Opinion: Meditations on the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59

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Audemars Piguet announced a new line to “supplement” their ultra successful Royal Oak line with the Code 11.59 this SIHH. A strange name, and even stranger way to introduce it. The immediate reaction from press and collectors seem to be largely negative. I too had my share of doubts, but I have seen and handled the collection, and have had about a month to mull over and meditate over the new line. Here are my thoughts.

Code 11.59

They say, if you have to explain an name, you have lost the first battle. Audemars Piguet chose a cryptic name for the line. Code 11.59. Perhaps intended to be tongue in cheek, perhaps conceived to break the rules, so to speak…after all their mantra for ages have been, “To break the rules, you must first master them.” Perhaps after decades of Royal Oak success, they feel they have mastered the art.

The Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Tourbillon Skeleton.

But the name Code 11.59 needs to be explained. Methinks, this is bad move #1.

The Code 11.59 is cryptic, indeed a acronym for Challenge, Own, Dare, Evolve. And 11.59 is a minute before midnight, just before the day changes – “at the brink of tomorrow” the marketing blurb declares, “ahead of the game”. Altogether too complicated…but then again, it got everybody talking, and now everybody knows about the AP Code 11.59.

The launch campaign

To play on the cryptic theme, or perhaps not to, the launch campaign the line is, in my view, quite strange as well.

Apparently only two publications, both online, were privy to the watches prior to opening day at SIHH. A third happened to be at the manufacture and saw the watches, and were given a peek and hands on as well. But that was it. No other press or anyone else had wind of the line till the Press Kits were released on Day 1 of SIHH 2019. Even the display showcases on the outside of the Audemars Piguet booth were empty, provoking the mystery further.

The Code 11.59 SuperSonnerie is a rather amazing extension to the line. Though the movement was not new, the original SuperSonnerie’ had superb sonics (our full review here). The new version is now sports a gorgeous smoked blue enamel dial.

And the first images released were unimpressive, to say the least. And this got the hate machine started. As no more than a small handful from the media had seen and had hands-on with the watches, it fell on the same few to defend the rumour mongering. And as a result, the general perception was negative. Bad move #2.

This was particularly so when the watches needed to be seen in life, and handled to appreciate the nuances and attention to detail. I estimate that sight unseen, probably 70% would think the watches are not worthy, but the tables would be flipped after experiencing the watches first hand. Anecdotal, of course. But my gut feel.

And to add insult to injury, the South East Asia Press Briefing was the last session in all of the show, being at 3:15pm on the last day. Perhaps for traditional print media, it makes no practical difference. But for online media, and for the the Social Media crowd, it meant that our audience did not get any direct hands-on feedback of the watches till the show was over.

The dials

The first reactions to reach the ears of those of us who were in the PalExpo, but not yet seen the watch, was the dials are awful. Perhaps the poor reception is also exacerbated when some photographers were told not to shoot the watch square on the dial. When I did get the chance to handle the watches and to photograph them, this request was not essential as I don’t shoot watches that way.

The chronograph carries a lacquer dial, and the markings are rather clear and legible.

In actual fact, the dials were not awful. I found them to be mostly quite nice. Perhaps the borderline exception is the white dial on the automatic watch – the simplest of the collection. As shown in the photograph below, the dial may not win beauty contests, but is not at all horrid as some would have you believe. As outlined in the caption, the dial does have interesting details. And not half as bad.

The simplest of the Code 11.59: automatic. Perhaps the most maligned for a bad dial – in white. However, in fairness, we do note that the details are not unimpressive, viz the stepped chapter ring with a chamferred inner side. The applique numerals and AP logo which is 3D printed in gold, and the way the hands are stacked.

Each of the members in the collection featured a different take on the dial. As mentioned in the photo captions above, the minute repeater had a smoked blue grand feu enamel dial, and the chronograph features a black lacquer dial. I also found the aventurine dial on the perpetual calendar to be rather beautiful.

The adventurine dial on the Perpetual Calendar.

Perhaps some would argue that the dials were disappointing, especially in comparison to the magnificent guilloche dials that adorn the Royal Oaks (see here for our manufacture visit which impressed us with the work that has gone into those dials)?

But for me, at least, once I handled the watches, the news of poor dials on the Code 11.59 are unfounded and evaporated immediately. They are every bit as good as the others found in AP watches. Like those in the traditional Edward Piguet and Jules Audemars collection. Incidentally, I have heard rumours that both these collections will be discontinued. It would be a great shame if indeed these rumours are true, as both these lines are classical and beautiful.

The case

As expected, the case defines the AP collection. The Royal Oak and the Offshore which followed were iconic for its unique shape and construction. And the Code 11.59 is no different.

