Sometimes you get confronted with watches that need time to sink in. Watches that need a second and a third look. And after that, you put together the story with the images that come with them. And once you have done that, you still have to grasp the magnitude of what you have just witnessed. These moments are rare, but when they happen, you will recognize them immediately. The introduction of the new Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Ultra-Complication Universelle RD#4 is one of those moments. This new timepiece is the most complicated that the brand has ever created. It’s also imbued with contemporary ways of using and experiencing a timepiece. The revolution is here, and it comes in the form of the Code 11.59 Ultra-Complication Universelle RD#4.
The story of the Code 11.59 Ultra-Complication Universelle RD#4 started for me simply with the images of its four different executions. And my enthusiasm was immediately triggered by the colors of the white gold version with the beige dial, black chronograph counters, and a black ring holding the minute track. That combination of colors is simply stunning. I quickly discovered that Nacho and Lex were also visually attracted to the same piece. As it turns out, the colors are only the first sentence of an entire book, one that is captivating and spectacular and tells a remarkable story.
Because if you look past the dial and the colors, you quickly realize this watch is a unique masterpiece. Sure, the dial gives away that this is an impressive timepiece. But once you see the images of the sides of the case, you know you’re in for something truly special. If you then see the images of the “secret” case back, it’s time to put words to the images and find out what makes this such a special piece. The ultra-short story is that this new Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Ultra-Complication Universelle RD#4 is the most complicated timepiece the brand has ever created. It introduces the new Calibre 1000, comprised of more than 1,100 pieces. It features 40 different functions, of which 23 are complications. Among them are a Grande Sonnerie Supersonnerie, a minute repeater, a perpetual calendar, a split-seconds flyback chronograph, and a flying tourbillon. The watch is the result of seven years of research, design, and development. The Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Ultra-Complication Universelle RD#4 is a unique testament to Audemars Piguet’s legacy of high complications.
But a story like this one doesn’t just happen overnight. The total development of the RD#4 took seven years. The technical mastermind behind the watch is Giulio Papi, the technical director at Audemars Piguet in Le Locle. He explained during the presentation that the idea for this unique timepiece was triggered by an experience that you might not expect. Papi was impressed by the ingenuity of the usability of the iPhone 6. It sparked the wish to develop a concept for a complicated watch that doesn’t need an instruction manual and doesn’t have a string of pushers and correctors on each side of the case. It was an ambitious quest to develop a highly complicated timepiece that is not only intuitive to use but also could be a daily wearer due to its ergonomics and its aesthetics. Essentially, you could classify this as the quest for the ultimate timepiece. But where do you start such a monumental project? Papi and his team started in 2016 at the place you might expect the least, the dial. Papi explained that the team knew it would be a timepiece with a round dial and case shape. Mind you, the Code 11.59 was introduced in 2019, so when this project started, the Code 11.59 platform was also in its developing stages. Thus, the combination of the two projects came at a later stage.
So the team started with the dial design based on a round shape and the different complications that it needed to have. With everyday usability in mind, the design would translate into a dial that stands out because of its brilliant readability. These dials were used for two of the final four timepieces. The brand decided to produce two models with closed dials. The first comes with an opaline black galvanic gold dial, and the second features a stunning opaline beige PVD gold dial with black chronograph counters. The two other pieces feature open-worked dials that give you a glimpse of the unique new Calibre 1000. But with the integration of the different functions and complications also came the question of how to access and operate them. It resulted in the designers developing ergonomic correctors and crown pushers, allowing users to activate the watch’s multiple functions easily. Regarding the different complications that Audemars Piguet wanted to integrate, Papi revealed that the flying tourbillon was initially not part of the list. But with the clean dial design of the closed-dial versions, there was room to integrate it. On top of that, it would spice up a dial that excels in usability but could use a little visual sparkle. It’s just one of the many remarkable details of this enormous project. The result is a truly unique watch that is nothing short of impressive.
By now, you might be thinking, “Hit us with some specs!” And you’re right. Just reading the list of specifications will shine a light on the watch itself and the grandeur of the project. So the four watches feature a newly developed Code 11.59 case that measures only 42mm in diameter and 15.55mm in thickness. Yes, you read that correctly; this watch is actually very wearable. The case has kept its typical Code 11.59 architecture with its overall round shape, characteristic octagonal mid-case shape, open-worked lugs, and its signature curves. The proportions of the new case were slightly altered to fit the ultra-complicated Calibre 1000. The new Calibre 1000 is an ultra-complicated self-winding movement comprised of over 1,100 components. It incorporates 40 functions, including 23 complications as well as 17 special technical devices. Among them are Audemars Piguet’s most recently introduced R&D innovations presented in its three RD# predecessors. The first is the Supersonnerie technology unveiled in 2015 with the Royal Oak Concept RD#1. The second is the ultra-thin perpetual calendar mechanism presented in 2018 with the RD#2. That resulted in the Royal Oak Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin model that was introduced in 2019 and sees its newest iteration released today as well. The third R&D innovation in this watch is the oscillator with an increased amplitude. This was unveiled on the two Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Extra-Thin RD#3 models last year.
