Themed or special edition watches have never really been my thing. I find a lot of the time, brands get a bit heavy-handed with logos or branding, and the watch ends up looking like something you’d find in a gift shop. That said, some brands are able to pull it off by opting for more subtle nods rather than through outright brand placement; that’s exactly the case with this Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph LeBron James Special Edition reference 26210OI. On the wrist, there isn’t any indication that this is any sort of special collaboration, and that’s precisely what makes it so great.
The first Royal Oak Offshore was introduced in 1993 as a celebratory tribute to the original Royal Oak. The watch was designed by Emmanuel Gueit, who took the iconic Gerald Genta creation and made it more sporty, rugged, and modern. At first—much like the original Royal Oak—the watch was very misunderstood. Some even considered it a profane take on a legendary design, but like the original, the Offshore came into its own, and it has since carved out its own place in watchmaking history. Its become one of the most important models of the last few decades and has become the go-to watch for athletes, musicians, and other active trendsetters, which is how we get to the reference we have here.
This specific model was introduced on the 20th anniversary of the original Royal Oak. To create a watch worthy of the occasion, AP brought in reinforcements in the form of one of the greatest basketball players and athletes alive, LeBron James. The two collaborated to create a beautiful limited edition timepiece. The watch was only produced in 600 examples, and while nothing overtly jumps out at you to say, “LeBron James helped design this watch!” once you know this fact, his fingerprints become obvious—rose gold, and two-tone watches are both frequently found on his wrist. It’s a subtle but personality-filled timepiece that really embodies the Royal Oak Offshore ethos and is an excellent way to tribute the 20th anniversary of the model.
Visually this watch is, as I guess all special editions should be, special. The case is two-tone, but instead of the more common steel and gold combo, this case is made of 18k pink gold, and the bezel is made of titanium. This, along with the watch’s impressive size, really make it stand out from the crowd. The timepiece measures 44mm in diameter and a whopping 17mm thick. The Offshore line is, in general, a large watch line, but this is big even for an Offshore. That said, considering how massive LeBron James is— He’s 6’9″ and 250lbs—it makes sense. He’s not going to design a watch that looks bad on his wrist.
The grey and pink gold color theme continues across most of the watch, even down to the straps, which there are two of. This watch includes a sporty light grey rubber strap and a more formal hand-stitched large square scale patterned alligator strap, both of which are a very nice grey tone that matches the other grey elements of the watch.
The dial coloring and finishing make it a bit of a chameleon. In some lighting, it matches the bezel, and, in other settings, it absorbs the pink from the numerals. It has an attractive but bold Méga Tapisserie pattern and vertically satin-brushed pink gold Roman numerals and hands. In a similar shade of grey but with circularly grained finishing are the subdials. At twelve, you have the running seconds, at nine a thirty-minute counter, and at six a twelve-hour counter.
Overall I really like the dial, and I think its design is pretty cohesive, but there was a detail that I missed at first and now can’t unsee, in a good way. The center chronograph hand and the chronograph hands in the subdials at nine and six are all a deep, almost purple navy blue color. This is such an interesting choice of color, especially on this pink gold and titanium watch, that I have to assume it was a very deliberate choice made by LeBron. It adds such a unique character to the watch that I just can’t see coming from a traditional watch designer.
Another detail that stands out as a possible LeBron choice is the top chronograph pusher. The pusher is set with 14 round white diamonds. Why just the top pusher? Why 14? Who knows, but I love it. It’s an odd and whimsical detail that I like to imagine got on the watch simply because LeBron James thought, “Hey, you know what would be cool is if we just put a bunch of diamonds on that top pusher.”
On the caseback, you’ll find not only a view of the advanced movement but also the only real telltale signs that this is a special edition watch. Surrounding the display crystal, you’ll see “ROYAL OAK OFFSHORE LIMITED EDITION LEBRON JAMES” and then directly onto the crystal in the same navy blue as the chronograph hands is LeBron’s signature. Normally I hate when a brand puts anything on the display crystal as it kind of defeats the purpose, but his signature is thin and doesn’t take up much space, and I greatly prefer it to any alternative markings that could have gone on the dial side.
Overall the watch is choked full of all kinds of interesting and eccentric details. It’s obvious that LeBron was heavily involved in and likely got to have the final say on a number of design elements, and because of that, we get a watch with a unique and distinct personality which is a bit of a rarity these days.
While LeBron’s input can easily be seen on the exterior of the watch, something tells me he didn’t get much say on the interior. Powering this limited edition watch is the automatic caliber 3126/3840. This is a time and date movement with a 12-hour chronograph complication and a 60-hour power reserve. As stated, the movement is visible through the display caseback and possesses a very high level of finishing with a 22-carat gold rotor, beautiful Côtes de Genève embellishment, inverted snailing on the bridges, and diamond-graved bevels. Much like the rest of the watch, the movement is pretty, but robust and ready for action.
Versus The Competition
With a value of upwards of $85,000, this timepiece is towards the higher end of the luxury sports watch spectrum, and it competes with some seriously heavy-hitting watches. Here are some alternatives to consider if you’re in the market.
First is this Patek Philippe Aquanaut 5167R in rose gold with a brown rubber strap. The Aquanaut is kind of a founding father of the category that the Royal Oak Offshore occupies. It was one of the first luxury sports watches from a highly respected watchmaker to come standard on a rubber strap, and it was pivotal in starting the luxury sports trend that’s so hot today. This 40mm by 8mm rose gold example offers a similar luxurious and sporty look but in a much more svelte and toned-down package. It’s important to note that despite it being a time-only piece that costs $89,500, this is a regular production watch. It’s not double stamped, nor is it a limited edition, so if that detail is important, you might want to pass on this one.
However, this next piece is extremely limited, and it’s also another Royal Oak Offshore. Nothing wrong with a little sibling rivalry, right? This white gold Royal Oak Offshore trades the chronograph complication for a triple date and visually looks very reminiscent of the original Offshore. This model was produced in 2002 and is starting to patina a bit, as is evident by its creamy lume coloring, and it’s believed to be one of just 20 ever made. What this watch gives up in flashiness to the LeBron James, it more than makes up for in preciousness. Plus, at $79,500, it’s also a bit cheaper.
While I think this is a pretty versatile watch—if you have the wrist to pull it off—it’s obviously geared towards basketball fans. This is the perfect timepiece to accompany you courtside no matter what team you root for.
As if he needed any more accolades the four time NBA champion can add “watch designer “ to his extensive resume, he nailed this watch. Audemars Piguet and LeBron could have easily made buckets of money—see what I did there—making a cheesy souvenir watch for LeBron super fans, but they didn’t. They made the watch that LeBron himself wanted to wear, and because of that, they ended up creating something original and fun that any watch nerd can appreciate regardless of his attachment to basketball or LeBron.