The 90s wasn’t a great time for watchmaking. Sure, there were some high points here and there – Ikepod springs to mind – but otherwise there wasn’t a huge amount to talk about. The quartz crisis was over, but the watchmaking renaissance we’re the beneficiaries of these days had yet to appear. Which made it a bit confusing when Audemars Piguet decided to launch the Starwheel.
The Audemars Piguet Starwheel was a strange, wandering hours watch, a method of display that’s rare today, let alone the low point of 1991. I’m not going to get into the complication’s storied history but suffice to say it has old roots. It’s defined by a trio of dials that spin around the dial, using the correct hour to mark off the minute along a scale at 12 o’clock. Even weirder, the dials were made from sapphire, meaning you could see the hole at the centre of the dial.
Needless to say, the Starwheel wasn’t the next Royal Oak. That’s not to say it wasn’t successful; AP kept producing it well into the 2000s, but nobody particularly cried when they stopped production. It was a fun novelty, but once brands like Urwerk came in and made the concept their own, it fell by the wayside. Until now.
In light of the Code 11.59 and Audemars Piguet’s return to round(ish) watchmaking, (as well as the growing recognition that the 90s models were, in fact, cool) it’s the perfect time to bring back a watch that has fallen by the wayside. And honestly, I prefer the overall look of the shiny new 2022 Audemars Piguet Starwheel.
First off, despite being the same base complication, three satellite dials using the hour to indicate the minute at 12 o’clock, it looks much better than the 90s version, with solid, aluminium PVD dials and the mechanism – and the start- pointed teeth that give the watch its name – just visible underneath.
The Audemars Piguet Starwheel has also been given a monochromatic paint job, with the collection’s signature circle-with-an-octagon case in black ceramic and white gold. The only part that’s not black or silver is the thematically fitting aventurine outer dial, the stars in Starwheel.
The ensemble is powered by the calibre 4310, an in-house movement based on the 4309, which in turn was launched with the original run of Code 11.59 automatic watches. It’s a classy piece of watchmaking, both for the finishing (which is the only traditional part of the watch, with Cotes de Geneve, pearlage and a solid gold rotor) and for it’s 70-hour power reserve. Given that the wandering hours is a module – and therefore more draining on the mainspring – that’s pretty impressive.
As with all satellite watches, it’s incredibly easy to read once you’ve gotten over the lack of traditional hands. It’s almost as easy as a digital display, but with a lot more character. It also wears well, even if it feels a touch larger than its 41mm diameter might suggest. That’s all to do with the layered case which is as interesting now as it was in 2019. That’s to say very, before you get the wrong idea. I was one of the few that actually liked the Code 11.59 at launch, even if it did flounder a little.
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That said, this for me is what the Code 11.59 has been waiting for. Sure, the collection’s played host to a fair few grande complications, including a Sonnerie, but the animation the satellite display brings to bear is a league apart. It’s not the most complicated, but it’s the best fit for the watch. Is this the beginning of a wave of 90s nostalgia? God, I hope not. I grew up then and even I hate the 90s. But at least it shows that not everything needs to be a 60s revival piece.
Price & Specs:
- Model: Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Starwheel
- Ref: 15212NB.OO.A002KB.01
- Case/dial:41mm diameter, ceramic case, blue aventurine dial, black opaline aluminium discs
- Water resistance: 30m (3 bar)
- Movement: Audemars Piguet calibre 4310, automatic, 32 jewels, 224 parts
- Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz)
- Power reserve: 70h
- Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds
- Strap: Textured black rubber coated strap with 18k white gold pin buckle
- Price/availability: £49,700