2021 represented the last year of Audemars Piguet‘s attendance at the annual SIHH high watch and jewelry show. The brand has expressed no specific post-SIHH plans but says it will consider various locations around the world to host future new product events. In addition to being able to target better themes for new product launches, Audemars Piguet is going with a growing watch industry trend of not feeling obligated to release new products each year. That, however, is a topic for another discussion. Audemars Piguet did take the SIHH 2019 show opportunity to release their first new watch collection launch in a really long time with the Code 11.59. In this article, I will discuss my hands-on impressions of the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding Chronograph.
The Code 11.59 Self-Winding Chronograph is one of two Code 11.59 products with a new movement known as the caliber 4401 — and this one has a caliber collectors have been pining for. The Code 11.59 Selfwinding Chronograph’s new in-house-made integrated chronograph replaces the older module-based chronograph still used in a variety of Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore. While Audemars Piguet says it will take some time to be fully phased in, they have indicated to aBlogtoWatch that, eventually, the caliber 4401 movements will replace many module-based chronograph movements in existing chronograph watches produced by the brand.
The release of the caliber 4401 movement is as important as the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding Chronograph movement itself, but in many respects, the movement is only modesty noteworthy. Audemars Piguet hasn’t boasted the introduction of new technology or materials in the 4401, and its performance is adequate, but not remarkable. The movement finally operates at 4Hz (versus 3Hz before) and now has a longer power reserve of 70 hours. I will say that operating the chronograph mechanism via the pushers was pleasant, and the movement overall did feel refined. But that is to be expected at a price-point of over $40,000.
The movement has a unique appearance, with a handsome architecture that is enlivened with a fair bit of haute horology decoration. Over the movement is a highly skeletonized rotor with the brand’s initials. One can admire the movement through the watch’s caseback sapphire crystal.
Audemars Piguet’s stated purpose for the Code 11.59 watch was to finally have a round-cased watch that consumers were excited about. Now seemingly discontinued, the Jules Audemars was the brand’s previous round-cased watch collection. I was always a fan of the Jules Audemars and blame its lack of demand on too-minimal advertising. It also existed in a crowded space of “mature looking” round dress watches that have more in common with each other than points of distinction.
Not wanting to produce yet another dressy-style vintage-appeal round watch case, Audemars Piguet set forth to design a case worthy of the macho jewelry appeal of modern Royal Oak-family timepieces. That said, the Code 11.59 case is highly distinctive from all other Audemars Piguet watches. Aside from the brand logo, the only design element that, for me, hearkens to the rest of the Audemars Piguet watch family is the design of the Code 11.59’s strap buckle.
Audemars Piguet much ballyhooed the construction and tight tolerances of the Code 11.59’s 41mm-wide and 12.6mm-thick (water resistant to 30 meters) case. To start, the chronograph will come in an 18k white or pink gold case (each with a black or blue dial color option). The skeletonized lugs are actually attached to the bezel and the caseback neatly fits as though the lugs physically connect to it. The case polishing is an attractive mixture of brushed and delicately polished surfaces. I found the case to be comfortable to wear and nice to look at, though I recognize that its novelty at Audemars Piguet means a few years will pass before people start to associate it as an aesthetic connected to the brand.
Sadly missing for 2019, and probably for another few years, is a matching metal bracelet. All Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding Chronograph watches come in precious metal cases, with no other materials currently available. A matching bracelet would thus also need to be in precious metal — vastly increasing the cost of the watch (probably by about double). Then again, after $50,000 or so, consumer price sensitivity drops quite a bit, so I think if there were an attractive metal bracelet option for the Code 11.59, there would be lots of takers. The Royal Oak itself is mostly popular because of its excellent (and now iconic) bracelet.
The sapphire crystal over the dial of the Code 11.59 is double-domed and gives a sort of optical illusion as to how it is curved. It makes looking at the case a bit more interesting, and while it doesn’t help the dial legibility situation, I don’t think it appreciably hurts it — more on that later.
A collector whose opinion I admire shared a piece of wisdom with me, which I agree with. Neither of us is particularly enthused about the dial designs for the Code 11.59 three-hand and chronograph models. Having said that, dials and hands are among the easier elements to redo when the Code 11.59 watches start to come out with new versions in the future. So no, I’m not a fan of these dial designs, but I feel that there is hope for the future.
