Audemars Piguet celebrates 30 years of the Royal Oak Offshore

Everything you need to know about the Royal Oak Offshore’s 30th anniversary models and its climb to icon status

Imagine redesigning a watchmaking icon that has enjoyed two decades of unparalleled success, born from the brilliant mind of a visionary watchmaker. Now picture your creation being not only widely panned by the horological community but also labelled a “sea elephant” by the very designer you sought to honour.

It couldn’t have been much fun being Emmanuel Gueit. The Genevan designer had been tasked with tweaking Audemars Piguet’s unassailable Royal Oak for a younger, trendier audience. In 1993, Gueit delivered the Royal Oak Offshore on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of its famous older sibling. The reception was divided and among his harshest critics was a bemused Gérald Genta, the man who designed the original Royal Oak. At 42mm, the thick and beefy Royal Oak Offshore Ref. 25721 was thought by naysayers to be too large (for its time) and too expensive (being double the price of the steel Royal Oak Ref. 14790).

The original Royal Oak Offshore Ref. 25721 from 1993. Photo by Audemars Piguet

But Steve Urquhart, then Audemars Piguet’s co-CEO, was unwavering in his belief in the Royal Oak Offshore. He felt that his German distributor, Dierk Wettengel, was on to something when the latter requested back in 1989 a new offshore yacht racing-inspired watch that would capture the spirit of the coming decade. Urquhart even registered the name ‘Offshore’ before Gueit made his first sketch.

With the benefit of hindsight, we now can see how the Royal Oak Offshore was always destined to be a heavy hitter. The qualities that critics thought would condemn the watch to an early demise—its hulking dimensions, excessive athleticism and domineering presence—are the same ones that have established the Royal Oak Offshore as a modern horological icon.

A sporting powerhouse

Three years after its launch, the Royal Oak Offshore welcomed six more models, including two 30mm versions for women, officially establishing itself as a core collection for Audemars Piguet. Even with the addition of a perpetual calendar complication and a gem-set edition after that, the Royal Oak Offshore never lost its robust, sailing soul. The watchmaker had been sponsoring sailing teams and races for decades, such as the Audemars Piguet Trophy yacht race between Monaco and Saint-Tropez. The 2000s saw the release of commemorative Royal Oak Offshore models that celebrated the wins of Swiss sailing team Alinghi at the prestigious America’s Cup.

As the watch’s popularity and prevalence grew, so did its reach. The collection began featuring in exclusive partnerships in the motoring space with the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya and Michael Schumacher. In 2005, a diving watch line called the Royal Oak Offshore Scuba was launched (and later renamed the Royal Oak Offshore Diver). For the collection’s 20th anniversary, Audemars Piguet enlisted basketball superstar LeBron James for a 600-piece gem-set reference that combined titanium, pink gold and black ceramic.

Arnold Schwarzenegger with his Royal Oak Offshore ‘End of Days’ edition from 1999. Photo by Audemars Piguet

The Royal Oak Offshore’s audacious nature also drew to it trailblazers from other worlds. A number of exclusive models were made in collaboration with celebrities. Terminator-turned-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had his own line of Royal Oak Offshore models. So did Grammy award-winning rapper Jay-Z, who celebrated the 10th anniversary of his musical career with a limited edition platinum timepiece, accompanied by an iPod filled with his discography.

Offshore Selfwinding Chronograph 42mm with a case and bracelet in full black ceramic—a first for the collection—which pays tribute to the first 1993 model by retaining the original dimensions. A more glamorous two-toned version in a 43mm black ceramic with yellow gold accents features a different dial layout and a black alligator strap with contrast stitching.

Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Chronograph in black ceramic case and bracelet. Photo by Audemars Piguet

The third model comes in a 43mm ceramic case with yellow details—a nod to one of the Schwarzenegger pieces from 1999, the End of Days (ref. 25770SN). Last but not least, the Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Chronograph embodies the evolution of the collection with its combination of muscular design and technical sophistication. All but the 42mm fully black ceramic model have interchangeable straps and come with an additional black rubber one. The End of Days tribute and the Flying Tourbillon Chronograph are also limited editions, available in only 500 and 100 pieces, respectively.

The 2023 model that pays tribute to the Royal Oak Offshore ‘End of Days’. Photo by Audemars Piguet

Certainly, the Royal Oak Offshore has evolved from mere sibling status to a powerhouse of inspiration, pushing boundaries and forging new horological frontiers. It stands proudly as a testament to its own ingenuity, and even serves as a platform where ideas thrive, innovations flourish and creative alliances are born. Not bad for a watch that had been roundly derided when it was launched.

Audemars Piguet