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The Unexpected Redemption of the Code 11.59

March 14, 2023

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When the collection was introduced in 2019, the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 was widely ridiculed. The release came out of left field; in recent years especially, Audemars Piguet has become somewhat of a one watch brand. Sure, the Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore have been AP's most popular collections for decades, but in that time the company maintained several dress watch and ladies' collections. It's undeniable that the brand is defined by the Royal Oak both symbolically and economically. So, when AP decided to introduce a bold new collection, the move was seen as a futile attempt to decrease the company's reliance on the Royal Oak. This initial disadvantage was only exacerbated by the Code 11.59's unconventional design; simply put, the watches looked strange. Across watch forums and social media, commenters flamed the new collection. Some likened the overly minimalistic dials of several models to a cheap Daniel Wellington, while the unusual Arabic numerals were all too easy to pick on. The consensus seemed to be that AP had made an overpriced, poorly designed watch that only succeeded at preventing the company from making what people really wanted (i.e., more Royal Oaks to meet demand). However, since this period, the collection has undergone an evolution in both its design and perception.

First, considering the original Code 11.59 watches were produced in precious metals and to the same quality standard as any other AP, the complaints about the retail price were fairly exaggerated; the 41-millimeter Royal Oak on a leather strap still had a price tag several thousand dollars higher than the gold Code 11.59. Of course, most critics of the price understood that the Royal Oak was well established, extremely popular, and could (hypothetically) be sold for a massive profit on the secondary market. As (or rather if) the traditional-images collection establishes itself further and gains popularity, these complaints may become less valid.

The criticism about dials seems warranted regarding select models introduced in 2019; the white dial was, admittedly, very plain, especially in comparison to the intricate clous de Paris guilloché of the Royal Oak. However, there are watches in most collections which you may find unappealing; even if you're a fan of the Royal Oak, there are so many variations of the watch that it's likely you could find several that aren't to your taste. Many other models feature stunning dials. In 2020, AP began using a "smoked" sun-brushed lacquered finish that could hardly be described as plain. There is also the issue of the date; placing the date window at 4:30 was a polarizing move, though it certainly sets the watch apart.

While the dial took the brunt of the attack, the case flew under the radar. The case is worth touching on owing to its fascinating construction; it's composed of an almost octagonal "middle" case sandwiched between a thin round bezel and caseback. The lugs are skeletonized, giving them a very modern look. The case is unlike any other, retaining classic elements of the round case shape while matching the avant-garde flair of the overall design.

At least in the meantime, AP is doubling down on the Code 11.59. The brand recently introduced several so-called Ultra-Complications and a new "Starwheel" (wandering hours) complication in the collection. AP also released several steel models, including updated chronographs and time-and-date-only luxury watches. Notably, the latter feature date windows at three o'clock rather than 4:30, addressing a major criticism directed at the original design. The dial has also been updated with a concentric circle guilloché pattern, three new colors, and the removal of the Arabic numerals. Generally, these additions have been met with a positive reception. As the case material is steel, they also make the collection a bit more accessible.

The Code 11.59 has evolved much of what made the Royal Oak successful: luxury appeal with a quasi-industrial aesthetic. Still, the collection is forward-looking. Indeed, the name itself is an acronym for "Challenge, Own, Dare, Evolve, and 11:59" (the last minute of the day). The Code 11.59 certainly dares to break the mold in its design and has proven its willingness to evolve. Will the Code 11.59 be the next Royal Oak? Probably not. But the collection has come a long way and doesn't look like it's going anywhere soon. The introduction of the Code 11.59 was an undeniably gutsy move; whether it will pay off, only time will tell.

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