30th anniversary of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore: Here Come ‘The Beasts’
In a previous article, Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore 30th Anniversary: 4 New 2023 Releases, I focused on the story of how the Royal Oak Offshore (hereafter ROO or Offshore) began and the new models launched celebrating the 30th anniversary of the collection, and ‘The Beast’ model in particular. While reflecting on the various limited edition Offshores, I realized something that had escaped me: there are not many ROO versions of the original design. In fact, there are very few. You can count them on one hand.
In this article, I’ll focus on what has happened in the last thirty years since the first Offshore was introduced by Audemars Piguet in the legendary ‘The Beast’ design, and highlight the different releases relatively faithful to the original design.
The Beast One: Ref. 25721ST.O.1000ST.01
The Royal Oak Offshore ‘The Beast’, the original Offshore model, has been on the market for over twenty years. It is difficult to find out how many of the 7308 steel examples of reference 25721 reported by Apchronicles have the original petite tapisserie dial in navy blue, since models with dials in other shades were also produced with this reference. However, there is every reason to believe that a large portion of the 25721 is ‘The Beast’ with its classic navy blue dial. The last deliveries took place in 2016, when only two timepieces were delivered.
Researchers have long described the main types of this reference, which is associated mainly with modifications of the caliber and the bracelet. It is known that until 1997 the Offshore was equipped with Audemars Piguet’s first automatic chronograph caliber 2126/2840, developed in 1986 based on the Jaeger-LeCoultre 888 automatic movement blank with sub-dial chronograph module by Dubois Dépraz, and this caliber, with later modifications, was used by Audemars Piguet until the 2010s.
The first major upgrade was made in 1997, when the frequency was increased from 3 Hz to 4 Hz. The new version of the base caliber was given the designation 2226 (Jaeger-LeCoultre 889/1).
In 2004, a new modification followed and the caliber was designated 2326. All this technical information seems superfluous here, but it is directly related to ROO collecting, especially The Beast One, since the production period of this model includes both modifications of the base caliber.
Cataloging The Beast One by caliber versions seems logical: the first (2126/2840), second (2226/2840) and third (2326/2840) generations. There are other variants as well, the best known being the first 100 examples that did not have the “Offshore” engraving on the caseback.
You can easily find information about these and the other variants on the Internet, but unfortunately, there are discrepancies regarding the configuration of the original reference 25721ST.O.1000ST.01 calibers. For example, the usually reputable resource Apchronicles misstates the dates.
They stated that the original reference had been fitted with the in-house 3126/3840 caliber either since 2004 or since 2007. 2004 is known as the year of the transition to a second updated version of the base automatic caliber, which is 2326, while the transition to the base in-house caliber 3120 in the ROO chronographs began in 2007.
While some ROO models have been equipped with the in-house caliber since 2007, a search for the original reference 25721ST.O.1000ST.01 with this caliber yielded no results. Apparently, three generations with calibers 2126-2226-2326 are on the market, but the versions with caliber 3120/3840 haven’t surfaced.
Caliber 2126/2840 was used mainly in Huitième chronographs in the 1980s and early 1990s. It is the very first Audemars Piguet self-winding chronograph wristwatch. In fact, the caliber 2126/2840 was developed specifically for this watch. However, after the introduction of ROO, this caliber and its clones were mainly used in ROO. As a result, the characteristic vertical 6-9-12 arrangement and deep date display aperture occurred due to the thickness of a sub-dial chronograph module have long been perceived as an integral part of this watch’s design, while a few remember the Huitième chronograph and its role in the development of Audemars Piguet’s automatic chronographs.
The peculiar design of the original ROO became the alter ego of this watch. That’s why Audemars Piguet has kept almost the same dial arrangement in the latest in-house caliber 4400, in one of its versions, the 4404, designed for the modern ROO…
The Beast Two: Ref. 26218ST.OO.1000ST.01
This Royal Oak Offshore 20th Anniversary 1993-2013 is the rarest ‘The Beast’ – it was launched in a limited edition of just 20 pieces. It is believed that this edition was chosen to match the in-house caliber 3120/3840 to the ROO original design. ROO 20th Anniversary looks very similar to the original 1993 model, but this watch has a sapphire caseback through which the owner can see the in-house caliber and the beautifully decorated 22-karat gold rotor.
The dial of The Beast Two is identical to the original design. One amusing little detail deserves a mention: over time, calibers changed, and so did the frequency, and therefor the smallest measurable time interval by the increment of the chronograph’s second hand. For the caliber 2126/2840, it was 1/6 of a second, for the calibers 2226/2840 and 2326/2840, it became 1/8 of a second, and after the change to the in-house 3120/3840 caliber, it went back up to 1/6 of a second.
Nevertheless, the outer seconds’ scale of all these models, including The Beast Two Ref. 26218ST, kept the subdivision in 1/5 of a second. This deserves mentioning when we take a look at The Beast Three.
