If you know anything about watches, you’ve probably heard of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. And you’ve most likely also heard of Gérald Genta, who designed it. But did you know that Genta actually hated the Royal Oak Offshore? And did you know that, for a long time, the Royal Oak Offshore was not the commercial success that the brand had hoped for? The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is of course one of the most popular and iconic watches ever, but the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore has slowly gained legendary status as well. Let’s find out more about both the Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore and see what their common story is.
The Story of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
The story starts with the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” introduced in 1972. Back then, the Royal Oak was a bold statement. It was big (“Jumbo”) with its 39-mm case size, had a wide integrated bracelet, and a very technical, industrial look. In a world of smaller, mostly dress watches, it stood out immediately. On top of that, the Royal Oak was expensive. The watch that was supposed to save Audemars Piguet amid the quartz revolution initially came across as an over-the-top timepiece for a very select crowd. And in the beginning, it definitely was. The stainless steel watch cost 3,300 Swiss francs upon its introduction. That was more than a gold Patek Philippe dress watch, and ten times more than a Rolex Submariner.
Exploring Different Shapes of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
But it was not just the price that made it extraordinary. With his design, Genta explored different options in terms of shapes, materials, engineering, and executions, essentially creating an entirely new category of watch. The steel watch with an integrated bracelet became extremely popular, and basically introduced the modern luxury sports watch. As most of you know, Genta would go on to design the Patek Philippe Nautilus and the IWC Ingenieur. If you take a good look at his trilogy of sports watches, you can see that the Swiss designer did something very clever, exploring three rudimentary, symmetrical shapes for the bezel that define these timepieces.
The Magic of the Royal Oak Concept
Genta used an octagonal bezel shape for the Royal Oak, a square bezel for the Nautilus, and a round bezel for the Ingenieur. This exploration and application of shapes show the true brilliance of Genta’s work. He wasn’t just looking to create a beautiful watch – something that was very much debated when the Royal Oak was introduced – he conceptualized the designs on a deeper level. The magic of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is found in a number of key components. The first is the octagonal bezel with its industrial look and visible screws, the second is its integrated bracelet, while the third major element is the watch’s slim profile, which keeps it sleek and makes it a joy to wear. This third element is an often overlooked but crucial aspect which we also see with the Royal Oak Offshore.
Audemars Piguet: Executed to Perfection
Genta and Audemars Piguet experimented with materials, engineering, and execution options to bring his concept to life in the best possible way. Audemars Piguet also needed to find an ultra-slim movement, which they did with the self-winding caliber 2121 that has become legendary among watch fans. This beautifully finished movement is only 3.05 mm, keeping the overall profile of the Royal Oak “Jumbo” to just 7 mm. For the first prototypes, Audemars Piguet used white gold instead of the stainless steel found in the final production models. The end result shocked the watch world at its introduction at the Basel Fair in 1972, and some years later would be recognized as a groundbreaking timepiece that redefined the way we look at watches.
The Legacy of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo”
Fifty years after its introduction, Gérald Genta’s Royal Oak is not only one of the world’s most recognizable watches, it’s also one of the most popular. Earlier this year, Audemars Piguet introduced a completely new Royal Oak collection. The most important update came in the form of new movements. It was a logical next step, with the new, modern movements future-proofing these timepieces for years to come. What also stands out is that the Audemars Piguet design team made no significant changes to the Royal Oak. Although the small updates the brand made did not go unnoticed by connoisseurs and fans, Genta’s brilliant concept and design have remained largely untouched. It’s an impressive achievement, fifty years after its inception.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore
But that doesn’t mean that Audemars Piguet didn’t try to expand on the Royal Oak collection. In 1989, Audemars Piguet co-CEO Stephen Urquhart asked the then 22-year-old designer Emmanuel Gueit to create a new version of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak that would appeal to a younger male audience. To succeed in this mission, Gueit got to work developing a “typical” men’s watch, radicalizing the proportions: larger, thicker, and bolder. Additionally, he took the concept of Genta’s Royal Oak, adding a deconstructed approach to the famous design as the main aesthetic of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore. The watch was created and assembled with a massive rubber gasket and bezel crews. The end result was a chunky, 42-mm stainless steel watch that was 16 mm thick. With its heavy stainless steel bracelet, the end result was a brazen take on the classic Royal Oak that looked and felt extreme. At 42 mm, this watch was big for its time, earning it the nickname “The Beast.”
Why the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Made Gérald Genta Furious
But Urquhart also recognized that this new take on the iconic Audemars Piguet Royal Oak was a bold move that not everyone would appreciate. This is why he postponed the Offshore’s introduction for a couple of years, with it finally being introduced at Baselworld in 1993. Many watch enthusiasts were less than impressed by the new Royal Oak Offshore. And Genta? In an interview years later, Gueit told the famous story about how Gérald Genta himself “invaded the booth shouting that his Royal Oak had been completely destroyed.” Whether it was remains a matter of taste to this day. What we can say however is that, over time, the Royal Oak Offshore also became a commercial success for Audemars Piguet. When the oversized watch era began, the Offshore was one of the most popular watches around. Another remarkable fact is that the Royal Oak Offshore was actually the first Royal Oak chronograph: the regular Royal Oak Chronograph was introduced in 1997, four years after the Offshore.
The Legacy of the Royal Oak Offshore vs. the Royal Oak “Jumbo”
Almost thirty years after the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore was introduced, it has slowly become a celebrated watch. The first reference 25721ST we know as “The Beast” has especially become a much-appreciated classic. That appreciation has also resulted in slowly but steadily increasing prices. While the regular Audemars Piguet Royal Oak in general and the Royal Oak “Jumbo” references have shot up in price in recent years, and then decreasing earlier this year, prices for the Royal Oak Offshore models have gradually gone up over time and show no sign of coming down. Just to get an idea, “The Beast” currently goes for roughly $30,000 to $45,000 depending on its condition.
A fun note to conclude on is that both the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore were bold statements upon their introduction. But while the Royal Oak “Jumbo” has become universally appreciated, the Royal Oak Offshore has always remained somewhat of a divisive timepiece, even though it can be said that more and more enthusiasts clearly recognize it for its historical significance. Although it still is not a watch for everyone, that doesn’t keep the extreme version of Genta’s iconic Royal Oak from being a true watch industry classic.