To say that Audemars Piguet CODE 11.59 Chronograph Selfwinding debuted to mixed reviews is to say nothing at all. While many enthusiasts were impressed by the technical firepower on display – the collection featured a host of new movements, including AP’s first in-house self-winding chronograph movement – as well as the elaborate case construction and obviously high level of craftsmanship throughout, the dials, especially in the simpler models, were very divisive. However, the CODE 11.59 collection isn’t going anywhere. Audemars Piguet has committed itself to the collection for the long haul, and both as a token of that commitment and as an indication that the collection will continue to evolve, AP has just released the latest versions of the Audemars Piguet CODE 11.59 Chronograph Selfwinding and Selfwinding Chronograph models. These feature five new sunburst lacquer dials, as well as a quite striking new version of the case, in white gold, with a pink gold case middle.
The manufacture of two-tone cases using two gold alloys is a relative rarity at Audemars Piguet in terms of the historical production (although, of course, we have seen a more frequent use of two-tone construction in the Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore, including the reference 5402SA and the reference 15400). According to AP’s archives, of the 550 complicated watches the firm produced between 1882 and 1969 (a number whose relative minuteness bears considering; the company’s total number of employees did not exceed 30 until the year 1950, and did not exceed 100 until the 1970s), there are only eight which combined two types of gold. There were, of course, two-tone watches which combined gold and steel, including the ref. 1533 which was the basis for this year’s [Re]Master chronograph, but using two different kinds of gold was much more unusual. In AP’s entire production prior to 1970, there is only a single watch which combines white and pink gold.
I think one of the issues with the original Audemars Piguet CODE 11.59 Chronograph Selfwinding time-only watches was that the dials suffered somewhat in comparison with the cases. Although the case architecture took some getting used to for long-time AP fans, and especially for AP enthusiasts who have come to the brand more recently and know it largely through the Royal Oak, the Offshore, and the various iterations of those models (and I think some AP fans will never get used to it), there was, especially if you had a chance to see the cases in person, no gainsaying the quality of construction and the extremely meticulously applied hand finishing on the cases. The dials, in contrast to the jewel-like shimmer of the cases, the robust architecture of the movements, and the rather mesmerizing visual effect created by the double-curved crystals, seemed rather plain. And although AP was at great pains to explain the complexity of the dial construction and the technical challenges that had to be overcome, there were still many – not a unanimously united front, not that AP fans are ever unanimously united on anything, but many – who felt that the original dial designs in the time-only models left something to be desired. (I ought to point out, by the way, that the typeface for the numerals isn’t a newcomer to AP either; it can be seen in the reference 5528 minute repeater, which was completed in 1951).
The new models are not the first nor the only Audemars Piguet CODE 11.59 Chronograph Selfwinding models to have dials with color gradients or more complicated dials. The minute repeater at launch had a blue gradient dial, as did the self-winding flying tourbillon; there is, of course, the openworked tourbillon model as well, and the perpetual calendar had a lovely blue aventurine dial. I think AP probably recognized that having a dial treatment which offered a greater sense of visual depth would probably create quite a different impression than the flat dials for the less complex launch models, and so the company released a watch which was a bit the shape of things to come – a limited edition for the Bolshoi Ballet, with a blue gradient grand feu enamel dial. That watch came at a considerable premium over the $26,800 price for the standard models, at $41,300, but the benefits of the more elaborate dial were immediately evident and very likely prompted the company to decide to produce visually similar, but considerably less costly, versions for the regular collection as well.