Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Selfwinding

Over the years, I have visited Audemars Piguet’s Manufacture in Le Brassus several times. The historical firm is located in a mountainous region of Switzerland which spends most of the winter months draped in snow. During the summer, this village, located in the watchmaking enclave of the Vallée de Joux, bathes beneath clear blue skies and beats to a soundtrack of monastic hush. However, irrespective of the prevailing season, fine watchmaking continues unabated. It has always been this way since the foundation of Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding in 1875.

For many admirers of this high-end brand, attention is invariably directed towards the company’s models produced from 1972 onwards. The legendary ‘Royal Oak’ was initially a self-winding steel watch, displaying hours, minutes, seconds and the date. Over the years it has gone on to encompass noble metals and complications, however, the allure of the original continues to shine bright.

In 1993, buoyed by the success of Gérald Genta’s masterful design of 1972, the Swiss firm unveiled the generously proportioned ‘Royal Oak Offshore’. Measuring 42mm in diameter, its scale seemed vast when contrasted with competing watches of the period. Over the years which ensued, the public’s appetite for oversized watches grew exponentially and AP pandered to this horological fetish with several fulsome figured models, including the famous 48mm T3.
A few years ago, I remember chatting to Octavio Garcia, who at the time was the Chief Artistic Officer for Audemars Piguet. I pointed out that the company’s name was invariably associated with the Royal Oak and the Royal Oak Offshore to the exclusion of the brand’s other models. Moreover, AP had been trading nearly 100 years prior to the launch of the Royal Oak and its back catalogue included numerous watches, employing a variety of different shapes and yet, it seemed the watch buying public were unaware of this impressive legacy. My perception at the time was that the prominence of the names ‘Royal Oak’ and ‘Royal Oak Offshore’ had surpassed the awareness of the Maison’s name. However, I remember leaving Octavio feeling that his hands were tied, that with two iconic models on its hands, AP was reticent to explore non-octagonal designs.
Earlier this year, at SIHH 2019, Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding unveiled its Code 11:59 collection. The reaction to the model could only be described as ‘hostile’. Personally, during SIHH I took the opportunity to examine the Code 11.59 Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon to see what all the fuss was about and, to be honest, I loved it. The watch was festooned with smile-inducing details and represented a brave departure from the aforementioned Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore. I was left feeling a tad perplexed as to why this watch had provoked such vitriol.
Needless to say, I felt duty-bound to revisit the collection and look at further models in detail. Audemars Piguet kindly acceded to my request to visit its Le Brassus HQ and view the new collection at close quarters.

On arrival, my host proceeded to show an array of vintage models. Some of these models pre-dated the legendary Royal Oak, sporting irregular lines and infused with incredible aesthetic flair. It was clear the brand sought to embrace this amazing creativity when it conceived the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding.
I was then shown a number of large-format 3D printed models, each depicting a different component of the case. I had seen them before at SIHH 2019, but they still proved fascinating and demonstrated that the brand’s designers had a near-obsessive attention to detail.

Thereafter, I was invited to return back to school and try polishing a large octagonal piece of metal. Some sections had to be bevelled while maintaining the flat profile of neighbouring surfaces. I found the technique challenging to master, but it did prove a suitable means of conveying the skill and patience needed to impart the case with its intended finish.

While the first hour of my AP experience was within the confines of an office, it was not long before I was taken to its modern production facility. Today’s Manufacture does not resemble the company’s atelier of the late 19th century. Now, the brightly lit rooms exhibit a sterile quality, free of dust. Soon I was attired in a pristine watchmaker’s coat and my shoes were clad in disposable overshoes, mitigating the risk of contaminating the immaculate floor.

However, while there was a high-tech aura to the room, traditional craftsmanship prevailed. Watchmaker’s fingertips were clad in pink rubber, preventing parts from the blight of greasy smudges. Screws were skilfully tightened without any heads being scratched or chewed. There were some examples of automation but not to the detriment of quality. Closely looking at a movement, with loupe in hand, revealed perlage, Côtes de Genève and anglage. High-end finishing was omnipresent, perpetuating the brand’s reputation for fine watchmaking.

Finally, I had the opportunity to look at several models from the Code 11.59 collection. I entered a room, with its walls bedecked with a myriad of Royal Oaks and Royal Oak Offshores, including some rare references. More pertinently, I was able to look closely at a few versions of the Code 11.59. There were several models presented for my delectation, however, one stood out from the crowd and, surprisingly, it was the most affordable reference within the collection, the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding.

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