Royal Oak Offshore Tourbillon Chronograph 25th Anniversary
Audemars Piguet is no stranger to shocking the world with its timepieces. They did it once in 1972 with the original Royal Oak, which was the world’s first ever steel luxury sports watch. The large size and aggressive design (considered so back then) of the Royal Oak came as a shock to the senses of the luxury watch industry, and the fact that a steel sports watch would cost more than a gold dress piece was absolutely disruptive.
The Le Brassus manufacturer then did it again in 1993 when the Royal Oak Offshore was introduced to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Royal Oak. The watch was bulkier and even more exaggerated in design than the Royal Oak, much to the displeasure of purists and even Gerald Genta himself. The once-deemed-audacious Royal Oak looked tame in the face of the Royal Oak Offshore. Audemars Piguet had redefined what boldness was and it certainly paid dividends – the Royal Oak Offshore was a rousing success, as evidenced by its popularity and strong presence in pop culture.
This year, in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the Royal Oak Offshore, Audemars Piguet has upped the ante on the design forefront once again to present the Royal Oak Offshore Tourbillon Chronograph 25th Anniversary. History is repeating itself. If you thought the Royal Oak Offshore, couldn’t get any more menacing, think again.
The case, dial and hands
Crafted in either stainless steel or 18-carat pink gold, the Royal Oak Offshore Tourbillon Chronograph 25th Anniversary comes in a case measuring a chunky 45 mm in diameter and 16.1 mm in thickness. Given its size, a large-ish wrist would therefore be required to pull off the novel Royal Oak Offshore without overhang. The case features a host of new design and aesthetics that is (literally) edgier than ever. The polished bevels that run along the edge of the integrated lugs are now wider and steeper. The black ceramic chronograph push pieces and their respective guards also look more aggressive than in the standard editions. The nut-shaped, screw-locked crown – also in black ceramic – is large enough such that hand-winding the watch is a pleasure rather than a chore.
The bezel, while still in its signature octagonal shape, is recipient to the most drastic of changes. This hallmark component of the Royal Oak Offshore case has been drastically pared down and hollowed out. It is now fitted with an octagonal (instead of round) sapphire crystal with the famous hexagonal bezel bolts beneath it.
Apart from the new, leaner bezel, it is the dial – or lack thereof – that gives the most striking impression of the watch. Heavily openworked, all that’s left that can be considered dial proper are the chronograph minute sub-register at 3 o’clock and the graduated track on the periphery. The rest of the ‘dial’ consists of the movement, including the eight skeletonised bridges that support it. The tourbillon at 9 o’clock offers dazzling theatrics with its spinning dance. While the linear structure of the tourbillon cage is somewhat pedestrian, the quality of the black-polish that it has been endowed with is second-to-none in the industry. It’s just a shame that the tourbillon is significantly obstructed by the bridges that support it.
Indicating the time are two lume-coated hands, one of which – the minute hand – is partially skeletonised. On the other hand (pun shamelessly intended), the chronograph seconds and minutes are indicated by finer lancet-style hands.
Overall, Audemars Piguet’s maverick approach towards the design of the case and dial has turned the 25th anniversary edition of the Royal Oak Offshore into something truly unique and almost unrecognisable. It wouldn’t be out of line to say that the watch looks more like a Royal Oak Concept model than a Royal Oak Offshore.
The movement powering the Royal Oak Offshore Tourbillon Chronograph 25th Anniversary is the new in-house manufactured Calibre 2947, derived from an existing movement, the Calibre 2912. The 353-part, 30-jewel Calibre 2947 is hand-wound and boasts a remarkable 173 hours of power reserve – that’s over 7 days.
The Calibre 2947 is secured in place by the eight signature bezel bolts (which used to only hold down the bezel) via the skeletonised bridges. The suspended look of the movement gives it a satisfying sense of depth. While most of the attention given to the movement will inextricably be on the dial-side, it’d be criminal to give none to the view of the case back. For it is through the sapphire crystal case back that the sprawling chronograph works can be seen. While not exactly as delicate as a Patek or picturesque as a Lange, the design and layout of the chronograph parts as a whole does give off a cool steampunk vibe.
From a finishing standpoint, the Calibre 2947 favours a more modern approach. This should not imply that the finissage isn’t excellent – because it is. Where instead of Geneva waves, the bridges are given a sandblasted finish which contributes greatly to the industrial look of the watch. And yet, tradition is not entirely lost within the movement. Parts such as the tourbillon cage and screw heads are still immaculately black-polished while the chronograph levers are decorated with straight graining on the top surface with chamfered and polished edges.
The competitive landscape
The Royal Oak Offshore Tourbillon Chronograph 25th Anniversary is heavy-hitting in multiple aspects: design, mechanics, and as one might suspect, price. Limited to only 50 pieces each, the Royal Oak Offshore Tourbillon Chronograph 25th Anniversary in stainless steel is set to retail at CHF275,000 and the pink gold at CHF310,000.
But what if the novel Royal Oak Offshore isn’t extreme enough to satiate your appetite? Introducing the Richard Mille RM50-03 Tourbillon Split Seconds Chronograph Ultralight McLaren F1, a watch that is even more aggressive in design than the Audemars Piguet, with an unbearably lightweight case made of graphene, a dial and movement that is extensively skeletonised, and a rubber strap infused with graphene. The RM50-03 is also technically endowed, equipped with a tourbillon and a split-seconds chronograph. The movement that powers this beast was conceived by none other than Audemars Piguet Renaud et Papi and is created using titanium and TPT carbon. With a price tag of CHF980,000, the RM50-03 utterly humbles the new Royal Oak Offshore – whether or not it is worthy of such a high ransom is a story for another day.
On the other end of the tourbillon-chronograph watch spectrum, we have the infamous Tag Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T. At around CHF15,000, it is one of, if not the most affordable watch of its kind. But does it provide greater value for money relative to the Audemars Piguet? That depends on what you value in a timepiece. If your answer is ‘fine craftsmanship and finishing’, then steer clear as the watch is devoid of hand-finishing/decoration. Otherwise, the Carrera Heuer-02T might we worth considering as it is very aggressively priced and mechanically sound, with a manufacture movement featuring an automatic column wheel chronograph combined with a COSC-certified flying tourbillon.
Like the first Royal Oak Offshore and the first Royal Oak before it, the new Royal Oak Offshore Tourbillon Chronograph 25th Anniversary is bound to attract its fair share of applause and criticism for its deviant design. At present, the watch is best defined as an acquired taste – you either love it or hate it. But if anything’s a given, it’s that there’s never a dull moment at Audemars Piguet where pushing the limits of design is the norm. The brand has never been afraid to do so and probably never will be. So, the question is: what next?