Anyone who has the slightest interest in watches will definitely be familiar with the name Audemars Piguet (AP). Its flagship Royal Oak is, after all, one of the most iconic timepieces ever made, and among the most coveted in the world. In fact, AP and the Royal Oak are so synonymous with each other that it has become both a blessing and a curse. The brand has a long, rich history dating back to 1972 and an entire stable of exceptional watches, but all people notice is the Royal Oak. The brand needed to remind people that it was more than just one watch. Cue the CODE 11.59.
As CEO François-Henry Bennahmias put it, the intention behind the new CODE 11.59 watch collection—named after an acronym of the words Challenge, Own, Dare, Evolve; and for the last moments before the beginning of a new day—was to make AP “whole again”. “We had left the territory of round watches for a long time, never managing to create one which incorporated our avant-garde DNA. But this is exactly what we’ve aimed for with CODE 11.59 by Audemars Piguet: To create a contemporary round watch with the Audemars Piguet twist,” he says.
And that is exactly what the CODE 11.59 is: A resolutely contemporary watch. Its modern aesthetic places it firmly in the modern day, and it feels like a breath of fresh air compared to the myriad vintage-inspired pieces that have flooded the watch market in recent years. On the face of it, the CODE 11.59 is round, with an unusually thin bezel that maximises the amount of space available on the dial. The middle case of the watch, however, is octagonal; the angular planes are clearly visible from the side, as are the alternate bands of brushed and polished finishes. Plus, the polished surface is not a uniform band—its thickness varies in different areas following the curves of the case. The lugs, which also combine a brushed finish with polished angles, are actually not attached to the back of the case. Instead, they are attached only to the top bezel, and float a hairsbreadth above the back case. This case, all things considered, is a thing of beauty.
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This attention to detail extends to every other part of the watch as well. The dial, for instance, plays host to a logo that has been created out of gold using a new form of chemical technology called galvanic growth, which can be likened to a microscopic form of 3D printing. Although the technology is not new—it has been employed for the manufacture of watch parts previously—it is the first time that it is being used with 24-karat gold. (The logo on other Audemars Piguet watches is normally printed.) Even the sapphire crystal that covers the dial is special. The internal surface of the glass is shaped like a dome, while the external surface is vertically curved from 6 to 12 o’clock. This double curve acts as a form of optical lensing, allowing for the details on the watch face to appear extra clear. If you place the double-curved sapphire crystal next to that of a normal watch, it is almost like comparing a high-definition screen with a regular one.
All these details speak of the amount of time and effort that went into creating the watch. As Bennahmias has said: “[CODE 11.59] is a big deal for Audemars Piguet because we have put all of the savoir-faire that we are known for into this particular collection, pushing the finishing details to new limits. This watch is for men and women alike, who appreciate understated style and for whom perfection is in the details.”
All in all, the collection took seven years to make. And, according to Bennahmias, this is the most important launch for AP since the Royal Oak’s debut in 1972. As such, the new collection was launched with a whopping 13 new references, from watches of a simple time and date model to one equipped with a minute repeater supersonnerie. A collection launch on such a scale is almost unheard of in the watch industry and shows how many resources have been devoted to its creation.
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Despite all of the effort that went into the CODE 11.59, however, it had an undeniably rough start when it was first revealed at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in January this year. The launch was immensely hyped—Audemars Piguet is, after all, one of the most beloved brands in the industry—but it unfortunately fell flat once the collection was unveiled. Criticism mainly centred around the fact that the CODE 11.59 was aesthetically underwhelming, at least in pictures. So much of the appeal of the watch lies in its minute details, which can only really be appreciated in person. As more journalists at the fair saw the collection in the metal, however, sentiments began to warm.
Fast forward to today and the tide has certainly turned. AP’s clients have responded well to the collection, which is, as Bennahmias accurately notes, what truly matters. “At the end of the day, clients are the only judges, and sales prove that time is on our side.” Considering that the CODE 11.59 is projected to represent some 20 percent of the brand’s sales in the long term, we should think that this warm response should come as a relief. Following this, Bennahmias has also hinted at more exciting launches ahead for the collection, saying that even more models will be unveiled next year.
The CODE 11.59 puts Audemars Piguet in an interesting position. It is still an undeniably polarising watch, but its contemporary design and impeccable construction have also furthered people’s conception of what the brand is capable of. It took a risk in 1972 to launch the first ever luxury steel sports watch, and that watch is now an icon unto itself. So who knows? Maybe the CODE 11.59 will come into its own and become an icon for future generations. Only time will tell.
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