The Ultra-Complication Watch by Audemars Piguet, a.k.a The Code 11.59 Universelle
It's f**king awesome; one watch to rule them all, for now.
Let’s go straight to the point: Audemars Piguet chose its Code 11.59 to house its most complicated wristwatch, the Ultra-Complication Universelle RD#4, delivering a bold statement and demonstrating the brand’s incredible technical brilliance. It’s complex yet compact, displays the indications neatly, and is simple to operate. Today, we dive in to describe the timepiece to you in detail.
It seems like it has been over four years since Audemars Piguet introduced the Code 11.59 collection. Released in 2019, it was initially met with negativity and criticism for not being another Royal Oak when it shouldn’t. While it is true that the brand has entirely and unfortunately become synonymous with the iconic Royal Oak and its derivatives in view of the general public, AP must be praised for making a very radical and courageous step towards becoming, once again, recognised as a leading watchmaking company with a diverse portfolio. And what a step it was. The year the collection was launched, the Code 11.59 Minute Repeater Supersonnerie was noted by the Jury of GPHG, winning the Men’s Complication Watch Prize in 2019, which is a big deal.
The Code 11.59 elaborate case defines the collection. It is a true gem – round shape, octagonal mid-case, openworked lugs, and signature curve – and since its introduction, it has called for complicated or equally striking and intricate dials to complement it. Why the time-and-date models, released in the inaugural Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet collection, received the most hate is understandable. The images disseminated online did not do justice to the exceptionally crafted watches, mostly due to slightly dull dials. Still, as the new models kept coming in to impress the most hardened sceptics and to silence the critics, it became crystal clear that Code 11.59 was en route to success and one day might surpass the importance and allure of the Royal Oak (maybe…). Take a look at the current Code lineup, including the very unconventional Starwheel, which seemed to wait many years for the proper case design to reincarnate; admire the blue “guilloché and flinqué” enamel dial of the Grande Sonnerie Carillon Supersonnerie or the aventurine perpetual calendars. Code 11.59 is to be taken very seriously, and the new references that AP recently added make it granite strong. Audemars Piguet chose Code 11.59 to house its most complicated wristwatch, the Ultra-Complication Universelle RD#4.
The Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Universelle Ultra-Complication RD#4 is a tribute to the L’Universelle pocket watch movement of 1899, one of the most complicated ever produced by Audemars Piguet throughout the history of the Manufacture – the watch is now on display at Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet as part of the permanent exhibition. L’Universelle incorporates 26 functions; complications include Grande Sonnerie Carillon and a perpetual calendar, split-seconds, jumping-seconds and deadbeat-seconds chronograph – with four out of five chronograph hands controlled by one single push-piece, and the brand rightfully situates the watch next to Breguet’s Marie Antoinette (1802) and Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication (1933).
RD#4 indicates it is the fourth timepiece in the Research and Development line, first introduced in 2015 with the impressive sound of the Royal Oak Concept Acoustic Research RD#1. Since then, the series featured the Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin RD#2 (2019), the thinnest QP with automatic winding at the time (and still is among the full-rotor QPs). Last year, the Royal Oak Self-Winding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin RD#3 was revealed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the RO. The Code 11.59 Universelle Ultra-Complication RD#4 combines the previous three but should also be viewed as the result of many years of AP practising miniaturisation.
To fit all the RD#4 complications into the Code 11.59 case, AP had to pump it up just a little bit, adding 1mm to the diameter (41mm is a typical size for the collection) so it is 42mm, while the thickness is 15.55mm, with the thinnest Code watch standing only 10.70mm tall. As the Universelle Ultra-Complication RD#4 is unique, one cannot compare it size-wise with other grand complication watches, but to give you an idea, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Hybris Mechanica Grande Sonnerie is 45mm x 15mm, the A. Lange & Söhne Grand Complication is 50mm x 20.30mm, Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication 3600 with its 23 complications is 45mm x 13.6mm, and the Patek Philippe 6300 Grandmaster Chime is 47.7mm x 16.07mm. So, AP’s Universelle Ultra-Complication RD#4 may not be the thinnest, but still, it already ranks number one among the ultra-complicated wristwatches today as the most user-friendly, intuitively foolproof and straightforward.
However, you’ll need some instructions to guide you through the learning process of managing 40 functions, or instead, 23 complications and 17 technical devices of the new AP Universelle. You may learn it by trying intuitively, as you did with an iPhone. This analogy has the right to be, as Giulio Papi, AP’s technical director, was impressed by the device’s usability and wanted to create a highly complicated watch to the same effect.
With the Code 11.59 Universelle Ultra-Complication, the pushers/correctors found on traditional grand complication watches are replaced with labelled push-pieces on the left side of the case. Some functions were delegated to the three multi-tasking crowns with integrated push-pieces on the right. There is also a lever to open the “secret” extra-thin caseback cover, but we’ll get to it later.
