Brawn, Meet Brains: The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication


The Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie is, as most Haute Time readers probably know, the invitation-only event held annually in Geneva during which the luxury watch companies that are part of the Richemont Group –a distinguished list that includes Piaget, IWC, Van Cleef and Arpels, and Cartier –as well as allied firms such as Parmigiani Fleurier, present their new designs for the year. One of the most anticipated presences is always Audemars Piguet, the company perhaps best known for its Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore models, with their distinctive octagonal bezels and (often imitated) crisply defined case geometry. The Royal Oak, with its integrated stainless steel bracelet, was one of the most radical designs of its time; created in a single inspired night by the world-famous watch designer Gerald Genta, it debuted in 1972 and almost single-handedly redefined the idea of a luxury watch.

The Royal Oak Offshore followed 21 years later, in 1993, and has been such a runaway success for Audemars Piguet that it has nearly succeeded in eclipsing the Royal Oak itself. Its unabashedly masculine proportions take the timeless elegance of the Royal Oak and redefine them as a bold statement of testosterone fueled assertiveness. A ready vehicle for a plethora of often dramatically styled limited editions, the Offshore has been many things to many fans of Audemars Piguet, but if anyone had asked us, we’d have told them to forget about seeing high complications in an Offshore case –this burly sports watch, with its ursine heft, just never seemed as if it could make a happy marriage with the ultra-complex high complications for which Audemars Piguet has –for centuries –been famous.

And we’d have been wrong. The Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication is one of the most spectacularly successful examples of this venerable form we’ve ever seen –all the more so for overturning our expectations of what a “grand comp” should look like. A little background: “grande complication” is a term which is used somewhat loosely these days, but originally it meant a watch that contained three of watchmaking’s most challenging complications: a minute repeater, a split-seconds chronograph, and a perpetual calendar. (Though many don’t realize it, a split-seconds chronograph was historically considered a high complication, thanks to the extreme care necessary in its construction and in the adjustment of the split timing mechanism.) At Audemars Piguet, however, “grande complication” means exactly what it meant a hundred years ago, and the futuristic lines of the Offshore are a perfect foil for the austere refinement of the movement –think I. M. Pei’s glass pyramid at the Louvre.

Inside is the self-winding grande complication calibre 2885, which has a total of 648 components and which is entirely assembled by a single watchmaker. In a world of mass produced luxury, the calibre 2885 remains an extremely exclusive, entirely hand-assembled and finished work of mechanical art –requiring over 700 hours of work, each Royal Oak Grande Complication is entirely finished, assembled, and adjusted by one craftsman, whose ability to execute the enormous range of different operations required is the result of decades of practice, and an innate talent for painstaking labor on a microscopic scale that few possess even in the world of watchmaking.

It’s a powerful example of both absolute mastery of watchmaking’s most demanding arts and crafts, and a dynamic demonstration of Audemars Piguet’s ability to continue to think radically outside the box.

The Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication Titane is offered in a 44mm titanium case (a materially acoustically well suited for a watch that incorporates a chiming complication.) 44mm diameter, water resistant to 20m (though if this were ours, we doubt we’d push our luck.) Self-winding split seconds chronograph, with minute repeater, perpetual calendar, and age and phase of the moon. Oscillating mass for the automatic winding train can be customized to the client’s requirement. Extremely limited edition of 3 pieces only, worldwide. For price and availability contact Audemars Piguet.

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