Hands-On: Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Tourbillon Openworked “Only Watch”

A hint of what's to come.

At Only Watch 2017, Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar in black ceramic – but with a one-off blue dial – sold for a whopping 800,000 Swiss francs, with two phone bidders driving it to nearly seven times the high estimate. It was the third most expensive watch in the sale.

This year’s contribution is no Royal Oak – far from it – but it’s surprisingly worthy of a second look. In fact, it’s probably the best-looking watch to emerge from the brand’s often criticised Code 11.59 line. Amidst the flak heaped upon it, the Code 11.59 range had a couple of standouts, including the Tourbillon Openworked. And that’s where AP started for Only Watch 2019.

The Tourbillon Openworked Only Watch retains the slim, beautifully finished skeleton movement, eschewing the contentious Code 11.59 dial altogether. And the movement has a two-tone finish that smartly highlights the most important mechanical components.

To match the movement, the Only Watch edition features a two-tone case that does justice to the Code 11.59 construction in a way the uniform colour of the standard models simply couldn’t.

Superbly constructed

In terms of size, the case is identical to the standard model – 41mm by 10.7mm. Beyond immediate impressions, the case is wonderfully constructed with a subtle and intriguing mix of shapes and finishing made obvious by the two-tone materials.

The octagonal case middle is pink gold, while the rest of the case, including the lugs, are white gold, emphasising its elaborate architecture. The high contrast of the parts also enhances the graphic style of the watch.

The case is predominantly satin-brushed, punctuated with distinct polished facets on the edges of the case middle that help break up its height, making it appear even thinner than it is.

Another distinctive feature is its sculptural lugs, where the upper segments of which are welded to the thin, round bezel, while the lower segments point towards the case back. Because of the shape of the lugs, the watch wears smaller and elegant on the wrist.

The sapphire crystal over the dial is also unusual, featuring a double curved profile wherein the internal surface is dome shaped, while the external surface is curved vertically from 12 to six o’clock. It creates a unique visual effect, though it also results in optical distortion of the dial when viewed from certain angles.

A new movement

The Tourbillon Openworked has no dial, save for a silvered white gold flange framing the new, in-house cal. 2948 that is much thinner than the case would imply.

While the case is 10.7mm high, the movement measures a mere 4.97mm. Thus, there is certainly a depth to the dial, with the movement seemingly sitting several levels below the rather high flange.

The cal. 2948 is similar in construction to the existing cal. 2924 SQ found in the Royal Oak Tourbillon Openworked. But while the 2924 SQ was a skeletonised version of the 2924 (hence the “SQ” suffix, short for squelette), the cal. 2948 was designed from the ground as a skeleton, allowing the constructors leeway to tweak the aesthetics of the movement.

It is thoughtfully designed, with more visual depth and symmetry than its cousins, along with careful attention to detail.

For instance, it has a separate cock for the barrel, instead of having a large barrel bridge as on the cal. 2924 SQ. And the keyless works are also completely exposed.

Thoughtfully finished

In the standard Code 11.59 Tourbillon Openworked, the movement is finished in a grey and black plating that hides most of the finer decorative finishing. Most of the movement in the Only Watch edition, in contrast, is rhodium-plated, giving it a bright, lively look.

And the two most important elements of the movement, mechanically speaking, the power source and regulator, are highlighted in pink gold. Both the bridges for the barrel and tourbillon are pink gold plated, and further refined with rhodium-plated bevels. This not only makes sense mechanically, but also ensures a strong aesthetic unity between the two-tone case and movement.

Like all of AP’s top of the line complications, the movement is beautifully decorated with straight graining on the top surfaces, along with characteristically wide, hand-polished bevels. Most appealingly, the numerous intersecting curved lines of the base plate allow for abundant inward angles on the anglage on both the front and back.

The hand-wound movement offers a power reserve of 80 hours, though it has no power reserve display. Instead, the state of wind can be visually approximated from the coil of the mainspring in the skeletonised barrel.

Concluding thoughts

The Code 11.59 Tourbillon Openworked Only Watch Edition is an extremely compelling watch that is thoughtfully designed and well-constructed both inside and out.

Though the changes between the Only Watch edition and standard model are purely cosmetic, they are meaningful and significant in effect. They enhance the design of the case and movement, and more crucially, distinguish the watch from the rest of the collection.

It is especially notable that AP chief executive, Francois Henri Bennahmias, recently stated during an interview with us in Singapore that the Only Watch edition points the way forward for the Code 11.59 line, in terms of styling and materials.

The Code 11.59 Tourbillon Openworked Only Watch Edition has a modest estimate of 190,000-240,000 Swiss francs. It’ll likely go far beyond its high estimate, though probably not quite as high as the Royal Oak made for the last instalment of Only Watch.

Key facts and price

Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Tourbillon Openworked Only Watch Edition
Ref. 26600CR.OO.D002CR.99

Diameter: 41mm
Height: 10.7mm
Material: Pink gold case, white gold bezel, lugs and case back
Water resistance: 30m

Movement: calibre 2948
Functions: Hours and minutes, tourbillon
Frequency: 21,600bph (3Hz)
Winding: Manual wind
Power reserve: 80 hours

Strap: Black alligator strap with 18K white gold folding clasp

Estimated at 190,000-240,000 Swiss francs, the Code 11.59 Tourbillon Openworked Only Watch Edition will be sold at Only Watch 2019 on November 9, 2019, at Christie’s in Geneva. For more, visit Onlywatch.com.

Update November 11, 2019: the Audemars Piguet Tourbillon Openworked sold for 1,000,000 Swiss francs, with no fees since it was a charity auction.

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