Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding
On a recent trip to Le Brassus, Angus Davies took the opportunity to examine the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding at close quarters. Moreover, he spent time looking behind the scenes at the making of this model, witnessing first hand the impressive attention to detail.
Over the years, I have visited Audemars Piguet’s Manufacture in Le Brassus several times. The historical firm is located in a mountainous region of Switzerland which spends most of the winter months draped in snow. During the summer, this village, located in the watchmaking enclave of the Vallée de Joux, bathes beneath clear blue skies and beats to a soundtrack of monastic hush. However, irrespective of the prevailing season, fine watchmaking continues unabated. It has always been this way since the foundation of Audemars Piguet in 1875.
For many admirers of this high-end brand, attention is invariably directed towards the company’s models produced from 1972 onwards. The legendary ‘Royal Oak’ was initially a self-winding steel watch, displaying hours, minutes, seconds and the date. Over the years it has gone on to encompass noble metals and complications, however, the allure of the original continues to shine bright.
In 1993, buoyed by the success of Gérald Genta’s masterful design of 1972, the Swiss firm unveiled the generously proportioned ‘Royal Oak Offshore’. Measuring 42mm in diameter, its scale seemed vast when contrasted with competing watches of the period. Over the years which ensued, the public’s appetite for oversized watches grew exponentially and AP pandered to this horological fetish with several fulsome figured models, including the famous 48mm T3.
A few years ago, I remember chatting to Octavio Garcia, who at the time was the Chief Artistic Officer for Audemars Piguet. I pointed out that the company’s name was invariably associated with the Royal Oak and the Royal Oak Offshore to the exclusion of the brand’s other models. Moreover, AP had been trading nearly 100 years prior to the launch of the Royal Oak and its back catalogue included numerous watches, employing a variety of different shapes and yet, it seemed the watch buying public were unaware of this impressive legacy. My perception at the time was that the prominence of the names ‘Royal Oak’ and ‘Royal Oak Offshore’ had surpassed the awareness of the Maison’s name. However, I remember leaving Octavio feeling that his hands were tied, that with two iconic models on its hands, AP was reticent to explore non-octagonal designs.
Critical comments made from afar
Earlier this year, at SIHH 2019, Audemars Piguet unveiled its Code 11:59 collection. The reaction to the model could only be described as ‘hostile’. Personally, during SIHH I took the opportunity to examine the Code 11.59 Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon to see what all the fuss was about and, to be honest, I loved it. The watch was festooned with smile-inducing details and represented a brave departure from the aforementioned Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore. I was left feeling a tad perplexed as to why this watch had provoked such vitriol.
Visiting Le Brassus
Needless to say, I felt duty-bound to revisit the collection and look at further models in detail. Audemars Piguet kindly acceded to my request to visit its Le Brassus HQ and view the new collection at close quarters.
On arrival, my host proceeded to show an array of vintage models. Some of these models pre-dated the legendary Royal Oak, sporting irregular lines and infused with incredible aesthetic flair. It was clear the brand sought to embrace this amazing creativity when it conceived the Code 11.59.
I was then shown a number of large-format 3D printed models, each depicting a different component of the case. I had seen them before at SIHH 2019, but they still proved fascinating and demonstrated that the brand’s designers had a near-obsessive attention to detail.
Thereafter, I was invited to return back to school and try polishing a large octagonal piece of metal. Some sections had to be bevelled while maintaining the flat profile of neighbouring surfaces. I found the technique challenging to master, but it did prove a suitable means of conveying the skill and patience needed to impart the case with its intended finish.
While the first hour of my AP experience was within the confines of an office, it was not long before I was taken to its modern production facility. Today’s Manufacture does not resemble the company’s atelier of the late 19th century. Now, the brightly lit rooms exhibit a sterile quality, free of dust. Soon I was attired in a pristine watchmaker’s coat and my shoes were clad in disposable overshoes, mitigating the risk of contaminating the immaculate floor.
However, while there was a high-tech aura to the room, traditional craftsmanship prevailed. Watchmaker’s fingertips were clad in pink rubber, preventing parts from the blight of greasy smudges. Screws were skilfully tightened without any heads being scratched or chewed. There were some examples of automation but not to the detriment of quality. Closely looking at a movement, with loupe in hand, revealed perlage, Côtes de Genève and anglage. High-end finishing was omnipresent, perpetuating the brand’s reputation for fine watchmaking.
