Audemars Piguet Minute Repeater Wristwatch Reference 5528 From 1885 Has Feminine Roots
Geneva was abuzz with activity just days before the first round of 2015 auctions took place in May. This is one of the busy horological times for the Swiss city, picturesquely situated between the backdrop of the snow-capped Alps and the relative calm of the tranquil lake disturbed only by the frenetic water shooting up (then falling down) from the emblematic Jet d’Eau.
Collectors, journalists, and enthusiasts spend these few days previewing the timepieces included in the various sales before the major auction houses begin pounding their hammers on various rostra.
Once in a great while, interesting timepieces pop up at auction that would probably receive a lot more attention if the auction world wasn’t currently quite so fixated on Patek Philippe and Rolex.
One such beauty came up at the Christie’s Important Watches auction in Geneva in May 2015. Lot 204 might have seemed unassuming to the casual observer, but once viewed under the loupe with a few words of explanation from Audemars Piguet’s heritage and museum director, Sebastian Vivas, it became quite clear that this rare wristwatch, which was first sold in 1951, was worth taking the time to explore in more detail.
The Audemars Piguet Museum apparently also thought so as it went to great lengths to successfully bid on this wristwatch, finally securing it for the price of 605,000 Swiss francs. This sum represents the world’s auction record for an Audemars Piguet minute repeater wristwatch.
Why makes this minute repeater so important?
In the modern age, Audemars Piguet is better known for its sporty renditions of the Royal Oak than its clever, well-finished minute repeating complications of years gone by. However, Audemars Piguet was once the leading Swiss maker of highly complicated ébauches for other brands and delivered them all over Switzerland to other reputable makers. But please don’t get the idea that these were made in high volume; they were not. Requiring great skill and ingenuity to complete, high numbers of such historical complicated wristwatches simply do not exist.
Vivas points to this particular wristwatch – which is one of only three known examples – as the kind of find that could enhance the public’s view on the brand’s earlier history. “It’s also interesting to see how ladies’ watches influenced the first men’s watches,” Vivas said.
Ladies’ timepieces were definitely the forerunners of fashionably wearing time on the wrist, and it was because of them and the smaller sizes that smaller wrists required that watchmakers took chances with visuals, played with shapes, miniaturized movements so drastically, and developed very wearable time technology.
The movement inside this example of Reference 5528 was not originally made for it: while the restored wristwatch dates from 1951, the complicated 31.75 mm diameter (14-ligne) mechanism inside was actually completed in the late nineteenth century. According to the paperwork that now accompanies it, the movement was originally encased in a ladies’ pendant watch sold in 1889, before being returned to the manufacture for re-casing to begin its second life within an Art Deco-style wristwatch in 1921.
It was finally re-cased in 1951 in what was considered at the time an oversized 38 mm 18-karat yellow gold housing.
Before heading to the Christie’s sale, this historic repeater spent several months in Audemars Piguet’s restoration workshop, where Angelo Manzoni carefully restored it to its current glory.
From here on out, it will reside in the Audemars Piguet Museum, where visitors will have the chance to appreciate and learn from its sublime beauty.
Case: re-cased in 1951 and refurbished in 2014; 38 mm, 18-karat yellow gold
Movement: Caliber No. 8712 from 1885; 14 lignes (31.75 x 7.70 mm) with Swiss lever escapement; 18,000 vph
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; minute repeater striking hours, quarters, minutes on demand
Value: sold for 605,000 Swiss francs on May 11, 2015 at Christie’s Important Watches auction in Geneva