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Audemars Piguet - The Pop Culture Icon That Marked its Era

Audemars Piguet The Pop Culture Icon That Marked its Era

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the Royal Oak Offshore was a catalyst for a whole new trend of larger cool sports watches

Oversized, sporty, rugged, and yet refined, Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak Offshore was not entirely understood when it was unveiled in 1993. The watch-loving world thought it was a monstrosity, calling it “The Beast”. Even Gérald Genta, the Royal Oak’s famed designer, referred to it as “a sea elephant”. But this was the 1990s, a time when big and bold were in vogue and the model found its tribe with a new generation of younger consumers who loved the prominent aesthetic. 

Pop Culture

For those of you who are young enough not to remember the 1990s, this was an explosive period in terms of pop culture. Thanks to advances in digital recording equipment that allowed artists to create music in an entirely new way, the music scene saw a period of creative and inspiring new sounds that included new genres such as Alternative, SkaPunk, Rap, and Hip-Hop. The Hip-Hop style also translated over onto the fashion scene with oversized pants, hoodies, para-military boots, and snap-back caps. Jurassic Park was the top movie of 1993 with dinosaur toys on every child’s gift list. And car sales rose considerably with the pickup truck becoming the best-selling vehicle in America. In essence, big was cool! 

The Pop Culture Icon That Marked its Era

Royal Oak Offshore © Audemars Piguet

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore

One person who was switched on to this trend was Audemars Piguet’s German agent, Dierk Wettengel, who asked the Manufacture for a new trend-setting model for the 1990s inspired by offshore yacht racing. Designer Emmanuel Gueit was entrusted with the mission and set about rejuvenating the image of the Royal Oak by increasing the size of the case from 39mm to 42mm, adding a thick gasket, a crown adorned with coloured rubber, and rounded links and studs.

The Pop Culture Icon That Marked its Era

Royal Oak Offshore © Audemars Piguet


A False Start

The watch was supposed to be released for the 20th anniversary of the Royal Oak, but its oversized proportions did not meet with unanimous approval internally and the launch was delayed until the following year. The wait did not temper reactions, however. “The scandal it caused at the time of its release matched its excessiveness,” explains Raphaël Ballestra, Audemars Piguet’s Manager of Heritage & Archives. “But if the watchmaking world was outraged, young people adopted it. In spite of its difficult beginning, the Offshore was a huge success and extremely popular during the 2000s”.

Yacht Racing

From the sponsorship of motorized yacht races, such as the World Offshore Racing Championships and the Audemars Piguet Trophy, and the support of sailing teams, including the Swiss Alinghi America’s Cup team and the Ladycat all-women’s team, the Royal Oak Offshore has been intimately linked with yacht racing over the years, reinforcing its sporty nature. 

Celebrity Ambassadors

The Royal Oak Offshore can also be credited with starting an industry-wide trend for celebrity associations, starting with famous movie star, bodybuilder, and future California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Already an Audemars Piguet fan, Schwarzenegger visited the Manufacture in Le Brassus in 1997. Two years later, he worked together with the brand in the creation of a limited edition series called the Royal Oak Offshore End of Days to celebrate his film of the same name. This model sparked a number of limited editions made with the actor over the following years. 

The Pop Culture Icon That Marked its Era

Arnold Schwarzenegger © Audemars Piguet

Since then, many celebrities from the worlds of sport and entertainment have been linked to the Offshore, including musician Jay-Z, basketball stars LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal, and tennis champion Serena Williams. 

30th Anniversary Celebrations

Marking the 30th anniversary of the collection this year, the Manufacture is releasing three new Offshore models – a Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Chronograph in 43mm that combines black ceramic with 18-carat yellow gold, a 42mm Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Chronograph in black ceramic with a Petite Tapisserie dial, and a Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Chronograph in full black ceramic with green touches. 

Thirty years is a long time for a timepiece to remain cool, but since it took off, the Royal Oak Offshore hasn’t looked back, evolving with new movements, materials, designs, and finishings. And with these new editions, it looks like there is plenty more wind in its sails for the future.

The Pop Culture Icon That Marked its Era

Royal Oak Offshore © Audemars Piguet


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Audemars Piguet is one of the few independent family-owned watch businesses and has been based in Le Brassus, in Switzerland's Vallée de Joux region, at the heart of the fine watchmaking industry, ever since the company was first established in 1875.

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