The Beast Three: Ref. 26237ST.OO.1000ST.01.A
In December 2017, Audemars Piguet lifted the veil and revealed three models prepared for the official presentation of the new 2018 collection, which was unveiled in January 2018 at the SIHH Salon in Geneva. From the very name of the declassified watch – Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Chronograph 25th Anniversary Ref. 26237ST – it was clear that this would be the first major anniversary of the Royal Oak Offshore collection, namely a quarter of a century.
The Quarter Century Royal Oak Offshore, like all other ‘The Beasts’, is a careful reissue of the original Offshore, but with significant changes. Upon closer inspection of the dial, many small changes stand out: it looks like the dial was completely redesigned for The Beast Three. The most noticeable changes are the font of the hour counter, tachymeter, and date.
The applied ‘AP’ logo is also worth studying: the gap between the letters A and P lost its lume (who cared?), and the outlines of the letters have a different shape than originally. The same goes for the caseback. It is solid, as in the original design, but the font style of the “Royal Oak” and “Offshore” lettering is different from the original.
By the way, there is no indication on the caseback that Ref. 26237ST is a limited edition, although Audemars Piguet released this watch as a limited edition of 250 pieces. To reliably identify it, you need to read the case number – all original Ref. 25721ST are marked with the letters D, E or F, while the Ref. 26237ST is marked with a J.
Important note: on the pictures shown here, provided by the brand, the case number is not present.
The Beast Three Ref.26237ST has an in-house caliber 3126/3840 offering a minimum measurement increment of 1/6 of a second.
Please note that technically this has nothing to do with precision, though that’s often mentioned in publications, it is simply the size of the step of a seconds hand. For this model, the chronograph seconds scale has been changed – it is drawn with the subdivision in 1/3 of a second. This means that if the second hand hits the mark exactly, the result is a multiple of 1/3 of a second. If it lies between the marks, another 1/6 of a second must be added to the measurement total.
The Beast Four: Ref. 26238ST.OO.2000ST.01
In 2021, along with the launch of the new in-house integrated caliber 4404, developed exclusively for ROO, reference 26238ST was introduced, which will be produced without limitation for the first time since The Beast One. “Exclusively for ROO” here refers to the simple fact that the new caliber reproduces the now familiar ROO 6-9-12 vertical counter arrangement.
There will be no confusion as two out of three counters have swapped places: the small seconds has moved from 12 to 6 o’clock and thus to the classic Savonette position, the 12-hour counter has moved from 6 to 12 o’clock and the 30-minute counter has stayed at 9 o’clock. But that’s not the end of the story. The small seconds hand, which has been shifted slightly to the center of the dial compared to the counters on all ROOs since the original reference, has lost this odd but pretty feature.
Also a bit sad – this quite tolerable absurdity of minor importance gave character to the good old ROO. Welcome to the new, flawless ROO!
The flawless knight has the right engine. The 4404 caliber is made according to the unwritten industry standard. First, it has a three-day power reserve: on Friday evening, the ROO owner took off his watch to put on another special weekend watch, on Monday morning he put ROO back on, and the watch has not stopped yet.
Secondly, it is a vertical clutch, which means that the chronograph now works as a “start and forget”.
A third feature fits this scenario: the flyback function, which allows the chronograph to be restarted with a single push of a button. Not that anyone would really need that, but imagine how many people would be delighted to know and see how the ROO chrono works in real life!
Don’t look for evil irony in my words, this is a fact: modern mechanical watches are a toy for an adult child. As befits a good toy, The Beast Four has a sapphire caseback so you can view the engine.
The frequency of this caliber is 4 Hz, which means that the watch here returns to the same specification with calibers 2226 and 2326.
But what about the dial? It has been modified with the peripheral seconds scale now marked in 1/4 second increments, which helps to clearly determine the measurement result with an accuracy of 1/8 second. Otherwise, the dial of The Beast Four gives the impression of being only slightly different from that of The Beast Three – perhaps the available images use the same visual rendering with a minor revision?
Against this assumption, perhaps, is the fact that the tapisserie pattern on the dial of The Beast Four is slightly denser than that of the third model: from the axis of the hands to the date window, there are nine rows, not eight.
The other feature of The Beast Four that stands out at first glance emerges thanks to the new caliber. It is integrated, and therefore the chronograph mechanism is located on its back, on the bridge side, under the rotor. There is no longer be a deep date aperture, as the date ring is located just below the dial.
And yet Audemars Piguet tries to show that it retains the feature of the original ROO design by adding an almost useless lens above the date. Why did Audemars Piguet try to retain this element, but omit the ‘wrong’ small seconds hand subdial? I perhaps need to consult a psychologist, because I don’t understand the reason.
The appearance of the other innovation on ROO – a quick-change strap and bracelet system – should be recognized as fully justified. The quick-change feature seems to be one of the slowest developing trends in the industry – it lasts about twenty years, then wait another ten or twenty years and Rolex will introduce such a system. But why change the ‘best bracelet in the world’?
For more information, please visit www.audemarspiguet.com/com/en/collections/royal-oak-offshore.html
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