Even though it would be impossible to hide all the buzz, the discussions and the emotions that surrounded the launch of this watch – certainly the most commented watch ever – it won’t be the topic today. We could argue with its detractors… We could, but we won’t. Today we are going to be fair, objective and realistic. Because today, over a year after its launch, now that the dust has settled, we’re going to take a second, in-depth look at the Code 11.59 By Audemars Piguet – with the blue dial/white gold Selfwinding Chronograph model. Because, objectively, this watch has a lot to offer.
Reminder – the idea behind Code 11:59 By Audemars Piguet
Thirteen new references, six news models, three brand new calibres, including the much-awaited in-house integrated chronograph… The launch of this brand new collection at the SIHH 2019 was a major step in the history of Audemars Piguet, a new beginning of sorts, a disruptive choice that had nothing to do with yet another octagonal watch inspired by or derived from the Royal Oak. The basic concept with Code 11.59 By Audemars Piguet was to create a new pillar in the collection next to the Royal Oak, Royal Oak Offshore, Royal Oak Concept and Millenary. But one that no one really expected. In fact, we’d known for years that Audemars Piguet was preparing a new collection and that in itself generated a great deal of anticipation around this new product.
The brand was founded in 1875 by Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet in the Vallée de Joux, Switzerland. The following 100 years saw some of the most respectable and desirable Haute Horlogerie creations emerge from a manufacture capable of producing some of the most complex and distinguished watches. The liberation of mentalities that came with the late 1960s and early 1970s had an effect on the brand and in 1972, the Royal Oak was created: a watch that would change the face of this watchmaking company forever. While not an immediate success, this watch slowly became a hit, a cult object and the brand’s main strongpoint… and coincidentally its main weakness.
In the past decade, Audemars Piguet focused its production almost entirely on watches based on Genta’s octagonal design – whether RO, ROO or ROC watches – which represented the vast majority of the watches sold. The classic, round and elegant watch (Jules Audemars collection) had fallen out of favour and the same went for the small, elegant and rectangular Edouard Piguet line. The Millenary is now a watch mostly aimed at a feminine audience. The Royal Oak (and its multiple iterations) made the brand very successful in the past decades; however, this almost mono-product strategy was not devoid of risk. The brand knew it and reacted by introducing Code 11.59 By Audemars Piguet – all of this is explained in the words of CEO François-Henry Bennahmias in our in-depth video, here. But trying to find your place next to a watch as strong and as iconic as the Royal Oak is no easy task.
Today, Audemars Piguet has a bold and modern approach to Haute Horlogerie and this shows in this Code 11:59. The basic concept was to bring back the classic round watch in AP’s collection, yet to have a contemporary, younger approach for a less traditional clientele. The small, conservative dress watch doesn’t really work for the brand, and Code 11.59 represents a new vision of a modern classic. However, there’s more to this watch than just a round case… And we’re going to take a closer look in this review.
Reviewing the Code 11.59 By Audemars Piguet
Audemars Piguet is a brand with a strong (to say the least) identity, forged largely on the shape of a particular case. However, reducing the brand to just that would be an insult to the exceptionally desirable watches that brand has created, including many grande complications, perpetual calendars, chronographs – some of which were revived in the newly introduced [Re]master collection.
The brand’s newest collection couldn’t just be a shape. It had to be a sum of details, savoir-faire and a demonstration of what AP can do in terms of dial making, watch design and, of course, movement making. Once you handle an example of Code 11.59 By Audemars Piguet you understand that it has to be explored, deciphered, observed. This watch is round… but not only. This watch is classic… only from a far distance. This watch is a chronograph… yes, but its movement is state-of-the-art. This watch is less of a statement piece… that is for sure.
An extremely detailed Case and crystal
A watch is first and foremost a three-dimensional object made to be worn, not an object to appear in a magazine or on a billboard. It is a lively object, with proportions, angles, curves, reflections, which change depending on the light conditions, which need to be seen in action. And this is where Code 11.59 By Audemars Piguet becomes something unique. Forget about the early images and hands-on; this watch, its case, its crystal and its shape is impressively detailed and deserves to be touched and tested.
Code 11.59 is a bit like (a handsome) Harvey Two-Face. Depending on the angle, the watch reveals two different personalities. From the top, the case is round, with a wide dial opening and almost no bezel. Its lugs also appear pretty simple. Stopping the examination of this case here would be (extremely) reductive. This watch needs to be seen from an angle – which is actually the natural view you’ll have of this watch when worn on the wrist. And then, you’ll discover sides that are highly detailed, complex and even intriguing.
