Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Safari ¶
When it comes to big, bold, haute-horlogerie sport watches Audemars Piguet is the brand to beat. Since 1972 their signature Royal Oak series has become a legendary model that has aged gracefully and received numerous evolutionary updates over the decades to keep it fresh. The Royal Oak Offshore, in particular, has become a huge hit for the brand since it was introduced in 1993, and it remains their signature model. This week I will be profiling one of the most popular Offshores, the “Safari” edition.
The Royal Oak was introduced in 1972 as a high-end steel sportwatch, a novel concept at the time. Designed by the legendary Gerald Genta (father of the Patek Philippe Nautilus, the “other” high end steel nautical watch) the Royal Oak was a sensation when it was introduced – but not for the best reasons. Many balked at the exorbitant price being charged for a watch made of steel, which rivalled the pricing of gold watches (in fact it was more than some 18k pieces that AP was producing at the time). A first-generation 5402ST sold new for 3200 CHF in 1972 – more than 10 times the price of a contemporary steel Rolex Submariner!
The early ROs were also offered in 18k gold and gold and steel combined. The style was very distinctive, clearly inspired by shipbuilding with a porthole-shaped bezel with screws locking the case components together. The name came from a series of warships fielded by the British Navy from the 1600s to the 20th century (the most recent HMS Royal Oak was sunk in 1939 by a German U-Boat while anchored near Orkney, Scotland). The size was large for the time as well, with a Jumbo model clocking in at a 39mm (it appears larger than the size would suggest with the integrated bracelet, which was an industry first that inspired many imitators during the 70s). Reception was lukewarm at first, but despite the criticism the design became a hit. The initial poor feedback was quickly forgotten, as the Royal Oak became a flagship model for AP. It was a victory for the company during a difficult time for the Swiss industry, and saved the brand from bankruptcy during the Quartz Crisis.
The Royal Oak was distinguished by its use of a milled-steel case secured from the front by 8 screws, a design that ensured good water resistance. Movements were slim Jaeger LeCoultre automatic calibres. This relationship with JLC continued for quite some time, until 2005 the base calibres for most AP automatics are provided by Jaeger. The bracelet was integrated into the case with a hidden foldover clasp, a design that has persisted to this day. The basic Royal Oak is still available from AP, and has formed the basis of numerous high-complication and haute-joallerie models. The most popular Royal Oak today is the Offshore, a supersized Royal Oak with chronograph.
The Offshore (often affectionately called the ROO or APROO by watch geeks) was introduced in 1993. It became a hit after Arnold Schwarzenegger began promoting the brand in the United States, wearing some special editions in several of his movies (notably a black PVD 44mm ROO with yellow accents in End of Days, and a titanium 57mm monster in Terminator 3). The Arnold connection persists to this day; last year a special edition The Legacy model was produced with part of the profits going to his “After School All-Stars” children’s charity. The partnership between AP and Arnold is one of the most enduring celebrity relationships with a high-end watch brand, one that is more than the typical short-term marketing and sponsorship.
The ROO is usually a chronograph (aside from the Scuba and Diver), available in either 42mm or 44mm (or bigger) depending on the edition. The larger sizes are usually reserved for limited edition pieces. The classic ROO is 42mm, but don’t let the “modest” diameter fool you – these are hefty watches that wear much bigger on the wrist, owing mainly to the massive design of the lugs mounts. Some sources will quote a 44mm diameter, this is true if you include the crown guard on the right side of the watch, but don’t confuse this with the true 44mm models, which are in fact bigger (and would be around 46mm with the crown guard). Bracelets are the classic option but certain models feature leather or synthetic material straps, such as the Safari we have here, which has a brown hornback alligator strap. Dial variations (aside from the classic black and white models) are often tied to specific editions, of which there are dozens – the End of Days, the Shaq, the Rubens Barrichello, and so on. In this vein the Safari has a cream coloured dial with lighter chronograph subdials and blacked-out Arabic numerals.
All Royal Oaks since the beginning have featured a signature waffle-pattern dial that has become synonymous with Audemars. Most Offshores feature applied Arabic numerals with luminescent in-fill, though on the Safari the numbers are filled in with black material. Hands are skeletonized baton items that maintain a minimalist theme. The waffle pattern is more subdued on the Safari (the pattern is larger and shallower than it usually is), which brings out the colour of the dial more. It’s a simple, easy to read setup that suits the sporting quality of the design. Tachymetre scales are printed on the inside of the bezel so as not to disturb the classic screwed-porthole design. The chronograph is arranged in a 12-9-6 layout with a magnified date window at 3 o’clock.
The movement is a superb automatic-winding calibre 3126/3840, a slim design that is unfortunately not visible on this particular model. Certain editions feature a display back to show the beautifully finished calibre, which has a 22k gold rotor and impeccable detail throughout. It’s a 59-jewel design with a 55-hour power reserve that winds buttery smooth. It’s an in-house base calibre with a chronograph module installed on top.
The strap makes the watch, and the hornback alligator item on this ROO makes it a Safari. It’s a distinctive strap that really stands out, and suits the hefty aesthetic. It’s thick, wide, heavily textured, and finely crafted. Like all current ROOs it has the distinctive strap mounts that take after the design of the integrated bracelet (some earlier models had more traditional lugs). There is something special about a ROO on a strap, it’s not exactly dressy but it has a certain massive elegance to it. Think of Arnold Schwarzenegger wearing a tuxedo – he still looks ridiculously proportioned, but somehow it works.
Today the Offshore is one of the most sought after sport designs in the haute-gamme watch market, and Audemars’ most popular model. The Safari is a particularly distinctive variation on the theme, with its impressive hornback strap and cream-coloured dial, part of the reason why it is one of the most popular APROO models. The Safari is now discontinued and getting harder to find; historically Royal Oak Offshores have maintained steady values on the used market, making them good buys for investment-conscious buyers, particularly if you can find a like-new-in-box example of a discontinued model. Which is exactly what we have here, this Safari is in near-mint condition with the original box and all booklets. If you wish to enquire about our Safari or any other pre-owned watches feel free to call us at 514 845 8878 or visit our contact page.