Having made waves at its launch in 2019, the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 watch collection of 2023 debuts a ripple-effect dial along with a fair number of design tweaks, all wrapped in stainless steel for the first time. Available in self-winding and chronograph guises, this marks the latest effort from Audemars Piguet to create a better-looking and better-performing core collection of Code 11.59 watches.
It isn’t rare for luxury watch brands to make adjustments within the first couple of years into the life of a new collection — and it certainly isn’t uncharacteristic of the industry to quietly discontinue new watch lines just a year or two after a loud and brash premier. Despite initial receptions that were certainly nothing like it had anticipated, Audemars Piguet deserves credit for standing behind the Code 11.59 and fine-tuning it along the lines of public feedback. That said, this is the second considerable design update and, hence, the third aesthetic in just four years for the core collection of Code 11.59. We emphasize “core collection” because the highly complicated versions had much more to work with to distract attention from the more frequently criticized elements of the Code 11.59 design.
Here’s a quick comparison between the latest Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Self-Winding watch and the debut model. Given that the complicated construction and beautiful decoration of the case received most of the praise, this component remains unchanged outside of the debut of stainless steel. By contrast, no element of the dial was left untouched: The base went from a glossy surface to a stamped ripple texture — more on that in a bit — which, given its intricacy, could no longer carry the tiny minute track in between the hour markers. To compensate for this and to maintain to-the-second legibility, the flange ring is now busier, complete with minute and seconds track.
The hour markers are now batons in every position, except for 3 o’clock as the date aperture has been repositioned here from the asymmetrical 4:30 location on the debut model. The hands on the original Code 11.59 watch received a fair bit of criticism as they were often hard to read, appeared too simple, and borderline cheap. The 2023 Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 debuts with much more complex hour and minute hands, partially openworked, faceted, and lumed, all doing their part in drastically improving legibility.
Among the reasons Audemars Piguet received unsympathetic feedback for its original Code 11.59 design might have been the image the brand had built for itself on the back of the Royal Oak. With lofty mottos and mission statements, bonkers advertising, and more than confident rhetoric, during the 2010s, Audemars Piguet fabricated itself the image of a brand that has “mastered all the rules.” A hard-to-read watch that appeared, at least to some, frighteningly similar to timepieces offered for one-tenth or one-hundredth of its price was not something the masses had been conditioned for. The Emperor suddenly appeared in its new clothes. To be fair, at least some of the watch enthusiast community does have an appetite for schadenfreude — but not a reputation for pulling punches. Brands and CEOs often learn they have done something to displease the crowds as they are being dragged to the virtual gallows raised in minutes on the grounds of comments sections and online messaging boards.
The new Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Self-Winding and Chronograph comes with a stamped dial. If you’ve seen the brand’s video on YouTube from 10 years ago, you’ll probably feel like you’re missing out on a big chunk of Audemars Piguet savoir-faire, and we are feeling you. There are, however, two things to consider: First, although the Code 11.59 is no cheap watch, by any stretch of the imagination, with a starting price of $25,300 in steel and without a bracelet, a guilloché dial certainly would have increased that price considerably further. Second, the brand worked with Swiss guilloché artisan Yann von Kaenel, who is said to have hand-engraved the base stamps with a pattern of waves that move outwards from the center along with hundreds of tiny holes.
The resulting dial plays with light in a unique way, although, again, guilloché is also loved and collected for its special depth, intricacy, and reflections. The end result, especially on the chronograph, is a rather busy watch that has completely departed the original Code 11.59’s restrained, oversimplified design. Only a fraction of the surfaces are free from a texture, the flange ring, the subdials, and even the rings around the subdials show a concentric pattern. Perhaps leaving at least one of these flat and simple would have toned things down a bit. Still, every component appears to have been crafted with attention and care, as befits Audemars Piguet.
The Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Self-Winding watch is available in blue (Blue Nuit in AP-speak), green, and smoked beige. The case measures 41mm-wide and just 10.7mm-thick is rated water resistant to 30m, and it still has the Code 11.59’s signature lugs that are integral to the bezel and only appear to be connected to the caseback but are, in fact, not. The middle case is in black ceramic and is octagonal as a nod to the Royal Oak, along with the little hexagonal screws set into the side of the lugs.
The Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Chronograph also measures 41mm-wide, measures 12.6mm-thick, and has the same assortment of colors available. We have yet to see a steel bracelet for the Code 11.59, which is, frankly, a shame, as an elaborate, beautifully made new bracelet could remind the world that Audemars Piguet has, indeed, mastered its trade as a habilleur and knows not only how to make, but also re-engineer, a stunning bracelet.
Both the Self-Winding and the Chronograph models come with see-through casebacks revealing the intricately finished manufacture calibers that power the Code 11.59 watch collection. You’ll find the Audemars Piguet Calibre 4302 in the former and the Audemars Piguet Calibre 4401 in the latter. Both are 32mm-wide, and the self-winding comes in at 4.9mm-thick with 259 components, while the chronograph is understandably thicker at 6.8mm and 381 parts. The power reserve for both is a guaranteed minimum of 70 hours, replenished by mighty impressive 22k pink gold oscillating weights with an openworked execution — definitely among the nicest rotors in this price segment. The weekend-lasting power reserve is combined with a 4Hz operating frequency.
The Code 11.59 is shaping up to be the watch many expected it to be on the first attempt: A well-balanced, intricate, and luxurious watch that showcases the brand’s trademark attention to detail without any compromised distractions. You know the motto from Le Brassus: “To break the rules, you must first master them.” Again, Audemars Piguet deserves credit for relentlessly pushing the Code 11.59 collection, developing and introducing major design updates in an effort to give itself a second pillar next to the famed Royal Oak. It could be argued that the Royal Oak reigned supreme for a few too many years even after it had driven other venerable efforts of the brand into extinction. The more time passed the stronger the Royal Oak became, placing whatever subsequent effort in an ever more difficult situation.
The Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Self-Winding watch is priced at $25,300 USD in green and blue and $27,800 USD in beige. The Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Chronograph is priced at $35,000 USD in green and blue and $37,400 USD in beige. You can learn more at the brand’s website.