The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore — An Overview
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore debuted in 1993, and it was groundbreaking when it hit the floor at the Basel watch fair that year. But it took a while to get there. Back in 2018, just after the 25th anniversary of the watch, we met up with a passionate Royal Oak Offshore collector. As the Royal Oak itself turned 50 years old yesterday, it seems like a fitting time to revisit this unforgettable encounter. We hope you enjoy it.
Nearly four years ago, we sat down with him in The Netherlands at a not-so-central location. Besides being a collector of Offshores watches, he is the founder of the Dutch gin brand Skully. So when the bottle of Skully gin appeared on the table, the traveling had already become very worthwhile. This Dutch gin was new to Bert (our photographer) and me, but we very much appreciated the great flavor. It got even better when the box containing Royal Oak Offshore models appeared on the table as well. This was going to be one amazing afternoon! In this overview, we’ll focus on the original Offshore, the watch nicknamed “The Beast” for its impressive proportions. Since 1993, Audemars Piguet has introduced many variations on the Offshore theme. Today, however, we’ll stick to the reference 25721ST and its direct descendants.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore
Let’s start at the beginning. The Royal Oak Offshore made history in 1993, but the story had already started four years prior. Designing a watch from scratch is not easy. Designing a watch based on an existing successful design is simply problematic. One can almost only do wrong. However, at that time, Audemars Piguet gave its young designer Emmanuel Gueit that exact task. In 1989, Audemars Piguet co-CEO Stephen Urquhart (who later became the CEO of Omega) asked Gueit to design a new version of the Royal Oak that would attract a younger audience.
According to Gueit, it was time for a masculine watch, as he had noticed that women were wearing men’s pieces. Thus, he wanted a watch that would be an archetype of masculinity. And to him, that meant one with huge proportions. Such extreme proportions, in fact, that women would refrain from buying or wearing one. Although Urquhart gave the young designer the assignment to come up with something for a younger audience, he wasn’t quite ready for what Gueit presented.
It was a thick Royal Oak with impressive proportions and visible gaskets. Although Urquhart liked it, he kept postponing the introduction of this new Royal Oak for a number of years. Thin quartz models were still in demand, and this new extreme Royal Oak could ruin it all. The brand hoped to capitalize on the 20th anniversary of the Royal Oak in 1992. Another postponement, however, meant the Offshore finally debuted in 1993. The name Offshore didn’t appear on the watch at first, as Audemars Piguet was not entirely comfortable with it yet. The first 100 Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore models only bore the name “Royal Oak” on the case back. Starting with number 101, the watches featured the full “Royal Oak Offshore” engraving.
Meet the 1993 Royal Oak Offshore 25721
The watch industry thought the Royal Oak Offshore was a mistake. Just like the original Royal Oak in 1972, a lot of people initially thought it was nuts. Even Gérald Genta himself was not silent about it. He felt that Audemars Piguet had created a walrus based on his precious Royal Oak design. That’s a bit awkward really, as he probably received similar comments about his Royal Oak and Nautilus design from conservative enthusiasts in the ’70s. Italy was, as always, in the lead when it came to actual sales of the Royal Oak Offshore, and it took the rest of the world a bit longer to follow the country’s example. Within just a few years, however, the Royal Oak Offshore already accounted for a large portion of AP’s sales.
The first reference 25721ST, also nicknamed “The Beast”, was way ahead of its time. The huge, beefy case measured approximately 16mm in height. It used rubber for the crown and pushers, as well as a visible gasket between the case and the bezel. These are all things we wouldn’t even bat an eye at today. Interestingly, the first Royal Oak Offshore also had a Faraday cage to protect the movement from magnetic fields. A soft-iron plate was mounted underneath the dial, while a soft-iron inner case surrounded the caliber 2126/2840.
This movement was based on the often-used Jaeger-LeCoultre 888 caliber with a chronograph module by Dubois-Dépraz. After the first 200 Offshore examples, Audemars Piguet started using the caliber 2226/2840, which was based on the Jaeger-LeCoultre 889/1 with a Dubois-Dépraz chronograph module. Combined with the heavy stainless steel bracelet, the watch weighs approximately 223 grams. Consequently, it’s not for the faint-hearted. Later gold and platinum models weighed even more.
In addition to the very visible gasket underneath the octagonal bezel, there is also a rubber-like material on the pushers and crown. This material is actually referred to as Therban, a high-performance elastomer that is resistant to, among other things, hot water and steam. It can handle extreme temperatures from -40° to +165° Celsius, peaking at 180° Celsius for short-term use. This material was developed by Bayer in 1975 and marketed as Therban in 1986. The Therban pushers and crown have the same blue tone as the dial of the watch.
The production period of a Royal Oak Offshore is often referred to as an [X]-series, where [X] stands for a letter that corresponds to certain production years. The Royal Oak Offshore reference 25721 starts as D-series. The production of the D-series Audemars Piguet watches had already started in 1992, but of course, the Royal Oak Offshore actually came to market in 1993. The first number of “The Beast” is D23744 and the last watch is the D97184, but these ranges are also used for other Audemars Piguet watches. AP made the last D-series model in 1998. During that time period, Audemars Piguet produced 1,300 examples of the D-series reference 25721ST. All these watches came in small batches (200-100-200-300-200-100-200), totaling exactly 1,300 pieces.
The E-series ran from 1998 till 2004, and the production of the Royal Oak Offshore 25721ST increased from 1,300 to 2,300 pieces (in small batches of 100-200-100-200-600-200-200-200-500). The F-series came out in 2005, but there seems to be no logic in those (at least not to us).
