The Audermars Piguet Code 11.59 gets a bad rap. I can’t say I’m much of a fan either, but it does seem to get the lion’s share of criticism from the watch fam. In fact, the entire collection became an overnight meme sensation upon its launch in 2019. And not in a good way. But, is the Code 11.59 really as terrible as they say? What is it about this model (and the collection as a whole) that riles up watch lovers so much? And does it bother AP, or are they happy about all the attention – even if it is negative? I’m not sure I have the definitive answers to these questions but I’m keen to get into it. Keep reading to find out what I’ve come up with.
A (Very) Brief History Of The Audemars Piguet Code 11.59
Audemars Piguet unveiled the Code 11.59 collection at SIHH 2019. And it’s fair to say the brand took a big bet. It didn’t test the waters with an initial model or two. Instead it dived in headfirst with 13 new references, 6 news models and 3 new calibres. (I should point out here that for the purposes of this article I will only be focusing on the time only models. Not the crazy complicated minute repeater or open-worked tourbillon. They, and rightfully so, sit in a category of their own.)
A release of this scale would be a big deal for any brand, but it was especially significant for AP for two key reasons. The Royal Oak. And the Royal Oak Offshore. The twin-pillars on which the brand has built its astronomical success for decades. Yet also its potential Achilles heel in a way.
These two collections have become overwhelmingly popular. So much so, that the brand is known for little else amongst mainstream consumers. Despite the fact that it is has created some of the most complicated timepieces in history. And is a member of the holy trinity (or ‘Big 3’) of watchmaking. Its contemporaries being Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin.
There were also whispers that AP in its modern form couldn’t do it again. After all the late, great Gérald Genta was the original architect of the Royal Oak. Twenty years later Emmanuel Gueit would put his own spin on things with the ROO. But even then, he didn’t stray too far from the original. Both models were controversial at the time of their debut. But soon found favour with the watch loving public.
The launch of the Code 11.59 also generated plenty of controversy. Which one suspects was exactly what AP was hoping for. Yet it hasn’t quite come full circle with regards to becoming a future icon. Not that the brand is backing away from its big gamble. If anything, it’s doubling down.
So, are the watches themselves bad?
The Audemars Piguet Code 11.59
The simple answer to the above question is no, no they’re not. At least not from a technical standpoint. AP is still one of the top independent watch manufacturers in the world – and it shows in the Code 11.59. The craftsmanship, the complexity, the attention to detail. It’s all there and explains why the collection took over half a decade to come to fruition.
A good example of this is the 41mm case. At first glance it appears to be simple round design with a thin bezel. Which makes it quite practical for every day wear. But there is more to it than that. AP still wanted to incorporate the DNA of the Royal Oak into the design, but in a less overt way.
To that end, when you turn the watch to the side, you discover the middle case is an octagon. Complete with a mix of polished and brushed finishes. In another visual treat, the open-worked lugs attach to the bezel, instead of the case middle. But that’s not even the cool part. At the bottom end, they don’t attach to the case at all. They sort of kiss against it, without actually connecting. I would assume this is so the lines of the octagon remain uninterrupted.
Do either of these features make any noticeable difference to the wearing experience? Arguably not, but they are nice touches. They’re also indicative of AP’s desire to forge a clear identity for its new Code 11.59 collection. The curved sapphire crystal is also a bit special. It ensures an unimpeded viewing experience of the dial beneath. Unfortunately though, that’s where the problems seem to begin.
Watch collectors seem to have a lot of issues with the Code 11.59 but it’s the dial that cops the brunt of the abuse. Complaints range from a lack of originality to being downright unattractive. One comment I read suggested that it looks like something Frederique Constant would make but for about a tenth of the price. And with higher water resistance! (The Code 11.59 is only water resistant to 30m.)
Ironically, from what I understand it is quite a complex dial to manufacture. Not Kari Voutilainen-complicated but still AP put a bit of work into. You can’t argue that it’s quite legible, but the font is definitely polarising. And the date window at 4:30 is a real buzz kill. That said, many other brands get away with much worse.
AP addressed this somewhat with the new lacquer sunburst dials that came out in 2020. These are much punchier and will definitely turn heads in a crowd. They also do a better job of reflecting the level of effort that has gone into the dials. As well as the Code 11.59 collection as a whole.
