Audemars Piguet’s Code 11.59 collection was born in 2019 with a biblical-size bang. Thirteen total watches. Six different sub-collections, ranging from a three-hand with date to a minute repeater. Three brand-new in-house movements. An entirely new case. And more than 500 snark-filled comments on HODINKEE’s initial Introducing post. The bang was heard around the world, but it wasn’t entirely well-received.
There was a lot to take in that day, honestly too much to formulate an immediate coherent opinion. One of Swiss watchmaking’s most prestigious and oldest marques had launched an entirely new collection agnostic to the Royal Oak, the company’s flagship product. For better or worse, Audemars Piguet is the Royal Oak, and the Royal Oak is Audemars Piguet.
So if it’s not a Royal Oak, then what exactly is the Code 11.59?
Three years after its difficult debut, it feels like the Code 11.59 collection is finally starting to find its groove. Here are three of the steps Audemars Piguet took to get there.
Code 11.59 Was Born To Be Complicated
So much of the negative discourse that surrounded the Code 11.59 launch was centered on the time-and-date Code 11.59, the simplest, entry-level model of the collection with a decidedly bland execution. The watch admittedly does not look much better today, but it was also never meant to be the hero of the collection.
There’s a reason AP launched Code 11.59 in so many different variants – it was to show off the flexibility of the case profile as a home for complications. Focusing on the three-hander was entirely missing the point, and by doing so, many people missed out on the biggest news of the Code 11.59 introduction (the development of a new in-house integrated automatic chronograph movement, the caliber 4400, AP’s first in-house chronograph). Yes, it’s AP’s fault for including it in the initial batch, but it’s understandable that it would have wanted to bring a more affordable execution to market.
Audemars Piguet has slowly rectified its early missteps. I can’t remember the last time it brought a new three-hander Code 11.59 reference to market, while AP has continually experimented with new complications and new formats for existing complicated models. Just look at the big news I reported on earlier this week – AP released three different Code 11.59 models that are, in my opinion, some of the best-looking examples yet.
There’s a pair of new flying tourbillon models, and they aren’t just empty tourbillon-laden vessels, they feature details such as an inky dial made of solid onyx stone and aesthetic tweaks such as no applied numerals. Don’t overlook the openworked model that highlights the insanely symmetrical movement architecture inside that’s decorated to the highest standards. (And did I mention the insane shade of blue on the bridges? Yeah. I think that’s pretty sweet.)
That same insane symmetry is found on the movement layout of the Code 11.59 Flying Tourbillon Chronograph, a beast of a watch with a mirrored movement execution and flyback chronograph functionality.
There’s no Code 11.59 Grande Sonnerie this time around (AP did that in 2020), but it’s amazing how much more complete these watches look compared to the somewhat pedestrian lacquer dial finish found on the first batch of Code 11.59 watches. Yes, the Flying Tourbillon and Openworked Flying Tourbillon were both included in the initial batch of Code 11.59 models from 2019 (the Tourbillon Chronograph hybrid also joined the collection in 2020), but the execution has only improved in the past three years. I mean, c’mon, how can you not drool over the wild two-tone bridges and insane depth perspective in the Code 11.59 Flying Tourbillon Chronograph? If it came out of some independent workshop in the Vallée de Joux, collectors would be politely lining up around the block.
A Medley Of Materials Brings Out The Best In Code 11.59
The solid onyx dial found on the newest Code 11.59 Flying Tourbillon might have been the headline material out of the three references I covered last Wednesday, but the most significant material at play among all three models is ceramic. One of the benefits of the two-part Code 11.59 case design that AP made such a big deal about three years ago is the ability to use two different types of material in a single watch.
All three of the new Code 11.59 references use an inner ceramic case in the shape of an octagon (Code 11.59’s sole reference to the Royal Oak) encapsulated by an 18k white or pink gold lug cage. The result is aesthetically very interesting, resulting in an unexpected take on two-tone, through the application of the extra-hard inner ceramic case that protects the movement and the precious metal bezel, lugs, and caseback.
Two of the three new Code 11.59 watches that were released last week feature a black ceramic inner case, but the Flying Tourbillon Openworked has a bright blue ceramic inner case that is the result of the same blue ceramic process found in the blue-ceramic Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar that Danny went Hands-On with last week. Colored ceramic is quite a bit more difficult to achieve than black-and-white ceramic; it wasn’t until the early 2010s that the sintering process was figured out to achieve colors such as blue, red, and green. Of course, these inner cases are hand-decorated, featuring satin-brushed central areas with polished chamfers.
