My man Franz did an excellent job tracing the genesis of the deeply desirable Audemars Piguet Royal Oak (click here for the 411). Securing an example for your collection isn’t a lot of laughs – especially if there isn’t a money tree in your back yard. Luckily, there are less expensive, easily obtainable Royal Oak alternatives. But first, a quick word about the criteria…
The $19,200 Royal Oak is a sublime combination of watchmaking skill, minimalist design and sumptuous materials (mostly unobtanium). Plenty of latter day watchmakers have attempted to use Mr. Genta’s recipe – only to end up burning the metaphorical dinner. Here are at two watchmakers that deserve that final Michelin star. (As always, no commission on links.)
Girard-Perregaux Laureato – $11,000
In 2016, Girard-Perregeaux relaunched the Laureato, creating an instant classic. That said, many if not most of the storied Swiss watchmaker’s 45 Laureato variants are an SKU too far, challenging all but their buyers to find them attractive. I reckon GP’s designers got in touch with their inner Genta with this model: the “base” Laureato 38mm.
Looking at the Laureato, it’s easy to see where the $4900 Bell & Ross BR-05 and the $12,900 Chopard Alpine Eagle went wrong. Unlike those two Genta wanna-be’s, the Laureato’s bracelet flows seamlessly from the case. Its dial is immediately appealing – without resorting to screwy gimmicks (e.g., bolts or feather-shaped hands).
Like a bad Chardonnay, the Laureato’s octagon motif and textured dial may be too Oaky for some. I reckon the Laureato adheres to the “if it aint broke” admonition without stepping on its inspiration’s toes. In fact, the latter day homage’s pointy hands and indices – perfectly proportioned to both the dial and each other – are more visually compelling than the Royal Oak’s. (Yeah I said it.)
Leaving the Laureato’s quartz-powered legacy in the dustbin of history, the modern version hosts GP’s in-house caliber GP03300. The movement brings accuracy, honor and engineering bravado to its owner. And proves that the Laureato isn’t a shameless copy. (No apologies needed Mr. Hodinkee.) GP’s luxury sports watch is its own thing, and a beautiful thing it is too.
Back in the day, Gerald Genta created a doo-hickey (the off-center micro-rotor) that enabled his employer (Universal) to make and sell the world’s thinnest automatic watch. The legendary designer was also no stranger to titanium, or Bulgari, or titanium Bulgaris. The wafer-thin, titanium Bulgari Octo Finissimo would have been right up Gerard’s proverbial alley. Again, the “base” model is the best expression of Genta-ism.
The Octo Finissimo may be envelope thin (2.3mm) but it’s altogether bigger and bolder than the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak or the Girard-Perregeaux Laureato. With its octagon (yes that again) inside the bezel, tall numbers and [relatively] huge second hands sub-dial, the Laureato is here to giocare. At the same time, it’s perfectly proportioned, elegant and unmistakably Italianate.
At first glance, the Octo’s caseback fails to live up to the BVL 138 caliber’s extraordinary engineering. Then you clock the “river” cut-throughs and spy the mechanical gubbins chugging away underneath. They help make the Finissimo a timepiece that Gerald Genta would have been proud to call his own. As will any financially constrained collector who wants to capture the spirit of Genta’s undeniable genius.