To make a connection with the Royal Oak, the central container of Code 11.59, the part that sits in between the bezel and the caseback, which holds the movement, is octagonally shaped – a discreet reference to what has made the brand so iconic in the past 48 years. This central container is finely brushed and polished, with sharp facets and neat separations between the different finishes. Something that gives this watch its DNA, its identity, but in a discreet, elegant manner.
The same dual nature can be applied to the lugs. From the top, they appear simple. However, these lugs, an integral part of an element that also incorporates the bezel, are hollowed, finished with a brushed surface and complex polished bevels. Funny detail is that the screw heads are hexagonal, simply for visual pleasure, which is again another nod to the hexagonal screws on the Royal Oak. Looking at these details offers a truly different perception of the case.
Regarding specifications, the watch is contemporary sized, with a 41mm diameter and a relatively restrained height (at least for an automatic chronograph) of 12.6mm. The case sits well on the wrist, with some presence but also great comfort due to the positioning of the strap, allowing the whole watch to ‘hug’ the wrist. It is available exclusively in 18k gold – white or pink. Some variations, in two-tone or other materials, will certainly be introduced later. Overall, the execution of the case is impressive, detailed and on par with what you’d expect from Audemars Piguet. The decoration of the surfaces is extremely precise and neat, contributing to the overall luxurious (but not ostentatious) feeling.
Go beyond the first impression… And then Code 11.59 will reveal its true nature.
The second element that is particularly important in Code 11.59 By Audemars Piguet is its crystal. We usually don’t spend much time exploring this element of a watch in our reviews, as it remains rather simple in most cases. However, here, there’s a lot to discover. Once again, from a top view, nothing really special happens, with the exception of its large diameter and its expansive view of the large dial. But once again, rotate the watch and something happens.
Code 11.59 is equipped with a double-curved crystal; it has a classic convex circular shape on the internal side but it is also curved from 12 to 6 on the external surface. A very complex element that has two-fold manifestations. First, the convex shape reduces deformations and offers an undistorted view of the dial, even in very angled positions. Secondly, as both the outer and inner surfaces are curved, there’s a magical optical effect, a so-called diffraction grating (when an optical component splits and diffracts light into several beams travelling in different directions) that animates the watch in a truly unusual but fascinating way – I’ve seen myself playing with the ambient light and moving my wrist just to see this effect… Guilty pleasure!
All in all, there’s a double effect with this Code 11.59 By Audemars Piguet. The first approach might be slightly surprising, as the watch appears a bit simplistic. Yet, this watch doesn’t reveal everything at first. It teases you and will only offer you the best it has if you go beyond the first impression. Show it a bit of interest and it will reward you with its true, detailed and superbly executed nature; an object that is far more complex than you’d expect it to be.
The deep blue lacquered dial
This discreet and slightly shy nature of the Code 11.59 By Audemars Piguet, in the sense that it doesn’t give it all away at first sight, is also applicable when examining the dial. Simplistic (maybe too simplistic) on the 3-hand model, the chronograph adds complexity in the display, inherent to this type of watch. It is more animated, more complex and has more depth and surfaces to play with the light.
The Code 11.59 By Audemars Piguet Selfwinding Chronograph is only available for now with dark-toned dials, whether pitch black or the present deep blue colour. As you can see from our photos here, the dial has a glossy, mirror-like surface that is obtained from lacquer, requiring from 8 to 12 layers. The dial is hand-lacquered and hand-polished, resulting in a flawless, smooth surface with no orange peel effect (something you’ll find in a lower-end watches). Lacquer wasn’t the easiest choice since the surface is prone to scratch and many dials are rejected during the production. A complex process that results in a lively dial that changes from light grey-blue to almost pitch black.
The display is classic for a chronograph, with a 3-6-9 layout with slightly oversized chronograph counters and a smaller running seconds. A date window sits at 4.30, a choice in line with the daily vocation of this watch. The sub-counters are framed by a metallic ring and have a matte surface creating contrast and animating the dial. The hands, all executed in 18k white gold, have beautiful, rounded and polished surfaces, despite their relatively simple shapes. Same goes for the baton indexes, simple but beautifully executed. However, the hands are probably the only thing I would complain about; the minute hand is thinner than the hour hand and in dim light conditions it was sometimes hard to see or confused with the central chronograph seconds hand.
Two elements of this dial deserve a special mention. First are the 12 indexes, raised and shaped to follow the curvature of the crystal (convex from top to bottom). Second is the logo, which is applied on the dial and made in 24k gold by a galvanic growth process – the only way to obtain such thin letters.
Finally, the dial, which covers almost entirely the surface of the watch, is framed by a raised and lacquered inner flange, printed with a tachymeter scale, once again to give a sensation of depth.
