I’m not talking about the Book of Revelation, in fact, things were pretty normal when I finally got to lay my hands on Audemars Piguet’s newest Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore 43 Ceramic Blue in full black ceramic. But the watch, a faithful callback to the first Offshore nicknamed “The Beast” due to its size and weight, is still pretty imposing, especially for someone like me who has never loved the Offshore. So it might as well be the End of Days (Offshore/Schwarzenegger pun intended) but with the new “Black Beast” I think AP has won me over. Even recently I held on to the idea that I and my good ol’ pal Gérald Genta (Gérry to his imaginary friends like me) were the cool kids sitting in the corner channeling Mean Girls and saying “stop trying to make Offshore happen” as we proudly stuck to our refined taste for the elegant design of the original “Jumbo” Royal Oak. I don’t think Genta was trying to be a bully when he accused the designer Emmanuel Gueit of “ruining” the Royal Oak design when he created the Offshore. There’s just something so timeless and elegant about the Royal Oak and the Offshore was undoubtedly a departure (and, I’d argue, a pretty anachronistic one).
The watch market can be a fickle thing and it might be hard to imagine in the haze of its modern resurgence, but 30 years ago at the introduction of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore 43 Ceramic Blue, sales of the Jumbo and other Royal Oaks were in steady decline and Gueit’s design would eventually prove the shot of adrenaline that the brand needed. And along with Genta, very few people were convinced at first. It actually seems like AP’s burden over the years has been to break the mold with a whimper, not a bang. The Code 11:59 launch was roundly dismissed in the same breath as accusations that AP was a one-trick pony. But hindsight has historically been AP’s salvation. Four years on and the Code has seemingly gotten over its growing pains despite having the same movement and case design. Thirty years later and the Offshore has gone through a meteoric rise (and lately slight dip) in popularity. And while the brand had given nearly every treatment of case material and design touch possible within the confines of the “Offshore” box and never quite clicked with me, leave it to AP to pull out the stops for the 30th anniversary with the coup de grâce to my indifference to the Offshore. I mentioned when we introduced the watch that while no brand “owns” ceramic, AP comes darn close. They are masters with the material, which is why I just assumed an all-ceramic Offshore was just one of the hundreds of models I’ve glossed over in the brand’s history. I apparently gave AP too much credit in their mastery as brand representatives reiterated how hard it is to work with the material and create a full ceramic bracelet for the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore 43 Ceramic Blue. It’s not entirely clear to me why that’s the case, with so many fully-ceramic Royal Oaks on offer, and leads me to believe this watch was held in reserve for a big anniversary launch. But even if that’s the case, it was worth the wait. Looking at that introduction piece and James Stacey’s early hands-on photos you can see that even in ceramic, the finishing AP has done makes the new Offshore case trend visually close to the original in a big way that leans into brand history and consumer nostalgia. Historically I’ve always thought ceramic was a material that looks better than it feels and I’d venture to say that’s still the case here, but that’s in part because the black ceramic just looks so incredibly good. The polished faceted edges of the case, bracelet, and bezel play with the light so well and really stand out against the otherwise vertical graining of the ceramic. And while the black ceramic shows off fingerprints and smudges like you wouldn’t believe (please excuse them in all the photos), it does so in a way that almost seems like a wood-grain pattern when combined with the ceramic texture. But aesthetics aside, after wearing the watch for a bit I started to get the impression that the lighter the material, the more important it is to have a perfectly fitted bracelet – something not possible for my 7.25″ wrist in a brief hands-on environment – which isn’t a fault of the material or the watch itself. As I looked around the room and other people clamored for their hands-on time, I saw that folks of every size, shape, and gender seemed to wear the watch with ease and swagger. That demand for hands on time also foreshadows what will undoubtedly be a high demand for this watch in general. It’s no stretch to say this is an instant classic. While the Code 11.59 has often been floated as the entrée into Audemars Piguet for new buyers, I have heard plenty of stories of AP clients picking up Offshores as their first purchases. I wouldn’t expect anyone to be so lucky here. I texted photos to friends and posted on Instagram as soon as the watch was in hand and even well-heeled and well-connected AP collectors I know that previously dismissed the Offshore showed a sparkle of intrigue. It’s going to be a hot commodity even for AP and that’s saying something. I heard one other journalist muttering the price to himself while walking out the door shaking his head, and I could see he was already mentally making deals with the devil to afford the watch. Hype aside I’ve settled into the understanding that anyone buying the “Black Beast” is getting a great watch from top to bottom. That includes a solid column-wheel chronograph movement Caliber 4401. The pushers have a satisfying actuation and benefit from the removal of the odd rubber covering on the original. The movement itself has nice finishing that you can see on the display caseback. And the dial, however dated I still feel it leans, has a really cool almost carbon fiber texture under the Petite Tapisserie squares and a great mix of softer elegant serif fonts with bold applied accents and bulbous date window. Yes, even with all that, AP has knocked it out of the park.
You may have noticed a lot of Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore 43 Ceramic Blue recently, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s the 30th Anniversary of this oversized beast of a lineup. As a fitting salute to the original, Audemars Piguet’s has announced the first ever Royal Oak Offshore in black ceramic with matching ceramic bracelet, the new Selfwinding Chronograph ref. 26238C – now badder and bolder than ever.