Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet with smoked dials – new for 2020
When the Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet was unveiled in 2019, its reception in some quarters was harsh and unwarranted. Thankfully, the Maison from Le Brassus hasn’t lost heart. It recently unveiled an array of additional Code 11.59 models some of which are equipped with smoked sunburst lacquered dials and in some instances, two-tone gold cases. Angus Davies looks closely at the habillage of the Code 11.59 and shares his thoughts.
First, you have to appreciate the intricacies
Richard Wagner (1813-1883), the famous German composer and music theorist, was a controversial figure, known for holding anti-semitic views. Indeed, it is widely believed his anti-semitic writings attracted the attention of Adolf Hitler, culminating in Wagner’s music becoming a firm favourite of the political dictator.
On the other hand, Wagner is widely regarded as the most influential composer of all time. He is known for the ‘Leitmotif’, a musical signature representing a character or theme in opera. His body of work hugely influenced Western music and is held in high esteem by aficionados. To my shame, ‘Ride of The Valkyries’ is one of my favourite pieces of music. It is a guilty pleasure I feel unable to give up.
Wagner’s music, especially his later work, is known for its complex textures, rich harmonies, sublime orchestration and the aforementioned leitmotifs. On hearing a piece of Wagner’s music some people will dismiss it, perhaps describing it as a cacophony or simply stating it is not to their taste. However, it is only by appreciating the intricacies of Wagner’s music, its various details and nuances, that a person can legitimately express an opinion.
Sight and touch are the essential prerequisites when forming an opinion
I remember where I was on Sunday 13th January 2019. I was in Geneva, enjoying dinner while viewing a number of posts on Instagram. These posts included images of the Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet, many accompanied by derogatory comments. Some posts featured a modified image of AP’s new model paired with the dial of a fashion watch. At the time, I remember looking at the image of the new AP and thinking it looked fine, but I chose to reserve judgement until I saw the watch in person.
The following morning, the doors opened to SIHH 2019 (now renamed ‘Watches and Wonders’) and a few days later I had the opportunity to look closely at the Code 11.59 Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon. ‘In the flesh’ the watch looked fabulous. A few months later, I managed to view the Code 11.59 Selfwinding at close quarters as well as the chronograph and the perpetual calendar. On seeing the watches I saw little reason for complaint; quite the contrary in fact.
Each example of the Code 11.59 is endowed with numerous details. The dial, case, movement and even the sapphire crystal are all enriched with delightful flourishes of style and numerous subtleties. Put simply, each version of the Code 11.59 that I have handled to date has impressed me. I haven’t cradled the Minute Repeater Sonnerie in my hands or fondled a Tourbillon Openworked, hence I will reserve judgement on these particular models. And, that is my point, it is difficult to form an opinion without knowing all the facts or hearing each crotchet, quaver, minim or semibreve.
A courageous brand
Thankfully, Audemars Piguet has not lost heart. It recently unveiled an array of additional Code 11.59 models some of which are equipped with smoked sunburst lacquered dials and in some instances, two-tone gold cases. The esteemed marque has courageously combined 18-carat white gold with 18-carat pink gold.
From the outset when the Swiss firm was founded in 1875 and up until 1978, the company’s archives show AP made only one wristwatch encased in a combination of white and pink gold. Therefore, I employ the word ‘courageously’ because there appears to be a lack of historical data that Audemars Piguet could draw upon and evaluate prior to the creation of these new two-tone models. Perhaps the brand commissioned market research prior to launching the new Code 11.59 models or maybe someone just went with their gut instinct. In my opinion, considering the unwarranted criticism of 2019, AP has shown extraordinary courage by enlarging the Code 11.59 collection and this should be applauded.
The dials – more choice and a plethora of details
The Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet is now offered in four additional dial choices: smoked lacquered burgundy, smoked lacquered blue, smoked lacquered purple and a comparatively restrained grey lacquered option.
Once again, the would-be buyer should note the subtle elements. The dial’s hue at its centre is at its lightest before the tone deepens as it reaches the dial’s boundary. Likewise, a sunray motif, comprised of fine lines emanates from the centre of the dial.
Many of the subtle details first seen on the inaugural versions of 2019 have been retained. The indexes on the Code 11.59 Selfwinding comprise of slender batons and Arabic numerals positioned at the four cardinal points with each Arabic numeral featuring an arcing profile. On the Code 11.59 Selfwinding Chronograph, Arabic numerals are positioned at noon alone, affording greater space for the three registers.
