Audemars Piguet has spent the last six highly profitable years coming up with an antidote to its all-persuasive Royal Oak. And in tribute to the Oak’s controversial origins – the world’s first steel cased luxury sports watch – the new collection answers a question nobody’s really been asking. Namely, who needs a new “simple” round watch in a neo-classical style from the venerated Le Brassus brand? The answer, according to its ebullient CEO, François-Henry Bennahmias – he does. “Nobody was asking us to create an entirely new collection. We did it because we need to challenge ourselves.”
The organising principal established, the focus was clear. “We haven’t really succeeded with a classical line,” explained Bennahmias during an exclusive preview of the new Code 11.59 collection. “So if we are to do something it has to be special. And we wanted to show people that we could really push all details a lot farther than anyone has done before. You look at it and it’s a ‘simple’ round watch, but then you look into the details and it’s not simply a round watch any more.”
In keeping with the brand’s strapline – “To break the rules you must first master them” – AP’s re-entry into the sector is a masterclass in subtle disruption, starting with the slightly odd name which doesn’t even appear on the dial (“I’m sure people will call the watch whatever they like”) to the fact that the entire 13-reference collection launches on the same day, reflecting the step-change in route-to-market rules currently blindsiding slow-laners in the industry.
Not only does the collection illustrate AP's savoir faire (skills accumulated over 144 years), it highlights what is currently possible in the field of contemporary watchmaking. Take the superbly legible lacquered dial. Along with the raised lettering of its galvanically grown gold logo, its raised Arabic numerals (“borrowed” from a 1951 minute repeater apparently) and indexes have been painstakingly attached by hand rather than printed – an industry first, assures Bennahmias.
The new line’s credentials are spelt out in other firsts: the dual-curvature of the sapphire for instance and the equally complex construction of the alternately satin and polished 41mm case (which is available in white or rose gold only). It includes an octagonal middle section either side of which the open-worked lugs have been respectively soldered and left to ‘kiss’ the extra-thin bezel and open case back. Why? Because, “The number one rule we put in place,” explains Bennahmias, “is that we wanted the watch to be instantly recognisable. But more than that, every single detail on the watch had to have a contemporary design.”
Certainly, the entire collection is very ergonomic, very “today”. However you look at it, there’s something new to discover: not least an important moment in AP's horological history. Besides introducing a brand new automatic flying tourbillon, in addition to a self-winding open-worked tourbillon, minute-repeating supersonnerie and perpetual calendar, two new calibres have joined the AP family: a three-hand-with-date automatic and a flyback automatic chrono – the house’s first serially-produced integrated automatic chronograph movement.
“All the metrics on these have been improved,” says Bennahmias, “from power reserve (up from 30 to 70 hours), to frequency (rising from 3hz to 4), overall chronometry – everything. We want to deliver a message: Where we are coming from, what we have done and where we are going, and set a precedent. Not only for what we do at Audemars Piguet, but maybe for some other people in the industry as well.”
Lionised for that “one giant leap” – and the resourcefulness with which that original Royal Oak concept has been actualised across the haute horological universe – some might ask, why launch Code 11.59 now? The answer, according to Bennahmias, has less to with 'fixing the roof while the sun shines', and more to do with reasserting the credentials of an independent watch company still controlled by members of its founding families. “We have increased the perceived value of the brand a lot [with Royal Oak] – exclusivity, craft – so how do you show that more now? By going to a field where everyone has been making these watches for ever, including us. We are in the best place ever to launch this, and we will position this new collection as a big new leg in the AP line.”
“If you look at the competition, people are asking the designers to copy the Royal Oak. When everyone is abandoning the world of classical, we went the exact opposite, we went to a world where nobody is expecting us, but we put more in than ever before into a single watch.”
“So I think you’ll find a lot of people who buy AP buying this, and a lot of people who don’t like the Royal Oak buying it, because they respect AP and they respect what we’ve done. Code 11.59 is one minute before a new day and hopefully we are writing a new page for the history of Audemars Piguet.”
Audemars Piguet Code 11.59, from £25,000. audemarspiguet.com
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