Audemars Piguet Cracks the Code (11.59)
Audemars Piguet has announced 2023 updates to its Code 11.59 family of watches. Available in a range of different models it’s the new versions of its two simplest ‘classic’ styles – day and date, and chronograph – that represent a turning point for the line.
Launched four years ago, the Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet – to give it its full title – was a completely new range billed as ‘a contemporary evolution of a classic round watch… with more details than meet the eye’.
From the implication of the it’s-a-brand-new-day name to its futuristic font to its spooky pink forest global advertising campaign, the Code 11.59 was meant to be disruptive. Not everyone saw that as a plus.
Reactions to the range were polarising. Instead of testing the waters with a single model, Audemars Piguet really swung for the fences, launching 13 versions with three new movements across six new watch types – time/date, chronograph, perpetual calendar, automatic flying tourbillon, open-worked tourbillon and a chiming ‘Supersonnerie’.
Then there was the design. Of the thousands of watches released every year, the 11.59 really did look different. The crystal had a bizarre double-curve to it that changed the way the dial appeared, depending on how you looked at it.
Available primarily in pricey white gold or pink gold, the hefty case was constructed of three parts with an octagonal section in the middle. The dial mixed up Arabic numbers and simple batons and had an off-kilter date window at 4.30. The finishing on the case alternated between polished and brushed.
It was a lot. Some people loved it, and some people really didn’t.
The reason AP chose to make such a bold statement wasn’t much of a secret. In 1972 it had launched the Royal Oak, an outrageous and unexpected design in steel that overtured a century of intricate, complicated and expensive gold watches the brand was known for.
The Royal Oak was also something of a final throw of the dice, the company was on its uppers and facing an extinction-level event from an influx of cheap quartz watches from Japan. The ‘luxury steel’ watch was a huge hit, went on to be copied by many of AP’s blue-chip rivals and today stands as a landmark of 20thCentury watch design.
Twenty-one years later AP pulled off something similar with the Royal Oak Offshore, a sportier and more contemporary take on the 1970s original that paved the way for modern, oversized watches like the Hublot Big Bang.
Both Royal Oaks were controversial on their launch. Both turned out to be told-you-so commercial triumphs for the company.
But by 2019 AP was starting to face accusations of relying too heavily on one model. The Code 11.59 was their attempt to prove they could pull off a radical new design for a third time. It was arguably an even harder ask. In 1972 they had little to lose. And in 1993 they had a ready-made legacy to build on.
If the first Code 11.59 models missed the mark for many, subsequent versions have tweaked the design into something more universally satisfying. Finally, in 2023, they seem to have cracked the Code.
The watch has been released in stainless steel for the first time. These new simpler, less busy versions come in dark green, dark blue and a smoked beige.
Gone are the flat lacquered effect of previous iterations. The new models come with guilloche dials with a rippled, concentric circle pattern that features hundreds of tiny holes that capture the light. The Arabic numerals have been replaced by a full set of simple batons and the date window on these versions is at 3 o’clock rather than 4.30.
These three-handed models are also replicated as chronographs across the three colours.
Inside, the technical specs remain as impressive as you’d expect from this top-tier luxury watchmaker. The three-handers are still powered by the in-house Calibre 4302 automatic movement. And the chronographs use AP’s Calibre 4401 with a flyback function.
The results represent the lightest, sportiest and, thanks to steel not white gold, most relatively affordable takes on the Code 11.59 to date.
Perhaps ironically, the use of steel inevitably makes you think of the debut Royal Oak all those years ago. What goes around, comes around.
From: Esquire UK