It’s interesting to note that within the first D- and E-series, there are some small differences that you might not notice right away. Besides the absent “Offshore” engraving on the case back of the first 100, the different movement in the first 200, and the little change in the Tapisserie pattern on the dial, you will also find that the bracelet has been updated over the years. The clasp on the first models was rather simple compared to the later ones, and the links of the bracelet are also different. On the D-series, the links have four screws (two on both sides). On the E-series and later models, however, that has been reduced to two screws (one on each side).
A very early Royal Oak Offshore 25721ST with number 039 was auctioned in November 2018 by Phillips for CHF 102,500. Not only does it not have the “Offshore” engraving on the case back, but more importantly, it also belonged to the original designer of “The Beast”, Emmanuel Gueit. It has a different clasp than the other early models, specifically, the one that Gueit originally had in mind for the watch.
Royal Oak Offshore 20th Anniversary
In 2013, Audemars Piguet released a very special edition for the Offshore’s 20th anniversary. Limited to just 20 pieces, this reference 26218ST was very close to the original 1993 model. The movement inside was the caliber 3126/3840 with a chronograph module by Dubois-Dépraz. The base caliber, however, was developed in-house by Audemars Piguet, in contrast to the previous JLC-based ones. The movement consisted of 365 parts and had a beautifully decorated 22K gold rotor. Just like the famous AP caliber 2121 (that can be found in the 15202ST), it had a Gyromax-like balance wheel. This refers to the variable-inertia blocks on the balance wheel that aid in its adjustment.
On this watch, we also find a case back with a sapphire crystal, so 20 lucky owners can admire the movement. The bracelet of this model also changed again, and the clasp looks a bit more up-to-date.
As you can see in the images below, the boxes also changed throughout the years. AP went from using very specific octagonal boxes for the first D- and E-series to the regular wooden box the brand used for all other Royal Oak models. The box from 2013 carried a special medallion on top to indicate that it contained the 20th-anniversary Royal Oak Offshore edition.
The next generation — 26237ST
On the 25th anniversary of the Royal Oak Offshore, Audemars Piguet re-introduced “The Beast” with the reference 26237ST. The interesting thing was that this 42mm watch certainly didn’t feel like it was 25 years old. Without any historical background, one could easily assume that it was an all-new design in the Audemars Piguet collection.
The 42mm size was not as wild and extreme as it was in 1993, but it was certainly also not outdated. Inside was the same movement as the 20th-anniversary edition, the AP caliber 3126/3840. Just like the original 25721ST models though, this reference also had a solid stainless steel case back. It was engraved with “Royal Oak Offshore” and the serial number. This might have felt like a disappointment to those who loved to see the movement with its 22K gold rotor. Purists, however, probably preferred the closed case back from an originality point of view. This watch resembled the original 25721ST but of course, the eagle-eyed probably already noticed that the printing on the dial was a bit bolder. Audemars Piguet produced 250 examples of these watches, though they were not individually numbered editions.
The current Beast — 26238ST
When we first published this article back in late 2018, the 26237ST was the most recent version of “The Beast”. Just last year, however, in late 2021, Audemars Piguet introduced the reference 26238ST. This updated model is in the current collection, and aesthetically, it’s mostly business as usual. One difference, however, is the chronograph layout, as the hour and minute recorders have switched places. This is thanks to new the caliber 4404 inside. This modern 433-part movement uses an integrated construction rather than a modular one, and it beats at 28,800vph rather than 21,600vph. It is considered an AP manufacture caliber and features an additional flyback function. It even has a 20-hour increase in power reserve for a more modern total of 70 hours. The movement is once again visible through the sapphire case back, and it features a 22K pink gold rotor.
Importantly, though, this watch is not technically limited. Rather, it’s a standard model in the current collection. Of course, any Royal Oak model is hard to get these days, as these watches have exploded in popularity. Nevertheless, this marks a departure from the previous two editions, and therefore, I feel it is worth mentioning. We haven’t had a chance to go hands-on with this model yet. Let us know in the comments if you’d like us to do so, and we’ll see if we can make that happen. Next year, however, marks the 30th anniversary, and I imagine Audemars Piguet will have something in mind to celebrate the occasion.
The Royal Oak Offshore is an icon
Just like the Royal Oak “Jumbo” that developed from the first 5402ST models into today’s 16202ST over a span of 50 years, the Royal Oak Offshore has proved itself to be an icon. And a very young one at that, as most watches that are considered classic or iconic have been on the market much longer. Though not everyone, including Gérald Genta, seemed convinced at first, the Royal Oak Offshore proved to be a winner for many watch enthusiasts and, of course, for Audemars Piguet. At some point (and perhaps even still), the Offshore collection accounted for most of the revenue for this Le Brassus-based manufacturer.
“The Beast” is still probably the rawest version of the Royal Oak Offshore, as Audemars Piguet has created many differentiations over the past 29 years. They include a 37mm ladies’ version (not something Emmanuel Guiet had in mind in 1993). The collection has also expanded with 42mm non-chronograph divers, 44mm chronographs, and 45mm tourbillon chronographs. But there’s only one original, and that is “The Beast”.
We would once again like to thank Royal Oak Offshore collector Koen Smulders for letting us take pictures of his watches and for sharing his impressive knowledge of these models.
For more information on the Royal Oak Offshore collection, visit the Audemars Piguet website here.