It is impossible for me to know exactly what Audemars Piguet was aiming for with the minimalist look that the Code 11.59 watches seems to aspire to. I do know that Audemars Piguet is attempting to appeal to new (younger) watch-lovers who are only now getting into the world of luxury watches. They want the Code 11.59 to be a new object of desire for those who feel that Royal Oak is a watch for an older man. I totally understand that sentiment, and it seems as though the designers working on the Code 11.59 project were inspired by simple watch designs popularized by inexpensive watches marketed with great levels of gusto on social media channels, such as Instagram, over the last few years.
My theory is that, with the Code 11.59 products, Audemars Piguet was attempting to go for a look that “social media generation” kids who eventually come into money will see as familiar, and thus want. I hope that is the case because the consensus among those of us who didn’t grow up with social media marketing-born watch brands is that Audemars Piguet didn’t capture the essence of the brand, or something visually appealing enough to capture the hearts of today’s enthusiasts.
What’s wrong with the Code 11.59 dials? It isn’t my place to judge taste and artistic preference, but I can speak to practical matters such as proportions and legibility. My main issue with the Code 11.59 dials — especially the chronograph models — is that reading the time is unduly challenging. The dial design uses two polished needle-style hands, which, in many lighting scenarios, is very challenging to see. I suppose you could live with it, but I don’t see how people who were raised to admire the strong legibility of most Royal Oak models will agree that the Code 11.59 is as successful in the readability department.
Fixing the dials would be as simple as updating the hands, though, for me, the dial generally lacks any pizazz or visual interest. Many allusions to other watch brand dials can be made, and overall the dials seem to lack any distinctive original elements. I also feel that, at this price, Audemars Piguet should have matched the date numerals with the hour marker font colors on all dials (rather than only some, as they do now).
In my opinion, when people complained about the Code 11.59, they were primarily focused on the dial designs — which seemed disappointing to many as compared to what the great brand is capable of. The Audemars Piguet I like can do better and certainly will do better in the future when new Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding Chronograph models eventually come out.
What also irritated watch enthusiasts at SIHH 2019 is that Audemars Piguet seemingly went into the show knowing they had an issue with the dials (dials that would not be well received by a lot of the traditional watch media). Some watch media got early access to the Code 11.59 watches and they also happened to be incredibly optimistic, which, along with clear marketing spending, led consumers to believe opinions had been paid for.
Whether or not Audemars Piguet actively sought to buy media opinion, it appeared to many consumers and members of the watch industry that they did. This resulted in a massive perception blow to the brand, which is regrettable. I personally greatly admire the long history and many accolades of Audemars Piguet. Some of my favorite brand managers, including Jean-Claude Biver, are graduates of employment at the storied, still-independent Swiss watch manufacturer. The actions of any brand leadership responsible for attempting to buy, versus rightly earn, media respect and admiration does not, in my opinion, represent the greater personality of the company.
Also regrettable is Audemars Piguet’s attractive but painful-to-navigate website section on the Code 11.59 watches. I do like how watch companies like to update their websites more often these days, but the ability to get details on the watches, see the entire collection, and quickly view information is not a strong point of the current website design.
With all the elements of the Code 11.59 that may have been minor blunders, Audemars Piguet is only producing a fraction of their roughly claimed 40,000 number of watches produced annually. According to Audemars Piguet, the brand will produce only about 6,000 Code 11.59 watches (across eleven new models) over the course of three years. So, only about 2,000 of the watches will be released in 2019.
Audemars Piguet is also moving toward an “all-brand boutique” distribution model, which means if you want a new Audemars Piguet watch, you’ll need to get one directly from a brand boutique store. They have also made it clear that the Code 11.59 will only ever be available in brand boutiques — to the exclusion of any remaining third-party retailers. The brand will be able to be relatively selective as to what customers are able to get Code 11.59 watches, as well as controlling the flow of the watch into the market.
Having a new round-cased watch that appeals to younger people makes sense, though I think the price jump Audemars Piguet expects some consumers to leap from to buy a Code 11.59 is a bit ambitious. Perhaps there will be a steel Code 11.59 watch with an improved dial in the future. It could easily happen. Even the improved dial could be a very real thing in the near future. In any event, I applaud Audemars Piguet’s efforts to shift away from being a “Royal Oak-only” brand, and the Code 11.59 could prove an important step in that direction. People today really do like what the brand stands for, and I think they deserve the very best to stand on their wrists.