The brand’s nomen spans the upper dial area in 24-carat form. Its intricate profile precludes the use of stamping or milling. Instead AP chose to use galvanic growth similar to the LIGA technology occasionally used when making movement components. Indeed, I cannot think of another brand using it for dial-side adornment, especially in precious metal.
Most of the dial is on one level, albeit on the chronograph the registers are slightly recessed. However, the tachymeter scale on the chronograph and the minuterie on the Selfwinding model are positioned on a higher plane, encircling the main dial area. This is a further example of the model’s play with three-dimensional forms.
The case and crystal – more rule-breaking
In 2012, Audemars Piguet employed a new message to convey its savoir-faire, ‘To break the rules, you must first master them’. This philosophy is manifest with the case of the Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet.
The slim round bezel is welded to the upper section of the openworked lugs although closer inspection reveals the lower part of the lugs are slightly spaced away from the case. Indeed, there is a minuscule gap which is just sufficient to allow a piece of A4 paper to pass between.
The ‘middle case’, housing the movement, is octagonal, a shape that has bestowed fame and fortune upon the brand, courtesy of its legendary Royal Oak model. Juxtaposing round and octagonal forms creates a degree of aesthetic tension that could have culminated in success or failure. However, the design of the Royal Oak has proved a resounding success.
As mentioned earlier, with the advent of the new dials, some versions of the Code 11.59 are now available in a two-tone case. Using the Selfwinding model with grey lacquered dial as an example, the bezel and lugs are formed of 18-carat white gold while the middle case is presented in 18-carat pink gold. This blend of noble metals delivers an unusual aesthetic that may not be to everyone’s taste, but I am pleased AP has chosen to take the risk.
Some of the new dial options are offered in a single shade of gold for those prospective purchasers of a more conservative persuasion. Irrespective of the chosen model, each case blends satin-brushed, bevelled and polished surfaces. Many of the case’s complex facets necessitate hand-finishing techniques normally used when finishing movements. I recommend when viewing the Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet particular attention is paid to the gleaming chamfered edges of the middle case, the chronograph’s pushpieces and the interior angles of the model’s lugs.
The circular face of the crown’s vertical flank is satin-brushed and adorned with the AP logo. Adjacent this, the surface is polished while the crown’s grip is once again brushed. This interplay of surface treatments is costly to achieve.
The strap is secured to the case, not with the ubiquitous spring bars but with an ingenious system. This comprises of a bar which passes through the top of the strap and engages with two hexagonal screws which also evince a notable shine.
The exhibition case back features a sapphire crystal, glareproofed on one side. The uppermost sapphire crystal, positioned dial-side, is double glareproofed. This latter crystal is ‘double curved’. Its internal surface is domed, while its external surface is curved, arcing along a north-south axis. In addition, the crystal features a bevelled edge. The dial’s resultant appearance is manipulated by the crystal influencing depths and light. Making this crystal requires incredible expertise and incurs much expense. Unlike a flat crystal, a double curved design requires more raw material, takes longer to mill and proves more time-consuming to polish. Quite simply, Audemars Piguet has not made life easy for itself.
When Audemars Piguet launched the Code 11.59 it unveiled six new in-house movements, including a mouthwatering flyback chronograph, the fully-integrated Calibre 4401, featuring a column wheel with a vertical coupling. I have seen this model in person and can attest it is exquisitely finished.
However, in this instance, I wish to set aside extensive discussion about movements for another day. Indeed, I wish to evaluate the composition of each movement when I critique individual models at some future point. Furthermore, the criticisms made in 2019 related to habillage, the dial and case – not the movements.
Since Audemars Piguet was established it has repeatedly broken with convention and played with different forms. Its archives, dating back to 1875, feature an array of styles, some that would probably find favour with today’s public and some that clearly wouldn’t. However, over the years, the brand has dared to create new models and innovate new techniques. It should be applauded for showing such courage.
I have not viewed any of the new Code 11.59 models in person. If we have learnt anything from the past, we should refrain from voicing an opinion on a product until we have been able to examine its composition and touched every facet of its torso.
I accept that some people may not share my enthusiasm for the Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet of 2019. However, I would hope said individuals have at least arrived at their decision after listening to the music, absorbing each delightful phrase and every perfectly positioned note. Valid opinions should be formed with a degree of understanding and ideally a notable dose of discernment.
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