One of the most poorly kept secrets in the world of watch journalism is that not every topic excites the writer. Not every product is groundbreaking, not every movement revolutionizes the market, and not every single watch covered is worthy of the esteem reserved for the upper echelon. Nonetheless, writers must write. And while watch journalists are overwhelmed, honest people with true passions for horology and the stories that surround it, the work, to an extent, is still work.
Fortunately for us all, this is not always the case. And not only do many watches inspire excitement in writers and readers alike; every so often a watch is released that can once again remind a writer why they got involved in this industry in the first place.
For me, one of these watches has been the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Diver Chronograph — a watch that captivated the market at SIHH 2016 and proved to be an indicator of where the Royal Oak Offshore series might be heading.
The Offshore series began in 1993 with the Reference 25721 ST (pictured above). The original unveiling of the reference only produced 100 numbered pieces — similar to the A-Series release of the vintage Royal Oak Ref. 5402 “Jumbo” in the early 1970s (pictured below, right). This Offshore was a thick, steel chronograph appropriately nicknamed “The Beast.” At 42 mm, with a prominent wrist presence, octagonal bezel, integrated bracelet, and the dark blue “Petite Tapisserie” patterned dial, the watch set out to cater to a fast-growing crowd of wealthy youth. Arguably, it was this piece to set the modern industry tone of larger watches, and today the original 100 pieces have become some of the rarest vintage watches out there.
The latest iteration of this series is the Diver Chronograph. Available in four distinctly funky color options (yellow, green, blue, and orange), this bold and bright behemoth features a brushed 42-mm steel case with 14.75-mm thickness, rubber bracelet, and black ceramic super-compressor and chronograph crowns and pushers. Within the outer, eight-screwed steel octagon is the inner rotating divers’ bezel, white gold applied hour markers, and two subdials for running seconds and a 30-minute chrono counter — all placed against the background of the “Méga Tapisserie” pattern on the dial. The common Offshore hands sweeping across the dial use a color-accented minute hand, a wide hour hand, and a lollipop-style chronograph seconds counter. Powering the watch — and visible through a sapphire caseback — is the automatic AP in-house Caliber 3124/3841, capable of a 50-hour power reserve and driven by a decorated, solid gold rotor. The watch is listed by Audemars Piguet at $27,900; though it can be found for less depending on the color option and dealer.
Compared to the original Royal Oak, the Ref. 5402, this watch still retains many of the essential design elements of the lineage — an octagonal eight-screw bezel, integrated steel watch head and bracelet, unique hands and hour markers, and faceted crowns — but it’s fair to say the Diver Chronograph did not set out as an homage to the A-Series.
Compared with the original Offshore, the Ref. 25721 ST, the modern watch once again hits many of the notes of this offshoot series. With ceramic pushers and crowns, a chronograph function, 42-mm thick steel case, and wider hour markers and hands, this modern reference would not be mistaken for a member of any other family of watches. Even the super-compressor inner bezel, while obviously a completely different dial feature than the tachymetric scale of years past, takes the place of the element in the same curved and sloped style.
Yet, for all the similarities to the original reference, there are many stark changes seen in this latest reference differentiating it from “The Beast.” Most notable among these are the colors. Prior to the release of this reference, Offshores — which some would regard as garish in their own right — had never been available in color schemes that call to mind Easter Sunday and boathouse summers. Then there is the accenting: this is possibly the first time the Offshore series has ventured from complementary accent colors — like blues for oranges or blacks for whites — into more unusual combinations. While it would be unfair to say previous Offshores had not contrasted black with gold, or blue with steel and gold (as in the watch seen below), the Diver Chronograph matches pastel-colored dials with rubber straps rather than with the precious metal bracelets and leather straps seen prior. The largest change in aesthetics, outside of the color, is the use of a “Méga Tapisserie” dial pattern instead of the vintage “Petite.”
The last big changes seen are in the larger overall width and length of the hour markers and hands; the presence of two horizontal subdials rather than the traditional three vertical ones; and the absence of a date indicator. These changes seem to be for assistance in diving as well as for creating a more carefree and youthful “summer” look.
Longtime readers of the “Vintage Eye” series might recall when I first covered the Offshore series, and the critique that I paid the collection when comparing it to the original Royal Oak lineage. However, as the series has progressed, it’s become increasingly clear that the Offshore collection is no longer a branch from the AP Royal Oak, but much more so a unique entity unto itself. In its colors, textures, patterns, and functions, the Offshore Diver Chronograph seems to better “own” what the overall series is selling: hyper-masculinity, visibility of wealth, and perhaps a sense of irony about the ridiculousness of it all. As a result, it deserves to be classified and compared to its more direct vintage forefather from 1993, rather than to the “Jumbos” of the 1970s.
With this, some of you may have been thinking that the Offshore series and its first reference do not necessarily qualify as vintage, which is most often a term reserved for watches upwards of 25 to 30 years old. (The Offshore is 23.) Normally, I would agree with this definition, but the Diver Chronograph is the most recent evidence from the Offshore lineage that it has grown and developed far from the original parameters of the ‘93 “Beast,” and is even further removed from the original Royal Oaks that preceded it. This growth is partly the reason historical Offshore references are so rare and coveted— they are simply are no longer represented by the modern series, and this thus makes them “vintage,” in character, at least, if not by strict chronological definition.
Still, while this particular watch has moved the series towards more thorough independence, it seems to be confusing functionality with purpose. On one hand, there is a textured strap for increased stability, a super-compressor for diving, and screw-down crowns for water tightness — all signs of the desired functionality of a diving watch. But on the other, there are non-screw down chronograph pushers, a sapphire caseback, a lackluster 300-meter dive rating, and an overall audaciousness of design (suitable less for diving and more for affluent leisure. It seems to have left traces of the “form following function” philosophy that characterized the 20th century watches it is derived from, rather than the pure aesthetic appeal that drives the Offshore series today. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is interesting to note.
For me, the Audemars Piguet Offshore Diver Chronograph is an anomaly, which is partly the reason I have found it so interesting to write about. Through a vintage analysis of the reference, it is almost an exact guide on how not to build an homage piece; and yet, it characterizes how a series can come into its own many years after its first development. While this particular release is just one model, and by no means guaranteed to heavily influence the overall designs of future Offshore watches, it may well represent where the series could go in years to come.
For our most recent article, in which I compare vintage and modern editions of the Tudor Ranger series, click here.
Caleb Anderson is a freelance writer with a primary focus on vintage watches. Since first learning about horology, he has garnered extensive knowledge in the field, and spends much of his time sharing his opinions among other writers, collectors, and dealers. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on many topics, and a casual runner.