On top of integrating its latest R&D developments, the Manufacture combined them with some of the most complex and prestigious complications. The result is a single movement that measures only 34.3mm in diameter (15 lignes) and 8.75mm in thickness. But how do you create something so complex and make it easy to use? The answer to that question was reducing the number of pushers and correctors we usually find on the side of cases of highly complicated timepieces. Audemars Piguet combined the operation of the functionalities into three crowns and three push pieces that grace the sides of the case. The push-pieces are on the left side of the case and stand out because of their modest size and flawless integration into the side. The top pusher activates the minute repeater. The middle and lower pushers correct the moonphase and day indications. With these new pushers, gone are the days of using annoying, sharp tools to push the minuscule correctors we usually see on the sides of complicated watches. So full credit to Audemars Piguet for developing a way of correcting the different functions. It massively improves the ease of use and makes the sides look a lot better.
The watch features three crowns with coaxial pushers on the right side of the case. The large central crown at 3 o’clock allows the wearer to wind the watch and set the time and date. On top of that, it enables you to select the chiming mode that switches between Grande Sonnerie, Petite Sonnerie, and silence mode. The crown-pusher or so-called “supercrown” at 2 o’clock starts and stops the flyback chronograph mechanism. The second “supercrown” at 4 o’clock resets the chronograph with a push. That same pusher also corrects the month in sync with the year by turning the crown 70 degrees forward or backward. After correcting, the crown returns to its neutral position. It goes without saying that this innovation makes it super easy to use and almost hides the difficult technical solution that makes this possible. Lastly, the pushers and crowns feature small engraved symbols reminding you of the different functions.
We can agree that the ease of use for the different functions is truly spectacular. The simple ways of operating the watch make it a massive achievement alone. But that is definitely not where it ends because the different functions and complications also need to be integrated into one movement. On top of that, the team at Audemars Piguet strived for nothing but the absolute best. A great example is the chiming mechanism. It combines a Grande Sonnerie with the patented Supersonnerie technology that the brand introduced in 2015. As mentioned, you can switch between Grande Sonnerie, Petite Sonnerie, and silence mode. The Grande Sonnerie mechanism strikes the hours and every quarter-hour in passing without any involvement of the wearer. When the Petite Sonnerie mode is activated, the watch automatically chimes the hours only. In silent mode, automatic chiming is switched off. Additionally, the minute repeater is activated separately through the pusher at 10 o’clock. All of the chiming functions are powered by a dedicated barrel that is wound alternately with the main barrel by moving the watch on the wrist.
Audemars Piguet’s integration of the patented Supersonnerie mechanism ensures the superior tone and quality of the chiming mechanism. It attaches the gongs no longer to the main plate but to a separate component that acts as the soundboard. For the RD#4, the construction was revised, and the engineers and watchmakers wanted to make the mechanism visible to reveal its beauty. It triggered the development of a double case back system with a “secret” extra-thin cover and a new 0.6mm-thick soundboard completely made out of sapphire crystal that holds the gongs. It took three years to develop this sapphire crystal component with exactly the right geometry and thickness to act as the soundboard. This “secret” cover features a series of openings to let air through and boost the sound when the watch is worn on the wrist. As a result of hollowing out the cover, the impact on the overall thickness of the case is minimal. Opening the cover is easy, thanks to a lever just under the large crown at 3 o’clock. By opening it, you get a great view of the split-seconds mechanism and the platinum oscillating weight. You will also be able to admire the exquisite level of finishing. It’s something that Audemars Piguet is known for, but the level of detail is simply impressive. As you can see, the oscillating weight features engraved sound waves, hinting at the special acoustics of the timepiece.
For the perpetual calendar functions, the development team altered and integrated the ultra-thin perpetual calendar mechanism of the brand’s Calibre 5133. The movement premiered in 2018 with the release of the Royal Oak Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin RD#2 prototype. And together with the release of the RD#4, we also see the introduction of a new version of its successor, the Royal Oak Selfwinding Perpetual Calendar Ultra-thin. Several changes and optimizations were implemented into the new timepiece to ensure the usability was improved and on point with the project’s overall goal. The record-breaking ultra-thin movement saw the merging of the perpetual calendar functions onto a single level. The end-of-the-month cam has been similarly integrated into the date wheel. At the same time, the month cam has been combined with the month wheel. For even greater simplicity in usability, a large date indicator is integrated at 12 o’clock, and the year indicator can be found at 4 o’clock.