Finally, I had the opportunity to look at several models from the Code 11.59 collection. I entered a room, with its walls bedecked with a myriad of Royal Oaks and Royal Oak Offshores, including some rare references. More pertinently, I was able to look closely at a few versions of the Code 11.59. There were several models presented for my delectation, however, one stood out from the crowd and, surprisingly, it was the most affordable reference within the collection, the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding.
The Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding is offered in three colours of dial: black, blue and white. It is this latter option which appeals to me the most. The epidermis of the dial is lacquered and sits in eye-catching concert with the 18-carat pink gold case. The other dial colours are offered with an 18-carat white gold case, however, I found the warmth of the pink gold case particularly engaging.
The hour and minute hands, again formed of 18-carat pink gold, are very slim, albeit they prove simple to read. Indeed, the minute hand enunciates the prevailing time wonderfully by efficiently integrating with the succinct minuterie. The indexes are also 18-carat pink gold and applied to the dial membrane, imbuing the display with a three-dimensional allure. In fact, the dial repeatedly plays with depths. For example, the rehaut, marked with 5-minute integers, sits higher than the main dial plane.
Appraising the design of the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding, one discovers numerous instances where the brand has played with alternating finishes, such as brushed and polished surfaces, and, perhaps more strikingly, different shapes and profiles. For example, the indexes at 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock are cambered, eliciting areas of brilliance and shade.
A date aperture is positioned between 4 and 5 o’clock. Personally, I would have preferred the date to be located at 3 o’clock as it would have proffered superior readability, albeit I concede this is a minor quibble.
Close examination of the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding reveals the brand’s unwavering obsession with the minutiae. The brand’s nomenclature sits below noon. Typically, its broad format and low aspect ratio would necessitate printed text, however, consistent with the numerals, the company’s name is applied. Unusually, the Maison has employed LIGA technology to grow the gold name atom by atom. It is unusual to use LIGA for gold components and ordinarily this state of the art technique is used for making extremely fine movement components. The resultant logo is affixed to the dial membrane with small feet and proves very attractive.
When viewing the watch in one dimension, such as a photograph, the watch has a simple, uncomplicated appearance. However, when viewed up close, its complex composition comes to the fore and its thoughtful design can be readily appreciated.
Unlike the aforementioned Royal Offshore T3, the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding is not unwieldy, measuring a modest 41mm in diameter. Its scale will suit a broad range of would-be wearers.
The sapphire crystal is incredibly complex. It curves along a north-south axis, while internally the crystal is domed. Certainly, the crystal affords a clear view of the dial membrane while simultaneously bestowing a becoming appearance.
Sat adjacent to the sapphire crystal is a supremely slender, curved bezel. It both highlights the magnitude of the expansive dial area as well as imbuing the overall aesthetic with a delicate, softly-spoken character.
Once again, AP has masterfully employed contrast to pleasing effect. While the bezel is curved, the caseback is straight. Both the bezel and caseback are circular, but the caseband is octagonal. The caseband, openworked lugs and crown feature satin-brushed surfaces which are enlivened with tasteful soupçons of highly polished gold. The gleaming internal edges of the lugs resemble the sparkling bevelled edges found on a fine movement, a type of finishing familiar to the Maison since 1875.
The case construction is complex. The openworked lugs are welded to the bezel while resting against the case back. The caseband forms part of a discrete capsule which sits in between the bezel and caseback.
The Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding is supplied on a brown alligator leather strap paired with a pink gold pin buckle. The strap is affixed to the lugs with hexagonal screws.
AP is a Manufacture, based in a region which has been synonymous with making movements for generations. Its watchmaking capability is beyond question. The selfwinding Manufacture calibre 4302 was one of six new calibres unveiled at SIHH 2019 and perpetuates the brand’s reputation for watchmaking excellence. Indeed, while it may be the simplest calibre of this sextet, in terms of complexity, this movement remains a paragon of fine watchmaking.
