The Audemars Piguet CODE 11.59
The first day of SIHH 2019 has been momentous. The industry is entering an uncertain time again with government turmoil, a slowdown of the Asian market, and a poor 4th quarter 2018. The watch community swirls with news of the all-new CODE 11.59 collection by Audemars Piguet. This new collection has sparked polar emotions. Many purists argue that the entire collection is underwhelming and poorly designed. Others find the collecting extremely interesting and admirable fo a brand known for pushing the envelope of design and fine watchmaking.
According to Audemars Piguet, “CODE” is an acronym for challenge, own, dare, and evolve. Additionally, 11.59 symbolizes the last minute before a new day (or before lunch). In my opinion, this name was directly aimed at capturing the younger audience, a lucrative but dangerous game. François-Henry Bennahmias explained that younger audiences prefer shorter words, and made a bold claim that this collection could account for up to 25% of Audemars Piguet watches being sold.
However, in my opinion, this naming scheme serves only as a gimmick, and ignores Audemars Piguet’s traditional philosophy. The odd name may need to be explained to a less knowledgeable or up-to-date buyer, which could further complicate an already tenuous sales process.
Audemars Piguet introduced a series of watches that comprise this new collection. Namely, the chronograph and the three-hands automatic. All the new watches feature the same case design with stunning hollowed out lugs, and a hidden octagonal shape only visible when viewed from the side. This is an interesting design detail and a great selling point for the new collection. Audemars Piguet marketed this watch as “a watch,” which is a way of saying that the watch appeals to both male and female customers. However, the case is sized at 41mm, and the lugs are unnecessarily shortened and stubby to account for the massive dial. 41mm is not a unisex size, and appears to be a marketing ploy to gain buyers with smaller wrists. In fact, smaller male wrists may not be able to accommodate a timepiece of this size, especially considering its more dress-oriented nature. However, the case is innovative and the finishing standards of Audemars Piguet is outstanding. Gorgeous bevels can be spotted throughout. AP did not compromise on finishing whatsoever.
The Audemars Piguet team produced three all-new in-house movements for this project, including a fully-integrated chronograph (no more modules) . AP movements are superbly finished and there is no doubt that the movement innovations alone will entice consumers.
The dial design is where Audemars Piguet disappointed. There is hardly any bezel, and François-Henry Bennahmias alluded to modern-day smart devices as the inspiration for excluding a prominent bezel. Instead, an awkward raised portion of the dial is included. This look cheapens the appearance overall. In several cases, the type Audemars Piguet used to denote the seconds was over-aggressive and did not suit the nature of the watch. Similarly, the date placement at 4:30 truly baffles me. It disrupts the design of the dial and worsens the overall style. Additionally, the numerals at 12, 6, and 9 are awkwardly styled, and does not fit with the elegance of the lacquer dial. The logo is nicely applied; however, a bit large, which cheapens the look despite the engineering innovations required to seat it properly within the hard lacquer without scratching it. It appears Audemars Piguet took inspiration from the recent Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris, which is a true sports watch, and a watch where this style fits in.
The prices are also very grand, starting at $25,000. At that price, I would have expected enamel and not lacquer. The watch does not appear to command such a hefty price-tag, which is likely too high to appeal to millenials. In fact, the basic 37mm steel Royal Oak starts at only $14,000. That watch is a design icon, synonymous with the AP brand. The new collection comes in precious metals, but there is at most $3000 worth of gold in each watch. This also does not account for the increased price to finish the steel on Royal Oaks to such a standard. Gold, being many times softer than steel, is much easier to polish and to perfect.
Next is the marketing. The hype surrounding this release rose to a fever pitch, likely due to the incredible investment Audemars Piguet put into their celebrity advertising, with intentionally blurred photos of the watches in order to indicate a new release. The AP brand dubbed CODE 11:59 the future of the Audemars Piguet brand beyond the Royal Oak. However, upon release, the excitement fell and many were disappointed.
The Audemars Piguet collection was an overall disappointment for me, but perhaps I am not the demographic Audemars Piguet was targeting with this release. Audemars Piguet is attempting to reach younger audiences, but it is doubtful that blatant targeting and hopping-on-board trends will solve the issue. Poor marketing and poor engagement with the younger audience is the real issue. The market is now immune to celebrity brand ambassadors and other antiquated schemes. The new watches did not seem like a cohesive art piece, but more like a marketing concoction to reach a new demographic. The designs didn’t scream “Audemars Piguet,” - they screamed “gimmick.” Audemars Piguet touted the 1400 employees that combined their efforts to make this collection. There was simply no cohesion, it was design by committee and nothing else. There was just too many cooks in the kitchen! The greatest watches were designed by the vision of one man, like Gerald Genta when he sketched his vision for the Royal Oak. The design itself wasn’t a company-wide decision, it was driven by the vision of one.