January 22, 2014
by James Lamdin
Audemars Piguet rolled out some pretty impressive new hardware this year at SIHH, as per usual. While the focus over the past few years has been on their iconic Jumbo (which celebrated a 40th Anniversary in 2012 or some of their lesser known Haute Horology pieces (such as the Jules Audemars Tourbillon), this year is all about that other collection stalwart: The Royal Oak Offshore.
The original Royal Oak Offshore was released to the public in 1993 as a follow up to Gerald Genta’s much applauded A-Series “Jumbo”. This was the second time Audemars Piguet took a serious gamble with the Royal Oak, and the second time they knocked it out of the park. Just as the original Royal Oak Jumbo can be credited with creating an entirely new category of wristwatch in 1972 (the Luxury Sports Watch), the Royal Oak Offshore (as the new models came to be known after the 1993 launch) was really the first watch for the next generation of luxury timepiece consumers, and launched another entirely new category: The Oversized Sports Luxury Watch.
Of course, the first Royal Oak Offshore (we’ll call it a ROO from here on in) wasn’t exactly oversized by today’s standards, measuring in at 42mm in diameter. But in 1993 it was an absolute monster. With an extra thick case and a beefy bracelet that looked like the original Gay Freres unit on steroids, it made quite the statement. In the past twenty years, the Offshore collection has grown almost as much in size as it has in variety of styles, and has become an icon in its own right, despite the fact that they have become so large that they are downright unwearable by many an enthusiast.
But to those who do wear them, the ROO is a religion, with many owning more than one version. A nearly innumerable number of variants have been produced in the past 20 years, commemorating collaborations with musicians, actors, and athletes, as well as a wide variety of dedicated task watches, such as the popular Diver. To some, obsession with the ROO is hard to comprehend, while others liken it to other cultish collector stereotypes, such as the vintage Rolex crowd. Regardless of your take on the model, there is little question that the ROO has made a significant impact on sporting timepieces, and the model has been copied by numerous other brands in attempt to capture some of AP’s success.
It is perhaps the tremendous success of the ROO and its subsequent copycats that has turned so many collectors “off” to big luxury sports watches. After all, nothing kills a trend like an overabundance of a popular thing. Furthermore, the association of the ROO as wrist-bling for gangsters and wannabe rock stars can be a little overbearing for more restrained timepiece collectors.
None of this is to say that the ROO (or any Audemars Piguet) is anything less than a fantastic timepiece, as even its occasional detractors would acknowledge. It has just become a bit…much, and there has been a recent cry for something a bit less ostentatious.
Just this week at SIHH, Audemars Piguet answered that call in grand style and unveiled an entirely new line of 42mm Offshores. This release is very much a throwback to the original ROO and is likely to do just as much for the Offshore collection as the 15202 40th Anniversary has done for the Jumbo since its launch in 2012. Despite the continued popularity of larger sports watches in the consumer market, there is an imminent and noteworthy change on the near horizon. Manufactures are slowly but surely sizing down their collections (literally!) in preparation for the next big thing – which in this case, will be smaller watches (comparatively speaking – they will never be petite and you won’t really see sport watches under 39mm). These smaller ROOs are a great start for Audemars Piguet , as they will no doubt bring in an entirely new batch of buyers who have been unable to pull off the larger versions for wearability reasons, while also coming full circle for the die-hard ROO fans whose tastes are maturing past the tremendous and blingy and have been crying out for something smaller and sustainably wearable.