Watch of the Month: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore

It’s a new month, which means a new iconic luxury watch to delve into! For this edition of Watch of the Month, we’re actually diving deep into two watches—the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and its younger but larger brother, the Royal Oak Offshore. Let’s learn about the genesis of these two famous watches and review a handful of modern iterations.


The Birth of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Royal Oak is one of the most legendary watch models of all time. Born in 1972 thanks to the brilliant design mind of Gerald Genta, the Royal Oak was not simply just a new watch for Audemars Piguet but in reality, it paved the way for an entirely new watch category—the ultra-luxurious steel sports watch.

Even more amazing is the fact that, according to the man himself, Genta sketched the design of the Royal Oak in just one night. Inspired by vintage diving helmets and offering high water-resistant capabilities, the inaugural Royal Oak, the ref. 5402, boasted a vastly unique shape with a host of intriguing details.


Gerald Genta's Sketch of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Gerald Genta's Sketch of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak


First, it was an Audemars Piguet watch built in steel and only offered the time and date functions. This is significant because up until that point, the Swiss manufacture was famous for their range of complicated and dressy timepieces crafted in precious metals. Yet, despite using humble steel and providing simple time and date features, the first Royal Oak’s price tag on was par with complicated gold timepieces—an outrageous proposition for the era.

Furthermore, with a 39mm case, the Royal Oak was an incredibly large watch for the early-1970s. On that case sat a bold eight-sided bezel with each corner punctuated with exposed screws—similar to the vintage diving helmets Genta took his inspiration from. However, it was not just the distinctive case and bezel that was fundamental to the aesthetic of the Royal Oak. The watch’s integrated steel bracelet was yet another groundbreaking design element of the Royal Oak and according to many, one of the best watch bracelets ever.


The first Royal Oak from 1972 (Image: Audemars Piguet) The first Royal Oak from 1972 (Image: Audemars Piguet)


As previously mentioned, the dial of the Royal Oak ref. 5402 was kept simple in terms of functionality. On the other hand, a closer look at the gray dial reveals an intricate checkered pattern, which Audemars Piguet refers to as their “Tapisserie” dial—a dial style still used heavily today by AP.


The Evolution of the Royal Oak

It’s important to note that the Royal Oak was not a success in its early days. It was just too big, too unconventional, too brash, and too expensive for watch people to wrap their heads around. However, soon enough, the chic jet-set flocked to the Royal Oak and this particular model has since become Audemars Piguet’s flagship watch.


Gold Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph Gold Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph


While the Royal Oak may have begun as a steel time and date watch, Audemars Piguet has filled out the collection with a dazzling array of materials, sizes, and complications. There are solid gold Royal Oak watches in rose, yellow and white gold; there are calendar and moonphase versions of the Royal Oak; and there are even gleaming gem-set ladies’ Royal Oak watches.


The Debut of the Royal Oak Offshore

In the late 1980s, Audemars Piguet designer, Emmanuel Gueit was tasked to design a modern version of the Royal Oak. Rather than just one night, this time the new mission took four years—it’s not easy to revamp a watch icon. While Gueit retained many of the details that made the Royal Oak stand out, such as the octagonal bezel, exposed screws, tapisserie dial, and integrated bracelet, he also added new touches to make the Offshore watch his own.


Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph 26170ST.OO.D305CR.01 Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph 26170ST.OO.D305CR.01


In 1993, Audemars Piguet unveiled the Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph, and just like its predecessor, the debut of the Offshore left mouths open and enudred plenty of criticism. After all, the Royal Oak Offshore’s 42mm case size may not be a big deal in today’s market but in the 1990s, it was unheard of and somewhat offensive. Plus, as a chronograph, it wears even bigger thanks to the protruding chronograph pushers flanking the winding crown. It has even been reported that Genta himself accused Audemars Piguet of destroying his masterpiece.

Picking up the nickname “The Beast,” the Royal Oak Offshore included other bold details such as a visible black gasket beneath the bezel, black silicon caps on the pushers and crown, and a rehashed integrated bracelet with rounder links. Thankfully, Audemars Piguet held their ground—remember, the company’s rebellious motto is, “To break the rules, you must first master them,”—and today hoards of customers are happy to wear AP’s beast.


The Evolution of the Royal Oak Offshore

Since its introduction 25 years ago, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore collection has welcomed a slew of different versions to its lineup. Along with the customary material options, ranging from steel to gold to ceramic, there’s also an impressive amount of colorful ROO models to choose from in shades like yellow, orange, and lime green. Furthermore, strap choices are abundant, from Royal Oak Offshore watches with elegant leather straps or Royal Oak Offshore watches with sporty rubber straps.


Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph 25940SK Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph 25940SK


Although the chronograph is the most ubiquitous function found in the Offshore range, there are some models that forgo the chronograph for other complications. For instance, there are the Royal Oak Offshore Triple Calendar watches, the Royal Oak Offshore Diver watches, and even Grand Complication Royal Oak Offshore watches.


Audemars Piguet Clasp Audemars Piguet Clasp


Despite enduring rocky beginnings, it’s clear that the Royal Oak and the Royal Oak Offshore are living design legends. Worn by celebrities, coveted by collectors, and admired by those who appreciate the finer things in life, the Royal Oak and the Royal Oak Offshore have greatly shaped the landscape of luxury watches. The GOAT of luxury sports watches, so to speak.

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