Last January, Audemars Piguet launched the Code 11.59. The usual suspects gave it the usual love. But the watch community was of one voice: meh. To fight the old ennui, AP smoked the Code 11.59’s dials and added complications galore. And now they’ve brought out the big gun: the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Self Winding Tourbillon . . .
I haven’t written The Tourbillon Must Die, but only because I slate the complication every chance I get. And boy, do I get a lot of chances. I can’t think of a single high end watchmaker that hasn’t added a tourbillon to their line. They all charge customers through the nose for the privilege of wristing an ancient device that serves no practical purpose whatsoever – aside from the aforementioned financial premium.
To be fair, the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Self-Winding Tourbillon isn’t an Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Self-Winding Perpetual Calendar Grand Sonniere Tourbillon Chronograph. It continues the Code 11.59’s minimalist aesthetic. Which is, of course, the problem.
I make this assessment as a someone who adores a proper minimalist watch. “Proper” as in every detail forms a coherent statement. If we drill down to where the Code 11.59 in general and the Self-Winding Tourbillon in specific fails, there’s plenty of details to kvetch about.
If you were to set out to make hour and minute hands with no visual interest whatsoever you could do no better than the Code 11.59. They’re not . . . anything. Now look at the indices. They match the hands, to the same non-effect.
The minute markers on the bezel aren’t helping; they’re subtle to the point of invisibility. And then there’s the 9 (and the 6 in the other models). What IS that? The number isn’t retro. It isn’t modern. It’s just odd. Goofy. Jarring. Unacceptable. And BIG, as it would be in a 41mm watch.
The tourbillon in the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Self-Winding Tourbillon is similarly oversized. The hole into which it’s sunk actually overlaps the central post. There’s no need for the spinny thing to be so large, except to fill up the blank space. Of which there is a great deal, despite the smoked effect dial’s star-filled attempt to fill it (not seen on the launch model). As large as it is, the bland brand text can’t compensate.
That said, some will find the XXL tourbillon a feature, not a bug. In many other tourbillon watches, Abraham-Louis Breguet’s 1801 pocket watch accuracy enhancer plays a supporting role. Unless an observer is looking for it, they won’t see it. Here, the tourbillon is unavoidable. As many buyers of high end horology want to impress observers, well, there it is.
Flipping the watch over makes me sad. Whatever else you can say about the Code 11.59’s design deficiencies the watchmaker’s mechanical prowess is beyond reproach. While I can’t fathom a $150k watch with misaligned case screws, the in-house calibre 2950 is a peach. It’s intricately beautiful in a way that makes a mechanical watch lover happy to be alive, even before you take a loop to its decoration. Sixty-five hour power reserve? Good on you mate.
While many of its creators have “moved on,” there’s no way in God’s green Earth that Audemars Piguet is going to abandon the Code 11.59. I don’t know the sales figures for all indeed any the models, but you can buy a box fresh base plain Jane white dial model for $23k (a couple of grand off MSRP). Scanning chron24.com, higher end models – like the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Self-Winding Tourbillon – hold their value.
A lot of that has to do with the fact that the Code 11.59 is an available Audemars Piguet. Equally, it’s safe to say that the Code 11.59 doesn’t have a tenth the desirability of the coveted Royal Oak, as revealed by the RO’s scarcely credible waiting lists and premiums.
If we judge the Code 11.59 according to its ability to attain the same devotion as the watch they introduced 48 years ago, it’s a failure. Early days? The Royal Oak got off to a slow start but had “it” from the git-go. The Code 11.59 didn’t. And still doesn’t.
If we judge the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Self-Winding Tourbillon on its ability to keep the tourbillon bragging rights customer satisfied, it’s a hit! How great is that?