[Re]master01 Audemars Piguet Selfwinding Chronograph 40mm
The [Re]master01 Audemars Piguet Selfwinding Chronograph 40mm is a new watch from the venerated Swiss Maison that doffs its hat to a former reference, the ‘pre-model 1533’ of 1943. This remastered vintage model is beautifully executed, ideally meeting the expectations of today’s cognoscenti.
There are moments in my life when I have dreamt of living in another era. I have often imagined myself driving down the King’s Road in Chelsea, behind the wheel of a Mercedes 280SL Pagoda (1967-1971), sometimes referred to as the W113. This roadster featured a soft-top but was also offered with an optional, removable hardtop. In its day, the W113 was very modern with numerous aluminium body panels, mitigating mass. Straight lines dominated the car’s bodywork and ‘fishbowl’ headlights sat either side of a resplendent chrome grille. Despite the passage of time, the charm of this classic car has never waned.
However, despite nostalgically looking at the past through rose-coloured glasses, I know there were inherent weaknesses with my dream car. Its steering was of the recirculating ball variety and, as such, its handling would have been markedly inferior to a modern-day rack and pinion set-up. The tyres, 185 HR 14, were tiny compared with modern-day standards, providing little grip. My point is that retro dreams are often accompanied by an array of disadvantages.
Reproduction or [Re]mastered?
Recently, Audemars Piguet, the venerated Manufacture from Le Brassus, has chosen to reminisce, looking back at a bi-metallic chronograph from 1943, the ‘pre-model 1533’. This watch was made at a time when the Swiss marque only made a few chronograph wristwatches. Indeed, Audemars Piguet reports it only delivered 312 wristwatches (chronographs) between 1930 and 1962, making each reference especially rare.
Some Maisons expend much effort restoring former watches, using replacement parts typical of the period when the original watch was made. The objective is always to safeguard the originality of such watches, preserving the integrity and, wherever possible, ensuring a timepiece remains exactly the same as it was when it originally left the watchmaker’s atelier. The restorer will sometimes agonise whether to replace a lightly corroded part or uphold its originality, mindful that the functionality may be less than ideal. At no stage should a restorer impose their own personality on a timepiece, originality is of vital importance.
There are some watch brands which have researched their archives and chosen to make a reproduction/replica of a former model. Each component is an exact facsimile of a part fitted to the reference piece. The problem with this approach is two-fold. Firstly, a reproduction undermines the value of the original watches in circulation, disenfranchising those collectors who have been long-standing and loyal clients. Secondly, the watch industry, like any other field, has benefited from improved know-how and ever-changing technologies which ideally should be embraced.
Audemars Piguet has chosen its own path to greatness, namely to ‘[Re]master’ models from its extensive back catalogue of watches. Its inaugural remastered creation, the [Re]master01 Audemars Piguet Selfwinding Chronograph 40mm, clearly bears a strong resemblance to the pre-model 1533 but, there is no question, it is not a reproduction. Indeed, the specification of this vintage-themed watch differs markedly from the 1943 model.
I freely admit that I often view life through a retrospective lens and this latest model promises to sate this need, however, does it necessitate compromises unfamiliar to today’s watch buyer? Recently, I had the opportunity to view the watch at close quarters and appraise the composition through a loupe.
When I saw the dial of the [Re]master01 Audemars Piguet Selfwinding Chronograph 40mm for the first time, I compared it with the 1943 model I had previously seen. The dial of the new model is described as ‘yellow gold-tone’, while the original was termed a ‘Champagne’ dial. In reality, I found the dial shade repeatedly changed, depending on the light source. On some occasions, the hue can appear darker than the specification sheet suggests, resembling a comely golden honey-like colour, while on other occasions it exhibits a flax-yellow tone.
The topography of the dial is very similar to its 1940s ancestor, with three subdials dominating the central area. However, the location of each counter has been changed. A 12-hour chronograph register sits at 3 o’clock, a small seconds display is positioned above 6 o’clock and a 30-minute chronograph register is located at 9 o’clock. Each subdial is snailed, the hands for the chronograph registers are blue, while the lone small seconds hand is formed of pink gold. Interestingly, the 30-minute counter is marked ‘4|5’ in red, said to be a concession to Jacques-Louis Audemars (1910-2003), an ardent football fanatic.
