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Review: The Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding Chronograph with Smoked Dial – A New Dress Code

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Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding Chronograph with Smoked Dial

When it comes to marketing gaffes in the watchmaking scene, few come close to being as memorable as the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 launch back in 2019. Long story short, the illustrious Swiss brand hyped the line so far up the stratosphere only to go out on a whimper when the watches were finally presented. Many in the collector circle felt that they were exceedingly plain and basic, while others likened them to watches from Michael Kors or Fossil. The silver lining was that the collection could only get better from there on out. To Audemars Piguet’s credit, that is precisely what is happening.

In July this year, the revered Le Brassus manufacturer introduced gradient lacquered dials to various models within the Code 11.59 collection. The aesthetic change was impactful to say the least, garnering praise from press and enthusiasts alike. While it doesn’t completely fix all that is wrong with the collection, the dial change certainly makes things noticeably better. One model that has benefited from its new visage is the resident chronograph of the collection. Here, we bring you the low-down and our thoughts on the new Code 11.59 Selfwinding Chronograph with smoked dial.

The Case, Dial and Hands

The case of the Code 11.59 Selfwinding Chronograph with smoked dial remains the same as its original incarnation. It’s still got the octagonal case middle, the lugs hanging off the bezel and the back, and of course the really cool warped sapphire crystal at the front. Honestly, the case is one of, if not the best part of the Code 11.59. Audemars Piguet does well to leave the case unaltered, because why fix something that isn’t broken?

Instead of an octagonal bezel, the Code 11.59 line of watches feature an octagonal case middle.

The dial, however, did need some fixing. And in truth, even with this new gradient dial, it still isn’t completely fixed. That said, we’re at a much better place than in the beginning. The issue with the dial back when the collection debuted was that it was severely uninspiring and generic. The dial, the markers, the hands – they were all bland. Now, with the smoked dial, at least part of what was wrong with the visage of the Selfwinding Chronograph is rectified. Gradient dials aren’t exactly a new thing in watchmaking. It is H. Moser & Cie who have really put the gradient dial, or as they prefer to call them: fumé dial, on the pedestal over the years. Here, Audemars Piguet has done something similar. The dial of the Selfwinding Chronograph gradates from a midnight blue in the center to pitch black on the periphery. But that’s not all there is to the dial; it too has a gorgeous sunburst pattern and a smooth lacquer finish. With so much nuance, it is a far cry from what it was previously. Had the Code 11.59 debuted with this, the reactions and reviews wouldn’t have been as crucifying.

Speaking of the hands and markers, they look better here as well even though they remain the same in design. As they say, “a rising tide lifts all boats” – the rising tide here being the smoked dial, the boats being the hands, applied and printed markers. In short, we feel that the effect the dial change has on the Code 11.59 Selfwinding Chronograph cannot be overstated. It may not be a cure-all panacea, but boy does it uplift the watch tremendously.

The new gradating dial colour of the Code 11.59 Selfwinding Chronograph is mesmerising and appealing. This change has significantly uplifted the appearance of the watch.

The movement

Driving the new Code 11.59 Selfwinding Chronograph with smoked dial is the Calibre 4401, which is also used in the original. For fans of the brand, rest assured that the movement is in-house developed, not third-party supplied. For far too long, the Maison had depended on outsourced chronograph movements (save for a few ultra high end models); it was about time the Calibre 4401 came along! The movement has a power reserve of 70 hours, which is fairly respectable for an automatic calibre. The Calibre 4401 is more than just a column wheel chronograph, it also has a flyback function that allows the user to restart the chronograph without stopping and resetting it first. This is a functionality that may be well-known to the average enthusiast but interestingly still isn’t all that common in high end chronograph watches.

The Calibre 4401 as seen through the sapphire crystal case back.

With regards to finissage, the usual Audemars Piguet excellence is present. It’s no Royal Oak Concept chronograph movement but the Calibre 4401 is no gargoyle either. The bridges are endowed with Geneva waves while their edges are chamfered and polished. We’re also big fans of the skeletonised winding mass, which boasts multiple sharp inward and outward angles.

Up close and personal: the polished column wheel and outward angles on the bridge.

The Competitive Landscape

With its new gradient dial, the Code 11.59 Selfwinding Chronograph becomes more attractive than ever before. No longer is the watch a bore. Combined with the avant-garde case design, the Selfwinding Chronograph with smoked dial is thoroughly contemporary yet refined at the same time. Also made in other combinations of case material and dial colour, the watch – only available at boutiques – is priced at SGD63,000 or CHF42,600.

At 41 mm in diameter and 12.6 mm in height, the Code 11.59 Selfwinding Chronograph is very wearable and should slip nicely under most sleeves.

When it comes to smoked dials, none are more experienced than H. Moser & Cie. On the contrary, when it comes to chronographs, they are the new kids on the block. At the start of the year, the brand had presented their first ever chronograph timepiece. Make no mistake, the watch is amazing in spite of this being the brand’s first rodeo with the chronograph. It’s not just their famous fumé dial on the watch that has charmed the watch world, but also the rest of the dial design, the sexy bracelet, and of course the paradigm-shifting AgenGraphe chronograph movement. One might be tempted to criticise Moser for not having its own chronograph movement, but it was only until fairly recently that century-old Maisons like Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, and Vacheron Constantin developed their in-house chronograph movements. An in-house movement does not make or break a chronograph watch. Limited to 100 pieces, the Moser Streamliner Flyback Chronograph Automatic is priced at USD39,900 – close to the Code 11.59 Selfwinding Chronograph, and a worthy rival.

The Moser Streamliner Flyback Chronograph Automatic: one of the highlights of 2020.

Up until recently, you wouldn’t expect to find a watch with a gradient dial from Girard-Perregaux. With the introduction of the Laureato Absolute Chronograph in 2019, expect the unexpected. The watch is one of Girard-Perregaux’s most contemporary ever, with a black PVD-treated titanium 44 mm case, 300 m water resistance, and of course a midnight blue gradient dial that fades to black at the periphery (much like the Code 11.59). While Girard-Perregaux’s attempt at contemporary watchmaking via the Laureato Absolute line will take some getting used to, the watches have been nothing short of spectacular. With the Laureato Absolute Chronograph priced at ‘only’ around CHF13,000, it too is deserving of consideration, if nothing else, for its value for money.

The Girard-Perregaux Laureato Absolute Chronograph is one of the brand’s most modern offerings ever.

Final Thoughts

It’s not exactly going to win any awards, but the Code 11.59 Selfwinding Chronograph with smoked dial is certainly one of 2020’s most improved timepieces by virtue of its original form being so average. All that’s left for Audemars Piguet to do is to work on the other dial elements and we’ll have a truly impressive watch. The brand’s attempt to breakaway from the Royal Oak and the stigma of being a one-trick pony is applaudable. The Code 11.59 is a work in progress that is brimming with potential; once the right balance is struck (eventually), we may have ourselves a new icon in Audemars Piguet’s stable.

The new Selfwinding Chronograph comes in other dial colour and case material combinations as well.

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1 Comment

  1. No amount of tweaking is going to make this any better I am afraid… AP should be courageous: scrap this collection and start again! Admitting an error would earn you more respect than this endless agony…