Still, many AP collectors see the Code 11.59 as the collection no one asked for. They would rather the brand focus on increasing output of sought-after RO and ROO models. Spoiler alert: they’re not going to do that.
The Integrated Chronograph
Of the 6 new models introduced, one had more mainstream appeal than the rest. The Code 11.59 Chronograph. This is the model that AP chose to debut its most anticipated movement in years. The Caliber 4401. An integrated, self-winding flyback chronograph. Complete with a column wheel and an instantaneously jumping date. This was first in-house self-winding chronograph movement from AP. Also known as kind of a big deal. It has a nice big open-worked gold rotor and delivers a 70-hour power reserve. Visible through the sapphire glass caseback, it’s definitely a rockstar caliber.
Again though, most serious AP enthusiasts are waiting for it to show up in a RO or a ROO. The Code 11.59 doesn’t yet have the pulling power of these icons. And it may never do, although it’s too early to say.
Price & Availability
For the purposes of this article I will only focus on the time and date and chronograph versions of the Code 11.59. Of which AP has now made dozens of variations of. The former starts at US$26,800. While the integrated chronograph will run you US$42,400. Keep in mind that these are only available in precious metal cases, which in turn informs the pricing. There is a lot of competition at this level, like a lot. But, given its pedigree, it would not have made sense strategically for AP to position these models any lower in the market.
As for availability, the Code 11.59 is about the only collection you can walk into AP and buy from. I have not heard of any sort of waiting lists for these models. And the very idea of it would be laughable. Again, that’s not to say these aren’t good watches. But AP has definitely made a lot of them. And demand hasn’t quite yet caught up with supply…
Is The Code 11.59 As Terrible As They Say?
To be honest, no, I don’t think it is. In many ways, it was never going to get a fair trial in this town. No matter what AP did, it was always going to come under an unparalleled level of scrutiny. At the end of the day they had two choices. Stay close to the original and confirm the belief they are a one-trick pony. (Well, two-trick to be fair.) Or do something crazy avante-garde and out there and to hell with what people think.
It’s a bold strategy and one that may or may not have worked. AP doesn’t seem to be backing away from it at all. Likewise, neither is the watchfam when it comes to good ol’ fashioned meme pile on. (I had to include some of my favourite ones below). Yet people must be buying the watches, right? The secondary market isn’t exactly swimming in them. And the pricing seems to be holding at or close to retail. Which suggests they are not being dumped en masse. Case in point, our retail partner WatchBox only has 2 available in stock at the time of writing. Although this could also be down to AP’s tight control of its distribution chain.
From a meme point of view the Code 11.59 just keeps on giving!
Of course, there’s also the possibility that the Code 11.59 pieces aren’t going to AP’s traditional fan base. The idea was to cater to a new, younger audience. Hence the cringeworthy name and marketing. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, allow me to elaborate. Code 11.59 is an acronym:
- Challenge – Challenge the limits of craftsmanship
- Own – Our roots and legacy
- Dare – To follow firm convictions
- Evolve – Never stand still
- 59 – The last minute before a new day
Now, if that sounds a little gimmicky to you, it’s because it is. The idea is to convey the values of the collection. As well as what inspired AP when creating it. Like everything else with the Code 11.59, it’s a major departure from how the brand has done things in the past. Whether that’s a good thing or not is down to personal opinion.
Still, the question remains – would you buy one?
Technical Specifications: Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Self-Winding Chronograph
- Case: 41mm x 12.6mm height – white gold, rose gold, or bi-metal (white and rose gold), polished and brushed – sapphire crystal on both sides – 30m water resistance.
- Dial: Gradient lacquer dials in five colorways – double curved sapphire crystal in the front, with flat sapphire crystal display back – polished fixed bezel – baton markers with Arabic numerals at 12 o’clock – hour, minutes and seconds – date via window – chronograph display.
- Movement: in-house automatic chronograph caliber 4401 – column wheel controlled with balance bridge and freesprung adjustable mass balance – 28,800 vph – 70-hour power reserve.
- Bracelet: Hand-stitched “large square scale” alligator strap with pin buckle in metal matching the case.
- Price: USD42,400 depending on model.
This article by TheWatchLounge has been sponsored by our partner WatchBox.