Not that long ago, watch criticism was a gentle business. Watch magazines, barely plural, sat in the hobby section in newsagents, somewhere between Railway Modeller and Practical Boat Owner. There were online forums for collectors. And everything was very nice. Back in that era, I once asked a watch magazine editor why his magazine never said anything bad about a watch. “There’s no value in it for our audience,” he replied.
He had a point. Watch magazines were – and are – escapism. Unlike a car or a blender, a watch wasn’t going to get you killed or set your house on fire. If you didn’t like a watch, there was no need to say so. As an editor, you simply ignored it.
No watch, or at least no response to a watch, proves just how much that has changed over the last decade quite like Swiss luxury fake Audemars Piguet Code 11.59. It was introduced last year in a manner reminiscent of an Apple launch. Bold, disruptive, everywhere.
The watch was big news. From a design standpoint, it took some figuring out. It was round and octagonal at the same time; pretty classic from a bird’s eye view and avant-garde from the side. It was also obsessively detailed, right down to the gold logo, which was produced using a chemical process called galvanic growth, a bit like 3-D printing (this alone got its own segment during the launch). And on debut there were 13 models and six calibres, three of them new. Geneva airport was daubed in its pink forest campaign artwork, as were newspapers and magazines around the world.
It was strategically interesting, too. Not that the brand would say it in quite such unequivocal terms, but it was seen as AP’s acknowledgement that it had to diversify from its iconic Royal Oak sports watch.
As if to confirm how much things have changed, at Dubai Watch Week’s Horology Forum last November, one of them spouted their truculent views from a distant keyboard onto a vast screen, while the on-stage panellists looked on, nonplussed, as the Code 11.59 abuse rolled in.
But for all the trolling, the sales performance tells a different story. “We’re now selling twice as many automatic movement replica Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 watches on a monthly basis as we sold last year, the launch year,” says François-Henry Bennahmias, the company’s bullish chief executive. “We were hoping for much more, but due to the two months of production we lost because of the crisis, we won’t be able to. Last year, we made 2,000 Code 11.59 watches. This year, we wanted to do 4,000, but it will be 3,000. The collection is in good shape – it’s a global success.”
It’s also not put a dent in the brand’s Code 11.59 ambitions. Bennahmias says they’ve planned out the collection for the next five years. Some of it is here already. In July, we got a stream of the self-winding and self-winding chronograph models, each in five new colourways, the winningest being a white-gold and smoked burgundy dial combo that gives the collection some extra sartorial fizz.
Then at the beginning of September came the startling 50-piece limited-edition self-winding flying tourbillon chronograph, a graphic number with an open-worked dial (some might see two monkeys in the design, others perhaps a steam punky gas mask) that served as a timely reminder that beyond AP’s eye-catching commercial relationships with basketball players and golfers, it is still fabulously good at the old-fashioned business of making grandes complications. And then as if to hammer home the point, last week it announced five unique-piece steel case copy Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Grande Sonnerie Carillon Supersonnerie chiming watches with “grand feu” enamel dials created by the ever in-demand Anita Porchet and her atelier.
These updates may not prove Code 11.59 is an unqualified success, nor that it’s beyond criticism (no watch is), but they show just how much AP has invested in it and how much it believes in its future. After all, let’s remember this: in the 1970s, the Royal Oak got off to a slow start. Now it’s currency. Code 11.59 is a long way off that yet, but you’d be fool to say it never will be.