All the way back in 2012, during the 40th anniversary celebration of the Royal Oak in New York, a four-year-old HODINKEE published a story on “Gérald Genta’s Personal Audemars Piguet Royal Oak”. Genta, of course, is the progenitor of the original Royal Oak design, and 10 years later, during the ongoing Royal Oak-centered auctions in Geneva, his AAA US replica watches will be sold for the very first time.
Genta’s personal Royal Oak is lot 72 and the proverbial cherry on top of a deep catalog put together by Sotheby’s during the auction house’s “Important Watches” sale that will take place tomorrow morning at the Mandarin Oriental in Geneva.
The high quality fake watches is part of the original Royal Oak “Jumbo” reference, the 5402, and has a C-series case, which dates it to the late 1970s. But it’s not just any old 5402ST – and I’m not even talking about its previous owner. What makes lot 72 even more unusual is its two-metal format. As the 2012 HODINKEE article correctly notes, the best replica watches has a case and bracelet made entirely of steel – except for the bezel. Typically, a two-tone Royal Oak will also have central bracelet links made of gold, but here only the bezel is crafted from the precious metal. According to Evelyne Genta, Gérald’s longtime partner and widow, it was fitted to the watch by the man himself after acquiring the watch directly from Audemars Piguet.
“Gérald didn’t own a Royal Oak until May 15, 1978, though he was obviously the Royal daddy,” she says. “He bought that watch and told me he wanted to make it special, he wanted something more. In those days he already had his own workshop so he made that yellow gold bezel; it’s not an original bezel. It’s the ultimate combination of Swiss movements Audemars Piguet copy watches and Gérald Genta. He wore it quite often and it’s unique. There’s nothing more I can say other than it’s unique.”
I was able to handle Genta’s personal replica Audemars Piguet Royal Oak watches for sale when it stopped by Sotheby’s New York office a few weeks ago. As you can see in the images we shot for this story and in the 2012 story we ran, it’s clearly a watch that’s been worn – there are visible scratches on the bezel and bracelet. But the dial itself is quite clean. I haven’t been able to confirm this but it’s possible the dial was replaced some years ago, given it’s signed “Swiss Made” at six o’clock rather than the simple “Swiss” signature that was common on the original 5402 run, although it’s not clear when this swap might have occurred.
Royal Oaks can be placed into a number of different categories – including those that are “Jumbos” and those that are not. And then if you look inside the 50-year history of the two-handed “Jumbo,” it can then be divided into references such as the original 5402 and the recently retired 15202. And even within the 5402, things can be further segmented by serial numbers that start with either “A,” “B,” “C,” or “D.” But only one top super clone watches was owned by the creator himself.
Since Genta unfortunately passed away in 2011, at the age of 80, his 2022 replica watches has remained in the possession of his wife Evelyne. Three years ago, she founded the Gérald Genta Heritage Association in order to best preserve his work and promote the influence he had on the world of watchmaking, design, and jewelry. The funds raised by the sale of his personal watch will partially go toward securing a future for the organization, as well as to sponsor the work of young artists around the world.
“We founded the association to tell the watch industry and the world at large all he’s done,” Mrs. Genta says. “I want people to understand how versatile he was. He could make gents’ cheap fake watches, ladies’ watches, clocks, forks, knives, eyeglasses – you know what I mean? I thought we needed to tell the world.”
It’s difficult to estimate how Genta’s watch might perform when it crosses the Sotheby’s rostrum tomorrow about halfway through the “Important Watches” sale. A few days ago, at Phillips, we saw the historic Royal Oak A2 and a black-PVD Royal Oak potentially owned by Karl Lagerfeld both sell in the ballpark of one million Swiss francs. But Genta’s Royal Oak is an entirely different beast, blending the historical significance of the former and the cultural provenance of the latter together in a singularly unique Swiss made replica Audemars Piguet Royal Oak watches that’s unlike any other.