The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is not only famous for what it looks like, but also for how it was introduced. First released in the ’70s, the original Ref. 5402 was a bold stainless-steel watch designed by Gerald Genta that created shockwaves because it was priced the same as a solid gold watch. People just could not accept that a pedestrian material such as steel could be priced so exorbitantly and consequently, it was not very popular. It was only after some time that the public saw this as something genuinely original and avant-garde which eventually solidified the Royal Oak as a true icon.
Riding on this wave, the Royal Oak had a reincarnation in 1993 as Audemars Piguet introduced a whole new variant of the model with an integrated design - the Royal Oak Offshore. Designed by then-22-year-old watch designer, Emmanuel Gueit, the Offshore's raison d'etre was to establish a foothold in the increasingly youth-oriented luxury sports watch market that was opening up. As Audemars Piguet had recognized that younger collectors were beginning to spend more money, they decided they needed a watch to market to these individuals, and the Offshore was that watch. Nicknamed ‘The Beast’ by watch enthusiasts, it was basically a more-sporty extension of the Royal Oak (a Royal Oak on steroids, if you will). Although it divided opinion during its initial release (even Gerald Genta wasn’t a fan), the Offshore still went on to win the hearts of many other enthusiasts over the years that followed.
Offered here is a particularly interesting Offshore reference, at least in my books. Based on the original Ref. 26721ST from 1993, this is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph Ref. 26238ST. Visually, this reference looks nearly identical to the original, featuring a raised octagonal bezel with screws, an exposed blue rubber gasket at the mid-case section, a blue rubber-clad crown and chronograph pushers, as well as a combination of vertically brushed surfaces accompanied by highly polished bevels at the edges of the stainless-steel case. As far as case proportion goes, it is essentially the same as the original which measures 42mm in diameter and 15.2mm in thickness.
The dial execution on the Ref. 26238ST is nothing short of exquisite. Just like its older brother, the charming “Petit Tapisserie’ motif on the dreamy blue dial is executed to a very high level. You will also find a 30-minute counter on the 9 o ‘clock position, a seconds sub-dial at 6 o ‘clock, and a chronograph hour-register at 12 o ‘clock. On the right side of the dial, there is an applied AP logo and a tiny date window aperture which is further magnified with a cyclops for better legibility.
What separates this reference from the original is the movement powering it from within. Here, we have the new in-house, self-winding flyback chronograph Cal. 4404 – an automatic chronograph caliber with a column wheel and vertical clutch, beating away at 4hz from behind the exhibition caseback. From an aesthetic standpoint, the Cal. 4404 is beautiful. It features a myriad of familiar decorations such as the Côtes de Genève, straight/circular satin brushing, perlage as well as highly polished chamfers, etc. What’s also interesting about this caliber is that it was first introduced via the Code 11.59 collection, which Audemars Piguet further developed specifically to be adapted into this reference. It also features an impressive 70-hour power reserve and a 22-carat gold oscillating rotor at the center. In my opinion, the Cal. 4404 is a technically impressive caliber all around, and a movement worthy of powering the “Beast”.
After nearly 30 years since its inception, the Offshore has proven itself to be a successful recipe of watch design from Audemars Piguet that still remains culturally relevant to this very day. After all, we are seeing more and more derivative variations of the Offshore being introduced as time goes on, and it is not hard to see why it is considered a design staple. For me, the Offshore was a piece of watch design that demonstrated Audemars Piguet’s foresight in anticipating the category of high-end experimental sport watches.
If you are someone who has a preference for watches that command the presence of the room (and if your wrist size permits), I’d say that this particular reference would be THE Offshore to own, because it retains the soul and spirit of the original that inaugurated the Offshore collection in 1993.