A Week On The Wrist: The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Diver Review

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The Royal Oak Offshore Diver from Audemars Piguet was one of the hottest announcements at SIHH 2010.  Clients waited for months to get their hands on this watch, the first diver from AP to be ISO certified and one that many deemed to be the second coming of the original Royal Oak, a watch that would define a category.  Most viewed the Diver as a luxury sport watch, and it is, but we wanted to test the Diver in the conditions that it was engineered for.  So, we gave this $17,100 luxury timepiece to our resident dive watch expert and set him free in the waters of Bonaire.  He took it 100 feet into the ocean, into a shipwreckked drug boat, and back out for one week's time.  Here are his findings.  Oh, and of course, we video-taped the whole thing.  This just might be the very first review of the Royal Oak Offshore Diver, as written by an actual diver. 

100 feet underwater isn't the best place to start wondering if you’ve properly screwed the crowns on a $17,100 mechanical timepiece. I had double- and triple-checked the seals and springbars back on land, while suiting up for a dive on the Hilma Hooker wreck in Bonaire, but just to be sure, I gave them another twist. I descended the sloping reef to the capsized ship, a freighter that sank in 100 feet of water not long after it was seized by authorities who had discovered 25,000 pounds of marijuana hidden aboard. Along with me was no ordinary dive watch - this was the Royal Oak Offshore Diver, the 2010 release from vaunted Le Brassus manufacture Audemars Piguet, with the lovely automatic calibre 3120 inside. It would be a crime against horology to flood this baby.

The Royal Oak Version 2.0

The ROO Diver represents a milestone for AP, just like the original Royal Oak did 39 years ago. Introduced in 1972 with the help of Gerald Genta it was the first true luxury sports watch, a steel timepiece that cost about ten times that of a Rolex Submariner of the same era. It was a make-or-break moment for AP and it ended up defining a genre. 40 years later, the ROO Diver is again raising the bar. It is the Royal Oak for a new generation and it’s no coincidence that the double hash 12-o’clock dial marker is the first of its kind since the original reference. Inside the 30-bar pressure proof case lays one of the finest automatic movements made today, a hand-decorated in-house 40-jewel masterpiece with a solid 22-carat gold rotor and a 60-hour power reserve. So you can understand my concern about its water-tightness.

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The Diver is the first watch from AP to have a double-hash at 12 o'clock since the very first Royal Oak, 39 years ago.While the movement lays frustratingly hidden away inside the 14 mm thick case, with no display back to distract a diver from more important things like air consumption or no-decompression limits, the case is lovely to behold. True to the Royal Oak heritage, it possesses all the usual cues: the porthole-shaped bezel with exposed screw heads, understated dial markers, the amazing “tapisserie” dial and the integrated strap design. The same level of finishing the movement gets is also evident on the case. The steel case sides and the prominent bezel get mesmerizing brushwork while beveled edges of the lugs and bezel get a high polish. The case back design is minimalist but the textured medallion surface is still something visually appealing

AP wanted to make a true dive watch, one that complied with ISO 6425, the international standard for diver’s watches. So they made the baton hands highly distinguishable from each other for optimum readability, added a lume pip on the sweep seconds hand so a diver can tell his watch is running even in dark conditions, a rotating elapsed time bezel and of course, 300 meters of water resistance. Having tested some other heavy hitters (e.g., something from both Girard Perregaux and Bremont) I jumped at the chance to take the ROO Diver deep and see how it would do in the real world. I packed it along with my dive gear and a hi-res underwater video rig and took it for a week to Bonaire  in the southern Caribbean to test its mettle.

A Luxury Diver Goes Diving

The Diver comes with a wide integrated rubber strap with a beautiful signed buckle. While the material is textured and just the right thickness, I found it too short to fit over my 2mm wetsuit sleeve. No problem for warm water diving but for chillier waters where a thicker exposure suit is needed, you’d need to opt for AP’s XL rubber. While most will never need the longer diver's strap, this is after all a diving watch, and we felt this should be mentioned.  The distinctive Royal Oak bracelet is also available but due to the horn-free design, aftermarket dive straps are not an option. At 42mm, the watch case is just about the perfect size for all but the smallest arms, with no wrist overhang and the 14 mm height and tapered bezel means no snagging on hoses or equipment like some of today’s leviathan timekeepers.

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The Diver was the first Offshore to come with a pin buckle in 2010. Customers liked it so much that all new Offshores (44mm) now come with a similar buckle.I’ve never been a fan of internal bezels on dive watches from a functional standpoint. Most are not operable underwater and their crowns must be locked down prior to descent. This eliminates their use for timing underwater swim distances or decompression stops. They also tend to be finicky to use, with gloves on or with wet fingers. While the ROO Diver’s internal bezel doesn’t interrupt the classic Royal Oak design, it is virtually unusable while underwater. The location of the crown on the 10-o’clock position means if the watch is worn on the left wrist, you must contort your right hand to unscrew the crown to adjust it. The movement of the bezel is tight between clicks, requiring considerable effort to turn. Given these shortcomings, I decided to forgo using the bezel altogether on my test dives with the watch.

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Jason found the inner rotating bezel difficult to use on the Diver, but thought visibility was very impressive.Visibility in light and dark conditions is very good on the Diver. The hands are easy to tell apart at a glance and lume application is ample. Reading the time in a dark shipwreck swim-through was surprisingly easy. The gorgeous dial work did not interfere with legibility and the deep black provides good contrast against the hands and markers.

The Royal Oak Offshore Diver is a surprisingly subtle piece, one that I loved wearing. It easily escaped notice from less horologically-inclined divers at the tiki bar or dive shop, a good thing indeed. But to those in the know, the Royal Oak Offshore Diver is a modern day icon. Is it a true dive tool that usurps any need for a digital display when 100 feet down? Certainly not. But for those who want the next level of haute horlogerie sports watch, it has no equal.

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Underwater & in High-Definition

To see Jason and the AP Royal Oak Offshore Diver swimming around the waters of Bonaire, watch the video below.

For more details on the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Diver, click here.  All live photography by Gishani Ratnayake, all studio images provided by Audemars Piguet.

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