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Should you buy an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph ref 26237ST? Or would you be better off with an AP Royal Oak Chronograph ref 26331ST? It’s a question I’m sure we all find ourselves battling with at one point or another in our lives. Both are popular models. Both look similar, at least at first blush. So much so that your average (non-watch) person wouldn’t notice the difference between them. Yet most watch nerds tend to favour one over the other. Does that mean it’s impossible to pick a clear winner?

A (Very) Brief History Of The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak

The story of how the Royal Oak came to be is well-documented. It was the early 70’s and the Swiss watch industry could no longer deny the crippling effects of the ‘Quartz crisis’. Several prominent names had already fallen, others were being prepared for consolidation. Georges Golay, Audemar Piguet’s MD at the time, needed to do something drastic. So, he turned to the one man that could deliver; Gérald Genta.
 
And deliver he did.
Taking inspiration from AP’s Italian distributors he designed a ground-breaking new watch. Made out of stainless steel, it cost more than many of AP’s 18k gold timepieces. In fact, you could’ve bought around 10 steel Rolex Submariners for the price of one Royal Oak 5402ST.
 
As you might imagine, it caused quite a stir when AP presented the watch at the 1972 Baselworld fair. For a start, the price was outrageously high for a steel watch. Its 39mm case was also considered huge at the time, earning it the nickname “Jumbo”. And let’s not forget the distinctive octagonal screwed bezel. Inspired by a ship’s porthole, it was unusual to say the least.
Inside beat an ultra-thin automatic caliber developed in conjunction with Jaeger-LeCoultre. JLC called it the 920. AP called it the 2121. This same movement was later used by Patek Philippe in its own Gerald Genta designed steel sport watch, the Nautilus.
 
The Royal Oak Jumbo was also one of the first watches to feature an integrated bracelet. This means it attaches directly to the case, something we take for granted today. It was made by a Geneva manufacturer by the name of Gay Frères. Sporty and comfortable, the bracelets were known for their thinness and their ability to be stretched.

Enter The Royal Oak Offshore – Is Bigger Better?

People hated the Royal Oak until they loved it. And that didn’t take long. Twenty years later, history would repeat itself, this time with another young watcher designer. At 22 years of age, Emmanuel Gueit was told to make the iconic Royal Oak ‘bigger’. Sales were waning and Stephen Urquhart, joint managing director of AP, needed a way to bring in a new audience. He wanted to broaden the appeal of the Royal Oak collection. Make it younger, fresher. But how do you reimagine an icon?
 
Gueit knew that trying to get too clever with the near perfect design of the Royal Oak could be disastrous. So instead he chose to focus on making it bigger. Literally. It took four years to bring something to market. Not because of any inherent complexity in the design or manufacturing process though. No, Gueit’s vision for a larger watch was considered so outrageous that AP put the project on hold several times. When the new model finally debuted at Baselworld in 1993, it was easy to see why.
At 42mm in diameter, the case was huge for the time. Responses ranged from disbelief to outright ridicule. It was mockingly nicknamed ‘the Beast’ by industry insiders. Genta himself reportedly stormed the AP booth claiming they had ruined his original design. Needless to say, few expected it to become a commercial success.
 
The case size and design weren’t the only thing Gueit changed though. He wanted to make the Royal Oak Offshore an overtly sporty and masculine watch. He didn’t try to hide the fact that this was a highly functional timepiece. Yes, it was a luxury watch but it was also fit for purpose. To that end, he left visible the large rubber gasket lining the area under the bezel. It was responsible for ensuring the watch’s water resistance. Normally, this type of utilitarian equipment is hidden away within the case. It was considered bad taste to put it on display for all to see. Likewise, the use of silicon rubber for the chronograph pushers also caused a stir.
Nowadays the use of rubber in luxury watchmaking is commonplace. But it wasn’t always this way. The Royal Oak Offshore played a significant role in that. Although arguably, the original pioneer was Hublot.
 
As with the Royal Oak, the outrage eventually faded. Slowly but surely the ROO began to gain in popularity. The Beast, as it turns out, would go on to be a huge commercial success for AP. It would also mark a turning point in the industry. It helped pave the way for the use of other materials from outside of watchmaking like ceramic. Or carbon fibre.
 
So, now that we know a little more about these two legendary models, which one is better?

The AP Royal Oak Chrono Vs The Royal Oak Offshore Chrono

To the casual observer, it may be difficult to differentiate between these two models. At least until they are put side by side. That’s because the Royal Oak Offshore takes many of its aesthetic cues from the Royal Oak. Like the distinctive octagonal bezel held in place by eight screws. Or the blue dial with “Tapisserie” pattern. Not to mention the brushed stainless steel case with integrated steel bracelet. That is where the similarities end though. These are two different watches with their own distinctive personalities.
The Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph ref 26237ST
The Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph ref 26237ST made its debut in 2018, marking the 25th anniversary of the ROO. It is an almost faithful recreation of the original “Beast”. Its angular case measures 42mm x 14.4mm. Very reasonable dimensions for a chronograph by today’s modern standards. The exposed gasket between the bezel and the case is in a blue matching the dial. Same goes for the blue rubber-clad push pieces and screw-locked crown. All of which work together to provide a 100m water resistance.
The distinctive pattern on the dial is called “Petite Tapisserie”. It was borrowed by Gueit from the original Royal Oak. Hours and minutes are displayed centrally by Royal Oak hands with a luminescent coating. Luminescent white gold markers denote the hours. Except where they are interrupted by a sub-dial or the date window. Chronograph seconds are also shown centrally. The chronograph hour and minute counters appear at 6 and 9 o’clock respectively. Running seconds are shown at 12 o’clock. Around the periphery of the dial is a blue inner bezel with tachymeter display. The look is sporty but well-balanced with just a hint of sophistication.
 
