Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Tourbillon Openworked
Before we begin, let’s get it all out of our systems: the Code 11.59 collection is, overall, a train wreck and a half for many reasons, some more obvious than others. With that out of the way, now we can move on to the silver lining. There is an exception within the series, an exception that proves the rule, but an exception nonetheless. We’re, of course, talking about the Tourbillon Openworked, the most liked model from the much-maligned Code 11.59 collection. Let us preface this review by saying that the watch is genuinely beautiful and looks even better in real life than in press photographs. So without further ado, we bring you the low-down and our thoughts on the watch, and how it has managed to escape the wrath of the watch community.
The Case, Dial, and Hands
While not yet as iconic as the Royal Oak case, the case of the Code 11.59 is just as distinctive. Its design is as unique as it gets like only Audemars Piguet knows how. Is it round? Is it octagonal? Well, surprise, it’s kinda both. The outline of the case certainly is round but the main body – or rather, the case middle – is actually octagonal, sandwiched between the circular bezel and case back. Another fascinating design element of the case is the ‘warped’ bezel and top sapphire crystal that forms a double curve. Meanwhile, the lugs have been skeletonised to further push the cutting-edge design narrative of the watch. They have also been welded to the bezel and case back with perfect alignment. To top it all off, Audemars Piguet has given the case superlative finishing that rivals that of the Royal Oak. Its alternating brushed and polished surfaces provide stunning visual contrast and is a pleasure to behold.
Moving inwards, we are faced with the dial, or more accurately the movement, since there is no dial. The only bit that could be considered dial proper is the ring on the periphery which bears the minute track, the company marquee, and the ‘SWISS MADE’ inscription. Everything else is technically movement, and it’s probably why the Tourbillon Openworked has emerged relatively unscathed from the painful debut of the Code 11.59. The major discontentment that press and enthusiasts alike had was largely focused on the dial. The dial of the simpler models (such as the date and chronograph) were deemed to be so uninspiring that they were compared to the likes of Michael Kors fashion watches. Again, without a dial, the Tourbillon Openworked doesn’t suffer from this problem. Instead, what we are greeted with is an epic from Audemars Piguet, a labour of love: the Calibre 2948. The way the Calibre 2948 has been skeletonised is artistic and purposeful, allowing it to double as the visage of this avant-garde timepiece. We’ll cover more on the movement in the movement section below, but for now, suffice to say, nobody does openworking quite as amazingly as the Le Brassus brand. Apart from the openworking, we also like how the mesmerising tourbillon display at 6 o’clock is balanced with the mainspring barrel at 12 o’clock. The only element that looks mildly out of place is the skinny stick hands for the hours and minutes. They’re not deal-breakers by any means, but there definitely are better suited styles of hands for the Tourbillon Openworked, perhaps something along the lines of openworked dauphine or alpha hands.
Driving the Code 11.59 Tourbillon Openworked is the 196-part, 19-jewel manufacture Calibre 2948. The movement boasts a commendable minimal power reserve of 80 hours and beats at a steady 3 Hz frequency. This stately beat rate allows for better appreciation of the tourbillon display and also reduces energy consumption, which is important in a power-hungry movement like the Calibre 2948.
All that is good and all, but where the movement well and truly shines is in the architecture, craftsmanship, and finissage departments. Audemars Piguet are in a league of their own when it comes to skeletonised movements. Every component that can be pared down has been pared down expertly without sacrificing structural integrity. And Audemars Piguet does so with such artistic flair. The geometric design of the skeleton bridges, plates, and barrel cock are hypnotic. The curves are sensual and just so aesthetically pleasing. Even the mainspring barrel has been generously openworked, revealing the mainspring within – a treat for the watch geeks among us.
But it’s not just the design and architecture that makes the Calibre 2948 so impeccable, it’s also the incredible finissage. The tourbillon, as the centre of attention in this timepiece, has been given the touch up it deserves. The tourbillon cage, in spite of its austere design, is magnificently polished, including its beveled edges. Speaking of beveled edges, there’s plenty to be found on the bridges, plates, and cocks due to their openworked nature. Hands down our favourite bit about the Calibre 2948 though, is the sheer number of inward angles (over 20!) that can be found. Inward angles are by far the most difficult type of anglage to execute, and can only be done by the hands of a skilled finisseur. A lesser manufacture would’ve balked and shied away from this daunting task and used rounded angles instead. Thank Kronos that Audemars Piguet took up the challenge, because we wouldn’t be raving about the Calibre 2948 otherwise.
The Competitive Landscape
The Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 was supposed to be a reminder to the world that the manufacture can indeed make something remarkable that isn’t related to the Royal Oak. In our opinion, while the casing for the Code 11.59 collection hits the bullseye, for the most part, the dials are a huge miss. We’re willing to bet that the Code 11.59 collection would’ve been received much differently (i.e. with less hostility) if only the Tourbillon Openworked was presented – yes, that’s how highly we think of the watch. A watch like the Tourbillon Openworked is only born from exemplary manufacturing, design, craftsmanship, and finissage. Such excellence, as you might imagine, does not come cheap; the Code 11.59 Tourbillon Openworked in pink gold is priced at CHF175,000.
Just one step up the pricing ladder and we get to the Breguet Classique Tourbillon Squelette 5395 at USD220,000 for the rose gold variation. It is pricey, but the watch packs a ton of horological goodies within it. For one, it is ultra-thin, with a movement that is only 3 mm thick. For another, much like the Code 11.59 Tourbillon Openworked, it is incredibly well-designed, -manufactured, -crafted, and -finished. If you thought there were a lot of inward angles in the Tourbillon Openworked, well, you’re right – but there are even more in the Classique Tourbillon Squelette 5395. Nothing warms a watch geek’s cold dead heart like a movement filled with inward angles at every opportunity. Other perks include a much larger tourbillon, a peripheral rotor, and Breguet’s signature coin-edge casing and open-tipped hands.
For something a little more ‘accessible’, look no further than the Arnold & Son Time Pyramid Tourbillon. At USD50,000 for the rose gold version (USD40,000 for the stainless steel variation), the watch offers great value for anyone looking for an openworked tourbillon watch. The openworked dial reveals a movement – also openworked – that is designed to resemble a pyramid with the tourbillon regulator at the peak. There are also two power reserve indicators for each of the two mainspring barrels of the timepiece. Naturally, at almost a quarter of the price of the Code 11.59 Tourbillon Openworked, one can’t expect ultra-high end finissage (note, the lack of inward angles, for example). That said, the Time Pyramid Tourbillon is still attractively finished and no matter how you slice it, the watch offers big bang for buck for prospective buyers.
Despite belonging to the dysfunctional Code 11.59 family, the Tourbillon Openworked defies all odds to rise as a mercurial Audemars Piguet original creation. Its case design is revolutionary, its visage, a work of art. Perhaps if Audemars Piguet came up with more pieces like the Tourbillon Openworked, the Code 11.59 debut fiasco would be forgiven – eventually. Until then, the Tourbillon Openworked will have to be the lone shining star of Audemars Piguet’s latest endeavor to break free from the Royal Oak.