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Unleashing the Beast
April 21, 2014 Heritage

Unleashing the Beast

The Royal Oak Offshore, Ref. 25721, No. 32

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The road towards development of any new timepiece can be a tumultuous journey, often met with doubt, second-guessing, technical challenges and fear of the unknown commercial and critical reception that the new model will ultimately receive. In many ways, the development history of the Royal Oak Offshore between 1989 and 1993 mirrors many aspects of the history of its primary source and inspiration – the 1972 Royal Oak. The original Royal Oak, designed by Gerald Genta in the early years of the Quartz Crisis, shattered the boundaries between luxury and sports watches, while challenging all conventions pertaining to the manufacturing and finishing of stainless steel timepieces. The large and meticulously crafted timepiece developed into an icon in the eyes and minds of collectors and enthusiasts, and boldly stands the test of time over four decades since its creation. However, as we all know very well, its path towards success was met with as much doubt and resistance as it was met with acclaim and appreciation.

The genesis of the Royal Oak Offshore begins in 1989 when a talented, young, second generation designer working for Audemars Piguet named Emmanuel Gueit introduced a sketch of a concept that re-imagined the Royal Oak into a more massive, substantial watch that can handle all of the elements and forces of nature that it would encounter on the wrists of the most active and adventure-seeking collectors. Gueit’s conceptual sketches did not receive much fanfare internally. In fact, like several other designs that ultimately found success, the early years of development were a lonely journey. Fortunately, the project was supported by the Joint Chairman of Audemars Piguet at the time. In addition to the support he provided Gueit, he was also the man that ultimately designated the name of the new creation as the Royal Oak Offshore.

  • Unleashing the Beast
  • Unleashing the Beast
  • Unleashing the Beast

While Genta’s original Royal Oak was the definitive source of reference and inspiration for the Royal Oak Offshore, the new design diverged from the original in several significant ways that came to be the defining characteristics of the Royal Oak Offshore. The most pronounced shift was the dramatic case size of 42 mm. While this is standard fare in 2014, it was a shock when introduced in 1993 at BaselWorld. By this time, the watch had already been nicknamed, ‘The Beast’ due to its staggering proportions. In addition to its large size and inclusion of the chronograph complication, several other features jumped out that distinguished the Royal Oak Offshore: the curved links of the bracelet, the massive visible black gasket on the bezel, the silicon caps of the chronograph pushers and crown, the stylized crown protection, and the fact that the movement was able to be placed inside an anti-magnetic cover due to the unprecedented case size.

It is well documented that the initial 100 examples of the Royal Oak Offshore were not engraved with the Royal Oak Offshore designation on the case back as the new model was considered very risky. Only Royal Oak is engraved on this first batch. There are other features that differentiate the earliest examples of Royal Oak Offshore: the first batch had a folding clasp that was soon replaced by an open structure clasp. Furthermore, the extra links on these early examples were secured by four screws, which was later adapted for better functionality. In addition, early examples were sold with distinct octagonal presentation boxes that feature a circular port window on top of the box to view the watch.

The present example, which is part of the permanent collection of the Audemars Piguet Museum, is No. 32 of the first 100 examples produced. As part of this exclusive group, the word Offshore is not engraved on the case back of the watch. The color scheme of these early examples share the same codes as the original 1972 Royal Oak, however keen observers will note that the tapisserie finish on the dial is slightly larger. Collectors of early examples of the Offshore seek to own one of the first 100 that features all of the original characteristics of these celebrated rarities.

Over 20 years have passed since its introduction, and now the ‘Beast’ is truly unleashed. The Royal Oak Offshore line has been one of Audemars Piguet’s primary platforms for innovative case materials and daring design choices as exhibited through the 118 variations of the 42 mm that have been created over the last two decades. It has evolved into an icon in its own right and a symbol of the fusion of luxury and sports aesthetics that challenged all industry standards and expectations when it was introduced in 1993. Like several Audemars Piguet innovations and developments that came prior and since, the Royal Oak Offshore established new benchmarks and ushered in new trends. The Royal Oak Offshore will continue to energize collectors and enthusiasts while generating healthy controversy and debate for the next twenty years and beyond.

The Audemars Piguet Heritage Department