Secret code

Audemars Piguet's new timepieces are full of subtle detail

Audemars Piguet CEO François-Henry Bennahmias. Marc Ducrest

A closely kept secret for seven years, Audemars Piguet's new watch family made its big debut with 13 models at SIHH 2019 in Geneva recently.

The timepieces stirred a great deal of discussion, much of it due to the simple fact that they had been christened CODE 11.59 by Audemars Piguet.

Ebullient CEO François-Henry Bennahmias is keen on getting feedback about the name. To many, the appellation seems rather on the long side.

"People can call it whatever they want: CODE 11.59, CODE or 11.59 alone; clients can decide for themselves." he said. "We introduced a Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph named Kill Bill a few years ago, for example, but people called it the Bumble Bee instead because of the black and yellow colour scheme. At the end of the day, what matters most is the watch itself."

Deciphering CODE 11.59 involves taking a closer look at the Swiss maison's DNA. The CODE acronym stands for Challenge, Own, Dare and Evolve, which aligns with the brand motto, "To break the rules, you must first master them".

Established in 1875 in the Vallée de Joux, Audemars Piguet is the oldest fine watchmaking manufacturer still in the hands of its founding families. The dynamism of the company is embodied in Bennahmias, a former professional golfer, who worked in the fashion industry before switching to haute horlogerie in 1994. He has been CEO of Audemars Piguet since 2013.

The numeral part of the timepiece's name is a witty nod to the fact that it represents a new chapter in the company's history: 11.59 refers to the minute before the start of a new day.

"CODE 11.59 signifies welcoming a new day and embarking on a new journey," Bennahmias said. "This new collection makes Audemars Piguet more complete. Now, it's about time to show who we are and the whole extent of what we can do."

One of Audemars Piguet's areas of expertise is the use of different geometries like rounds, squares and rectangles for case forms, either independently or in conjunction with unconventional shapes like trapezoids and octagons.

Introduced in 1972, the Royal Oak, named after a British battleship, was a pivotal piece in watchmaking history because of its bold design in a steel case with an octagonal bezel and eight hexagonal screws.

For almost half-a-century, the limelight has been on the iconic Royal Oak, whose offshoots include the sporty Royal Oak Offshore launched in 1993 and the Royal Oak Concept collection of 2002. The beauty of round watches has now been redefined through CODE 11.59, a new pillar that will strengthen the business along with the Royal Oak trio and Millenary product lines.

"CODE 11.59 will appeal to people who already love Audemars Piguet as well as new clients, including those of a younger generation because of its contemporary design," Bennahmias said.

The cheery CEO used a music analogy to differentiate CODE 11.59 from classic round watches, comparing them to Jay-Z's Empire State Of Mind and Frank Sinatra's New York, New York.

"We are not making a cover -- we have written a new song," he said. "CODE 11.59 by Audemars Piguet stands out by itself. We pushed the design very far."

Over seven years, the development process saw many design iterations and demanded the creation of new tools, skills and techniques to achieve an exceptional degree of technical and aesthetic complexity, not to mention a big team effort.

The difference between the first design and final version, Bennahmias noted, is like day and night.

"The initial designs were inspired by yesterday. So we told our designers not to look at what we had done before and seek new inspirations instead," he said. "We had a lot to think about since we wanted to make everything new, including the movement."

The new watch family is exclusively available at Audemars Piguet boutiques, where clients can experience the 13 novelties, including the impressive perpetual calendar, flying tourbillion, tourbillion openworked and minute repeater supersonnerie (See related story on Page 4).

At first sight, they seem like classic round watches, but as with the quirky name, a closer look reveals their edgy details.

"Take an appetiser or a main course created by a chef in a three-star Michelin restaurant -- behind the beautiful presentation and tasty mix of flavours, the preparation is huge and goes into great detail," Bennahmias explained. "Our watchmaking, like many things done by hand, goes into great depth and detail to make CODE 11.59 by Audemars Piguet come alive. When you experience it, you will appreciate that it's more than a just a round watch."