting rare Rolex. If you like a watch, you like a watch. I cannot relate to this sort of collecting; some watches are more sought-after because it has a misprint dial or a very rare “underline” or a “dot over 90” bezel or… Most of these now-sought-after watches were far from collectable a few decades ago, but the collecting world somehow found ways to distinguish one old Rolex Submariner from another, while both have the same reference and look identical to most collectors. All of a sudden a broken dial is called a spiderweb dial, a faded dial is ‘tropical’ and a dial with spots is called a leopard dial. To me, this is so much nonsense. But people found a way to have a watch that they believe is more special than another one. And others found a way to ‘age’ a watch in such a way that it becomes more collectable and they can make a pleasant profit. It’s a murky world and I prefer to stay away from it.
That’s also why I keep being surprised to see 5402 C-series popping up with so-called “AP at 6” dials. These dials featured the AP logo on the lower end of the dial like it is on the new post-2012 ref. 15202ST. The inspiration for this post-2012 dial comes from the dials on 5402 A-series. From what I learned about these dials, these were also used on some B series, so seeing these dials on C series and even D series…. Makes you wonder! But since collectors prefer to focus on collectability or investments, they are missing out on the beauty of such a remarkably nice watch and of the joy of wearing it. Personally, I don’t care whether it’s an A, B, C or D series. It’s the looks of the 5402 that I fell in love with.
We can’t skip the topic of market value when it comes to the Royal Oak. What’s your take on the current situation and the speculative bubble?
When I bought my 5402 the prices started around 10k and a new pre-owned model was more expensive than the old 5402. I just checked Chrono24 and the cheapest 5402ST is priced at 38,500 EUR, there’s one at 39,500 and the next is 44,800 EUR. Prices have quadrupled over the past eight years. Although prices are quite steep, I can understand this price development.
I have more problems with the price of the new 15202ST on the pre-owned or grey market, as prices are at least 10,000 EUR higher than the retail price. Patek’s Nautilus is even more insane and the prices are double of the retail price. Similar problems with various Rolex sports models (Daytona, Sub, GMT Master Pepsi and Batman) and to me this ruins the fun of collecting. With such prices, we enter a different game, the speculation game and to me, that’s a negative sentiment.
What would you recommend to aspiring collectors who are thinking of buying a vintage Royal Oak? And are there any alternatives?
First of all, make sure you get enough wrist time with the watch you want to buy. This is key. When your wrist is smaller than 16 centimetres, you might not like how it sits on the wrist. Study the market, be patient, know the seller; the latter is very important! If you like the old Royal Oak Jumbo, something that I can understand very well, then I’m sure it won’t disappoint.
Alternatives are around, for people with a smaller wrist there are the 36mm diameter options from AP and there are also some older versions with the petit tapisserie dial and sleek, long hour markers. But since we’re talking vintage, there simply are not many alternatives, unless you are prepared to go for a newer watch. In that case, I’d suggest the 15202ST and good alternatives from other brands (for luxury sports watches) are the VC Overseas and the Bvlgari Octo Finissimo, especially now the water resistance has been increased to 100m.
Last but not least… Is it for sale?
No. Well, if someone offers 10 times the price I paid (7.5k), then I’m prepared to let it go. Since that won’t happen anytime soon, I will be enjoying my lovely 5402ST.