Like the case, the dial of the Code 11.59 By Audemars Piguet Selfwinding Chronograph is, objectively, perfectly executed. No question regarding the quality of the lacquer or the way the hands and indexes are finished. The subjective feeling here might be that it lacks a bit of personality. It could have more uniqueness, more charm, more warmth. Audemars Piguet could spice it up, give it more energy. No major complaint here and certainly nothing that couldn’t be corrected in the near future.
A new, state-of-the-art chronograph movement
The long-awaited in-house integrated automatic chronograph movement is here! For some years, Audemars Piguet relied on two types of calibres for its automatic chronograph watches. First was a modular architecture, based on the Calibre 3120 – with the Calibre 3126, mostly found in the Royal Oak Offshore collection. Second, was the Calibre 2385, an integrated automatic chronograph movement based on the not so modern Frédéric Piguet 1185 ébauche. Knowing the prestige surrounding the brand, collectors and enthusiasts were expecting more from Audemars Piguet, in the shape of a self-developed and self-manufactured integrated chronograph movement… And it made it into the case of the Code 11.59 By Audemars Piguet Selfwinding Chronograph.
Meet Calibre 4401 – which we already explored in detail in this dedicated article. What is this movement? It is a modern architecture, an integrated automatic chronograph – built as a whole, not as the assembly of a 3-hand movement and a chronograph module since all the parts are seamlessly integrated. It also utilizes the finest options for the actuation of its chronograph functions, meaning a column wheel and a vertical clutch – allowing for a precise start of the chronograph function avoiding the jump of the chronograph seconds hand when the teeth mesh. This movement also features a unique positioning of the hammers and springs responsible for resetting the hands, the three being aligned on a horizontal axis.
Additionally, the Calibre 4401 features a flyback function. Also named retour en vol in French, this allows the chronograph to be returned to zero and restarted instantly with a single push of the button at 4 o’clock. This function allows rapid retiming without the need to push the buttons three times in succession to stop, reset and start the chronograph.
Besides the functions linked to the chronograph, this new movement by Audemars Piguet has a focus on chronometric precision, with a transversal balance bridge rather than a balance cock (more stable) and a large balance wheel with enhanced inertia and 6 adjustment weights. The movement runs at 4Hz and features a large barrel delivering 70 hours of power reserve.
The design and decoration of the movement are very pleasant. It includes straight and circular satin brushing, Geneva stripes and perlage – on both sides of the bridges, even in the hidden areas. The bridges feature large chamfers and are perfectly diamond polished. The 22k gold rotor is openworked with the AP logo (and multiple sharp internal anglages), which offers a superb view of the mechanism.
Code 11.59 – The mature AP
Time for the important part! What do I think of the Code 11.59 By Audemars Piguet Selfwinding Chronograph, after wearing it for more than a week? As said above, there can be no doubts about the quality of the execution – case, dial, crystal and movement are all fine examples of modern Haute Horlogerie. But let’s be more subjective and talk about perceptions and feelings. And for that, let’s introduce some concepts of (basic) psychology into the equation.
In its modern shape, Audemars Piguet is almost entirely defined by a single design, the octagonal Royal Oak. A watch that has become an icon, a cult object and an extremely desirable item, whose fame goes far beyond the small circle of Haute Horlogerie enthusiasts. The risk this entails is that the Royal Oak has become a statement piece. A watch that isn’t bought or worn only for your own pleasure. For some owners (not all of them, of course) it can be an object of belongingness, fulfilling a need for recognition and feeling of “membership”. This, combined with the current trend for luxury sports watches and the shortage of certain stainless steel references, makes the Royal Oak a watch that sits fairly low in the Maslow pyramid (Abraham Maslow’s five-level Hierarchy of Needs).
The situation with Code 11.59 is different. It is a watch that doesn’t reveal itself entirely at first sight. It is a watch that needs to be explored and observed before it reveals its beauty. This makes it a watch that you don’t buy to show off to others that you’ve made it, or that you belong to a certain group. This watch doesn’t reveal its origins like a Royal Oak will do – a watch that can be recognized from a distance. As such, Code 11.59 is a more mature piece, a watch intended for collectors who want a watch for themselves and not for others, a watch that you take the time to contemplate and to enjoy, without the need to tell the world that it is a luxury watch. But when wearing it, you’ll know it is. And in Maslow’s hierarchy, this represents the apex of the pyramid known as ‘self-actualisation’.
What remains is a watch that is exceptionally well-executed, with a great modern movement, a timepiece full of details, angles, reflections that can be contemplated and enjoyed by its wearer. The mature Audemars Piguet.
Price and availability
The Code 11.59 By Audemars Piguet Selfwinding Chronograph, as all other models in the collection, is a boutique exclusive, which is available either in 18k pink or white gold, with a black or blue dial. The present version (ref. 26393BC.OO.A321CR.01) is priced at CHF 42,600.
More details at www.audemarspiguet.com.