Introducing: Code 11.59 By Audemars Piguet
It’s difficult to believe it’s been three whole years since Code 11.59 entered our lives. HODINKEE was there on launch day, just before SIHH 2019, when we sat with AP’s CEO François-Henry Bennahmias for a detailed walk-through of the entire inaugural line-up. Don’t miss our initial video coverage – and you’ll want to take a look at the comments section for some of the fiery early reactions generated by Code 11.59.
Although AP does decorate the ceramic material itself, it works with a supplier to produce the material. (Which is no surprise – very, very few Swiss watch brands produce ceramic themselves. The only ones I’m aware of are Rolex and maybe Hublot.) AP works with a company called Bangerter which utilizes a proprietary process that combines zirconium oxide power with an undisclosed binding agent. The binding agent is removed before the start of the sintering process but after a five-axis CNC machine has shaped the unique octagonal shape of the inner case. The blue shade (and hardness) of the ceramic material eventually comes after it’s been heated to approximately 1,400 degrees Celsius.
It seems, then, that Audemars Piguet and Bangerter are able to withstand the heat.
Color Is King
I was able to speak with some core members of Audemars Piguet’s team last week, after the launch of the new Code 11.59 models, and they discussed some of their processes. Color selection, it turns out, is typically one of the last stages in product development but it goes hand-in-hand with a watch’s specific choice of material. After the complication and material have been decided, the color of the dial, case, and movement components are all considered. “There are two ways to give color to a material,” one of the AP team members told me. “You can either add a layer to it or get inside the material itself.” The bright-blue bridges on the Selfwinding Openworked Tourbillon, for example, are made of titanium as it’s easier to apply the specific Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD) process that provides the vibrant shade.
The choice of combining black ceramic and 18k pink gold to create a unique take on two-tone in the new Code 11.59 Flying Tourbillon Chronograph also ended up being an aesthetic no-brainer. Unlike a more traditional approach to a two-tone design that might appear dated, the use of ultra-clean black ceramic surrounded by the precious metal exterior feels unexpectedly modern, enhancing the visual presence of both the skeletonized lugs and interior octagonal case.
It’s not Audemars Piguet’s first experience in the two-tone world – far from it. (Although, to be completely accurate to history, vintage two-tone, complicated Audemars Piguet timepieces were incredibly few and far between. It’s said that a total of eight two-tone complicated watches were produced by Audemars Piguet between 1882 and 1969, three years before the Royal Oak’s debut.) The first big Code 11.50 success story was actually a two-tone Openworked Tourbillon that AP donated to the Only Watch charity auction in 2019 and which eventually sold for an impressive one million Swiss francs, becoming one of the most expensive AP watches to ever sell at auction. The success of that unique piece definitely foreshadowed the latest Code 11.59 releases: All three models feature the two-tone, bi-material combination first deployed at Only Watch.
Today the Royal Oak is known for having a huge variety of aesthetic variants to choose from, but it took a few decades for the company to really start to experiment with the octagonal form factor and textured tapisserie dial finish. But there’s been no delay in expanding the Code 11.59’s purview to cast as wide a net as possible, all the way from the inky black minimalism present in the onyx-dial Code 11.59 Flying Tourbillon to the electric-blue hue found on the bridges of the new Openworked Flying Tourbillon.
Final Thoughts (For Now)
Something tells me that by the time 2069 rolls around we won’t be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Code 11.59 the same way the entire watch world has recognized the Royal Oak this year, during its Golden Jubilee. The Code 11.59 is definitively not a Royal Oak, but that doesn’t mean it’s a failure as a product family or even that it deserves the same degree of heightened criticism that we witnessed during its launch three years ago.
A lot can change in three years. Baselworld and SIHH still existed when Code 11.59 was born. There was no global pandemic to consider, and older, dated AP collections such as the Millenary and Jules Audemars were in the recent rearview mirror. I know I’ve changed a ton in the past three years, and though I hesitate to prescribe humanity to a watch brand, I think it’s fair to think AP might have learned from the distracting issues of the original Code 11.59 launch and is now able to focus on its best qualities.
After all, the Code 11.59 collection made such a big splash when it debuted, it’s only fitting that its steady, gradual improvement falls under the radar.
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