Inside Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet With Michael Friedman And Giulio Papi
It has been almost one year since Audemars Piguet launched Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet. It felt like a good time to sit down with the people at the Le Brassus Manufacture to understand the philosophy behind it, to acknowledge the challenges it met, and to discover where it might be going next.
Here are some key insights Michael Friedman, Head of Complications, and Giulio Papi, Technical Director, shared with us.
As Michael Friedman explained to us, “The Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet is really a collaborative project. The whole Board of Directors was involved, of course, but all the production teams as well. Being a family-owned company allowed everyone to participate.” But what was the intended purpose of this entirely new line? As the Head of Complications made it clear: “The Manufacture has a long history of introducing complex geometries. We wanted to do something different, unexpected. We wanted a new shape that would enable us to highlight the complex hand finishing that characterizes AP. A round watch with an angular approach.” Quite a challenging design concept.
When you look closely at the details of this particular case, it’s clear Audemars Piguet succeeded “in creating a canvas for their craftspeople to express themselves,” as Friedman put it. The alternating brushed and polished finishes, the large beveled edges, and the multi-faceted open-worked lugs welded to the extra-thin bezel definitely stand out. Michael Friedman added a characteristic Audemars Piguet trait, “All of our collections are created to intrinsically generate new evolutions for the future. The Royal Oak is still evolving today, as well as the Offshore and the Concept. It is part of the way we think.”
Still, from concept to reality, the road is long. Such a complex design required the development of new tools and techniques. Once more, Audemars Piguet did not choose simplicity. Instead, the Manufacture created an unconventional case composed of a round extra-thin bezel, an octagonal middle case, and openworked lugs. The upper part of these highly stylized lugs has been welded to the extra-thin bezel, while the bottom part rests against the round caseback in perfect alignment.
The result is mind-boggling. Michael Friedman shared the details: “Three centuries of techniques mingle and collaborate for the manufacturing of the lugs and case. On one side, you have 21st-century laser fusion machining, that seems to come straight out of a science fiction movie, that fuses the lugs to the extra-thin bezel. The lugs and bezel are then heated on a classic 20th-century conveyor belt, where lugs are fully welded to the bezel. Finally, lugs and bezel undergo 19th-century polishing and satin-brushing by hand in the purest Audemars Piguet tradition.”
In all honesty, a close look at the level of finishing on the case leaves little room for questioning its intrinsic quality. For instance, the alternance of satin-brushed surfaces and mirror-polished angles highlights the complexity of the architecture. Similarly, the lugs are not only skeletonized but showcase a highly complex multifaceted geometry along five different axes. Details are everywhere to be spotted on this unique Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet case.
The Head of Complications emphasized yet another level of complexity, “There are only 11 people at AP capable of achieving the level of finishing required for the Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet case. The curved lugs, the octagonal middle case, and the shape of the round case itself demand highly skilled craftspeople. One of our future challenges is to ensure we train more people capable of growing the collection.”
Audemars Piguet Calibers
Speaking of challenges, introducing a full collection of 13 references with four complications and six new movements is no doubt the most remarkable feat of the launch. Moreover, three calibers are entirely new automatic movements. First, the sturdy 4302 selfwinding calibre, with its two barrels delivering 70 hours of power reserve, which equips the Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Automatic. Then the impressive 2950, the Manufacture’s first automatic central rotor flying tourbillon, which is based on its hand-wound counterpart from the Tourbillon Openworked model and now powers the Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon. Technical Director Giulio Papi explained, “We suppressed the central bridge to add the central rotor, as well as two inverters and friction reducers. In the end, we managed to obtain the same energy balance.”
Energy balance was probably one of the greatest achievements movement-wise, and it was one of the goals from the outset. As the Technical Director stressed, “It all started in 2011 with projects for new calibers based on energy balances. We wanted to create powerful movements with high torque, like an automobile with a V-8, 4-liter engine with 800 Nm of torque – think McLaren supercars, for example. The goal was a strong power reserve and a high oscillating frequency.”
When you test the Selfwinding Chronograph, you realize Audemars Piguet has, once more, created an outstanding caliber with their new 4401. The long-awaited, integrated in-house chronograph is based on the selfwinding movement 4302. A fly-back function is added to it, along with a vertical clutch and column wheel. The smooth engagement of the hands and the softness of the pushers showcase “the sturdiness, reliability, and optimized chronometry,” the Technical Director emphasized during our discussion.
No matter which way you look at it, the Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet collection shows great depth and coherence.
A little perspective
As he is highly knowledgeable about the Manufacture's history, the Head of Complications, Friedman added some insight, “For all-new creations, you will have critics and lovers. If you look at our history, you will see it takes time for a new design to be truly appreciated: the Royal Oak took at least 3 years, our first tourbillon wristwatch in 1986 stirred debate for almost a generation before becoming highly sought-after, then it took the Offshore until 1997 (four years after its launch) to really take off.”
When asked about current sales figures for the collection, Michael Friedman answered, pragmatic as ever: “Being an independent, family-owned company, we know how to grow things slowly. We are not chasing shareholders at Audemars Piguet. It took seven years of R&D to create the Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet, so we are happy with our current sales figures.”
As this past November’s GPHG prize certainly suggested, and Michael Friedman confirmed, “Among the complications introduced, the Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Minute Repeater Supersonnerie is certainly a hit and the demand is strong for this model.” On the same token, the Head of Complications added, “The Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Perpetual Calendar is actually among the most requested timepieces overall. This is incredible in such a short period.”
But one of the collection’s greatest successes is that it reaches a new audience. Michael Friedman corroborated, “More than 50% of the Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet customers are totally new to the Manufacture. This was also one of our goals with this new line.”
A Glimpse of The Future
Obviously, this is only the beginning for the Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet. What does the Manufacture have in store for the coming years? The results of the 2019 Only Watch auction might provide a hint: the unique Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Two-Tone Tourbillon Openworked sold for CHF 1 million. The use of two different materials – 18k pink gold for the middle case, 18k white gold for the bezel and caseback – provides even more depth to the particular architecture of the collection’s case. Remember what the Head of Complications said, “The Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet was designed to be a canvas for our people to express their creativity and know-how.”
That said, we would not be surprised to see the introduction of new materials or colors soon. But only the future will tell.
We would like to thank Michael Friedman and Giulio Papi for sharing their insightful views on Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet and are eager to see the next phases of its development.
(Images provided by Audemars Piguet)