When the Royal Oak was introduced in 1972, the watch world didn’t really understand it. It was a boldly designed and expensive luxury watch, but it was also a sports watch made of stainless steel. This might not be odd today, but back then, it was practically unheard of. It’s only fitting then that the Royal Oak Offshore, which was initially conceived to honor the Royal Oak, was also misunderstood at its launch. Like its progenitor, the Offshore eventually found its footing and has become one of Audemars Piguet’s most popular watches. Here we have two references, the original Royal Oak Offshore reference 25721ST.O.1000ST.01 from 1993 and its modern reissue counterpart, the reference 26237ST.OO.1000ST.01, which was introduced in 2018. Together they help tell the story of the Offshore and why it’s such an important part of Audemars Piguet’s lineup.
I’m not going to totally rehash the history of the Royal Oak as that story has been told and retold. If you want to get up to speed, my colleague has an excellent write up here. But the Royal Oak Offshore is, as you can tell by its name, very closely tied to the original Royal Oak. Hence, it’s impossible to talk about the Offshore without discussing the original. The whole impetus behind creating the Royal Oak Offshore was to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Royal Oak. Designer Emmanuel Gueit was tasked with concocting a new iteration of the Gerald Genta design, and came up with a larger and more sporty version of the watch.
He kept the original’s core design traits like the beautifully finished octagonal bezel and tapisserie dial but cranked up the ruggedness of the watch to the point that it became nicknamed the “Beast.” Now there was a rounder, beefier bracelet, a big rubber gasket under the bezel, and a rubber crown and chronograph pushers, all contributing to the watch’s aquatic and active vibe. Measuring at 42mm in diameter and 14mm thick, this first generation Offshore is undoubtedly larger than the original—which was 39mm by 7mm—but it’s not oversized for a modern watch, and while the increase in size certainly falls in line with trends at the time, the bulkiness was not just for looks.
The original Royal Oak was always meant to be a luxury sports watch, but more emphasis was placed on the luxury than the sport. The Offshore rectified this by doubling the water resistance to 100 meters, adding some magnetic resistance, and a chronograph complication. The added size served to make the case more durable, but also, the AP caliber 2126/2840 inside required more room as it took the JLC based 888 and added a Dubois-Depraz chronograph module. Then consider the movement was also surrounded by a soft iron inner cage for magnetic resistance and that the dial had to be expanded to include the tachymeter scale on the outer flange. All of these individually would significantly increase a watch’s size, so all of them easily justifies its increased proportions. For myself, personally, the gain in mass is worth the added durability and functionality. I wouldn’t feel comfortable body surfing with a standard Royal Oak, but I do love its design. There is no need to baby a Royal Oak Offshore, and I think that’s one of the main value adds.
Like the original Royal Oak, however, this early Offshore received a lot of criticism. Even Gerald Genta himself publicly panned the timepiece and felt like it had ruined his original design. Harsh. But while the traditional watch fans critiqued this new design, it slowly caught on and drew in new demographics to the Audemars Piguet brand. Athletes, movie stars, and other trendsetters liked the modern sportier take on the Royal Oak. Because of this, what was supposed to just be an anniversary piece ended up becoming much more.
This reference 25721ST.O.1000ST.01 is a very early and coveted D series example. The first few batches of the Offshore went through multiple updates as they perfected the complicated watch—production difficulties led to the watch being released in 1993 instead of 1992 when the true 20th anniversary would have been. As you can tell, this D series example has quite a bit of patina for a watch from the ’90s, and that’s because the D series batch used a slightly different and more unstable shade of blue paint, now giving us this unique purplish hue with a bit of brass showing through. Another unique trait of the D series is that the iconic tapisserie finish is tighter, meaning more and smaller squares on the dial, and I think, a more elegant aesthetic. D series watches are particularly collectible in part because of these aesthetic differences but also because they are among the first 1,000 Royal Oak Offshores ever produced.
This early Offshore has become a unique piece of Audemars Piguet’s history. It’s the starting point that would shift the brand’s trajectory again for the better and has led to Audemars Piguet becoming one of the most popular luxury brands of the last 30 years. Now Audemars Piguet has over 40 different Offshore models in their line up with various complications and materials. The model has become a breeding ground for innovation and has allowed the brand to branch out in ways that many other traditional watchmakers have shied away from—the Royal Oak Concept line probably doesn’t exist without the Offshore. The Offshore, like the original Royal Oak, has not only kept the brand relevant but has ushered it into the future. But despite the constant innovation, Audemars Piguet hasn’t forgotten where they came from.
In 2018 Audemars Piguet re-launched the original Royal Oak Offshore in all its splendor but with modern improvements. With so many of the originals having patinated to look very different than the day they left the factory, this new reference 26237ST.OO.1000ST.01 allows an enthusiast to experience the original design as intended and to enjoy the timepiece without the fear of damaging a highly collectible early reference. The re-released Offshore has none of the original production issues and has new movement technology to boot.
The new caliber 3126 / 3840 is a totally in house automatic winding movement with five more hours of power reserve —50 hours in total—and 21 more jewels than the caliber used in the original Offshore. Aesthetically, this is a perfect recreation of the first Offshore with its gorgeous blue dial and beautiful light reflecting finish work. With the Royal Oak Offshore evolving overtime, this once loud and rugged design now seems much more reserved. I’m not a huge fan of some of the more extreme Offshore designs seen today, but this reissue is one I can get behind. I think it accomplishes Audemars Piguet’s original goal of improving upon the Royal Oak while keeping its best qualities intact and providing increased functionality and durability. This is a “have your cake and eat it too” wristwatch.
Seeing this original Offshore side by side with its reissue counterpart is a watch nerd dream. The story behind the complicated design and production process of the original is written in the interesting patina the watch now possesses, and the modern example shows that despite how recent the ’90s feel, watchmaking has really come a long way since then. This pair would make a great two watch collection for an Offshore fan. The vintage would make a bold but tasteful formal watch, and the modern a ready for anything daily wearer. Together these two watches tell one of the most important stories in Audemars Piguet’s history. Not since the original Royal Oak has any watch meant as much to the Audemars Piguet brand. If history is any indication, the Offshore will continue to have a lasting legacy that will inspire the next groundbreaking generation of watches from one of the world’s greatest watch manufacturers.