Here's What To Expect From "Royal Oak 39 The Book"
Featuring watches from the collections of four leading Royal Oak aficionados — Andrea Poretti, Andrea Mattioli, Corrado Mattarelli and Michele Ciocco — Royal Oak 39 The Book is dedicated to the history and evolution of the iconic timepiece over the last five decades
“Nothing is forever, but I hope to keep them all as long as possible.”
The Royal Oak celebrated its 50th birthday in 2022, a significant moment for Audemars Piguet and a half century of a genre-defining sports watch. Penned by arguably the most important and prolific designer of important watches Gerald Genta, the Royal Oak has become, much like the Rolex Daytona, a subset of watch collecting in itself. The daddy of the Royal Oaks is the 39mm so-called Jumbo, originally reference 5402ST, that debuted in 1972.
Immediately positioned as the first luxury steel sports watch, the Royal Oak was to become the watch of the jet-set with a price tag that was the same as the Jaguar XJ6 or ten times the cost of Rolex’s equivalent dive watch, the Submariner. The watch was designed to be pitched to the Italian market; a nation that has been obsessed with the Royal Oak ever since. It’s fitting, therefore, that a collective of Italian dealers, collectors and scholars joined forces to create, Royal Oak 39 The Book.
The book is the concerted effort of four of the world’s leading Royal Oak aficionados, Andrea Poretti, Andrea Mattioli, Corrado Mattarelli and Michele Ciocco. Extensively featuring watches from the collections of all four with additional pieces from friends, the editorial overview was carried out by veteran Italian author and journalist Paolo Gobbi. The book’s primary focus is beautiful, unadulterated and naturally shot pictures by one of the world’s leading watch photographers Luca Garbati. Whilst the focus is undeniably on the stunning photographs, the book is interspersed with interviews with the four experts alongside well-known figures from the industry including Audemars Piguet CEO Francois-Henry Bennahmias, Aurel Bacs, John Goldberger and AP’s Michael Friedman amongst others. The book is divided into three sections; Time Only, Perpetual Calendar and Chronograph. As part of Phillips' "The Royal Oak 50th" auction last year, a unique version of the book was sold to raise money for charity and it achieved an outstanding CHF 40K!
One of the principal gentlemen behind the book is Monaco-based dealer Corrado Mattarelli. A dapper, urbane and well-known fixture on the international auction and trade show scene, Mattarelli is highly regarded as a dealer of the finest quality watches on the market. His interests span all areas of watches and horology, with a pleasingly blurred line between dealer and collector. “Everyone that knows me, understands that I’m a collector and some colleagues often make fun of me,” he explains. “Probably they’re right! On many occasions I’ve missed the right moment to sell. But who cares, it’s only money!”
Mattarelli’s watch journey began at the age of 15, when he discovered two Girard Perregaux watches in a drawer at his family’s house. They weren’t in working condition, so he set about getting them restored. It was an early and valuable lesson in business economics. He explains: “I had no idea of their value, but now I can tell you, they were very cheap watches. I spent much more money on restoring those watches than their value. But my passion came from there, so it was money well spent I guess.”
After many years of collecting and learning about watches, Corrado decided that his planned career in law was not the road that lay ahead for him. “At that time I was studying law at University, but I was not so passionate about it to be honest. So, I decided to get into the watch business full time. Initially I gave myself six months, but 20 days was enough to decide my future, and I’m still doing it and loving it now,” he says. With the market in the transition phase that it is currently in, what advice is he giving his clients at the moment? “My thought is simple, if you buy something you like, beyond the value it will always give you joy and positive energy.”
When it comes to the Royal Oak, Mattarelli was smitten from the first time he laid eyes on one. “As I wrote in the book, at the end of the 1980s I was at a birthday party of a dear friend and just before the cake was brought out, his parents presented him with a Royal Oak. It was love at first sight for him and me!” What is it about these watches that captivates him so much? “It’s difficult to explain; take a Royal oak, put it on your wrist, did you? No? So, I'll tell you. It's like a second skin on your wrist and you can't stop looking at it. It’s a piece of art.” His first foray into Royal Oak ownership was the de facto classic – a reference 5402 in stainless steel. “I actually had to wait quite a while before I could find one. It was the 1990s and everything was different compared to nowadays. There was no internet and if you were looking for a watch, you had to go literally ‘treasure hunting’. It was so much fun! We used to set off for long journeys without knowing what we would find; it was like an everlasting gold rush.”
Is there one single element that he believes makes the watch the special piece that it is? “I do not think that one single detail can be crucial to the success of a model. I believe it is a matter of an ensemble. However, a dial that takes inspiration from the guilloché patterns of the 1950s and gives it a modern twist has clearly been a stroke of genius. Additionally, besides the dial design, I think much credit should be given to the perfect fit of the Royal Oak. A timepiece so thin and elegant to complement a tailored shirt with cufflinks and at the same time a sporty appeal that matches perfectly with a cashmere sweater.”
With such passion for the original Jumbo Royal Oak and with a strong bond between a group of collectors, a book that showcased their combined collection was a logical step. How did the concept of the book first get mooted? “We were in Geneva for the auctions as a group and I don't remember exactly who first suggested, why don't we make an Audemars book? A faster decision has never been made, truly a choice of the heart.” A true marker of how seriously AP took the book is the fact that they worked with the team when putting the book together. Mattarelli was very grateful: “It was fantastic to work with Audemars Piguet, without whose support it would not have been possible to make this book. Another important element was the contribution of Phillips in association Bacs & Russo and to the dear Virginie, who allowed us to realize a splendid charity through their auction and I cannot leave out the many friends who have made their precious collections available to us.”
In closing, what is the one Royal Oak 39 that Corrado would keep if all the rest had to go? “Well, one that I have and want to keep forever is a pink perpetual calendar reference 25636, that was produced in only three examples, at the moment it is the only one that appeared in the market and it belonged to a French actor and yes, it is also the N1, I would say that is enough! Unfortunately, however, I found it when the book was already in print and so I will not have the pleasure of sharing it with the readers, but buy it anyway, it's a beautiful book made with passion, with passionate friends!”