On His "A" Game: Bill's Royal Oak 5402
If you’re a regular Watch Patina reader, then you remember last month's story about Josh’s 40th Anniversary Royal Oak. Up this week is Bill, and he’s brought along the original Royal Oak "Jumbo,” arguably one of the Seven Wonders of the Watch World. And, as if that wasn't enough, Bill’s also sharing three Universal Genève Compaxes he once owned, including one with a reverse "Panda" dial he gets full credit for dubbing the “Evil Nina.” Enjoy this one folks...
Buying, selling, and trading watches involves a lot of the same emotions you contend with in your everyday life: Following your heart, trusting your gut, and living with your decisions - just to name a few. Bill’s faced all of these feelings in his short time as a collector, all leading to his very special Audemars Piguet Royal Oak.
Just like you’re taught to respect your elders, there’s an unspoken rule in the watch community that certain brands and models are supposed to be treated with admiration - even if they’re not your cup of tea. Audemars Piguet's legendary Royal Oak is one of those models. But in the early days of Bill’s collecting, whenever he came across a photo of one, he thought it was the “ugliest thing” and “didn’t get” what all the fuss was about over its design? He couldn't relate to its Oysterquartz-like case and integrated bracelet from another era.
If you follow Bill on Instagram, @wristfactor, you know he’s a New Yorker - a Brooklynite for the past 11 years. You also know from his posts that he’s a fixture at Red Bar Crew meetups. During his first appearance at Red Bar, one of the group's founding fathers, Adam Craniotes - Instagram @craniotes - let him try on his Audemars Royal Oak ref. 15202. The moment Bill clasped it's integral link bracelet and saw the light dance off the petite tapisserie dial, his whole opinion of the Royal Oak changed.
Coincidentally, Bill shared the same wrist size as Adam, allowing him to instantly appreciate the Royal Oak's luxurious look and feel, yet at the same time, it's stealth aura. Bill was "star struck" and couldn’t shake the encounter. When he came down off his high, reality set in that he couldn’t afford it...yet.
The other watch Bill fell in love with was the Rolex Daytona. Specifically, a ref. 6263 "Panda" dial with a “Big Red” Daytona logo. Owning a vintage Daytona quickly overtook buying a Royal Oak, even though both watches were out of his reach, financially speaking.
To hold himself over, he hunted-down chronographs from a brand called Universal Genève. Their Compax line not only looked like the ref. 6263 Daytona, but also shared the same movement: The famous Valjoux 72. Bill liked the idea of pursuing a watch similar to the "Big Red" Daytona in all aspects but name, and price (as of a few years ago Universal Compaxes, if found, could be bought for a few thousand dollars).
It's the stuff of legend the way Bill managed to wrangle up a trio of prime Compax examples from international sellers, including one with a rare tropical "Panda" dial affectionately known as the “Nina Rindt,“ which was featured on HODINKEE.
Eventually Bill came to a crossroads: The Universals were supposed to be a purely speculative move; he didn't count on falling in love with them. But the market for Universal Genève was heating up. It was a tough call for Bill to let go, but he decided to cash in his chips and entrusted analog/shift to broker the sales.
All three Universals sold in less than 48 hours. Between Bill’s sudden windfall and money he'd been saving up, he had enough to buy his "exit watch," a vintage "Big Red" Daytona. Unfortunately, now that he was ready, he couldn't seem to find one in a condition to his liking.
With money burning a hole is his pocket, and a trip on the horizon to Korea, he dipped into his Daytona fund and splurged on a Leica camera. Bill quickly reassessed his watch budget, and with his remaining money, realized he could buy a modern ref. 15202 Royal Oak. But on second thought, being more of a "vintage guy," he decided he'd rather have an older B or C Series Royal Oak, which would cost about the same.
Every week an email is sent out to the Red Bar Crew members with details about upcoming get togethers. Sometimes at the bottom of the email message is a list of watches for sale. One week Bill noticed a short description: AP Royal Oak A Series. He found out that the watch was inherited and being sold on behalf of the owner. Bill got in touch, found out that the price was firm, but fair (and in the neighborhood of what he was planning to spend on a B or C Series).
If the ref. 15202 sung to him, this A Series serenaded him. The watch "shined in an unquantifiable way." Looking back on the purchase, Bill recalls how much luck played a factor: This rare watch was not listed on any forums or known about by any major dealers. It was simply a "pocket listing" from Red Bar.
In life, we face choices that are no brainers and others that are more difficult calls. How you choose to respond impacts your life, or in the case of watches, shapes your collection. It wasn't easy for Bill to say sayonara to not one, but three Universal Genève Compaxes. He could dwell on the fact that they're worth more today than when he sold them. Instead, he's happy he stuck with his game plan to get into a dream watch (that also happens to be pretty valuable).
At times he misses the Universals; they now exist in pictures and memories only. But he absolutely loves his AP: It makes him "feel taller" and "more confident" whenever he wears it.
A "Big Red" Daytona remains elusive. And getting one means he'd probably have to sell his A Series, something he's not ready to do quite yet, if ever. But if the time comes, Bill can draw from past experience to help make that decision.
All photography courtesy of William Bright.