The name Audemars Piguet has become a cultural phenomenon. The family-owned manufacturer from Le Brassus, Switzerland is much more than just a high-end watch brand. Millions of fans across the globe recognize the brand as a household name in the world of luxury goods. AP watches have graced the wrists of famous athletes, actors, artists, and musicians. Their most famous watch is, without a doubt, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. The model was first introduced in 1972, and was a driving force behind the brand’s success, but it’s not the only watch they have to offer. Audemars Piguet’s history dates back to 1875 and new chapters continue to be written, most recently with the Code 11.59. Keep reading to find out more about one of the most successful Swiss watch manufacturers of all time.
Let’s start at the very beginning: Audemars Piguet’s history dates back to 1875, when Jules Louis Audemars teamed up with Edward Auguste Piguet to develop mechanical watches with technically challenging complications and high levels of precision. This philosophy continues to underpin the brand’s watches to this day.
Audemars Piguet’s Accomplishments
When the pair first started working together, they had a common goal in mind, but different strengths. Audemars was in charge of production and Piguet focused on sales and management. Between them, they created some of the greatest accomplishments in watchmaking of their time. In 1892, Audemars and Piguet created the first minute repeater watch, and in 1899, they manufactured a “Grand Complication” pocket watch with 7 complications, including a grand and small strike, minute repeater, alarm, perpetual calendar, deadbeat seconds, and jumping seconds chronograph with a split-seconds hand.
Their tradition of watchmaking innovation continued with the next generation. In 1934, the company produced the first skeleton watch and in 1946, they produced the world’s thinnest watch. These numerous accomplishments are a testament to Audemars Piguet’s ability to continually push boundaries and create top-quality timepieces. When you learn the history behind the brand, you can better understand the ethos that underpins their work to this day: creating watches with top-level craftsmanship and boundary-pushing technology and design.
The Royal Oak Legacy
This innovative spirit was the driving force behind the Royal Oak’s success. The legendary watch was designed by Gérald Genta and introduced to the public in 1972 at the Basel Fair. At the time, most watches were round, small, and mounted on a leather strap. When Audemars Piguet introduced the Royal Oak, the octagonal shape, size, integrated steel bracelet, and most of all the price sent ripples across the industry. It marked the beginning of a whole new genre of watch: the luxury sports watch. The Royal Oak has cemented its place as an icon over the last four decades. In 1993, the Royal Oak family was successfully expanded with the Royal Oak Offshore.
Introducing the Code 11.59
Up until early 2019, the Audemars Piguet range consisted of five main collections, three of which were Royal Oak series. In addition to the Royal Oak, the Royal Oak Offshore, and the Royal Oak Concept, Audemars Piguet had the Jules Audemars and the Millenary collections. The influence of the Royal Oak is apparent: It was the watch that was responsible for much of the brand’s success.
At the 2019 SIHH in Geneva, Audemars Piguet introduced the all-new Code 11.59. The new collection elicited a range of reactions. The Code 11.59 was the first collection to enter the AP scene since the Millenary from 1995. Much of the online watch community felt that the design of the Code 11.59 was not consistent with Audemars Piguet’s level of prowess.
A Closer Look at the Code 11.59
When you look at the Code 11.59, you have to see it both within the context of the brand and the watch industry at large. First of all, the sheer volume of reactions, both positive and negative, shows how many people care about the brand. It’s clear that a large number of fans want Audemars Piguet to continue creating outstanding watches. No watch will ever completely satisfy every taste, but it is important that new additions are consistent with the brand’s overall philosophy.
So, does the Code 11.59 fit into the Audemars Piguet catalog? Let’s look at things from a technical perspective. Audemars Piguet has successfully introduced six completely new Code 11.59 watches, including a Minute Repeater Supersonnerie, Perpetual Calendar, Tourbillon Openworked, and Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon. Introducing six new watches and three new movements is no small feat. As is always the case with Audemars Piguet, the timepieces are stunning examples of technical innovation and top-quality finishing. The three-piece case construction is a unique addition, the movements are of the highest quality, and the craftsmanship behind each element is what we have come to expect from the brand. So, in a sense, Audemars Piguet has successfully introduced a technically brilliant collection of watches.
Much of the negative feedback, however, has focused on overall design. Many critics voiced disappointment in the dial design, especially the style of the 3, 6, 9, and 12 numerals. The dial materials are stunning, but the design has been criticized as being too generic and not in keeping with Audemars Piguet. In terms of shape, the watch is not as iconic as the Royal Oak. The Code 11.59 features a clever combination of round and octagonal shapes, but it’s not as visually striking as some had hoped. One thing we do know, however, is that you have to see the Code 11.59 in the flesh to fully appreciate its look. As is the case with all watches, an image does not do it justice. You have to see, touch, and wear a watch before you can truly get a sense of its character.
The Code 11.59 was not intended to be the next Royal Oak. When you have an icon like that in your range, it’s impossible to recreate. I think some fans were expecting Audemars Piguet to release the industry’s next iconic timepiece, but is that really a realistic expectation? Not every Patek Philippe is an icon, not every Rolex is an icon, and not every Vacheron Constantin is an icon. It’s not easy to create an icon; they only come around once every few decades.
What we can agree upon, however, is that Audemars Piguet is a top brand with an incredible history. They have repeatedly pushed the boundaries of the watch industry, and only time will tell if the Code 11.59 will become a true icon. After all, success can happen overnight, but icon status develops over time. This fact is not lost on the masterminds behind Audemars Piguet.