The Audemars Piguet [RE]Master02 Brings 1960 Architectural Style To The Present Day

Founded in 1875, Audemars Piguet is a horological icon that has seen the highs and lows of the watchmaking industry. Today, it is a highly accomplished, modern watch manufacture—and like any accomplished, modern company, implementing a product is a long, drawn-out process. From conception and design, prototyping and testing, manufacture and assembly, to quality control and distribution—it is a deliberate and carefully measured approach that often needs to be capable of reproducing hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of a particular piece.

It was not always like this, however. Watchmaking in decades past could be more haphazard, something magnified by the fact that the industry used to have few integrated manufacturers as we know them today and, instead, depended on collaboration by different specialists. It was also sometimes a process that could be borne out of sheer pragmatism, rather than the top-to-bottom intent that we are with familiar with in the present day.

As a result, product development could be messy, it could be fast, and very limited in scope as a company fights to stay on top of current trends—especially as watchmaking was, back then, a cutting-edge industry. The 1950s was one such period for Audemars Piguet, as the brand sought to capitalise on the burgeoning post-war styles of the time. The Art Deco heyday was over, modernism was in and, with it, a sense of minimalism and geometric exploration. It was a time of rapid change and experimentation with shape—circles, squares, rectangles, combinations thereof—with many new references introduced each year, and watch runs were measured not in hundreds or thousands, but tens—or fewer. One such watch came about in 1960, the Model 5159BA.

It is unconventional, to say the least—the result of the continuous pushing of boundaries with regards to shapes. Model 5159BA is roughly trapezoidal in shape, with broad, imposing facets, and an asymmetry to its dial and crystal. It is small by today’s standards: its yellow gold case only 27.5mm across. Only seven of them were made. As of this writing, Audemars Piguet has confirmed and recovered only one of them, and it now sits on display at the brand’s Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet in Le Brassus.

This is the watch with which Audemars Piguet seeks to expand its [RE]Master collection. The collection debuted in 2020 with [RE]Master01, a 500-piece limited edition that celebrated the Musée Atelier’s opening, based on a 1940s chronograph. [RE]Master02 is based on Model 5159BA, and is rather esoteric. There are many established classics in the minds of watch collectors—1940s chronographs, 1950s dress watches, and 1970s sports-chic watches, for example. Any one of those, [RE]Master01 included, would be a much safer option.

It would also be a wasted opportunity, though. One of the goals of the [RE]Master collection is to shine a light on remarkable pieces from the past, and Model 5159BA represents a particularly avant garde era—between 1959 and 1963, Audemars Piguet created more than 30 asymmetrical models, all in runs of less than 10 pieces—which would not be talked about much, otherwise. It may not be a safe choice, but it certainly is an interesting one.

The other goal of [RE]Master is to avoid being a straightforward homage or reissue, and instead to build a definitively contemporary watch. To that end, [RE]Master02 bears some obvious differences from the original, the most noticeable of which is size. Its case measures 41mm across but, with a sub-10mm thickness, it is an easy wear that does not look out of place on today’s wrists. The original has a light-coloured dial; here, its 12 triangular segments are in the brand’s signature dark blue shade of ‘Bleu Nuit, Nuage 50’, with each segment separated by a partition and satin-finished for a radial effect. The case material is sand gold, a new alloy that first seen several months ago on the Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Openworked. It has a more neutral shade that sits between pink and white gold, but also has a chameleonic quality to it so it can appear pink, white or even grey like steel, depending on the light.

Its movement is based on Calibre 7121, which has appeared in Royal Oak ‘Jumbo’ Extra-Thin watches since 2022. Adaptations included the removal of the date indication, giving rise to Calibre 7129, which is only 2.8mm thick; it is self-winding with a 52-hour power reserve, and a solid gold rotor that is colour-matched to the case.

The most significant technical challenge to this watch was the sapphire crystal and its pronounced 15.8-degree bevel. Model 5159BA used mineral glass for its crystal, which is much easier to form in unusual shapes. The hardness of sapphire makes it notoriously difficult to work with and, in the [RE]Master02, it is milled in a four-step process. The mounting of the sapphire into the bezel presented another difficulty, as its unusual shape made it difficult to apply the correct directional pressure—especially as the watch has to satisfy today’s minimum expectations of 30m water resistance, something that Model 5159BA did not have to contend with. It took two years for the process to be finalised.

The [RE]Master02’s size-up means it has a markedly different presence to the original, with much greater emphasis placed on its blocky, monolithic form, especially with its satin-brushed finish. Brutalist architecture had become increasingly popular in the years leading up to 1960, but though neither Model 5159BA nor [RE]Master02 is made of concrete, the uncomplicated expanses of its bevelled profile are a likely reference to the styles of the time. Today, [RE]Master02 is certainly one of the most distinctive timepieces one can put on the wrist, and it accomplishes that feat with a refreshing simplicity and directness. A final divergence from the original: it is not limited to seven pieces, but 250.

Audemars Piguet

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