In Miami, Art Basel acts as a platform for every type of masterpiece. This year, Audemars Piguet—one of the most sought-after Swiss horological brands and a longtime official sponsor of the fair—used Miami Art Week to debut the mesmeric, celestial Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Starwheel. As far as introductions go, it is utterly poetic, impressively crafted and although it presents time in an unexpected way, it’s also easy to read. Simply look at the minute indicator curving across the top of the dial and see which hour numeral is pointed at it (for instance, it is 10:22 in the image below).
This revelatory wristwatch is a stylistic reintroduction based on a historic complication that’s been reinterpreted over centuries. Audemars Piguet introduced their first Starhweel in 1991, but discontinued the mechanism behind it in the very early 2000s. Since, it’s become a cult classic and a collector magnet. This future-forward update contrasts a 41mm, 18-karat white gold case with a black ceramic mid-case, itself a nod to the three black opaline PVD-coated aluminum wandering hours discs and a black inner bezel. Satin finishing complements mirror polishing, and a brilliant blue aventurine dial completes the dazzling commitment to the night sky.
Inside the watch, power comes from a new in-house automatic caliber 4310 (based on the caliber 4309). It’s an apt mechanism to be featured in the beloved brand’s Code 11.59 line, which debuted more than three years ago now. “When Code 11.59 was born, we knew already, in 2019, the Starwheel would come back,” François Henry-Bennahmias, CEO of Audemars Piguet, says. “We would have never put this mechanism in a Royal Oak or an Offshore. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Though Audemars Piguet was the first to introduce a Starwheel, the concept behind its distinct time-telling system dates back to the 17th century. “Pope Alexander VII had insomnia. He couldn’t sleep, because of the weight of his responsibilities and also because he found that his clock was too noisy,” Sébastian Vivas, the Heritage and Museum Director for Audemars Piguet, tells COOL HUNTING. “He also wanted it to have light, so that he could read it at night. He asked his watchmakers, the Campani Brothers, to make something. They developed a silent escapement, which did not work too well, and they developed a new way to display the time for what became known as the ‘night clock,’ which had an oil lamp inside.”
Over the years, this technology was reduced and introduced (without a light source, of course) into a pocket watch. (During Art Basel, the horological maison displayed one from 1698 at their pop-up Audemars Piguet house.) “It was at this time that it was renamed ‘wandering hours’ because the hours are wandering along the minutes,” Vivas says. The aesthetic system and the mechanism behind it continued as a speciality by certain watchmakers, century after century. Readability and the overall technology improved, but it all disappeared before the beginning of the 20th century. It was all but forgotten until one Audemars Piguet watchmaker read an article in an old Swiss watch journal and rediscovered it.
He recreated it on his own, a Starwheel mechanism, and brought it to the CEO of Audemars Piguet at the time, who wanted to proceed. “It was paused at the beginning of the 21st century because there were so many ideas circulating during the 1990s,” Vivas says. “We had to make decisions. The Offshore was booming. We reintroduced the Tourbillon and the Grand Complication. We decided to pause it. Ever since, we have been asked so many times why we haven’t come back with a Starwheel.”
The Code 11.59 made sense as the vessel of return for two reasons: its geometries and double curved glass support the shape of the Starwheel, and the philosophy behind the 11.59 (something both complex and sophisticated) mirrored the elegance they hoped to attain. “It’s an artistic way to look at time,” Henry-Bennahmias says. In essence, each hour wanders across the minutes before yielding to the next. Audemars Piguet indulged this enchanting, centuries-old concept with an incredibly detailed commitment to premium materials and an in-house movement. Altogether, it felt right at home among the artwork in Miami.
Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Starwheel will retail for $57,900.
Hero image by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Audemars Piguet