Though nominally looking like a round cased watch, the design details on the case is quite amazing. First the octagon from the Royal Oak origins are reflected in the case middle, which retains the 8 sided shape. The bezel on the dial side is round and ultra thin, almost vestigial. The back bezel on the movement side is also round, and together defines the generic shape of the case. The design presents technical challenges, and a new manufacturing process was required to solder the lugs to this extremely thin surface.

The case is a very complex octagon (DNA from Royal Oak) within a circle, as can be seen here. Also the lugs are soldered to the upper bezel and cantilevered to the bottom. The tolerances needed for a small and uniform gap places considerable demand on the precision machining.

The lugs themselves are also of interest. The lugs are open worked, and subtly ergonomically shaped to hug the wrist. And they do so quite well. Though the cases are only 41mm in diameter, and not large by the standards these days, they wear even smaller. And fit comfortably on my wrists and I expect many others.

The yellow arrow shows the very small, and very consistent gap across the “leaning” bottom lug and the back bezel.

The upper part of the openworked lugs is welded to the extra-thin bezel, while the lower part “leans” delicately against the caseback in perfect alignment. This very small gap is very consistent throughout, and is testament to the precision machining needed.

The combination of the curved lugs and the design of the case ergonomics make the 41mm case wear smaller than it is.

The finishing is also very refined. With satin-brushed, bevelled and polished, the bezel, lugs and case providing excellent visual interest.

The complications

To me, one of the most impressive aspects of the new Code 11.59 is that Audemars Piguet announced a new collection, and immediately, the entire line is filled with 13 references, with models in stainless steel and gold. The collection spans the complication spectrum with six calibers, from the simple three hand automatic watches with date, to a brand new chronograph, perpetual calendars, two tourbillons and a minute repeater.

The new chronograph movement – the first from Audemars Piguet, with flyback and integrated column wheel.

As mentioned, a new chronograph movement is always impressive, though perhaps a bit long in the tooth and way overdue. The new chronograph movement – AP Cal. 4401 is the first ever from AP wrist watch. The famous Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore chronographs have used a F. Piguet (now Manufacture Blancpain) and a Dubuis Depraz module on a base movement respectively.

Detail on the tourbillon carriage and the massive blackened bridge supporting it on the Code 11.59 Tourbillon Skeleton. This self winding tourbillon movement is also a new caliber from AP.

This is indeed impressive. I don’t remember in recent history any other brand who have introduced a new collection with almost all the complications boxes ticked. Perhaps the closest was the introduction of the Vacheron Constantin Harmony Series in 2015, though VC was not able to keep up with this pace with the FiftySix for 2018, releasing 3 new models in SIHH, and an additional one in September. We are aware of at least one more new FiftySix model which will be released soon.

The selfwinding caliber 4302 with seconds indication and date is also new, and rather pleasant looking. Finishing details are good.

Releasing a whole collection comprising a spectrum of the complications is indeed a big feat, especially so when all 6 calibers featured are in-house, and three of which are new: the integrated column wheel chronograph with flyback function, the selfwinding calibre with seconds and date indication, and the selfwinding flying tourbillon calibre.

The SuperSonnerie movement. Picture from AP Press Kit, as the SuperSonnerie had a closed back. See why from our original Concept SuperSonnerie review.

And François-Henry Bennahmias, CEO of Audemars Piguet is putting his bets on the Code 11.59 but placing his money where his mouth is. He told us that he will reduce the production volume of the Royal Oak (and derivatives) to devote manufacturing capacity to the Code 11.59 for the next couple of years. No intent to increase overall production. Brave to take away production from the star money churning product to bet on the future? Perhaps, but a move which may prove to be very clever in the long run.

Concluding thoughts

In summary, I think the Code 11.59 deserve a closer look than many are prepared to give. The meme factory was alight in Social Media platforms over the SIHH, but almost all concocted by folks who have not even seen or handled the watches.

The smoked blue enamel dial on the Tourbillon in white gold. A version with a black enamel dial is also offered in a pink gold case. AP Press photograph.

As mentioned, I think the ratio of haters and lovers will switch once the watches are seen and handled. If you have seen and handled the Code 11.59 and feel they are not worthy, then I respect that. More power to you. But many of the naysayers have neither seen nor handled the watches, and is thus evil to spread negativity. As for me, I only made up my mind after seeing and handling the Code 11.59 watches, and taken the month to reflect and ponder over the implications. I hope this has been helpful.

We will be running hands-on analytical reviews on most of the Code 11.59 watches over the next months. Watch out for those.