How One Watch Defined An Industry

In 1993, Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet unknowingly defined the future of the luxury watch market with the release of the Royal Oak Offshore. Over 20 years later, the Royal Oak Offshore is still one of the most popular luxury sport watches in the world and its bold design and large dimensions helped shape the future of luxury timepieces everywhere. New for 2014, Audemars Piguet has relaunched its Offshore collection with six new styles, still very much in keeping with its original, iconic design.

To understand the Royal Oak Offshore you must first understand the original Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. The story goes back another two decades to 1972 when Audemars Piguet released the original Royal Oak. Designed by the famed Gerald Genta, the Royal Oak is perhaps still his most widely-known creation and was released at a time when the mechanical watch industry was on the brink of crisis.

Audemars Piguet wanted to produce a luxury sports watch, but in steel rather than in gold. The idea was not to produce a professional dive or racing watch, but rather a high-end lifestyle watch for those interested in status and pure design. One of the enduring ironies of the Royal Oak was that it was produced in steel, but priced higher than a gold watch. The relatively slim case design was patented and the octagonal case remains one of the most widely emulated watch features of all time. Due to the fact it was aimed at the top spectrum of watch customers, the Royal Oak was far less affected by the quartz crisis and made a strong case for the high-end sports watch.

2014 Audemars Piguet Model

Eventually the sporty Royal Oak became a dress watch as tastes and fashion evolved. The same thing happened with the iconic Rolex Submariner, but to a lesser degree. Audemars Piguet wanted to reimagine the Royal Oak, but in a larger size and for a modern audience. The base Royal Oak models would remain, but the brand wanted a new and more contemporary sports watch that was more youthful and less dressy. Thus, the Royal Oak Offshore was born. The original model was 42mm wide, which was 3mm larger than the Royal Oak. Later models of the Offshore would be sized at 44mm wide or even larger for particular models. What also defined the Royal Oak Offshore was the chronograph complication.

While there are exceptions, the majority of Royal Oak Offshore watches contain automatic mechanical chronograph movements. Audemars Piguet helped cement the popular subdial design of chronograph watches as being an archetype for modern sports watches. Furthermore, whilst the original Royal Oak design remained relatively simple, over the years Audemars Piguet used the Offshore as a place to heavily experiment with colours, materials, and wild designs.

2014 Audemars Piguet Model

In order to deal with the wild array of design differentiation among the various Royal Oak Offshore models, Audemars Piguet decided to produce many of them as limited editions. This ushered in the era of the widely publicised limited edition high-end luxury watch, not only as a vehicle for design experimentation, but also as a means to entice collectors.

Audemars Piguet produced special models of the Royal Oak Offshore for famous actors such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, race car drivers such as Michael Schumacher, and athletes such as LeBron James… among many others. Many of these limited edition instances involved design experimentation that helped Audemars Piguet feel comfortable with new elements or materials.

Looking back at the history of Royal Oak Offshore watches and one will see use of steel, titanium, gold, platinum, carbon fibre, ceramic, cermet, forged carbon and more. Nevertheless, Audemars Piguet has been intent that each Royal Oak Offshore watch has a distinct design DNA, that in all instances includes the iconic octagonal bezel of the original Royal Oak and in most instances a chronograph and “Mega Tapisserie” style dial.

For watch collectors the variety of Royal Oak Offshore watches makes them particularly desirable, but so does the enduring design and comfort of the collection. For 2014, Audemars Piguet has released a new version of the Royal Oak Offshore in a 42mm wide case, that is deeply inspired by the originals from 1993 and – less than ironically – it looks just as good today as it did back then.