Carefree Complexity: Audemars Piguet Focuses on Comfort & Ease-of-Use with Its Latest Crop of Complicated Watches
Despite packing numerous complications, AP’s new complicated models stand out for their thin automatic movements, slim cases, lightweight materials, and cleanly laid out functions that can be intuitively set.
One obvious takeaway from Audemars Piguet’s presentation of its new core collection models yesterday was that ergonomics are high on the Le Brassus brand’s list of priorities. As my colleague Rhonda Riche noted in her article for those releases, refined cases housing more compact automatic movements mean the Royal Oak, Royal Oak Offshore, and Code 11.59 have rarely been so comfortable to wear and easy to use.
Today, Audemars Piguet has unveiled this year’s additions to its collection of complicated timepieces, and we can see that, once again, wearer comfort and ease of use are the dominant theme.
Despite these novelties packing a number – in some cases a plethora – of exciting horological complications, AP has prioritized UX by favoring flatter movements with automatic winding, slimmed down cases, and lightweight materials, plus clear and readable functions that are intuitively set and activated.
Here are our top three picks of AP’s complicated releases.
Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Ultra-Complication Universelle RD#4
Nothing encapsulates this approach of “uncomplicating the complicated” as brilliantly as the new Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Universelle, which the brand has billed as its very first ultra-complicated automatic wristwatch.
In name and spirit, this watch pays tribute to AP’s Universelle pocket watch from 1899, whose 26 functions and 19 classic complications made it one of the most elaborate creations the brand has ever produced.
Well, hold on to your hat; because the new Universelle ultra-complicated wristwatch manages to fit 40 functions and 23 prestigious complications – including 17 “special technical devices” – in among its primary complications (a split-second flyback chronograph, grande sonnerie, and perpetual calendar with moon-phase display). Oh, and while not technically a complication, the Code 11.59 Universelle has a flying tourbillon because, you know, why not?
Amazingly though, with its elegant Code 11.59-style case, measuring just 42mm in diameter and 15.55mm in height, the new Universelle manages to retain the appearance and evoke the feel of a rather fetching two-pusher chronograph. Indeed, at first glance, you wouldn’t necessarily realize everything going on inside this comparatively compact package. But, as you will soon find out, there is, in fact, a huge amount happening here.
Although it may boggle the mind of many to learn this, nearly every primary complication of the Code 11.59 Universelle boasts at least one special feature that enhances its performance or the wearer’s experience.
Take the watch’s chiming functions, for example. The grande sonnerie, petite sonnerie, and minute repeater functions are fed by a dedicated barrel wound by kinetic wrist motion to optimize energy management and distribution.
Then there is a new “secret” gold caseback which improves the watch’s acoustic performance when on the wrist. Opening it reveals the movement thanks to a new Supersonnerie soundboard made from sapphire crystal, onto which the gongs are mounted.
The split-seconds chronograph boasts a swivel clutch to prevent stuttering hands. Meanwhile, unlike a traditional perpetual calendar, the QP mechanism incorporated into the Universelle’s movement is engineered in such a way as to require manual correction only once every 400 years (and the realistic moon phase display once every 122 years), provided, of course, the watch is kept running for that amount of time.
Clean, Tidy, and Legible
Indeed, the Universelle wristwatch incorporates and builds on the “Research and Development” innovations that Audemars Piguet’s engineers, designers, watchmakers, and craftspeople have been perfecting over the last seven years as part of the brand’s RD series. As a result, 2023’s Universelle duly carries the postfix RD#4.
For all the impressive complications at play here and for all the 1,100 components needed to assemble the automatic Calibre 1000 (which has a decent maximum power reserve of 60 hours), the team at AP has succeeded in creating a movement measuring just 34.3mm in diameter and 8.75mm in height.
To find the space, the team has simplified functions and revised its engineering so that the calendar functions, for instance, are now on a single level. At the same time, the team has managed to space out the various functions enough that the dial remains clean, tidy, and legible despite their attendant indicators, be they sub-dial, aperture, or the like.