Inside is the self-winding manufacture caliber 3126 / 3840. The base calibre is developed in-house by AP. It uses an add-on module by Dubois-Depraz for the chronograph. Just as the original Beast did. Protected by a solid steel caseback, it is made up of of 365 parts. It beats at 21,600 vph and offers a power reserve of 50 hours. It’s worn on an integrated steel bracelet with AP folding clasp.
 
Although it’s an anniversary model, the ref 26237ST is not a limited edition. Rather it is a boutique exclusive. That means you can only buy one new from Audemars Piguet monobrand boutiques. Recommended retail is GBP 24,500.
The Royal Oak Chronograph ref 26331ST
The Royal Oak Chronograph ref 26331ST is smaller than its ROO counterpart at 41mm. It’s also slimmer, with a case measuring 11mm thick. These dimensions are better suited for daily wear but they’re also less sporty and robust. There’s no visible gaskets or rubber of any kind of course. This is a more refined and elegant design. Although the crown still is of the screw-down variety. That helps ensure water resistance of 50m. Not substantial but then again this is not a watch you’re likely to go swimming with.
 
This time a “Grande Tapisserie” pattern features on the gradient blue dial. Oversized rhodium-toned chronograph counters appear at 3 and 9 o’clock. Minutes on one, hours on the other. Running seconds appear on a smaller sub-dial at 6 o’clock. Around the periphery are baton-shaped white gold applied hour-markers. Like the central Royal Oak hands, they have a luminescent coating. A small date window appears between 4 and 5 o’clock.
 
Providing the power is the manufacture calibre 2385. A self-winding movement, it is comprised of 304 parts. Unlike the ROO, it features an integrated column-wheel chronograph mechanism. This is part of the reason why the case can be slimmer. Also operating at 21,600 vph it offers a power reserve of 40 hours. Like the ROO, it comes on an integrated steel bracelet with AP folding clasp.
 
The ref 26331ST is available from all authorised Audemars Piguet dealers. Meaning it is not a boutique exclusive. Recommended retail is GBP 21,500.

Which Is Better?

This is a tough call and one that largely comes down to personal preference. On the one hand the ref 26331ST offers an integrated chronograph movement. Its dimensions are better suited to daily wear and its style is less polarising. It’s also GBP 3,000 cheaper. Yet the ref 26237ST is undeniably cool. Its sporty, functional and has real personality. Not to mention it is representative of a pivotal moment in AP’s history. Indeed in the history of the watchmaking industry as a whole.

For me, it’s the Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph ref 26237ST all the way. I’m not saying it’s a better watch. I just think it’s a better representative of this genre. Genta didn’t design his watch to be a chronograph. Gueit did. If I’m going to own a Royal Oak it’s got to be the original. Or the closest thing to it. Same goes for the Royal Oak Offshore.www.audemarspiguet.com


Technical Specifications: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Self-Winding Chronograph Ref 26331ST.OO.1220ST.01

  • Case: 41mm x 11mm thick – steel – glare-proofed sapphire crystal – solid caseback – screw-locked crown – waterproof to 50 metres.
  • Dial: Blue with “Grande Tapisserie” pattern – centre hour and minute Royal Oak hands with luminescent coating – central chronograph seconds – oversized chronograph counters at 3 and 9 o’clock – white gold applied hour markers – date.
  • Movement: Manufacture Calibre 2385 – unidirectional self-winding – integrated column wheel chronograph – 3.00Hz – 40-hour power reserve.
  • Bracelet: Integrated stainless steel bracelet with AP folding clasp
  • Price: GBP 21,500.

Technical Specifications: Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Self-Winding Chronograph Ref 26237ST.OO.1000ST.01

  • Case: 42mm x 14.4mm thick – steel – glare-proofed sapphire crystal – solid caseback – blue rubber clad push pieces and screw-locked crown – waterproof to 100 metres.
  • Dial: Blue with “Petite Tapisserie” pattern – centre hour and minute Royal Oak hands with luminescent coating – central chronograph seconds – chronograph counters at 12 and 6 o’clock – white gold applied hour markers – tachymeter scale on inner bezel – date.
  • Movement: Manufacture Calibre 3126/3840 – bidirectional self-winding – variable inertia blocks – Dubois-Depraz chronograph module – 3.00Hz – 50-hour power reserve.
  • Bracelet: Integrated stainless steel bracelet with AP folding clasp
  • Price: GBP 24,500.

 

Tom Mulraney
Tom Mulraney
Founder & Editor
Tom likes to write about luxury watches. So much so, that he created The Watch Lounge just so he would have an outlet for his passion. Together with his team, he is dedicated to bringing you original, entertaining (and maybe even a little educational) luxury watch and lifestyle content.

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