Royal Oak vs. Royal Oak Offshore
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and its descendant, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore, are two of the most legendary watches that we, as the watch community, have seen in the modern era of watch collecting. With the Royal Oak's aesthetics being as iconic as they are, most seem to think that the Royal Oak Offshore's design is just a rehash of the original, but it isn't. The Royal Oak Offshore has its own design DNA that you have to look for, and once you do, you'll be pleasantly surprised. Here we take you through each watch, its history, its design, and why they are both so revered by the watchmaking industry.
Take a step back in your imagination to the early 1970s. You work for Audemars Piguet, a brand in the Holy Trinity of watchmaking, and the Quartz Crisis is at its peak. Watchmakers all over Switzerland are going either falling into obscurity or going bankrupt or both. All of your customers are buying cheaper, more accurate, and trendier quartz watches from Japan. What can you do to survive? That exact question was on the mind of AP's higher-ups, and they decided they would have to do something drastic. That something? Create a new kind of watch, the luxury sports watch. After the Royal Oak was released in 1972 following Gerald Genta's 1971 overnight design was R&D'd for an entire year, it took some time to catch on. At 3650 CHF, the AP Royal Oak was ten times the price of a Rolex Submariner, and it fell on the public's deaf ears. AP stuck to their guns, though, and it became a success. Today it is easily one of the most desirable watches on the market.
In 1971 Audemars Piguet hired watch designer Gerald Genta to design a watch that would be the first luxury steel sports watch. Genta was undoubtedly well known, but he wasn't famous at the time, at least compared to today. Inspired by a diver's helmet, Genta designed the Royal Oak with eight visible screws set in its octagonal bezel that held the case closed against a visible water-resistance gasket. Sitting on an integrated bracelet, the AP Royal Oak was born with an utterly bizarre aesthetic for the time. It was a thin watch at 7mm thick, but at 39mm in diameter, it wore a lot bigger than most watches at the time, which only served to divide opinions even more.
With the maritime ties to its design, the Royal Oak needed an equally maritime-inspired name. "Royal Oak" was chosen as it had been the name of eight ships from the British Navy's fleet, which were themselves named after the ancient hollowed-out oak tree that King Charles II hid in during the battle of Worcester in 1651. The naval link and the somewhat symbolic nod to the Royal Oak being the reason Audemars Piguet would survive the Quartz Crisis meant that the name was a perfect fit.
The Royal Oak Offshore's Task
For the Royal Oak's 20th anniversary Audemars Piguet wanted to create something different from it but still retain its essence. So, in 1989, AP began the four-year-long research and development phase. The designer in charge of the project was Emmanuel Gueit. The design brief was to create a re-imagining of Gerald Genta's 1972 Royal Oak that would attract a sporty, youthful audience. Gueit created the AP Royal Oak Offshore's identity by giving it its own design philosophy that could still display some of Royal Oak's legendary influences. He wanted the Offshore to be a watch for the active and adventure-seeking collector who wanted to wear their watch hard and push it to its limits. This translated into the Offshore having several differences from its predecessor.
Debuting at Baselworld in 1993, the most noticeable difference between the Royal Oak and the Offshore is that the Offshore has a rather imposing 42mm case. While this isn't particularly big now, it was massive at the time and earned the Offshore its nickname – "The Beast." The Offshore also had a more industrialized look with rubberized pushers for its chronograph function (added for greater functionality) and a thicker, more visible rubber water-resistance gasket. As mentioned, the watch had some additional functionality via its chronograph, but it didn't stop there. The AP Offshore also features a tachymeter along its rehaut, a cyclops lens atop its date window at 3 o'clock, thicker hands with more lume, and crown guards. These design changes allowed the Offshore to be a more functional, more water-resistant, and harder-wearing watch than the Royal Oak could ever be. The Offshore's steel bracelet also has more curved links to give it a more comfortable fit on the wrist, ensuring that it would be comfortable in any situation.
There is no doubt that the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak changed the watchmaking industry forever. Even if we take away its status as an icon, we have it to thank for saving AP from demise at the hands of the Quartz Crisis, and that alone is a lot. The Royal Oak did more than just that, though; it created an industry that gave rise to great watches like the Patek Philippe Nautilus (and hence the Aquanaut), the Vacheron Constantin 222 (and thus the VC Overseas), the IWC Ingenieur, and so many more incredible timepieces.
On the other hand, the Royal Oak Offshore is a nod to that iconic watch, but it also occupies a different market and has its own merits. It's a sturdier, more utilitarian watch that can really take a beating and still function as it would the first day you bought it. Designed for the youthful market, the Offshore speaks to the younger clientele's needs that want a higher-octane and more exciting design inspiration to their watch.