Throughout this horological composition, there is a reoccurring sense of neatness. The ‘fil or’ (gold wire) hour and minute hands are supremely slender with crisp, pointed tips. They enunciate the time wonderfully. The central chronograph seconds hand is blued, again svelte and appointed with a circular counterweight. Most hours are depicted with slim batons, save for those areas where the subdials take precedence, and 12 o’clock where Art Deco numerals denote the midnight hour. This latter hour marker, depicted in period font, exudes a high quotient of elegance that I find most endearing. A black minute track frames the central dial area, while a blue tachymeter scale hugs the periphery of the display.
Having seen the original pre-model 1533, I have to report that I prefer the dial of the [Re]master01 Audemars Piguet Selfwinding Chronograph 40mm. The three counters are recessed within the dial, delivering an interesting play with differing depths. The contrasting height of the counters and the main dial epidermis are far more pronounced than on the original, augmenting the appeal of the new model. The space between the sapphire crystal and the dial is quite marked, again enriching the model’s appearance.
Another highlight of the dial is the decision to use period typography rather than the Maison’s present-day logo. The brand’s nomen is accompanied by the place name, ‘Genève’. Apparently, Audemars Piguet also had a workshop in Geneva (circa 1885 – mid 1970s) in order ‘to be closer to end clients and facilitate distribution within Europe and beyond’.
Each element of the dial is beautifully executed and, despite scrutinising the watch closely, I was unable to detect anything less than perfection.
Consistent with the design of the pre-model 1533, the case of the [Re]master01 Audemars Piguet Selfwinding Chronograph 40mm is a bimetallic ensemble. The case and lugs are formed of stainless steel, while the bezel, crown and pushpieces are 18-carat pink gold.
The bezel and case on the ‘remastered’ watch have been produced using state of the art CNC machines, a technology that did not exist back in 1943. The benefit of this modern-day approach is that parts can be precisely machined to a tolerance of just a few microns, something that would have been inconceivable when the pre-model 1533 was made.
With one’s eyes closed, an extended index finger will readily discern the remarkable smoothness of this new case and the near-seamless union between the pink gold and stainless steel components. In this instance, Audemars Piguet demonstrates how present-day methods supplant the practices of yesteryear.
Over the years, sizes of watches have fluctuated wildly. When the pre-model 1533 was unveiled, most chronograph wristwatches measured between 31 and 34mm, hence its 36mm diameter was considered quite large for the time. The remastered watch measures 40mm in diameter, renouncing the popularity for 37-39mm waistlines with some highbrow types.
However, all measurements have to be placed in context. When Audemars Piguet unveiled the T3 Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph in 2003, a model which featured in the Terminator 3 film, it measured a colossal 48mm in diameter. Moreover, in the last couple of years some brands have made horological leviathans with 50mm plus torsos.
Despite being on speaking terms with ‘the biscuit barrel’, my wrists are just slightly larger than average. Personally, I found the scale of the [Re]master01 Audemars Piguet Selfwinding Chronograph 40mm to be wonderful and, in my opinion, consistent with the needs/wants of many of today’s horophiles.
Audemars Piguet has equipped this model with elegant, elliptical pushpieces, formed of 18-carat pink gold. The styling upholds the design language of the pre-model 1533, heightening the graceful demeanour of this remastered creation.
The case and light brown calfskin strap are brought together with ‘goutte’ (drop-shaped) attachments, made of gleaming stainless steel. They exhibit a delicate character, albeit I have no doubts about their robustness. The watch is also supplied with an additional brown alligator strap.
Each element of the case is refined to the highest order. Surfaces exhibit a silky-smoothness and everything exudes a becoming decorum.
In the 1930s, Audemars Piguet procured movement blanks from LeCoultre & Cie, located in nearby Le Sentier, and Raymond Frères SA. This latter firm was renamed Valjoux in 1929. The pre-model 1533 featured a Valjoux movement blank.
While the 1943 model was equipped with a hand-wound movement, the remastered watch is equipped with an in-house movement, the Selfwinding Manufacture calibre 4409.
Audemars Piguet has not attempted to create a faux-vintage movement but has chosen to wholeheartedly embrace modernity. The 14 lignes movement (32mm) is comparatively slender, measuring 6.82mm in height. Many of the movement components, made using CNC and profile-turning machines, are produced to exacting measurements which would have been unthinkable in 1943.
This fully integrated movement features a column-wheel and vertical coupling, delivering a number of benefits. When the wearer starts or stops the chronograph there is no hint of hesitation and the central chronograph seconds hand does not stutter or wobble. Unlike a modular chronograph, actuating the chronograph does not adversely affect the amplitude and, by default, the accuracy. Lastly, pressing the pushpieces reward the wearer with a buttery-smooth tactile feel. The refinement of this movement is palpable.
