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The Return of the Audemars Piguet Prodigal Watch

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May 2015

Geneva is the place for some of the biggest and priciest watch auctions in the World. A rare Audemars Piguet minute repeater broke another world record, and returned back home.

The short version of the parable of the prodigal son tells of a son, who after wasting a fortune that his father has given him and goes hungry, returns back home. Of course, the father welcomes his son back home, at the protest of his brother.

Geneva is the home to some of the biggest and most prestigious Swiss watch brands in the world. The city also hosts some of the biggest auctions in the watch world, which allows some of those watches to return home. With the start of the auction season of 2015, Audemars Piguet has joined the elite record-breaking group of auction in Geneva, with an extremely rare minute repeater.

The Reference 5528 wristwatch, made in 1885, was sold at Christie’s Important Watches auction here last week, as Lot 204. The winning bid was 605,000 Swiss francs, which is a world auction record for an Audemars Piguet minute repeater wristwatch. And the winning bidder? Well that was the Audemars Piguet Museum itself, which always intended on bringing the watch back home.

Vintage Audemars Piguet Minute Repeater
Vintage Audemars Piguet Minute Repeater

Audemars Piguet’s heritage and museum director, Sebastian Vivas, explained why buying back the watch was important for the brand. According to Vivas, that watch enhances the public’s view of the brand’s earlier history. He also appreciated the fact that it’s one example of how “ladies’ watches influenced the first men’s watches.”

That’s right, this watch hides a bit of a secret as well. According to Quill and Pad, the movement found in the watch was originally encased in a ladies’ pendant watch sold in 1889, after which it was returned to the manufacture for re-casing to begin its second life within an Art Deco-style wristwatch in 1921.

Adding to the mystery of the watch is that it is so rare. According to the lot listing, such vintage minute repeating wristwatches are “the rarest and most desirable trophies” for collectors. This is in part because of the extreme cost of production, meaning that a very small number of such masterpieces were ever made.

According to the archives of Audemars Piguet, only two other examples of this wristwatch are known to exist. But their existence is only assumed based on archival images. At the moment, no one knows where the other two watches are, making this example of the Reference 5528 the only one to show its face in public.

And there we have the answer for the record breaking price, and why Audemars Piguet brought the watch back home. Now it’s up to you to decide whether the 605,000 Swiss francs price tag was worth it. Just don’t let the fact that the word prodigal means “wasteful” or “recklessly extravagant”. (VJ)