The same goes for the pushers, correctors, and selectors, with just three “super” crowns – which feature coaxial pushers – placed on the right side of the case, and three discreet push-pieces on the left, all intuitively labelled.
Four Variations for 2023
Giulio Papi, Technical Director of Audemars Piguet Le Locle, sums up the ethos behind the Universelle, saying: “To achieve the highest level of reliability, while also keeping the thickness of our calibres to the minimum, we believe that a ‘mechanical function with an ergonomic focus’ opens a new path for Audemars Piguet and the watch industry as a whole.”
For 2023, four variations of the Code 11.59 by AP Ultra-Complication Universelle are available: an 18K white gold model with a black dial, an 18K white gold version with a beige dial, an 18K white gold model with an openwork dial, and an 18K pink gold version with an openwork dial.
All-Titanium Royal Oak Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin Model
Of course, knowing how to condense a perpetual calendar into a single layer is nothing new at Audemars Piguet: The brand already showed it was possible with 2019’s Royal Oak Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin Model.
Presented with navy dial and counters framed by a 41mm titanium case with platinum octagonal bezel, the 2019 model measured just 6.3mm in height, made possible thanks to the 2.9mm-thin Calibre 5133 ticking on the inside.
Today, Audemars Piguet has added another Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin to its line-up. However, this time, it features an eye-catching blue fumé dial with black calendar sub-dials. And decorated with the sunburst motif typical of a fumé dial, the smoky blue dial captivatingly transitions from light in the center to black around the periphery.
For the 2023 200-piece limited edition, the case, bezel, and bracelet are all-titanium, and the surfaces are finished with the brand’s signature mix of polishing and brushing. Unsurprisingly but no less impressive, the combination of lightweight metal and ultra-thin dimensions makes the new Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin feel like it floats atop the wrist – it’s quite a feat.
Royal Oak Concept Split-Seconds Chronograph GMT Large Date
Finally, Audemars Piguet has unveiled a striking new iteration of its avant-garde, high-tech Royal Oak, the Royal Oak Concept, with a new state-of-the-art movement, slimmed-down case, and refined, interchangeable rubber strap.
Combining a split-seconds flyback chronograph, second-time zone with day-night indicator, and a large date aperture, – the new Royal Oak Concept Split-Seconds Chronograph GMT Large Date is the first of its kind to be produced in series at Audemars Piguet.
Plus, to get it right the first time, its new automatic Calibre 4407 employs a column wheel with vertical clutch system for clean chronograph functioning. Moreover, the split-seconds mechanism has been integrated into the thickness of the winding rotor’s ball bearing – visible through the sapphire caseback – to reduce the movement’s height.
Plenty of the cutting-edge caliber can also be glimpsed dial side thanks to cut-outs in the black-treated German silver plate. Eschewing the Audemars Piguet logo, the dial features red and yellow accents to mark the chronograph and GMT functions respectively, while a white tachymeter scale is printed on a black peripheral flange.
Framing this technical spectacle is a new titanium case with a combination crown/GMT push piece and chronograph pusher inserts in black ceramic.
And while the angular, spaceship-like design of the case more or less follows the usual Royal Oak Concept case profile, now, the case diameter is a tad thinner at 43mm. Plus, while the case arches to conform to the natural shape of the wrist, its surfaces feature a more subtle mix of textures: satin-brushed, sandblasted, and polished finishes, which play nicely with the light.
This Royal Oak Concept is also the first to boast an interchangeable rubber strap, the design of which complements and echoes the lines and hues of the case. For example, the beveling on the case sides continue onto a strap decorated with symmetrical gray inserts to create a smart two-tone aesthetic.
Finally, the watch comes with a second all-black interchangeable rubber strap, and two additional black rubber straps with yellow or red accents will be available in AP boutiques as part of the brand’s interchangeable strap offering for this new 43mm Royal Oak Concept.