Tales of legendary watch collectors are legion, like the guy with one of every Greubel-Forsey model or 50 Rolex “Paul Newman” Daytonas. One collection that is not contested, because its owner produced a book documenting some of its treasures, is said to be even greater than the accumulation by the brand itself.

Marcus Margulies, owner of the eponymous cathedral to astounding timepieces on London’s Bond Street, collects watches made by Audemars Piguet. He has, in his career, distributed the brand and sold the watches through his store, but his dedication is based on two elements that have nothing to do with commerce.

One is that the watch he inherited from his father is an Audemars Piguet. The other is that he regards AP as having made some of the finest watches ever created.

An Ever-Growing Collection

Marcus Margulies

Those who have heard about the collection are aware that it contains “more than 100 pieces”, but Margulies is careful not to give away too much — beyond saying that he would not want it split up during his lifetime. When asked what is “missing”, like a great poker player, he refuses to comment on what has eluded him. “I’m not gonna tell you because I’m after it,” he says with a laugh, but he does have items in mind.

Since the catalog of the collection appeared in 2012, Margulies has added another 15 or 16 pieces, “and one or two that are very important, such as one particular rectangular watch that was the first one of its type to be made. I don’t even think Audemars knew what it was when it came up for sale.

“We bought a unique digital minute repeater and what I would guess is the third or fourth best pocket watch. We were prepared to pay seven figures in Francs and we got it for CHF360,000, so we’re very happy with it. We were flabbergasted that we were able to buy it at that price.”

Getting Ready For Take-Off

Margulies’s involvement with AP goes back decades, so his perspective on it is more comprehensive than that of a collector in love with a brand but one who is not part of the watch industry.

“When I first came into business, we had Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet, and Vacheron absolutely outsold Audemars. AP made an association with Omega — this would have been in the late 1960s, early 1970s — and wanted the stock back. I had a few years’ stock and I was happy to give it to the company.”

The Royal Oak

“The brand then devised the Royal Oak, which is one of the great watch innovations of all time.” Margulies, though not then an agent for AP, remembers the seismic change that watch wrought. “The Italian distributor at the time — I think his name was Villa — decided that there would be a big market in Italy for a steel sports watch. And it was designed by [Gérald] Genta, who had created a lot of amazing products, and it really took off. It is the best sports watch in the world. There is no question about it.

A-Series Yellow-Gold Royal Oak 5402

“Where AP hit the jackpot was with the Offshore because it was the pioneer of the chunky watch. Brands like Patek don’t have chunky dress watches. The only one who’s got the open-necked shirt, to-the-waist medallion is Audemars Piguet. It’s the Royal Oak. It’s a very cool watch. And it happened to be the right watch at the right time.”

Condition Report

After a lifetime in the watch business, one can forgive Margulies if he seems a touch blasé. When asked what he finds most fascinating about AP, he says with the barest hint of a shrug: “Nothing in particular. I am not interested in the historical aspects of AP. I don’t want the first ‘x’ or the first ‘y’ — I want watches that appeal to me. I’ve always considered the aesthetic more than anything else. I like certain complicated pieces [but] the thing that turns me on most is condition. The watch has got to be in superlative condition. I won’t touch it otherwise.”

Echoing the words of collectors of books, vinyl LPs or cars, when faced with rarities in a less-than-perfect state, he accepts that you have to compromise. “Occasionally, a piece comes up that is so important that you have to buy it, like my 40mm chronograph from 1946 — the next biggest at the time was 36mm and they only seem to have made one of this size. The condition… the dial is not perfect and normally I wouldn’t have bought a watch with a marked dial. But the importance of the case is huge.”

Part two? Right this way.

[Excerpted from an article by Ken Kessler, first published in December 2015]

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