The watch features a flyback facility. With one press of the pushpiece at 4 o’clock, the chronograph will stop, reset and restart. This facility proves ideal when timing consecutive events.
The movement has a frequency of 28,800 vph (4Hz) and is fitted with a variable-inertia balance. Again, the Swiss Maison has indulged purists with yet another delightful detail. With the ubiquitous index adjuster, the effective length of the hairspring is lengthened/shortened in order to adjust the rate. With a variable-inertia balance, the length of the hairspring is fixed and the moment of inertia is adjusted using weights, making the movement run faster or slower.
A variable-inertia balance enables the watchmaker to adjust the rate more precisely, enhancing precision. Furthermore, the hairspring also breathes more concentrically and the rate is less susceptible to positional influence.
Another subtle refinement found on the Selfwinding Manufacture calibre 4409 is that, instead of affixing screws to the rim of the balance wheel to alter the moment of inertia, AP has placed C-shaped masellotes in-board, positioned on the spokes of the balance wheel. This approach mitigates air turbulence when the balance wheel oscillates to and fro, again aiding precision.
As I studied the modern-day movement, I kept discovering more interesting details. For example, the stud holder on the balance is very unusual, but why? I regret not asking my host while visiting the Manufacture in Switzerland, however, by this stage I had already asked a myriad of questions and did not wish to overstay me welcome.
Audemars Piguet is revered in watchmaking circles and considered an exemplar of Haute Horlogerie. Beyond its technical virtues, peerless finishing abounds. Perlage, Côtes de Genève and anglage are omnipresent. Jewels sinks are polished to a brilliant gleam, while screw heads exhibit a mirror-like appearance. The oscillating mass is made of 22-carat pink gold and is embellished with Clous de Paris decoration and the Maison’s name.
Audemars Piguet will forever be known for making the Royal Oak and the Royal Oak Offshore. However, in 2019 the brand looked beyond these ‘cash cows’ and released a new model, the Code 11.59. When this latter model broke cover, it received some harsh criticism. Without wishing to appear a contrarian, I like several of the Code 11.59 models, something I have stated on several occasions.
Nevertheless, I did wonder if the adverse comments about the Code 11.59 would stifle the brand’s willingness to innovate. Thankfully, these concerns have been swept aside with the advent of the [Re]master01 Audemars Piguet Selfwinding Chronograph 40mm. This watch should immediately silence all detractors. Its magnificence is manifest.
A few years ago, while visiting Audemars Piguet’s Manufacture, I was given a green book with the brand’s name on the front and the year of its foundation. The text was by François Chaille and the book was published by Flammarion. As I subsequently read the text, I discovered another facet to Audemars Piguet’s character. Indeed, as I thumbed through the 319 pages, I came across numerous models I had never seen. Different shaped cases, incredible dials, expert gem-setting, fabulous movements, pendant watches, ultra-thin models and grand complications all vied for my attention.
Audemars Piguet has a rich history that few other companies can match. Its decision to remaster models from its back catalogue seems eminently sensible and provides a tantalising proposition for those individuals who look fondly at the past. However, AP has shown that remastered does not necessitate the concessions synonymous with vintage watch ownership.
Returning to my introduction, I can report that today there are a small number of specialist companies able to procure a Mercedes 280SL Pagoda (1967-1971), restore it to an exalted standard, superior to when it originally left the factory. In addition, the car can be updated with rack and pinion steering, modern disc brakes, air conditioning, a high-performance AMG engine and even electric windows. Effectively, this approach pairs the aesthetic allure of yesteryear with modern-day expertise, providing a tantalising ownership proposition. I suspect this will resonate with those people who work in Audemars Piguet’s Product Development Department and rightly so. The excellence of the [Re]master01, probably one of my favourite watches of late, should encourage Audemars Piguet to thumb said green book and release the [Re]master02 very soon.
- Model: [Re]master01 Audemars Piguet Selfwinding Chronograph 40mm
- Reference: 26595SR.OO.A032VE.01
Case: Stainless steel & 18-carat pink gold; diameter 40mm; height 14.6mm; water resistance 2ATM (20m); sapphire crystals to front and caseback.
- Functions: Hours; minutes; small seconds; flyback chronograph
- Movement: Calibre 4409; automatic movement; frequency 28,800 vph (4Hz); 40 jewels; power reserve 70 hours
- Strap: Hand-stitched light brown calf leather strap with stainless steel pin buckle. Also supplied with additional brown alligator strap.
- Price: £51,800 including VAT (RRP as at 30.3.2020)
- Limited Edition: 500 pieces