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The Controversial Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet

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February 2019


The Controversial Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet

The Independent giant’s most significant launch since the Royal Oak was met with an initial outcry from the watch community. Is it a clever strategic move with foresight? Or did they get it all wrong?

B

ack to open 2019 with a bang and fireworks!

The past couple of months was a frenzy in the Skolorr world of Independents: opening our London showroom & VIP lounge at The Hour House, SalonQP, private indie shows, the launch of our Independents on Farfetch’s Fine Watch Hub…the list went on.

Then, boom. We entered January abuzz with watch releases shooting in all directions. On top of it all came an avalanche of quick remarks on the brand new collection Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet. It was no doubt the talk of the town in Geneva, where core industry players would kick off the new year en masse for the last time in 10 years for SIHH.

Never one to jump on the bandwagon, we decided to reserve judgement and avoid the official press outlets until we’d see it for ourselves. It brings me to shed a different light from my discovery.

Code 11.59 Self Winding
Code 11.59 Self Winding

Minute Repeater Supersonnerie

Not playing devil’s advocate, I am actually quite fond of the design and development concept. It helped that we had a private presentation not by the Swiss watchmaker’s PR or commercial representatives, who often induce scepticism. Breaking down all the engineering and creative marvels of Code 11.59 was a straight-talker we know inside Audemars Piguet. He was for many years a key watchmaker for the master Philippe Dufour, and trained at WOSTEP (the world’s most prestigious accreditation of Swiss watchmaking) with the likes of Kari Voutilainen and Peter Speake-Marin, who are recognised as some of the best watchmakers out there. His fine watchmaking credentials warrant us the insider low-down minus the marketing spiel.

Instantly, out of the full line-up, what caught my eye was the one with a smoked-blue enamel dial. I was quickly informed that it was the Minute Repeater Supersonnerie. Oh boy, I do have expensive tastes.

This deceptively simple-looking watch actually costs more than double the tourbillons in the range. The price reflects their in-house patented supersonnerie technology that has been on the market since 2016, in two distinct lines Jules Audemars and Royal Oak Concept, and delivers the world’s most amplified crisp chimes in a minute repeater.

Supersonnerie
Supersonnerie
Photo by Percy C. Schoeler of Luxify

Here this enamel dial is even cleaner than the original’s. Just 12, 3, and 9 Arabic hour markers, baton markers in between and for the subsidiary seconds dial at 6 o’clock. I love how clean and fresh it looks, which is in line with major luxury houses’ taste making direction, but that is subjective and the most controversial in public opinions. We are all entitled to our preferences without judgement.

Masterful Concept And Construction

What Audemars Piguet offers in the new collection is less “in-your-face”, so to speak, unless you know where to look. The devil is all in the detail. First off, the double domed sapphire crystal is curved in specific ways to optically project a wider and clearer view of the dial. When you turn the watch around, the new case design reveals an elegant and complex three-part construction. The lugs extend out of the thin bezel in one solid piece of the case top, carved in precious metals, which required entirely new production processes to build.

Crystal
Crystal
Side view
Side view

A seemingly round watch, with a silhouette akin to certain cases produced during their post-war boom years (see Design Reference 1945 at the end of the article), retains the iconic octagon with its case middle. The bottom parts of the lugs look as if they are attached to the case back, but actually just skim the edge of the case by a paper-thin gap. This construction allows the case to house a variety of mechanisms, as seen in the current line-up, and the use of combinations of materials in the future. The concept, engineering, and execution in this design are masterful.

The Controversial Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet
Left: Minute Repeater Supersonnerie 2019. Right: Minute repeater wristwatch, calibre 12PMV, platinum case. Movement made in 1927, watch sold in 1945.

Reconquering Classicism

Most sentiments may indicate a disconnect from the watch community. According to their chief executive, François-Henry Bennahmias, the watchmaker has listened to the market who came wanting not the Royal Oak but a round watch, and ended up with other brand choices. With Code 11.59, they can welcome back those customers and capture a new demographic in years to come. It is a bet on the success of the new collection that will, in time, make up 20 percent of sales.

Most of us have a natural tendency to resist change that shocks our systems. Yet, how many times have I heard the watch community at large criticise Rolex and many major brands resting on their laurels without innovation, or put it bluntly “milking their cash cows”? One may like to consider why and for whom Audemars Piguet is creating this line. It takes vision and conviction to, in Bennahmias own words, “write a new page in the history of the company”, to refresh their existing codes of watchmaking, and create from scratch something that makes a mark not for the next 2 years, but for the next 20 years.

Personally, as someone attuned to the new generations, I find the whole concept and design of Code 11.59 forward-looking with a balance of heritage. The line will evolve, and the form language has enormous potential. Will it stand the test of time? Time will tell.

Sky SIT
Sky SIT
Founder of SKOLORR, the curated platform for the pedigreed independent watchmakers. Skolorr is official partners with Farfetch and Quintessentially, to offer fine watches for their tastemakers and coolhunters. Sky has operated at the heart of the Swiss watchmaking industry for a decade. With passion and insider insights, she reveals the fascinating world of Independent Watchmaking from a perspective out-of-the-ordinary.

Design Reference 1945

According to Audemars Piguet’s “bible” of complicated wristwatches, as dubbed by Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie Journal, during the post World War II boom years of the late 1940s – 1960s, the watchmaker entered a “Golden Age” of creative and technical watch design. Just as the War came to an end in 1945, they sold this unique platinum minute repeater wristwatch with a contemporary design language consistent throughout.

Audemars Piguet 20th Century Complicated Wristwatches

The distinct classic look comes from a few key elements that complement one another. The bezel is incredibly thin. The subtlety of the bezel helps showcase the stunning silvered dial with applied alternating Arabic numerals and hour-markers that are precisely set at specific angles. The lugs are proportionally large for the case and come with strong geometric facets, creating a complex polygonal design. This specific case form housed other mechanisms during the 1940s, yet this was the only minute repeater produced in the style.