Continuing the steady momentum of Code 11.59, Audemars Piguet has recently introduced an unexpected new model. The Code 11.59 Starwheel ref. 15212 marks the return of the wandering hours after almost two decades, which is a big deal because it’s historically an important complication for the Le Brauss watchmaker.
An uncommon complication that’s nevertheless not inaccessible today, wandering hours can be found in watches ranging from micro-brand examples that cost low thousands to top-range models from makers like Urwerk and Vacheron Constantin, but AP’s version is always special because of historical reasons.
A complication invented in the mid-17th century to avoid the ticking noise of a clock, the wandering hours was later found in pocket watches but eventually disregarded after the invention of jumping hours. It was long forgotten until AP introduced it to modern watchmaking in 1991 with the “Star Wheel” ref. 25720, which also marked the first time the complication was installed in a wristwatch, an important timepiece that arguably inspired the an entire generation of watchmakers, including Urwerk.
After making about 30 models, including an impressive version that packs a wandering hours and minute repeater into the same case, Audemars Piguet discontinued the complication in 2003 and has been quiet for the past two decades. This means that the Code 11.59 Starwheel is the long-awaited return of a prodigal son, and one that’s timely given the rise in popularity in the original Star Wheel references.
What exactly is a wandering hours? Turns out, despite its exotic look, it’s a complication that improves legibility. A carousel carries the three hour discs and rotates them around the dial, letting each take turn to point at the fan-shaped minute scale at 12 o’clock. In other words, the hour numerals move along the minutes scale as time passes, and because the hours and minutes are practically next to each other, time telling is easy (though it might take some getting used to). A wandering hours, however, isn’t a jump hour as each disc rotates gradually to display the hours. It’s like a stripped version of a digital jumping hour display, but one that is quietly elegant and charming thanks to the carousel motion.
Inside the watch is the cal. 4310. This movement is essentially a cal. 4309 with an additional wandering hours module on the dial side. Notably, the movement retains an impressive 70 hours power reserve despite having additional discs that consume a considerable amount of energy. The finishing of the module is noteworthy with the steel parts vertically grained on top and flanked by rounded, polished bevel. The back, however, is industrially but precisely finished, as is usual for an AP movement that’s not a skeleton or high complication.
The latest Starwheel is indeed a compelling time-only Code 11.59. In fact, even though it’s no comparison to the top-of-the-line Code 11.59 in technical terms, it is easily one of the most unusual.
It’s also interesting that the wandering hours makes a comeback in the form of a Code 11.59 instead of a Royal Oak. That’s perhaps because AP wanted a truly contemporary version that’s rooted in the 21st century, which is the case here. The new Starwheel has a striking two-tone case in white gold and black ceramic, while also having black hour discs against a blue aventurine glass dial. It’s very different from the original “Star Wheel” in the 1990s and is satisfyingly contemporary. That said, I do find the hour discs that sit closely together appear cluttered, especially because they are all in dark colours, but it’s personal and I get that the design is meant to be bold.
Interestingly, the new Starwheel gets a second hand, which is not unprecedented but remains uncommon. I appreciate the added convenience of being able to tell if the watch is running, but I wish the hand was a tad longer as it only extends to the fan-shaped minute track now.
Finally a mention of the price. At USD 57,900, the Starwheel is in the ballpark of similarly complicated examples from Urwerk, which means enthusiasts of the wandering hours now have another option to weigh up.
Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Starwheel 41 mm
Movement: Cal. 4310; automatic; 70 hours power reserve
Functions: Wandering hours, minutes, and seconds
Case: 40 x 10.7 mm; 18k white gold and black ceramic; water resistant to 30 m
Strap: Black rubber strap with white gold pin buckle
Price: USD 57,900