Wandering through time
The Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Starwheel can trace its beginnings to 1655
Three Masters of Time agilely move on rotating discs in the middle of intergalactic space in the launch film of Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Starwheel. Orange-clad characters assemble the new watch by synchronising their movements in a playful universe imagined by French artist Ugo Gattoni.
Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Starwheel with three discs that point to a 120-degree minute scale.
The animation may make viewers deem the Starwheel a futuristic timepiece but it's actually inspired by 17th century "wandering hours", whose time display involved a system of satellites that gravitated along a minute scale arranged in the form of an arc.
From an article in the Journal Suisse d'Horlogerie, Audemars Piguet rediscovered the antiquated complication in 1989, and revived it in Starwheel models between 1991 and 2003. After two decades, the wandering hours system makes a comeback in the contemporary Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Starwheel.
Its history can be traced back to 1655, when the Rome-based Campani brothers devised a silent night clock that would be easy to read in the dark. The invention responded to a special request from Pope Alexander VII, whose insomnia was aggravated by the ticking of a clock.
The time was displayed on a semi-circle in an aperture that indicated the quarter hours and was lit from the inside. This night clock was the precursor of the wandering hours system.
French artist Ugo Gattoni imagined a playful universe to illustrate the wandering hours.
From the end of the 17th century, the poetic complication was introduced into pocket watches without the backlighting. Popularity of the wandering hours, however, started to wane in the 19th century.
Audemars Piguet was founded in 1875, in Le Brassus in the heart of the Vallée de Joux, Switzerland. A century later the company endured the quartz crisis and redefined luxury watches with the stainless steel Royal Oak equipped with the thinnest self-winding mechanical movement of its era.
Its revival of mechanical watchmaking further included the incorporation of the classic wandering hours into the Starwheel, whose name references the three stars that support the hour discs fixed on a large central wheel.
From the 17th to the 20th century, the beauty of the wandering hours complication laid in a hidden mechanism. Audemars Piguet's haute horlogerie broke the mystery of its operation by revealing the mechanism in the first Starwheel (Ref 25720).
The first Starwheel (Ref 25720) from 1991.
Reinterpretations varied in the length and location of the arc-shaped aperture, some of which also featured gemsetting and openworking.
The new Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Starwheel is presented in a 41mm case combining 18-carat white gold with black ceramic.
The case architecture is reinforced by the overlapping of geometric shapes, including a round bezel, caseback and Starwheel discs as well as a rounded octagonal case middle.
Equipped solely with a seconds hand, the model indicates the time using three discs that point to a 120-degree scale, from 10 to 2 o'clock graduated with 60 minutes.
Vintage Starwheel timepieces with the wandering hours complication.
Turning on their own axes, the aluminium discs are fixed on a central rotor operating a complete revolution in three hours. Each disc has four digits from 1 to 12 that represent the wandering hours. The white numerals take turns in pointing to the arched sector at the top of the dial with the minute scale.
The 18-carat white gold trotteuse is slightly curved at the tip to follow the relief of the discs, indicating the seconds like in a traditional timepiece.
Blue aventurine serves as a shimmering backdrop for the three discs that are like planets in the tiny universe of the dial. The slightly domed aluminium discs are tinted black thanks to a PVD treatment, followed by an opaline sandblasted finishing touch.
The diversity of materials as well as signature hand finishing render an infinite play of light -- underscoring the complex design of the Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet watches.
Like the gold components, the ceramic case middle is meticulously finished with an interplay of polished bevels and satin-finished surfaces. Furthermore, the perfect alignment between multiple angular and round surfaces of the case is only possible thanks to manual craftsmanship.
On the dial side, the double-curved sapphire crystal enhances depth while magnifying both the numerous details in the blue aventurine and the finishing of the various elements.
On the back of the watch, the sapphire crystal reveals the 22-carat pink gold oscillating weight and other parts of the self-winding Calibre 4310, which provides a minimum power reserve of 70 hours.
The sapphire crystal reveals a Calibre 4310 and its pink gold oscillating weight. (Photos © Audemars Piguet)