The first aspect of the movement to arrest the onlooker’s attention is the 22-carat gold oscillating weight. The coat of arms for both the Audemars and Piguet families are presented in relief and are framed with two apertures endowed with pristine, gleaming bevels.
The mainplate is decorated with perlage, jewels and screws sit within polished sinks and the wheels are circular grained. The bridges are adorned with Côtes de Genève motif, engraved with golden text and suffused with sparkling anglage. Quite simply, the finishing is typical of this venerated Maison.
Although this is currently the most affordable Code 11.59, the Swiss firm has not skimped on the specification. The movement incorporates a variable inertia balance which is technically superior to the ubiquitous regulator-type balance. With a variable inertia balance, the moment of inertia is altered by moving weights, which in turn adjusts the rate. By adopting this approach, the hairspring breathes more concentrically, enhancing precision. In the case of the calibre 4302, the balance wheel is fitted with c-shaped massellotes, positioned in-board, mitigating air turbulence and, once again, improving precision. The balance oscillates to a frequency of 28,800 VpH (4Hz).
A large spring barrel harnesses sufficient energy to deliver 70 hours of autonomous operation. The movement contains 257 parts, including 32 jewels.
The Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding is a remarkable ownership proposition. When presented in photographic form it may appear comparatively simple, indeed, some may even say ordinary. However, to base one’s opinion merely on a one dimensional image would be foolhardy. Its composition employs fine materials and the watch is enriched with a myriad of details.
Brushed and polished surfaces are repeatedly positioned side by side, creating contrast. Indeed, I have chatted to watch designers on several occasions and they often use the word ‘tension’ to describe the pairing of seemingly disparate elements which somehow coalesce wonderfully. AP has skilfully imbued the design with numerous instances of ‘tension’ and they confer a richness to the model’s appearance. Further examples of this strategy of producing aesthetic contradistinctions can be seen with the mix of forms such as the arcing bezel and the straight caseback.
Beyond its impressive housing, the dial is pure, elegant and refined. It quietly imparts information with clear tone. The movement is exquisitely finished and endowed with a prodigious power reserve and a variable inertia balance. This is a gorgeous watch infused with a high quotient of mechanical virtue.
In terms of other members of Code 11.59, I also saw first hand the self-winding Chronograph and appreciated its appearance. Moreover, this watch is equipped with a fully integrated chronograph, featuring a column wheel and vertical coupling, a mouthwatering specification which will whet the appetite of any informed horophile. At some future point, I would like to spend more time in the company of this watch.
The Code 11.59 Perpetual Calendar includes an aventurine dial. While I like perpetual calendars, and AP has made some incredible examples over the years, I fail to succumb to the charms of this particular model. Personally, I think the aventurine dial seems a tad busy and would work better on a watch with fewer complications.
However, my reason for mentioning this latter model is that François-Xavier Overstake, a respected commentator within the industry, working for the WatchProSite, recently declared on his Facebook page that the Code 11.59 Pererpetual Calendar has ‘the best dial of the collection’. This perfectly illustrates that opinion is often an expression of personal taste. I would therefore implore any prospective purchaser to visit their local AP boutique, try on their preferred model and form their own opinion, mindful that the AP moniker is a symbol of technical excellence.
Finally, I return to my aforementioned conversation with Octavio Garcia and my perception that all of the brand’s efforts seemed to focus solely on the Royal Oak and its younger sibling, the Royal Oak Offshore. The brand from Le Brassus, under the guidance of François-Henry Bennahmias, stepped outside of its comfort zone, showed courage and made something very different to its existing products. I applaud the brand’s bravery and hope that some of the vitriol that has been directed towards AP does not inhibit the company’s future creativity.
- Model: Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding
- Reference: 15210OR.OO.A099CR.01
- Case: 18-carat pink gold case; diameter 41mm; water resistance 3ATM (30 metres); sapphire crystal to the front and sapphire caseback
- Functions: Hours, minutes, central sweep seconds; date
- Movement: Manufacture calibre 4302; automatic movement; frequency 28,800VpH (4Hz); 32 jewels; power reserve 70 hours; total number of components = 257
- Strap: Hand-stitched alligator leather strap, paired with an 18-carat pink gold pin buckle.
- Price: £23,800 (RRP as at 29.7.2019)