Before revising the functions and learning the use of crowns and pushers, let us look closely at the watch and admire the complex made simple. The pushers are seamlessly integrated, the crowns are flawless, and Universelle Ultra-Complication looks and feels like a watch anyone would enjoy. And with the effort AP put into making it ergonomic in a classic sense – comfortable, easy to use, with excellent performance and contemporary aesthetics – there’s virtually nothing to complain about. Giulio Papi and his team developed a wearable watch with a long list of specs and only a few main ones to remember since they are the ones the owner would experience. RD#4 features the Supersonnerie technology introduced in RD#1 (gongs mounted to a soundboard), so there’s Grande and Petite Sonnerie and a minute repeater. The watch also features the ultra-thin perpetual calendar mechanism presented with the RD#2 and has a split-seconds flyback chronograph. The oscillator with an increased amplitude introduced with the RD#3 and the flying tourbillon (not originally planned to be featured) work for better performance and presentation.
To enjoy the acoustic effects, you can switch between Grande Sonnerie, Petite Sonnerie, and silence mode using the crown at 2 o’clock; the crown side is marked. The Grande Sonnerie mode will make the mechanism strike the hours and quarter-hours in passing; the Petite Sonnerie will automatically chime the hours only; in silent mode, the chiming is off. The minute repeater is activated separately from the pusher at 10 o’clock. All the chimings are powered by a specially dedicated barrel wound alternately with the main barrel.
For RD#4, the Supersonnerie tech used to achieve exceptional sound quality via gongs attached to the soundboard rather than the mainplate was redesigned and allows a view of the works. AP created the double caseback, with a thin “secret” vented cover to let the air in to amplify the sound and a 0.6mm thin sapphire crystal membrane component for the gongs. When the lid is opened using a lever under the crown at 3 o’clock, it reveals the split-seconds mechanism and the platinum oscillating weight with the engraved sound waves.
Now, since we mentioned the split seconds, this mechanism was built to integrate within the thickness of the central rotor’s ball bearing; thus, it allowed for the overall thickness of the movement to be reduced by 1.1mm to 8.75mm (which is only about 1mm more than a Valjoux 7750…). The operation of the chronograph is relatively straightforward. The crown at 2 o’clock with a note symbol on top of the integrated pusher starts and stops the flyback chronograph. The pusher of the central crown at 3 o’clock is for the split-seconds activator. The push-button at 4 o’clock activates the flyback and zero-reset. Easy.
As for the operations yet to be mentioned, the central crown at 3 o’clock allows the owner to wind the watch and set the time and date. The crown at 4 o’clock is for the forwards and backwards fast month and year correction by partial rotation, and it auto-returns to its neutral position when the task is completed. On the case’s left, the top pusher with an engraved keynote activates the minute repeater. The middle is for the fast weekday correction (marked WD), and the lower is for the moon phase. And this is it!
Now that we are familiar with the operation of the watch let us traverse the dial. The Code 11.59 Universelle Ultra-Complication RD#4 is released in four variants, two feature what the brand calls architectural dials, and two are more traditional, with closed dials. The solid dials come in black or beige, in white gold, and the two references exhibiting the movement are offered in white or pink gold.
Contrary to common practice, the Universelle RD#4 was designed with the dial coming first rather than the movement. The result is fascinating; an ultra-complicated watch, especially the solid dial variants, does not look like one.
With the solid dial references, all the calendar indications are evident and do not interfere much with the chronograph sub-dials at 3 and 9 o’clock. The day indicator is at 9 o’clock, the large date window is at 12, and the month window is at 3 o’clock. The year indicator replaces the leap-year rudiment and is positioned next to the 4 o’clock index.
The hour markers are not present on the architectural/openworked dials, allowing for a much more sophisticated view. Here the rotating day and month discs are incorporated within the chronograph sub-dials. This is the same movement we are discussing, so AP designed it to accommodate the wider date wheels on the solid dials, shown through the aperture. On the open-dial RD#4s, the weekday and month are pointed out by red triangle indicators.
The moon phase indicator is positioned at 8 o’clock and synchronised with the year indicator. The image of the moon in transition between the stages is formed by two concentric discs with printed moon pictures that can create ten different moon phases. Once correctly set, the moon phase function needs no correction for 122 years, provided the watch runs non-stop. The perpetual calendar is good until 2400; the QP mechanism is computed to account for the number of days in each month and the leap years and automatically advances the day, date, month, and year with the move from December to January.
The AP1000 calibre that drives the new Code 11.59 Universelle Ultra-Complication RD#4 is regulated by a flying tourbillon and requires a separate and extensive chapter to describe this movement in detail. It comprises 1,155 components, is built using 90 jewels, beats at 21,600 vph and has a power reserve of 64 hours drawing from the larger main barrel, with acoustic functions getting energy from a separate dedicated barrel, as already mentioned. It is a “mix” of previous AP technologies with innovations that made the movement relatively compact. The movement is finished to the same highest standards as we know AP to excel at, with every component performing its task perfectly, be it technical, aesthetical, or both.
This AP1000 movement, and the watch as a whole, epitomises AP’s past and future. The Code 11.59 Universelle Ultra-Complication RD#4 is not an exercise or a show-off piece to demonstrate the capabilities and prowess; the brand’s communication could not highlight the user-friendliness and wearability any stronger, and Giulio Papi reportedly admitted the watch could be taken swimming (water-resistant to 20m). With a price tag of CHF 1,45 million for the cheapest variants, one would be crazy to try. Should you try, why not write to us to share your experience?
The new Code 11.59 Universelle Ultra-Complication RD#4 is offered on a black alligator strap with a gold AP folding clasp and an additional black textured rubber-coated calfskin strap. No information as to whether this is a limited edition, so to plan an appointment, go to www.audemarspiguet.com.